This time, everyone sides with Israel

With the Middle East in flames and opposition parties accusing the Tories of an insufficiently nuanced approach to attempts to slaughter Jews, we can see clearly the wisdom of Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza. Yes, wisdom. Right before his incapacitating stroke last summer, in another brilliant gamble, the war hero of 1973 and erstwhile champion of settlers in lands captured in 1967 pulled Israel’s settlements out of Gaza unilaterally. I was in Israel last July and saw how it divided people. On street corners youngsters handed out blue (go) or orange (stay) ribbons; people wore T-shirts; they argued from checkpoints to kitchens to Knesset. But much of the debate, especially abroad, missed the essential point.

Israeli governments had long sought to exchange some land for complete peace. The Egyptian government took the deal, fearing revolution if it lost one more war against the despised Jews. So did Jordan, whose government secretly fears its Arab neighbours more than Israel and despises them at least as much. And people mistook Sharon’s withdrawal for a bold attempt to restart peace talks with the Palestinian Authority on the same basis: a dramatic concession to establish good will and break down barriers of misunderstanding and the whole psychobabble lexicon.

It was nothing of the sort. It was the product of reluctant but widespread recognition that there was no one to talk to on the other side. Liberal leader Bill Graham may prate about Canada’s capacity to work with “moderates,” but most Israelis share Tel Aviv professor Barry Rubin’s weary verdict that “a Palestinian moderate … can usually be defined as someone who apologizes for terrorism in good English.”

Some Israelis hoped the Palestinians would settle down. But the brilliance of Sharon’s gambit was precisely that it didn’t matter. Instead it was based on three main assumptions. First, nothing Israel could do would affect its neighbours’ propensity for incompetent attempts at genocide, so there was no more risk of encouraging radicals than hope of engaging moderates. Second, the material and psychological cost of having soldiers police Gaza was far higher than the rewards of maintaining the settlements there. And third, it’s easier to invade a place than occupy it.

All three seem to have been vindicated. And a fourth benefit is now increasingly apparent: clarity. Withdrawal showed the Israeli left, and the world, two key things. First, those who shape policy in Israel no longer seek all the Biblical land from Jordan to the sea. Second, Hamas and Hezbollah still do. So what first divided Israelis now unites them, as even prominent peace activists like Amos Oz defend the current military campaign. And reasonable non-Israelis see the true face of Palestinian political culture: death to Jews morning, noon and night.

Given their own state in Gaza, admittedly a feeble shadow of what they wanted (all of Israel), did the Palestinians settle down to build their economy, educate their children and live in peace with their neighbour? No. They elected Hamas, uttered deluded threats and shot at civilians. (Exactly, minus settlements and elections, as when Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000 and Hezbollah took over.)

The editor-at-large of Beirut’s Daily Star just wrote a “Dream Palace” piece in the Globe and Mail claiming the U.S. and Israel “find themselves in the bizarre position of repeating policies that have consistently failed for the past 40 years…. a diplomatic solution should be sought seriously for the first time.” Rubbish. Just shy of the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War, 30 years after Jimmy Carter’s Camp David, a decade after Yasser Arafat’s bogus Nobel Peace prize, it is Arab leaders who are boxed in by their long history of foolish words and deeds, and it is Israel that has rejected 40-yearold failed policies for the first time. And it is working.

Ignore Western politicians’ reflexive babble about disproportionate responses or putting another peacekeeping force beside the UN’s UNIFIL that has, the Globe notes, been in southern Lebanon watching Hezbollah shoot rockets at Israeli civilians since Zimbabwe was Rhodesia, or the European Union monitors watching Hamas smuggle terror cash into Gaza. A key Israeli demand is that the Lebanese army occupy all of Lebanon. Think France will send 20,000 troops either to make it happen or to prevent it?

Reasonable people can no longer even urge Israel to withdraw from much of the West Bank to break the “cycle of violence.” Not after what came blazing out of Gaza. Is it meant to withdraw from Tel Aviv? Should the Jews throw themselves into the sea? It’s very clear now where the trouble is coming from. That’s why just about every sensible person hopes Israel flattens Hezbollah and Hamas and maybe blows up some Syrian tanks as well so we can all stop listening for hoof beats at Megiddo.

Game, set and match to Ariel Sharon.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson