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The Maccabean Online
Political Analysis and Commentary
Symposium: Palestine The New Taliban State?
By Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | June 9, 2006
Israel\'s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is planning an Israeli disengagement from the West Bank. If the experiment of the disengagement from Gaza serves as any historical lesson, a serious question needs to be posed: will the West Bank become a terror state after the Israeli withdrawal? As Jim Woolsey has noted in a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal: “Creating a West Bank that looks like today\'s Gaza would be many times the nightmare.”
To discuss this issue with us today, Frontpage has assembled a distinguished panel of experts. Our guests today are:
Caroline Glick, the Deputy Managing Editor of the Jerusalem Post and the Center for Security Policy’s Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs. She has recently outlined the dire consequences of Israeli’s strategic retreat from the West Bank in her paper Ehud Olmert’s “Convergence Plan” for the West Bank and U.S. Middle East Policy.
David Keyes, an expert on the aftermath of the Gaza Disengagement. He assisted a former Israeli ambassador to the U.N. and specialized on terrorism at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He has traveled throughout the Middle East, where he co-authored academic papers with the former U.N. ambassador and the former head of Israeli military intelligence research and assessment. One of his latest papers is “Al-Qaeda Infiltration of Gaza: A Post-Disengagement Assessment,” published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Kenneth Levin, a clinical instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, a Princeton-trained historian, and a commentator on Israeli politics. He is the author of The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege.
FP: Caroline Glick, David Keyes and Kenneth Levin, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.
David Keyes, let me begin with you. Before we talk about the potential disaster that awaits us with the West Bank Disengagement, tell us what we have already learned from the Gaza Disengagement.
Keyes: As usual, James Woolsey is right on the money. In his brilliant article in the Wall Street Journal, Woolsey brings to light the undeniable reality that Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza has provoked a series of disastrous consequences. Israel’s retreat served primarily to embolden those who seek the destruction of the Jewish state. The overwhelming perception among the Palestinians is that a few years of suicide-bombings achieved what over a decade of negotiations could not. Surely this is a devastating setback for the peace process. Israel should have made it eminently clear to the Palestinians that terrorism will never provoke political concessions. Unfortunately, withdrawing from territory in the midst of a terror-war sent precisely the opposite message.
Those who favored Israel’s disengagement from Gaza must today contend with a number of unsettling facts. First, Hamas’ ascent to power was intimately tied to Israel’s retreat. Though Fatah’s systemic corruption helped drive the Palestinians toward Hamas, no less significant was Hamas’ unwavering ideological opposition to Israel and its perceived victory in Gaza.
Second, in the wake of disengagement, al-Qaeda has swept into the region as never before. The instability and radicalization of Hamas-stan has proven to be a most hospitable environment for al-Qaeda and like-minded organizations. Though al-Qaeda had links to Hamas well before Israel’s withdrawal, their presence in the region has grown significantly.
Third, Gaza has descended into utter chaos as rival factions battle openly in the streets. Rampant gunfights and indiscriminate violence plague the evacuated areas.
Fourth, enormous quantities of weapons have been smuggled into Gaza through Egypt. Without Israeli forces patrolling the Gaza-Egypt border, the primary impediment to weapons smuggling has been removed. This is a powder-keg waiting to explode.
Fifth, rockets continue raining down on Israel daily from Gaza. Disengagement did nothing to end to these flagrant acts of war, but rather brought them closer to the Israeli heartland. Some point to the relatively small number of fatalities from these attacks, but would any respectable nation tolerate thousands of rockets launched at them? Must Israel wait for hundreds to die from these rockets before responding in kind?
The problem of a failed state on Israel’s doorstep that exports terror and launches rockets daily cannot be solved simply by disengaging. If a man’s kitchen is on fire, he cannot “disengage” from it by moving into the living room. Whether he likes it or not, the fire must be extinguished if he is to live in safety. Similarly, the apparatus of terror in Gaza must be dismantled in totality. Moreover, until the Palestinians rid themselves of the hateful rhetoric spewed from mosques and schools, and eliminate the pervasive societal glorification of death, the region will remain mired in violence and war. With Hamas at the helm in Gaza, the chances of any meaningful peace accord are non-existent.
FP: But there must be some kind of strategic objective behind this disengagement plan. Surely Olmert and the rest of the planners are not suicidal. What is the strategy behind their plan?
Glick: Unfortunately the strategy behind Olmert and his associates\' plan to withdraw from the strategically vital West Bank is based on two false propositions. The first false proposition is that Israel is the only non-static actor in the region. That is, there are no Arabs or for that matter Europeans, Iranians or Americans in Olmert\'s withdrawal strategy. For Olmert, Israel is so insignificant that no one will have any reaction to anything it does.
The disengagement from Gaza was based on the same idea. Sharon, Olmert and their associates refused to answer questions regarding how the Palestinians and others would perceive Israel\'s retreat from Gaza even though in the months that preceded the withdrawal everyone from PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to the heads of Hamas and the leaders of Hezbollah and Iran said unequivocally that they considered Israel\'s retreat a vindication of their terror strategy.
