Mose Apelblat

The summer in Israel is long and hot and this year it has been unusually turbulent but luckily events have not erupted into a new war as happened last year. Compared with what is going in its immediate neighborhood and in the region as a whole – terrorist attacks, air bombings, civil wars, executions of civilians and endless streams of refugees desperately looking for a safe place – Israel appears as a relatively peaceful island or “a villa in the jungle” to quote its former prime minister Ehud Barak.

Still, events in Israel are enough painful and frustrating. Two terrible hate crimes carried out by Jewish terrorists – one against a gay parade in Jerusalem and the other one against a Palestinian village in the West Bank – showed the negligence of the authorities and what happens if incitement goes unpunished. The two attacks were considered as threats against Israel’s democracy and were widely condemned by all political parties. They should serve as an alarm clock for the Israeli society.

On the foreign front, Israel became more isolated in its opposition against the Iranian nuclear deal which allows the Iran to develop its nuclear infrastructure after 15 years. Nor are inspections watertight. In the meantime Iran continues to threaten Israel and to continue its destabilizing role in the region. Though not a perfect deal, it was probably the only possible one. It will reduce the Iranian threat in the short-term and hopefully allow Israel to focus on making peace with the Palestinians.

On the domestic front, decisions on such diverse issues as the destruction of settlement buildings and the internment of asylum seekers resulted in verbal attacks against the Supreme Court of Justice by ministers and politicians who do not understand the principle of the separation of powers in a democracy. Newly elected ministers are busy in appointing their cronies with the blessing of the Israeli Civil Service Commission.

The political system is barely functioning, with a razor-thin government coalition trying to pass new legislation by applying emergency procedures and threatening to circumvent Supreme Court rulings. The impasses on the state budget for next year and the framework agreement with the monopoly consortium in charge of the natural gas resources outside Israel’s coast are resulting in short-term deals with the administration’s own critical reports being shelved.

In the middle of all this Israel has been remembering the 10th anniversary of Ariel Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal, the so-called disengagement, from the Gaza strip.

Former minister of defense Moshe Arens, 89, is supposedly balancing Israeli dominating newspaper Haaretz´ leftist columnists by his rightist articles. But what balance and objectivity was there is his article on the disengagement from north Gaza and the north West Bank (July 27)? To support his view, he quoted opinion polls that indicate that a majority of Israelis think that the disengagement was a mistake.

The security situation has indeed not improved since the disengagement and Israel has fought three wars in Gaza since Hamas took over power there. But how can we be sure that the situation would have been better today without the disengagement and with the current stalemate in the peace process?

Arens is at a loss in guessing Ariel Sharon’s reason for the disengagement. The reason is probably very simple. Sharon realized that the continued presence of Israel settlements in Gaza was a security burden for Israel, besides being a travesty of justice. They should not have been established there in the first place, in the middle of a Palestinian population.

As regards the evacuation of the four settlements in the north of the West Bank, Sharon’s intention was less clear. But Arens misses the point. In any future peace settlement isolated settlements will have to be abandoned – not by destroying them as was Sharon’s way of doing things but by leaving them intact for the benefit of the Palestinians.

Sharon’s mistake was not the disengagement per se but the fact that it was carried out unilaterally without any agreement with the other side.

His successor Ehur Olmert coined his own version of it until he engaged in direct talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas. Unfortunately they were never finalised. Arens’ concluding recommendation to resettle the northern Gaza strip and the settlements in the North West Bank is a typical Achitophel advice and would of course be counterproductive to any restart of the peace process.

On the leftist side, journalist and writer Ari Shavit, known for his book “My Promised Land”, also wrote about the disengagement (August 13) but as someone who was among the first to come up with the disengagement idea. However he avoids calling the baby by name: the settlers are seen as “victims” of the disengagement and their settlements – communities.

No-one denies that it was a tragedy for them. 8 500 people had to leave and the 24 settlements where they had been living for 30 years or more were destroyed. But didn’t they move to Gaza voluntarily with the government’s support, looking for a better life and ignoring the surrounding Palestinian population?

Nothing lasts forever. We all have to move sometimes in search of new jobs. When the government decided that the settlement adventure in Gaza had to stop, they resisted. It hardly bodes well for future withdrawals from the settlements in the West Bank, especially if the settlers’ movement is compensated by promises of new constructions for the destruction of a single house which was built illegally on private Palestinian land, as happened this summer.

But Shavit gets the bottom line right towards the end of his article and it’s worth quoting him:

“The real danger to Israel isn’t from an occupied region it has withdrawn from but from the occupied regions it hasn’t withdrawn from.”

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