Gaza’s withdrawal symptoms

Israel's unilateralism during the disengagement doomed the Strip


Abu Salach's little café barely qualified for the title. With a couple of plastic tables shaded from the fierce Gaza sun by a grapevine trellis, the only goods on sale were minibar-sized bottles of soda, lemonade, and plates of near-inedible hummus. But he had big plans. His neighbours in the nearby settlement of Shirat Hayam were being turfed out - hence the boost in custom from journalists and IDF spokesmen - and he was going to get back access to the stunning beach, just two minutes away.

A fish restaurant was what he planned, right on the shore. His brother, working in the Gulf, had already saved several thousand dollars to fund it.

"Come back in a year," he boasted in near-perfect Hebrew. "No, less than that. Nine months. Come back and see what we have built here."

That conversation, almost exactly three years ago, seems ludicrously naïve now. It is doubtful that Abu Salach managed to fulfil his dream, although his life might be quieter, at least. Abu Salach claimed settlers had set fire to his previous restaurant, and indeed, in between building rather pointless roadblocks to deter the IDF, teenagers amused themselves by torching their Palestinian neighbours' palm trees.

And yet, the disengagement saw Israel at its best. The army's performance was impeccable. Thousands of conscripts calmly dealt with crowds of organised settler youth barraging them with insults and worse. Female settlers were carried out by women soldiers who solicitously rearranged long skirts dislodged by screaming and thrashing. In the midst of apparent chaos, the task was done and everyone went home safely after a lot of tears - many from the soldiers doing the evicting.

But it also saw Israel at its worst. Not in its treatment of the settler-protestors, who so blithely exploited Holocaust imagery with their anti-disengagement orange Star of David patches. Not in its hasbarah - journalists were allowed unfettered access to this very human story.

No, the disengagement saw Israeli decision-making at its most arrogant and short-sighted. Like its architect, Ariel Sharon, it combined brilliant tactics with an utter lack of strategy. Infatuated with unilateralism, Israel thought it could go it alone. Yasser Arafat had been isolated - and inconveniently died. The faultlessly moderate Mahmoud Abbas then won faultlessly fair elections. Having worked so hard to solidify the "there is no one to talk to" mantra - partly justifying the whole disengagement anyway - Jerusalem then had to follow it through.

If bilateralism was allowed to sneak in, the Palestinians might have demanded concessions and negotiations. So there were none. Gaza was not handed over to the PA. Nothing was done to legitimise, let alone strengthen, the elected authority in the Strip. Could an orderly handover have helped the transition, kept Gaza working, derailed first the Hamas election success and then the putsch of June 2006?

We will never know. Three years on, Israel still controls Gaza's borders and the passage of people and goods, and Gaza continues to be a thorn in Israel's side. No amount of forward planning could have placated the more fanatical settlers, some still living in caravillas as they demand the government build special box-fresh communities for them, despite the pleas of city planners and environmentalists. Even this week, a group of die-hards insisted they would return to Gaza, still imbued by "a national mission and divine commandment", as they put it - or perhaps the intense nostalgia for the sprawling villas, subsidised industries, and cheap Palestinian labour they once enjoyed. And so near the beach too!

The IDF's targeted killings, incursions and raids did not succeed in stopping or slowing the hail of Kassam rockets beleaguering the citizens of the Negev. Only a negotiated ceasefire with Hamas stopped the missiles. Unilateralism, in other words, failed again.

Who knows what has happened to Abu Salach, the kind of small businessman that Tony Blair and the World Bank fall over themselves to support. Gaza is now mostly too dangerous to enter and three years on, his invitation remains unfulfilled.

Last updated: 2:42pm, August 22 2008

COMMENTS

joemillis

Fri, 08/08/2008 - 11:42

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>.No, the disengagement saw Israeli decision-making at its most arrogant and short-sighted. Like its architect, Ariel Sharon, it combined brilliant tactics with an utter lack of strategy. Infatuated with unilateralism, Israel thought it could go it alone. Yasser Arafat had been isolated - and inconveniently died. The faultlessly moderate Mahmoud Abbas then won faultlessly fair elections. Having worked so hard to solidify the "there is no one to talk to" mantra - partly justifying the whole disengagement anyway - Jerusalem then had to follow it through. <,

But let's be realistic for a moment. There was no one to talk to. Arafat, and by extention Fatah, had lost all credibility because of corruption. Hamas was not a partner to negotiations, because there was not even the mere basis for talks (acceptance of a two-state solution, redivision of Jerusalem along ethnic lines, no right of return to Israel proper, no declaration that the armed struggle was over, etc).

