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Disengagement, democracy and hype


There is a ready solution for those concerned about Israeli soldiers forcibly evacuating settlers from Gaza. I don't think Israel should force settlers to leave Gaza if they don't want to leave, but the settlers cannot force the rest of Israel to defend them and pay for their continued stay in Gaza, and suffer the diplomatic consequences.

Am I really enthusiastic about Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan? No way! I am not enthusiastic about aging either. But it is better than the alternative.

In the best of all possible worlds, the Palestinians might agree to live in peace with us Israelis, the Hamas will remember that Allah promised Israel to the Jews and all our dreams will come true. But don't hold your breath until this happens. Don't hold your breath even until Yasser Arafat is really willing to negotiate with Israel, outlaw the terrorist groups and offer acceptable terms. In even a less than optimal world, Sharon would not be Prime Minister of Israel and Arafat would not be leading the Palestinians. But we have to work with what we've got.

The Gaza settlements and the Gaza occupation are a big, ugly, visible, expensive, dangerous and festering political and moral sore on Israeli society. Israelis pay heavily for the privilege of having some 8,000 "pioneers" live in luxury in proximity to refugee camps. A recent study reaffirmed what we already knew from earlier Peace Now data. Settlements get twice as much grant money per person as towns in Israel, and Gaza settlements are close to the top of the list. But these grants are only a small part of the price in troops and development outlays. Even now, while settlers are beginning to negotiate compensation, other Gaza settlers are taking out loans to expand!

The 1.5 million Palestinians living in misery next to the Israeli settlements are a vivid symbolic reminder to the world and to the Israeli society of the injustice of the occupation. There is no future for Israel in Gaza. Every penny and every life we invest there is worse than wasted, because it perpetuates and expands a liability. The Gaza settlements account for over half the total terror incidents. The number of casualties is relatively less, but this is bought at a tremendous expense in security arrangements, deployment of soldiers, armored buses etc. Still, over 110 soldiers and civilians had died in Gaza even before operation Days of Repentance, that is more than 1 casualty for every 100 settlers and represents over 10% of the total Israeli casualties in the Intifada - all for a tiny area with a few settlers in it. The international outcry that has followed the Days of Repentance operation, which killed over a hundred Palestinians and left many wounded and homeless, is a vivid illustration of why Israel cannot and should not stay in Gaza.

The disengagement plan is probably not intended as a peace gesture, but rather as part of a plan to isolate the Palestinians and neutralize the Oslo process. However, it is not as if the disengagement plan is putting a halt to some ongoing negotiation process. There are no negotiations and no Israeli or Palestinian movement at all. The peace process moribund. If the EU, the United States and the UN do not accept that disengagement is an adequate final settlement for the Palestinians, and if the Palestinians make it clear that they are willing to negotiate in good faith, then the Israeli government would realistically have to negotiate in any case, no matter what Dov Weisglass or other hard liners might say. Even now, the EU is about to start a new initiative to jump-start the peace process by revamping Palestinian security apparatus and at the same time pressuring Israel to return to negotiations. The aim is clearly to prevent disengagement from being a dead end. EU policy chief Javier Solana declared that if Sharon thinks that with a "pullout from Gaza everything is already done and that peace would come automatically, we won't support that. That wouldn't be a dream, but a nightmare."

Palestinian critics point out that disengagement would leave Gaza isolated from Israel and the rest of the world, but Gaza is already now isolated from Israel and the rest of the world. The gates of Gaza can be opened if the Palestinian Authority demonstrates that it has mastered the problem of terror and that Gaza will not be a source of terrorist infiltration.

The Israeli right insists that the Hamas will probably take over Gaza. Hamas was born in Gaza, spawned from the Muslim Brotherhood Ikhwan that existed there since before 1948. The occupation has been a breeding ground for Hamas ideology, and ending the occupation will remove a great motivator for Hamas recruitment. It will at least provide a possibility for more moderate factions to take over, and it will make it possible to mobilize international opinion against the Hamas.

Likewise, settler - advocates insist that Sharon's disengagement initiative is undemocratic, since Sharon was elected on a platform that specifically opposed disengagement. As Yoel Marcus points out, Menahem Begin was elected on a platform that specifically opposed concessions in Sinai, but he gave up all of Sinai in return for peace with Egypt. Opponents of disengagement want to hold a referendum on the issue. In a democratic referendum they would lose, since polls show consistently that about 60% of Israelis support disengagement; however, those who insist on a referendum insist that a 65% majority should be necessary to allow disengagement. If 65% supported disengagement, they would insist that a 70% majority should be required.

