It’s the Act That Counts! Focus needs to be on steps following Gaza showdown, not pullout histrionics

Under what we laughingly call "normal" circumstances, Israel is inundated with foreign journalists. But this month and next, there will be even more newsies parachuted into the country than usual. And you can bet that most of them will be even more ignorant of the context of the events they cover than the regular crowd.

The reason is Israel's scheduled "disengagement" from the Gaza Strip, which will entail the eviction of thousands of Jews who haven't already left.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon – always one to concentrate more on tactics than grand strategy – has prepared well to fend off mass protests, which have already been disrupted and largely squelched.

This is the drama that will be followed closely not only by a curious world, but also by an international Jewish community.

The majority of Israelis and Diaspora Jews back Sharon for what they see as a sensible retrenchment that will rid Israel of more than a million hostile Arabs, though they worry about the danger of civil strife.

The sizable minority opposing the move is determined to demonstrate grief and anger about the destruction of Gaza settlements, and to do its best to illustrate the high-handed and generally undemocratic way Sharon is carrying out his plan. They will also point out that Israel will get nothing in return from the Palestinians and their leaders.

But all of that is also fast becoming irrelevant.

Complain all you want about Sharon's methods, but the truth is that the majority of Israelis still see no value in hanging on to Gaza and its Palestinians for the sake of a few thousand settlers. As long as Sharon commands a majority in the Knesset, there's nothing the vocal minority (which can rightly complain about his flouting of democratic norms, and the way the opposition has been demonized in the Israeli and foreign press) can do about it. Disengagement is a fact that cannot be undone.

As bitter as the critics may be, it would be a big mistake for friends of Israel to get too caught up in this issue. Why?

Because whether you believe in the pullout due to the demographic challenge Gaza presents or are simply appalled at how Israel seems to be giving the Palestinians a reason to believe terrorism works, worse is soon to follow.

Though Sharon may have proposed this plan because he saw a unilateral withdrawal to defensible lines as a way to forestall the charade of talks with a partner clearly uninterested in peace, the pullout isn't going to earn him or the country any respite from the trials of the day.

While archterrorist and Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat still lived in his compound in Ramallah, Sharon could count on the administration of President George W. Bush to back him up. But Arafat's death transformed a very sensible plan into one that could fail if Washington changed its mind.

Though Bush continues to say most of the right things, the last few months have also shown that the administration is willing to make an exception to its rule that democracy and opposition to terror are the keys to its goodwill. Current P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas seems to have a permanent "get-out-of-jail-free" card from Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Though Abbas has put off elections (so as to avoid defeat at the hands of Hamas) and has done nothing to halt the terror attacks against Israelis that have never really stopped despite a so-called cease-fire, Washington doesn't seem to care. Even after a week of shootings, bombings and missile attacks that cost the lives of several Israelis (some of which were carried out by Abbas' own Fatah movement, not Hamas or Islamic Jihad), Rice was moved to commend the man. With these false statements, the secretary is following the same playbook that characterized the Clinton administration's behavior as Arafat set in motion the events that doomed the Oslo peace process.

What this means is that as soon as Israelis finish beating themselves up over Gaza, the Palestinians will begin the agitation for more concessions without paying the price of ceasing terror or real peace talks. What will follow are the opening acts of yet another war in which Israeli withdrawal from the cities, towns and villages where nearly half a million Jews live in the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem will be the goal. Given the results of the last few years, in which Israeli peace proposals have only emboldened its foes, there is no reason to believe Abbas and his confederates are not preparing for more violence.

In the meantime, some elements of the American press are already starting to interpret the events surrounding the Gaza pullout in such a way as to place the blame for future violence on the Israeli victims, rather than the Palestinian perpetrators.

The editorial pages of newspapers like The New York Times see the flow of Palestinian terrorist activity as unconnected to Palestinian policy, and are still quick to see any Israeli measure of self-defense against these attacks as blameworthy. The world press and much of European opinion believe Israelis deserve to be murdered by terrorists.

One such voice – The Philadelphia Inquirer's foreign-affairs columnist Trudy Rubin – even denounced Sharon's withdrawal because it would help Hamas and hurt Abbas. That Jewish foes of Sharon's plan highlighted this statement as proof of Sharon's folly – as the Zionist Organization of America did -was itself an act of incomprehensible stupidity. Rubin and her ilk want more Israeli withdrawals, not less; they seek more concessions to terror, not an end to them.

An All-Out Push
Israeli intelligence sources are already widely quoted as believing that the coming months will bring an escalation in terror. The Palestinians' hope is that, unlike the situation in 2002, when Bush gave Sharon a green light for a counteroffensive against terrorist bases, this time the Americans will demand that Israel give more to Abbas.

And that's where American Jews and the vast number of non-Jews who support the Jewish state come in. What will be needed in the immediate future is an all-out push to make the administration come to its senses about Abbas and thugs.

Nothing will aid the killers' cause more than to have American Jews tear themselves to pieces over Gaza, and thus be unable to muster the political will to speak up when it really counts. Nor should Sharon's right-wing and centrist foes waste the time of evangelical allies of Zion and the pro-Israel majority in Congress by asking them to intercede against Sharon, as critics of the Gaza plan have foolishly done. They need to bow to the will of the Israeli majority, and be prepared to spring into action when the real fight starts. Odds are, they won't have to wait long.

Now is the time for friends of Israel to keep their powder dry, not to squander political capital on a lost cause. Jonathan S. Tobin is reachable via e-mail at: [email protected]



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