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Disengagement: Pipes' Folly

04/06/2005

In times past, Daniel Pipes positioned himself as the scholarly and responsible voice of right-wing reason. Therefore it was disconcerting to read his diatribe against the disengagement plan, which has appeared in various places under different titles such as "Sharon's Folly," "Ariel Sharon's Folly" and "Israel's Folly."

There are many good reasons to fault the disengagement plan. It may not be intended to lead to peace at all; it might represent instead a misguided attempt to render Palestinians invisible and forget about the problem entirely. Withdrawal from Gaza might empower extremists like the Hamas, who will certainly see it as the fruit of their terror labors. Withdrawal of the IDF (but not of the settlers) might create a situation where Palestinians fire rockets on Ashdod and other Israeli towns.

There are many good reasons to be worried about the disengagement, but Pipes chose almost all the wrong reasons. He did note the danger of empowering Hamas, but that was hardly his main concern. Pipes wrote:


"In addition to the legal dubiousness of this step and its historical unprecedented nature (challenge to the reader: name another democracy that has forcibly removed thousands [of] its own citizens from their lawful homes)... "

States can and does forcibly or otherwise remove citizens from their homes by right of eminent domain for a variety of reasons, including evacuation because of military emergencies. In WW II, the USSR evacuated millions of Russians to the east, the British evacuated people from London etc. When a position is no longer tenable, or when the government needs the land for whatever reasons, citizens are evacuated from their lawful homes.

It can't be illegal to remove the settlements. It is their lawfulness is what is dubious. The settlements are considered illegal under international law by most countries, because Gaza is considered to be occupied territory. The move is not unprecedented, as Yamit set the precedent. Israel was prepared to use force to remove settlers from Yamit. In the Pipes' Web site version of the article, there is a link to http://israelvisit.co.il/BehindTheNews/#CivilRights - a site that supposedly discusses illegality of removing the settlements, but at that Web site I could only find yet another version of the same article by Pipes, with a different title.

Pipes wrote:


"It also comes as an astounding surprise."

In 2003, it was a bit of a surprise. At this point, disengagement might be a surprise to someone who has been a Permant Vegetative State since 2003, when Sharon first broached the plan. Even then, it was only a surprise to those who knew little about Sharon, and accepted the stereotype of Sharon as a dyed-in-the-wool Likud Greater Israel advocate. Sharon did not grow up in the Herut party. He did not serve in the Irgun or the Lehi, but in the Palmach. He is a creature of the Labor Zionist movement, though a bit of an aberration. He is only enamored of keeping territories for strategic reasons. Gaza, however, has become a strategic liability, and like any good general, Sharon understands when it is necessary to call a retreat.

Pipes wrote:


"Mr. Sharon betrayed the voters who supported him, wounding Israeli democracy."


Election platform promises are famously made to be broken, in Israel as elsewhere. Menahem Begin betrayed the voters who supported him by making peace with Egypt. Not everyone who voted for Sharon was an advocate of Greater Israel. Many of those who voted for Sharon in 2001 and 2003 voted for him because they believed that only Sharon could bring peace. Over 60% of Israelis, by every poll, support disengagement, and Likud voters still support Sharon (though the Central Committee doesn't). The plan was approved by the Knesset. Israeli Democracy does not mean doing what Daniel Pipes wants or want Women in Green and other extremist groups want, but rather what the majority of Israeli voters want, and what the elected government of Israel has decided is in the best interests of Israel. Disengagement may be the wrong decision, but there is nothing inherently undemocratic about doing something that Daniel Pipes doesn't like.

Pipes himself is full of surprises that astound the reader. For example, he charges that Sharon:


... failed his American ally by delivering a major victory to the forces of terrorism.

Whatever other bizarre claims have been made for tacit US support of Israeli settlement, few have ever had the illusion that the US government likes settlements, or that settlers are serving American interests by embarrassing American foreign policy.

The most amazing statement Pipes makes however, is this:


The prospect of thousands of Israelis evicted from their homes under threat of force is rudely interrupting what had been a trend toward a more healthy atmosphere during the relative calm of 2001-03.


Relative calm? Healthy atmosphere? Here? In a single week in 2002, about three years ago in this season, about 130 people got killed. Israelis were getting blown up in discotheques, supermarkets and Passover Seders, ambushed on roads and shot up in bus stations. Palestinians were celebrating funerals of suicide bombers in the streets of Gaza, and themselves getting killed in operations like Defensive Wall. Soldiers were lynched and their bodies thrown out of a window in Ramallah. Psychologists had to learn how to treat terrorism trauma in victims who had been through multiple terror attacks. That is what Prof. Pipes' calls "relative calm" and "healthy atmosphere." The political pressure was intense. The UN wanted to investigate Israeli war crimes, an award-winning cartoon showed Ariel Sharon as a baby-eating monster and Rabbi Lerner got himself arrested demonstrating for an international force.

Pipes has disappointed us. He has the intellectual ability to write a thoughtful critique of disengagement, a complex and crucial issue. We might disagree, but at least it would be informative and stimulate thought. Instead, he wrote a shallow absurd and careless bit of work that may satisfy diehard right-wingers in the USA, but can't be considered serious analysis.

Ami Isseroff

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