The right claim that disengagement is undemocratic. What is undemocratic however, is that the rest of Israel should be forced to support a tiny group of settlers, to risk the lives of our soldiers and to suffer international opprobrium, all because they insist on living in an a part of the world that was never intended to be a part of Israel. Those who insist that it is wrong to remove people forcibly from their houses may be right, but what would they do if the Israeli government decided they could stay where they were, but simply removed all the soldiers? Why is it democratic to force soldiers to guard them? Those who tell us that the settlers of Gaza went there to perform a service for their country may be so. But if it is true, they are like soldiers in an army, and they serve by obeying orders. They could serve Israel much better by moving to Sderot or to one of the kibbutzim or moshavim that border on Gaza.

Ami Isseroff

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Replies: 9 comments


Posted by Liz Mulford @ 10/23/2004 10:36 PM CST

I don't regard disengagement as an important issue, more as a way for Jewish Israeli to quarrel together, forgetting the Palestinians and the rest of the world, a way to make a lot of noise and make forget nothing happens.

In addition, as long as Israely are around and in the sky, as long as the only free way out of Gaza is to dig to China, there is no disengagement.

That said, you present the case fairly enough.


Posted by Paul @ 10/24/2004 12:04 AM CST

All you 'experts' insist there is a 60% majority for disengagement. If this is so why is Sharon deathly afraid of a referendum? The settlers have agreed to abide by a national referendum, but Sharon continues to squirm and run from it. Does he know something that all you pundits don't? Or is he afraid a referendum would ruin his friend Weisglass's chance to build a ******** ****** on the ruins of Jewish homes in Gush Katif?

Posted by mike levine @ 10/24/2004 06:33 AM CST

I think the idea of a referendum to allow people to vote on Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip would be a disaster. I have always thought that ballot referendums are antithetical to the democratic process. In a democracy we elect people to represent us in the government and for good reason. Given the chance people generally vote based on their own self-interest without concern for their country as a whole.

I canít even fathom what would happen if a NO vote won the referendum. More bloodshed comes to mind. I canít believe that some Israelís donít see the writing on the wall. Is not evacuating the Gaza Strip really an option?

Steven Beikirch
United States

Posted by Steven Beikirch @ 10/25/2004 06:13 AM CST

I think is not a good idea for the people who wants a Geneva-kind peace to involve themselves in this debate. The consequences of this disengagement for the peace and for Israel will go from neutral to nefarious and there is a certain risk of being blamed afterwards. Some of the potential disasters triggered are the fall of the Egiptian governement, the establishment in Gaza of a base for attacking Israel in all posible ways and a civil war between palestinians won by Hamas. On the other hand, this disengagement proposal has had the effect of making understand everybody in Europe that Palestinians are not the only not-reasonable people. Now Israel is seen as a prisoner of the settlers and the religious parties. The old mantra of the Israeli diplomacy saying that the settlers pullout will be included in the the final agreement is seen now as either a lie or as wishful thinking. Israel is unable to pull out from West Bank and this is as real as Arafat fellows corruption. Israel needs to rethink himself because his current will is very close to be as suicidal as the Palestinians one.

Posted by Aleph @ 10/25/2004 07:52 PM CST

Will the Withdrawal be the herald of peace? In all likelihood no. Hamas and possibly the PLO / PNA will seek to present it a being proof that the Israelis can ultimately driven into the sea if only a few more Shaheeds step forward.
However what it will do is irrevocably change the dynamic in the search for peace. The Withdrawal would break through the psychological barrier that Israel should work with the Palestinians on an incremental disengagement resulting in the creation of a Palestinian state. Instead it would open up the pathway for Israel to largely comply with 242. It would also return things largely to May 1967. On one hand an aggressively defensive Israel and on the other a smouldering and frustrated Palestine.
Israeli unilateralism would return the Palestinians back to the impotent state they were in in May 1967 dependent and contained in a number of refugee camps, except possibly this time it would be the bulk of the West Bank and Gaza as very large refugee camps. Unilateralism would also end once and for all the aspirations of those who seek a merged Israel and Palestine in which ultimately the Palestinians would form the majority, and thus eradicate the notion of Israel.
A future unilateralist Labour government might choose to relocate the bulk of the "wall" to the 1949 cease-fire line and simply close the border. While Mr. Solano might object to this development as a representative of the EU, it is quite evident that the current UK government at least believes that Israel would be entirely within its rights to do so.
Unilateralism may provide the break that the moderate Palestinian bloc requires to argue its case. If Israel is separated from Palestine then perhaps the moderates can form a government capable of negotiating with Isreal on an independent and more equal basis as neighbouring states. To achieve this I believe that Palestine will require at least a decade to address its own internal problems. Most likely will be that as Isreal contains the Palestinians, organisations like Hamas will turn on their own people in order to keep their revolution going until they are tired of blood letting. It would be niaive in the extreme to imagine that the military wing of Hamas will melt away - they will fight to keep the struggle going just to hang on to power.
The Withdrawal vote will not be the indicator of the possible future, rather the situation 3 months after the withdrawal. If it goes well, then Israelis may find the prospect of unilateral disengagement too attractive to ignore.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 10/25/2004 09:21 PM CST

