The Gaza Strip: Myths and Facts - Part II

There is no reason why Israel should have to automatically give up every acre of the land it conquered just because an Arab representative offers Israel the Holy Grail of peace.

Barry Verstaendig

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[Part one of this article can be read at]

While a strong argument can be made for exchanging land conquered during the Six-Day War for a genuine peace agreement, there is no reason why Israel should have to automatically give up every acre of the land it conquered just because an Arab representative offers Israel the Holy Grail of peace. Rather, Israel should participate in negotiations and actually negotiate. It would be expected that, in the context of a land-for-peace deal, Israel would at least try to win an agreement that allowed it to keep some of its more populous settlements, such as the Gush Katif bloc, which is where most of the settlers of the Gaza Strip live.

Since the Arab nations attacked Israel while they still held the Gaza Strip and the other territories Israel conquered in 1967, and since the Palestinians refused to make peace with Israel even when they were offered the entire Gaza Strip and most of the "West Bank" in 2000, it is clear that just handing them territory is not going to solve any problems. In the absence of a negotiated peace agreement that resolves all of the issues, there is no reason for Israel to withdraw from any settlements. No other country in history ever unilaterally withdrew from territory that rightfully belonged to it - ever.

Myth #3: Most Israelis want Israel to disengage from the Gaza Strip.

Every single time the Israeli population was asked to decide whether or not Israel should stay in the Gaza Strip, the answer was always a resounding "Yes!" In 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat, the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, the entire Gaza Strip. A few months later, the Israelis voted him out of office and instead elected Ariel Sharon, who, at the time, was famous for his pledges to hold on to as much territory as possible. In 2003, Ariel Sharon ran for reelection against Amram Mitzna. Mitzna's central platform was that Israel would unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip immediately upon his election, while Sharon insisted that there would be no unilateral withdrawals. The Israeli electorate again voted overwhelmingly for Sharon. In fact, Sharon's Likud party won twice as many seats in the legislature as Mitzna's Labor party.

After Sharon reversed his position and began advocating for exactly what Mitzna had campaigned for - a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip - all registered members of Sharon's own Likud party voted against disengaging from Gaza in a referendum. But the media still insists that "polls" show that a wide margin of Israelis want Israel to separate itself from the Gaza Strip. Well, guess what? Exit polls taken from the 2004 US presidential election showed John Kerry beating George W. Bush by a margin of 3:1. These polls obviously are not very accurate indicators of what the public really wants.

The only way to genuinely determine what the public wants is to hold a national referendum, in which all Israeli citizens (including the Israeli Arabs), would vote on whether or not to support the disengagement. Sharon, however, refuses to allow such a referendum. Why is that? If he really believed that the public supported his plan, then he would be only too happy to allow a referendum. It must be that, secretly, he is afraid that a majority of Israelis would be against his plan for a unilateral withdrawal.

Sharon insists on proceeding with it, anyway, even though throughout his entire life he championed the rights of Jews to settle the entire land of Israel, and even though there is strong evidence that most of the public is against his plan. Why? The favorite theory is that he is trying to placate the attorney general's office, which is notorious for its positions denying Jews the right to settle in territories that Israel conquered in 1967. (The State of Israel's Department of Justice is investigating Sharon and his family for several charges of corruption. His son was just indicted and there is strong evidence that Sharon, too, used his connections and high positions in the Israeli government over the years for personal financial gain.) By insisting that the withdrawal will be carried out whether the public likes it or not, Sharon is not only trying to divert attention from the corruption scandals, but is also sending a message to the Israeli public: he is the strongest politician in Israel and the country will bow to his demands.

To his credit, Sharon is a much stronger leader than almost any other Israeli politician. Benjamin Netanyahu, his runner-up in the Likud primaries, buckled under the slightest pressure from the United States or any Israeli lobby group when he was the prime minister. Sharon is famous for using strong-arm tactics to get what he wants, but his use of these tactics now is dangerous. Anyone who disagrees with his policies is demonized in the press and subsequently marginalized. Although there have been no specific threats of violence made against him by anyone, his advisors are discussing the need to put certain groups of people in "administrative detention" to ensure that no harm befalls him. Furthermore, the police and army are discussing how they will force the settlers out of their homes when the time to "evacuate" the settlements comes. Already, police brutality has been reported in many cases where citizens were nonviolently protesting Sharon's plan.

Although Sharon was elected prime minister and his government received a vote of confidence, the platform under which he was elected is markedly different from the policies he is trying to implement now. Ethically, he should seek approval from the electorate before proceeding. But his lack of willingness to be held accountable, his determination to push through his policies without giving serious consideration to the opposition, and his use of force against his own countrymen give him all the characteristics of a dictator, rather than the elected leader of a free country. A country in which some members of the society are demonized and locked up without being charged for committing any crimes is more reminiscent of a fascist dictatorship than of a democracy.

Even if the results of a referendum showed a clear majority of the electorate supporting his plans, it would be illegal for Sharon to use force to deprive a minority of their right to private property the way he is proceeding to do it. A lynch mob, where the majority votes to kill a few people and the only dissenting votes are those slated for murder, may be "democratic", but is not in keeping with the spirit of freedom. The only way Sharon could legally force settlers to leave their homes for just compensation would be by negotiating a comprehensive peace agreement with the Palestinians, and then asking the elected representatives of Israel's parliament to approve it - without twisted arms or engaging in the political games the Israeli public has become so used to. And, since the issues facing the Israeli parliament at this time are so different from the ones that were facing it at the time of the last elections, there would be a moral obligation to allow the Israeli public to choose new representatives before such a treaty could be put up for approval.

[Part 2 of 3]