What would the two sides have talked about, then?

And let's assume for one optimistic second that Hamas's political leadership could have been persuaded to accept the two-state solution, dropping the right of return, denunciation of the armed struggle, what would have happened then?

Well, in all likelihood, they, too, would have been branded sell-outs by the even more extremist Islamic Jihad, which would have taken up the mantle of the true struggle against the "sons of apes and donkeys".

It's not as if negotiations haven't been tried over the years. There has been a constant urge to negotiate. But always, it is claimed, it just wasn't done right, or not enough concessions were offered. Perhaps it's time to utter an unpalatable truth that unfortunately, there is no one to talk to at the moment. The best that can be hoped for - and I suspect peace will not be achieved in either my or your life time - is short- to medium-term arrangements and more unilateralism that will serve Israel's interests by disengaging from the Palestinians.


njw503

Sat, 08/09/2008 - 03:17

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That cannot possibly be the solution. If there is ever to be a solution to the conflict, Israel must always, always be not only willing to talk, but constantly attempting it until discussion can be achieved. Saying that "in all likelihood" those who negotiated would have been "branded sell-outs by the even more extremist Islamic Jihad" and that you suspect "peace will not be achieved in either my or your life time" just because "there is no one to talk to at the moment" and when negotiations happen it is "claimed, it just wasn't done right" is taking cynicism to the point of utterly pointless defeatism. You are right only when you say that such a conclusion is "unpalatable".It truly is.

 

The only solution Israel will find for Gaza is to talk, to make concessions, to negotiate. Of course Unilateralism failed.

 

I wonder, Danielle; do you think that Mahmoud Abbas would still be willing to negotiate even now, if Israel changed its policy? Is - and here's the rub - such a change of policy even feasible in the current climate?


joemillis

Sat, 08/09/2008 - 22:23

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The only solution Israel will find for Gaza is to talk, to make concessions, to negotiate. Of course Unilateralism failed.<<

 

<p>

<p>Once bitten, twice shy. Israel has negotiated with the Palestinians from before the 1993 Oslo Accords. Israel has made concessions since then, too. What has it got either the Palestinians or Israel? </p>

<p>And  what would Israel and Hamas negotiate about? Mutually agreed times for funerals, perhaps?</p> ><p>Without Hamas abandoning the armed struggle and accepting the premise of a two-state solution, there is nothing to negotiate. And Hamas won't do that, just like Arafat didn't do it. That's because the notion of armed struggle is so much easier to sell and so much more "heroic" than having to deal with real day-to-day issues, such as social welfare, education, health, infrastructure etc. Let's not forget that for the past decade the PNA has had billions bunged at it for the aforementioned. What happened to that?</p>


njw503

Sun, 08/10/2008 - 13:38

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It is much easier maintaining the image of an heroic armed struggle against a power that is not negotiating, than against one that visibly is seeking a resolution. This 'struggle' isn't an informed choice - it is the last refuge of the desperate. Israel should do what it can to counter attacks against it, but it should also be doing what it can to negotiate, with anyone who is willing to talk. If Israel has a stated unilateralist policy, why on earth are we surprised when Hamas doesn't trust Israel enough to talk about a bipartate solution?

joemillis

Sun, 08/10/2008 - 14:38

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>>t is much easier maintaining the image of an heroic armed struggle against a power that is not negotiating,<<

 

But Israel was negotiating at the time that the "heroic" armed struggle continued unabated. 

 

>>If Israel has a stated unilateralist policy, why on earth are we surprised when Hamas doesn't trust Israel enough to talk about a bipartate solution?<<

 

Hamas is against a two-state solution whatever Israel does or doesn't do. It must be up to Israel to decide what is in its best interests, and surely that must be to disengage from the Palestinians.

 


njw503

Mon, 08/11/2008 - 02:25

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Disengage? Disengage how, exactly? If you mean adopt Ghandi's principles, just sit back, take Hamas' attacks, and wait for them to realise that they're the bad guys - that's a brave move, militarily and politically, and I applaud you. Otherwise, I'm not sure what you could mean, because what has been going in has definitely not been disengagement. What has been happening is engagement, sometimes military engagement, or police engagement, or civilian engagement - the teenagers setting trees on fire from the article - with an increasingly hostile civilian population, engagements that are not reducing terrorism and are causing increased hostility.