I think if the disengagement plan means less violence then I would agree with it. How can one comment before the action has been effected. The Israelis have to only take back 8000 people and are getting paid well. The feelings might not be monetary but if it goes a long way in reducing tensions, then it should be taken.
If after that the PLO and its terror group continue to pose a threat to Israel then hit back desisvly. And then they can ask all the countries who support the terror groups to go to hell. It means all they wanted was to profit from the oil deals and other commecial gains from the Middle East.

Posted by sg @ 10/26/2004 11:18 AM CST

Reasons why Sharon may be opposing - and right to oppose - a referendum are the following: (1) it is a delay tactic, which will dampen the current preparations for disengagement, (ii) while a majority supports disengagement, this does not mean a majority will vote for it. First, supporters are much less enthusiastic about their position than opponents. You can see this in Ami Isserof's piece, which refelects the feelings of many peace process supporters who now find themselves in a dilemma. Second, the turnout of Israel's Arab voters is in question, since this sector tends to stay away from national votes in Israel. Ha'arets ran an interesting article on this issue yesterday:
and (iii) This would be giving in to the demands of messiahnic fanatics, and establishing a precedent whereby Israel and its democratically elected governments are impotent whenever the religious sector decides to raise its voice. Just as Sharon is by no means obligated to follow any rabbi's demand to stay in Gaza, he is not obligated to follow any such demand for a referendum, and doing so would establish a dangerous precedent.

Posted by Eran Segev @ 10/26/2004 05:57 PM CST

I agree with your assessments, Eran and Steven: Sharon is eschewing a referendum b/c it would merely be a delaying tactic, and the extremists among the Israeli Gaza settlers would constantly offer up some new excuse for not leaving the region (e.g. demanding a ridiculous supermajority in the referendum or Knesset, etc.).

I simply cannot comprehend why so many Israelis have continued to put with the settler nuts for so long-- the zealot ultra-Orthodox settlers in Gaza and the West Bank not only exacerbate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and draw opprobrium upon Israel (which, for all its flaws, is still the region's only functioning democracy); the settlers also have the audacity to demand that regular Israelis, taxpayers and workers who actually contribute to the economy, pay ridiculous sums of money and fork over billions to have the IDF soldiers defend the settlements. AFAIK the Israeli settlers themselves don't serve in the IDF for the most part and don't seem to have real jobs, while Israel's productive citizens within Israel proper are compelled to underwrite these zealots with their precious tax dollars. Unbelievable!!!

If the settlers aren't reined in soon, they will destroy Israel-- Jeffrey Goldberg noted so much in his New Yorker article recently. It's all about demographics, and by 2015 Muslim Arabs (including the Palestinians) will outnumber Israeli Jews in the combined territory of Israel and the Occupied Territories, with the vast majority in Gaza and the West Bank. It's suicide to keep scrambling the egg and expanding the Israeli settlements-- soon that territory will no longer have a Jewish majority, and Israelis are understandably fearful of that. If the Orthodox settlements remain in place, the only (very ugly) options, once the Arabs and Palestinians outnumber Jewish Israelis, are to (1) become a single binational state, in which Israel itself will cease to exist as a Jewish state, or (2) deny the now-majority Arabs and Palestinians suffrage and civil rights, segregate them onto Bantustans, and effectively turn Israel into an apartheid state international pariah in which the Arabs cannot participate in Israeli democracy. Some idiot right-wingers in Israel and the USA (Dispensationalist extremist Christians especially, who want to use Israelis as pawns in their bloody theology) actually fantasize about ethnic cleansing the Palestinians out of Gaza and the West Bank entirely, but anyone with 5 brain cells can probably see that such an atrocity would mean instant destruction for the Israeli state from the international community.

So the only realistic option is disengagement-- get the settlers out of the densely populated Palestinian areas in Gaza and the West Bank. There are a couple settlements in the SW West Bank where Israelis have had a historical presence and high population density; otherwise, the settlements just realistically have to go to allow for a two-state solution there. The ultra-religious settlers might demur, but their selfishness and fanaticism will destroy Israel by sheer demographics if allowed to continue on the current course.

Posted by Wes Ulm @ 10/26/2004 11:14 PM CST

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