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Protective Edge: The disengagement undone

Israel’s latest operation has brought about an end to the notion that Gaza can be separated from the rest of Palestine.

The current war in Gaza demands we revisit the circumstances surrounding Israel’s “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Supporters of the war often claim that Israel left the territory and “got rockets in return.”

The first rocket was fired from Gaza in 2001, but there is a more important point to be made here: one cannot evacuate a certain part of the occupied territories and expect the problem to be solved – at least in that particular area – while more settlements are being built and there is less freedom elsewhere. The national drama surrounding the evacuation of 9,000 settlers in 2005 disguised the fact that Israel never ended the occupation; it merely rearranged its forces (and some of the civilian population). Just like it did with Oslo.

The events leading up to the siege demonstrate that pretty clearly – Hamas, after all, won the 2006 elections, but Israel denied it its victory. Just like other occupying powers, Israel insisted, and still does, on using its veto power in internal Palestinian politics. The rest is well known: having been left out of the political process, Hamas took Gaza by force and launched attacks on Israel, leading to Israel placing the Strip under siege, which didn’t end even when ceasefires were reached.

A Hamas supporter in Gaza City, March 23, 2014. (Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

A Hamas supporter in Gaza City, March 23, 2014. (Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

These events could have been expected, but in a way they served what the Israeli government perceived as its own interest. The object of the disengagement was to prevent the creation of the Palestinian state – relieving the pressure on an area that Israel had trouble maintaining in order to hold on more tightly to other parts. This was no secret; even Ariel Sharon’s top aid, Dov Weisglass, said as much on record in an interview with Haaretz.

The bottom line is that Gaza and the West Bank are a single unit. This was demonstrated again and again in the last decade, including in the run-up to this war, which had much to do with the widespread operation Israel carried out against Hamas’ political leadership in the West Bank after the abduction of the three teenagers. An action taken in one place leads to a response in another. It is now clear even to Israelis that one cannot simply “get rid of Gaza”; the Strip is once again understood as part of the greater Palestinian issue. And this is Hamas’ greatest achievement in this war.

Conflicting forces of separation and integration are at work between Israel and the territories it occupied in 1967. If Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense were parts of the ongoing effort to isolate besieged Gaza, this military campaign seems to bring about an opposite outcome. Any foreseeable end to Operation Protective Edge will probably include some mechanism that would reconnect Gaza to the Palestinian Authority, and through them to Israel. There is even the option that Israel will decide to re-occupy the entire Strip, though this still seems unlikely.

An Israeli tank is seen before entering the Gaza Strip near Israel's border with the Gaza strip on July 24, 2014. (photo: Activestills)

An Israeli tank is seen before entering the Gaza Strip near Israel’s border with the Gaza strip on July 24, 2014. (photo: Activestills)

At this point, it seems that nobody in Israel has given much thought to the goals or the exit strategy of this campaign. Naturally, Israelis would like to see the arrangement Israel has in the West Bank installed in Gaza – a proxy government whose main function is to protect Israeli citizens and prevent another uprising, financed by the international community and under Israeli supervision. The Egyptians would be happy with such a solution as well.

The problem is that the Palestinians, as well as the rest of the world, seem less thrilled – especially since Israel has made it fairly clear that the Palestinian Authority will never become sovereign in any real sense of the word.

Why Israel won’t sign any ceasefire that’s fair
Israel has alternatives to this war

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    1. Kolumn8

      Or maybe Israel will hand over Gaza to Dahlan and let the UAE finance him. Or maybe it will leave a chastened Hamas in place. Or maybe it will allow the PA to take it over but refuse to connect it in any meaningful way to the West Bank. Odds are that Israel will be prevented from fully defeating Hamas by the idiots over at the US Department of State so the most likely outcome is a chastened Hamas.

      This war and the idiots at the US FAA made it incredibly unlikely that any Israeli government will be able to offer the Palestinians any real security control in the West Bank thus permanently taking the idea of an agreement based on the 1967 lines off the table. It also makes the alternative idea of a disengagement from the West Bank irrelevant. If the Palestinians wish to have any semblance of a decent life they really have no choice at this point but to accept something significantly less ambitious, probably something along the lines of what Rabin had in mind in the first place when he signed Oslo. No amount of threats, harangues or boycotts is going to have any real impact on Israeli policy here.

      Some might fall into believing that there will be a one state solution here. “they keep firing at our cities”.. “oh, i know, lets let them live in Tel Aviv”. Good luck to anyone running on that platform.

      Reply to Comment
      • GKJames

        “No amount of threats, harangues or boycotts is going to have any real impact on Israeli policy here.”

        If that’s the case — and it’s certainly consistent with the real (vs. public relations) position that there never will be an independent Palestinian state west of the Jordan River — what has prevented Israel’s following through on the de jure incorporation into Israel of the Occupied Territories? It can’t be international law or impotent bleating from the rest of the world, neither of which, to your point, have the least impact on Israeli policy. And how does the scenario play out over the long term? What’s Israel’s intent with respect to the several million Palestinians, especially those not prepared to “accept something significantly less ambitious,” i.e., those unwilling to live as second-class citizens?