 

The only way forward is negotiation.


joemillis

Mon, 08/11/2008 - 09:05

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>. Disengage? Disengage how, exactly?<<

 

Back to the 67 borders, more or less, after fininshing building the barrier. Let them then get on with their lives.  And if they interfere in Israeli lives, then hit them hard, especially the leadership.


njw503

Tue, 08/12/2008 - 02:53

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I entirely agree that they should be allowed to get on with their lives. I can see the advantages with returning to the '67 borders; but for me foremost of those would be that it would be an excellent point from which to negotiate for peace. Not just a point to retreat behind a wall to, to simply wait and let extremists on either side take the initiative.

njw503

Tue, 08/12/2008 - 02:53

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I entirely agree that they should be allowed to get on with their lives. I can see the advantages with returning to the '67 borders; but for me foremost of those would be that it would be an excellent point from which to negotiate for peace. Not just a point to retreat behind a wall to, to simply wait and let extremists on either side take the initiative.

njw503

Tue, 08/12/2008 - 02:55

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I entirely agree that they should be allowed to get on with their lives. I can see the advantages with returning to the '67 borders; but for me foremost of those would be that it would be an excellent point from which to negotiate for peace. Not just a point to retreat behind a wall to, to simply wait and let extremists on either side take the initiative.

njw503

Tue, 08/12/2008 - 02:55

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Oops.

joemillis

Tue, 08/12/2008 - 13:51

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>. but for me foremost of those would be that it would be an excellent point from which to negotiate for peace.<,

 

I see your point, but what's the point of negotiating if after 13-odd years of talks nothing has come of it. Talks for the sake of talks seems pointless. Perhaps if the Palestinians realise that Israel can get on very nicely, thank you, without them, and that violence has got them nowehere, a new leadership might emerge that wants to tackle the day-to-day realities. I'm not holding my breath, though.   

 

>>Not just a point to retreat behind a wall to, to simply wait and let extremists on either side take the initiative.<<

 

Moral equivalence. Israel, at least, tries and deals with its extremists - if only the Palestinians would do the same rather than lionising them, we'd all be happy.


njw503

Tue, 08/12/2008 - 14:34

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That's a horrifically defeatist proposition. Is 13 years the threshold for giving up on peace? When was that decision taken? I must have missed the memo.

 

The problem is that 13 years of talks are not nearly enough. This is a problem that is going to take generations to solve. But if a generation gives up... it will never be solved.


joemillis

Tue, 08/12/2008 - 15:57

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>>hat's a horrifically defeatist proposition. Is 13 years the threshold for giving up on peace? When was that decision taken? I must have missed the memo.

 

The problem is that 13 years of talks are not nearly enough. This is a problem that is going to take generations to solve. But if a generation gives up... it will never be solved.<<

 

It's not defeatism, it's realism. The Palestinians have had before them, on numerous occasions, the best offer they were ever going to get from Israel - viz, 95% of the West Bank, all of Gaza, control of the Arab areas of Jerusalem and 5% of Israel proper to make up for the 5% of the WB they lost.  They rejected it time and time again.

To put it bluntly, there has to come a point when banging your head against a brick wall, that you realise that you are not doing yourself any good.

So, as I originally wrote, peace with the Palestinians isn't going to come in my lifetime, or in the lifetime of the author. 


njw503

Tue, 08/12/2008 - 20:08

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It certainly isn't if Israel gives up, because that gives all the extremists exactly what they want - an enemy. Giving up is not realism, I'm afraid - it is defeatism. Realism would be understanding that there is no easy way out, and that negotiations are going to take an incredibly long time, but still plugging tirelessly for a peaceful solution year in, year out.

joemillis

Tue, 08/12/2008 - 20:44

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>>certainly isn't if Israel gives up, because that gives all the extremists exactly what they want - an enemy. <

 

They've got that already whether Israel gives up or not. 

 

>>Realism would be understanding that there is no easy way out, and that negotiations are going to take an incredibly long time, but still plugging tirelessly for a peaceful solution year in, year out.<<

 

Realism is understanding that, unfortunately at present there is no one to talk to, and that banging your head against a brick wall can be seriously detrimental to your health.