The rewards of cynicism
The announcements this week by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's top advisers, in-house generals and Vice Premier Shimon Peres (along with Sharon's dubious denials) that the government will now begin planning more land giveaways to the Palestinians after last month's destruction of our communities in Gaza and northern Samaria ought to have caused a furor in the country. And yet it is hard to escape the impression that these latest announcements are something of an anticlimax.
Politically, the announcements only served to reinforce the sense that Sharon's political and policy machinations have passed all previous bounds of cynicism. After all, before the Likud Central Committee's vote on Monday regarding the date of elections for the party leadership, Sharon and his advisers strenuously denied any plan to continue the prime minister's policy of confronting Palestinian terrorism by expelling Jews from their homes and destroying their communities.
It isn't that anyone really believed his protestations, although the local media, which to all intents and purposes act as an adjunct to Sharon's official spin team, were quick to give credence to these fundamentally unconvincing claims. More than anything, the lack of public outrage at Sharon's latest policy flip-flop, like the yawn that greeted the exposure of his flagrantly illegal election fund-raising during his recent visit to New York, stems from a widespread sense that the political system in Israel is incurably corrupt. It isn't that Israelis are apathetic about the fact that the prime minister doesn't even pretend not to lie or cheat. It is just that at this point most people feel powerless to do anything about it.
Aside from what the plan to expand the government's policy of national cannibalism tells us about the corruption of Israel's political system by Sharon and his associates, it also makes clear a larger point about the consequences of surrender. As events in Gaza, Judea and Samaria since the government enacted its withdrawal and expulsion plan last month have shown, the adoption of a surrender policy automatically rules out any option for achieving either a peace agreement or agreed and credible security arrangements with the Palestinians or neighboring Arab states.
Addressing an annual conference at the left-wing Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University on Wednesday, head of Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Aharon Ze'evi Farkash stated dryly that al-Qaida has exploited Gaza's breached border with Egypt to infiltrate its operatives into the area. The disturbing aspect of Farkash's statement is that it was not accompanied by a pledge that Israel will kill or arrest these operatives before they have a chance to set up operations in the area. Then again, such a statement would in the end be counterproductive because now that Israel has abandoned Gaza, it is unclear what options that IDF has for contending with this new threat. As well, Israel's deterrent posture vis-a-vis the Palestinians was so eroded by the withdrawal and expulsion that it is hard to know how uttering yet another empty threat would do anything other than weaken Israel's credibility that much more.
Adding his voice to the defeatism that has necessarily taken hold of the senior echelons of the IDF in the wake of its enactment of last month's withdrawal and expulsion plan, on Tuesday Brig.-Gen. Udi Dekel, the head of Strategic Planning in the General Staff, claimed at another academic conference that the transformation of Gaza into "Hamastan" has much to recommend it. In Dekel's view, "there is a potential that Hamas will be more committed than the Palestinian Authority [to stop attacking Israel] the moment it takes responsibility and control of the Strip." The fact that he made this statement just hours after Hamas released an al-Qaida-style videotape of kidnapped and bound Israeli businessman Sasson Nuriel begging for his life just before he was murdered simply makes the complete disconnect from reality that his statement exposes all the more dramatic.
It is true that Hamas, with its ideological and strategic clarity, could cut a deal with Israel much more easily than the PLO can. But then again, that clarity, which is based on a total dedication to the annihilation of Israel, is what makes the notion that it is possible to take solace in Hamas control of Palestinian society insane.
In the meantime, the Palestinian Authority, under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, has continued to extol its support for continued war against Israel and for the empowerment of Hamas as a "legitimate" political party. The PA indirectly supported Hamas's kidnapping and murder of Nuriel though its official media organs, which reported as fact Hamas's contention that Nuriel – who owned a candy factory – was an intelligence officer.
TODAY ONLY two things seem to bother the PA: Israel's counterterror operations, which Abbas and his deputies refer to as "barbaric acts of terrorism," and the fear that they may lose international support. The PA attempted to deal with the latter concern this week when it leaked a Syrian directive to Hamas and Islamic Jihad calling on the terror groups to continue their attacks against Israel. The obvious purpose of publishing the report was to get Syria blamed for the PA's own pro-terror policies.
