Op-Ed: Sharon's Strategic Trade-Offs, Then and Now
When Gush Katif was destroyed nine years ago, four communities from Northern Samaria were also systematically destroyed and cleansed of any Jewish presence. These four communities, along with the Gush Katif communities located in Gaza, were, overnight, simply wiped off the map.
For many of us in Israel, the disengagement from Gush Katif is not only the story of the destruction and forced transfer of Jewish communities, or even the story of 8,000 personal tragedies, but the embodiment of the belief in a false and deceiving political agenda which is termed “land for peace”.
In retrospect after nine years, and in light of the current negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Arab Authority under the seemingly obsessive auspices of Secretary Kerry, it is crucial to realize that nothing can justify the disengagement. It took place despite the many warnings by political leaders on the Right and resulted in one of Israel’s greatest strategic blunders.
The disengagement was, in fact, a strategic trade-off executed by Prime Minister Sharon in 2005 with the silent blessing of President Bush. Ariel Sharon was elected Prime Minister in 2001, in the midst of a War of Terror by the Palestinian Arabs known as the Second Intifada.
Sharon knew that peace with the Palestinian Arabs would not come about not then and not anytime in the foreseeable future. The only realistic and workable solution to the Palestinian Arab terror would be to manage the conflict in a manner that would leave Israel in de facto control of Judea and Samaria.
Between 2003 and 2005, prior to announcing the disengagement from Gush Katif, Sharon ordered the Israel Defense Forces into all the major Palestinian Arab cities and villages located in Judea and Samaria to wipe out the terror infrastructure created by Arafat, who controlled these areas after the signing of the Oslo agreements.
How, then, could Sharon turn the clock back on the Oslo Agreements without saying so, without embarrassing the previous Democratic American administration, without making a mockery of the Hollywood orchestrated signing of the Oslo Agreements on the White House lawn?
A strategic price would have to be paid by Israel.
During those horrendous days, we in Israel experienced multiple suicide terror attacks daily, making our lives unbearable. It was during this period, prior to the disengagement and in the midst of Israel's regaining military control of all of Judea and Samaria, that Prime Minister Sharon decided on and began building the separation barrier, which was ruled illegal under international law in 2004 by the International Court of Justice.
The decision to build the separation barrier was sold to the Israeli public and to world opinion as a necessary response to prevent suicide terrorists from crossing freely into Israel and creating havoc among the Israeli public. Though this angered many on the Israeli right who opposed “abandoning” Jews beyond the separation barrier, the idea enjoyed popular support in Israel.
In an October 2003 poll, more than 80 percent of Israelis said they believed constructing fences and walls would significantly reduce or prevent suicide bombers from attacking Israeli cafes and buses. The number of Israeli civilians killed by Palestinian terrorist declined as the construction of the separation barrier went into effect, decreasing from a high of 264 in 2002 to a low of seven in 2007. The Right claimed that was due to the IDF re-entering the Arab cities of Judea and Samaria.
Regaining Israeli control of all of Judea and Samaria by the IDF, a blatant abrogation of the Oslo Agreements, and building a separation barrier around Judea and Samaria, were not decisions that could be implemented by Israel and Prime Minister Sharon without having to pay a heavy strategic price to America, which at the time was the only major superpower operating in the Middle East.
As we all know, there are no free lunches, and in global strategic terms, sovereign states do not do favors for one another, but act in terms of national interests.
The strategic trade-offs that emerged as a result of the disengagement from Gush Katif enabled Israel to regain control of Judea and Samaria and to construct the Separation Barrier surrounding Judea and Samaria. They have resulted in local and regional developments that many would been unthinkable beforehand, while never associating them with Prime Minister Sharon’s other decisions.
Could Israel have implemented a strategic trade-off other than the disengagement - which meant transferring 8000 Jewish residents of Gush Katif and ceasing Israeli control in Gaza - in exchange for the Wall and control of Judea and Samaria? Possibly.
And as we witness the results of Sharon’s strategic trade-off, we can judge its worth by ourselves.
On the negative side; in addition to the forced transfer of 8000 Israeli citizens, the disengagement resulted in the collapse of the Palestinian Arab Authority and the Hamas take-over of Gaza (the extreme Islamic terror organization that defines all non-Muslims as infidels and will never agree to the existence of the State of Israel), in the 2006 War against Hamas, and in the missiles launched on all major cities in the south of Israel. Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beersheba, and surrounding communities are all within rocket fire and have all had to endure continuing missile attacks since 2005.
On the positive side; Palestinian Arab terror has decreased immensely, going from 3 digit levels to one digit levels, Israel has de facto control of Judea and Samaria and will maintain military control of all of this area in the foreseeable future, with the unprecedented population growth of Jews residing beyond the separation barrier that now numbers between 700,000 and 750,000 residents forecast to reach one million by the end of the decade, land West of the separation barrior and east of the 1967 green line has become prime real estate for development enabling large-scale residential construction near the center of the country.
In addition, the majority of the Israeli public now believes that should Israel lose military control of Judea and Samaria, Hamas will take over with the same consequences.
Over the past 9 years Israel has experienced unprecedented economic prosperity and growth, making her a world economic power, especially in the high-tech industry.
As we question the wisdom of the current negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Arab Authority, we should keep in mind the parallel negotiations being conducted with Iran, a country that has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel.
The question that we should be asking ourselves is what strategic trade-off will the US try to force Israel to implement to "ensure" that Iran agrees to abandon her nuclear capabilities.