        Reply to Comment
    2. carl

      So, Kolumn, is the US that is “permanently taking the idea of an agreement based on the 1967 lines off the table”: do you realize that you live on a different planet?

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn8

        Do I? I thought I was living in a place where most of the flights were recently shut down because a rocket landed near the airport. It makes me oh so enthusiastic to put the same airport within mortar range of the enemy. The American government, a supposed ally of Israel, while Israel was fighting a terrorist organization, shut down the flights. The US government then decided that Israeli security interests vis-a-vis a terrorist organization firing rockets at its cities should be compromised in return for a weapons contract with Qatar. Combined with what happened to the US-trained Iraqi army it has made the idea of any force other than IDF patrolling the West Bank to be intolerable to the overwhelming majority of Israelis and the ideas raised by the Americans to the contrary laughable.

        The US can read the polls in Israel as well as I can to understand what can and what can not be accomplished. It might take a few years for this to sink in though but at some point we are going to start seeing “humanitarian” solutions to the Palestinian problem that bypass the current frameworks being pushed by the Americans.

        Reply to Comment
        • Reza Lustig

          Israelis: the world’s biggest crybabies. To them, a loss of airlines who want to fly to Ben Gurion is somehow equal a travesty to over a thousand dead Gazan civilians, destroyed hospitals and schools.

          Maybe you’ve never heard, but there’s a very cynical, but very accurate saying about the US government: “The business of America is business.” It’s nothing personal.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn8

            Indeed, somebody shooting at an international airport is sufficient grounds for war. The casualties on the other side are the responsibility of those shooting rockets at us from civilian areas. If they don’t care about the damage caused to their civilians I don’t see why we should.

            More importantly we are being asked to open up our airport to daily mortar strikes and being asked to “trust” the US to ensure that such a scenario does not happen. And indeed the business of America is business and the US can’t be expected to respect any guarantees that it provides regardless of how
            loudly it claims its devotion. All the words are pronounced just to close the deal and are basically meaningless. Which is why when it is so hypocritical for us to be criticized repeatedly for rejecting American proposals which rely on permanent American security guarantees when everyone knows that these guarantees are meaningless in the long-term.

            Reply to Comment
          • Reza Lustig

            Eisenhower had it right, to want to spank Israel’s butt with economic sanctions for its’ little misadventure in Egypt, playing along with British and French imperialism. Unfortunately, most “liberals” in Washington were dumb enough to believe that Israel was a “progressive” regime. Now, fortunately, most sane people know better, even if supporting Israel is expedient for their personal careers.

            Actually, I’m fairly sure international law makes it clear that, if army commanders know that an operation/attack will result in loads of civilian casualties, they must consider such an operation/attack a war crime. Israel stands accused of, among other things, breaking the 4th Geneva convention, inflicting disproportionate suffering and collective punishment on the Gazan people, etc. You refuse to investigate them now (“self-defense”), but hopefully you will be forced to allow an independent party to conduct one afterwards, and expose the architects of this conflict (Bibi & Co.) to the entire world as the vindictive, manipulative, law-breaking, callous pseudo-Machiavellians that they are. And then, hopefully, you will wish you had ended the occupation and saved yourself the intifada that is to come.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn8

            Compared to anything else in this region Israel is an incredibly progressive country. Those “progressives” that prefer to side with the Islamists and the dictators that surround us should really find alternative justifications for their positions because if that was really what was behind their views then they would be the greatest supporters of Israel on the planet.

            Army commanders have a task of carrying out their duty while trying to minimize the impact on civilians. If there is a guy with a machine gun shooting at your troops from a window and your troops need to get past the house then it is entirely legitimate to level the house regardless of who is in there. The primary task for an army commander according to all rules of war is achieving their military objective, with the protection of enemy civilians being of secondary importance. In this regard the IDF compares extremely favorably to how the US, British, and Russian armies deal with similar questions.

            Every incident where military commanders cause wanton damage will be investigated by the IDF. I am sure there will also be some kangaroo court investigation launched shortly by some UN body dominated by the likes of Syria and Iran and it will be treated as the farce that it is.

            Reply to Comment
          • Reza Lustig

            The general moral litmus test for “progressives,” in such a situation is as follows, and very easy to remember and go by: which side is more vulnerable/is being massacred/is subject to persecution/lacks total self-determination? Unfortunately, some have a blind spot in the case of Syria, believing the Assad regime is more “progressive” than its’ opposition, because the latter shout “Allahu Akbar” before going into battle. This is the same blind spot that leads certain “leftists” to support Israel.

            I’m sure any expert of international law (or ordinary person who thinks innocents should be protected) would say that the correct course of action would be to take out the machine gunner via sniper/infiltration of the building. Then again, there would be no machinegunner if there were no occupation.

            Take the tinfoil hat off your head; Syria and Iran don’t run the UN.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Haifawi

      I think the unity government was the undoing of the disengagement. Israel just wanted to make sure it was done on their terms…

      Reply to Comment