The Egyptians, who were supposed to be the guarantors that Gaza would not turn into a base for global terrorism and that its border with the Sinai would remain sealed, have expressed no embarrassment over the fact that their military forces along the border not only have done nothing to stop the open cross border traffic between Gaza and the Sinai, they have facilitated it. Rather than voicing contrition or acting to exert effective control over the border, the Egyptians have demanded that Israel allow their forces to deploy in Judea and Samaria where, the Egyptians claim, they will reenact their operations in Gaza. For his part, Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak reacted to the mayhem that he enabled by telling the media that Sharon is thwarting peace prospects.
All of the actions and statements by the Palestinian leadership and the Egyptians show that in the wake of Israel's abandonment of Gaza and northern Samaria, it has both curtailed its military options and cast off all possibility of ever reaching either a political settlement with the Palestinians or security arrangements regarding the Palestinians with Egypt or Jordan. The Palestinians realize that they no longer have an incentive to negotiate with Israel because Israel will surrender without even a fig leaf of an agreement. From their perspective, the lesson of the withdrawal and expulsion plan – and now the latest announcements that more land transfers are in the offing – is that there is no reason for them to concede anything.
The Egyptians have learned that they can negotiate security arrangements with Israel, not abide by any of their commitments, and continue to be viewed as a positive force in the region by all parties concerned. The fact that Egypt has paid no price for its duplicity shows Cairo that there is no justification for adhering to Israeli demands that it behave like a good neighbor and stop encouraging and facilitating Palestinian terrorists.
For their part, the Jordanians – who for the past five years have successfully sealed their border with Israel to terrorist infiltration – have no interest in getting involved in the terror swamp now expanding its depth and breadth in Judea and Samaria. Not only is Jordanian society overwhelmingly pro-Islamist, but Jordan would end up having to confront Egypt as well as its own people if it gave Israel a hand in dealing with the Palestinians. Quite simply, after last month's withdrawal, cooperating with Israel holds costs but no benefits for the Palestinians, Jordanians and Egyptians.
SHARON AND his associates argue that the rationale for continued retreat is the absence of a diplomatic option for achieving peace. According to their reasoning, surrendering territory to terrorists is in Israel's interest because in doing so, Israel is able to determine its borders in accordance with its needs. But there is a major flaw in this logic.
In the absence of a diplomatic option, it is necessary for Israel – as for any state contending with such issues – to take unilateral steps that ensure its interests. But it is in Israel's interest to prevent al-Qaida from establishing operational bases in Gaza, Judea and Samaria. It is in Israel's interests to prevent terrorists from launching rockets, mortars and missiles at its population centers. It is in Israel's interest to prevent terrorists from controlling territory from which they can launch shoulder-fired missiles at civilian aircraft. By surrendering territory to terrorists, Israel is ensuring that it will be unable to do anything meaningful to guarantee any of these vital interests.
Rather than unilaterally taking the action necessary to ensure its interests, Israel, by destroying its own communities and transferring territory to its enemies, is actively advancing the cause of its enemies while endangering its citizens and economy.
In the post-mortem review of the causes for Sharon's close victory in the Likud Central Committee on Monday, it is clear that the primary reason he won is that his opposition refused to rally around former finance minister Binyamin Netanyahu as their leader. For the past year and a half Sharon has avoided providing a defense of his policy of surrender by casting every political and policy battle as a personal dispute. With the firm backing of the local media, Sharon has beaten all his opponents by accusing them of the crime of attempting to usurp his power. It is not that his political opponents cannot do anything against this tactic, it is just that to date they have refused to adopt the one remedy – providing an alternate, agreed-upon leader to replace him – that could force Sharon to engage in a policy debate.
In light of this, there is no reason for Israelis in general or for Sharon's political opponents specifically to despair over the results of Monday's central committee vote. All that is necessary to return vibrancy to the political debate in Israel is to maintain pressure on Sharon by rallying around the one leader with the ability to actually win a national election.
Once this obstacle has been mounted, it is necessary for Sharon's opponents in the Likud and its sister parties on the Right to make the point that the absence of a diplomatic option is not a justification for the further abandonment of Israel's right to guarantee its national interests. Such a debate will constrict Sharon's maneuver room as he plots a course for further withdrawals. Pointing out that fact that the lack of a diplomatic option was exacerbated, not alleviated, by last month's withdrawals and expulsions will also serve to signal to the Palestinians and their allies that their ability to scoff at Israel's demands for action against terrorists may be smaller than they now believe it to be.
At any rate, the cynicism with which Sharon and his allies have infected Israel's political culture must end as soon as possible, and it is within the power of his political opponents to take the steps necessary to bring this about.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.