This first strategic misconception that informs Olmert\'s plan aligns with the second strategic misconception. That misconception is that Israel\'s presence in the West Bank somehow endangers Israel\'s identity as a Jewish state. Olmert and his associates make the democratic/demographic argument that if Arabs will soon outnumber Jews west of the Jordan River and as a result, Israel\'s Jews must disengage themselves from the Arabs in order to preserve both Israel\'s democratic and Jewish character.
There are two problems with this argument. First, it is wrong and second it is irrelevant. The data on which Olmert is basing his demographic forecasts is Palestinian population data published in a census taken by the Palestinian Authority in 1997. As a team of independent American and Israeli researchers who studied the Palestinian data last year showed, the Palestinians falsified their data on a massive scale, exaggerating the actual Palestinian Arab population in the West Bank and Gaza by some 50 percent. If Israel were to annex the West Bank tomorrow and grant Israeli citizenship to all of its Arab residents, Israel would still be 67 percent Jewish and in 2025, conservative population forecasts show that Jews will still comprise at least 63 percent of the population of pre-1967 Israel and the West Bank.
But aside from the fact that there is no demographic threat because there just aren\'t that many Palestinians, the issue itself is irrelevant. Olmert and his political associates have no intention of annexing the West Bank and so the citizenship or lack thereof of the Palestinians -- who enjoy citizenship from the Palestinian Authority and have since 1994 -- is not their affair to begin with.
Finally, while one day Israel may need to contend with demographic issues of one sort or another, Israel\'s main problem today is that the Palestinians together with their Iranian overlords and coalition partners in Al Qaeda and Hezbollah are waging a jihad against Israel with the purpose of annihilating the Jewish state. Insisting on surrendering territory to its enemies in order to meet a both imaginary and irrelevant demographic threat to Israel\'s character as a democracy is a disturbingly ridiculous policy choice.
Unfortunately, it is the choice of the current Israeli government and if it is implemented, the results will be disastrous not only for Israel, but for the Hashemite regime in Jordan which will be overrun and for the United States which will be perceived throughout the Arab and Islamic world as both an unreliable ally by its potential friends and allies and a weak, retreating adversary by its enemies. If readers are interested, they can read more in the policy paper that we recently published on the impact of Olmert\'s planned withdrawal from the West Bank at the Center for Security Policy.
FP: Thank you Ms. Glick.
Dr. Levin, what do you make of David Keyes’ and Caroline Glick’s analysis? And if things go as bad as the evidence suggests they will, what kind of state do you think the West Bank will become?
Levin: I agree entirely with James Woolsey, David Keyes and Caroline Glick on the inevitable catastrophic consequences of the withdrawal in the West Bank being pursued by the Olmert government.
The retreat would be seen as another great victory for Palestinian terror and would bolster Islamofascism worldwide. In addition, the evacuated territory would quickly become a safe haven for terrorist forces, as Gaza has become in the wake of withdrawal. But the sort of rocket attacks that are presently emanating from Gaza will be much more dangerous in the context of the West Bank, as launching sites could be much closer to large population centers and vital national infrastructure. As also noted, the new terror entity would be a mortal threat to the government of Jordan as well.
Some voices in the government, perhaps most notably Avi Dichter, have argued that the dangers of the West Bank retreat would be obviated by the IDF\'s remaining deployed throughout the area even after withdrawal of the civilian population. But, consistent with the incoherence and contradictions endemic in government statements about the retreat, others in the government talk of withdrawal of the IDF as well, or repositioning of the IDF to areas close to the line of withdrawal. In any case, even continued deployment of the IDF throughout the West Bank would not change the perception of the withdrawal as another victory for Palestinian terror, and Israel would gain nothing politically from its destruction of Jewish communities.
But the wrongheadedness of the withdrawal plan goes far beyond the terrible consequences already noted. Even if the PA leadership miraculously became tomorrow a model of moderation prepared for genuine reconciliation to Israel\'s existence, the retreat contemplated by the Olmert government would be potentially catastrophic for Israel. A responsible government must plan beyond tomorrow. Government leaders speak of setting Israel\'s permanent borders, but those borders must allow Israel the capacity to defend itself against all potential adversaries. What if a moderate Palestinian government is overthrown or succeeded by a hostile one? What if the Jordanian government falls to extremists; a possibility always virtually one bullet away from realization? Can anyone predict the future of Iraq? What if a Shiite entity arises in southern Iraq that allies itself with Iran and moves against Jordan with an aim of attacking Israel? To defend itself from any threat coming from the east, Israel must control the Jordan Valley, the high ground over the valley, and access routes to the valley. Prime Minister Rabin, a month before his assassination, reiterated that Israel must retain control of the Jordan Valley in its widest sense. Israel must also be in a position to prevent hostile forces from dominating the ridge line overlooking the coastal plane, which is home to some 70% of Israel\'s population.
The authors of UN Security Council Resolution 242, passed in the wake of the 1967 war, were all of the view that Israel could not return to the pre-war armistice lines without inviting future aggression. Evaluations by the Pentagon have repeatedly concluded that Israel needs to retain significant areas in the West Bank if the country is to be capable of defending itself against attack.
Yet the government speaks very little of defensible borders and there is no national debate on what those borders should be. They certainly would bear very little resemblance to the anti-terror fence currently being constructed, which should be no surprise as the fence can only help stop infiltrations but can do nothing against either mortars or rockets fired by a terror entity that might fill the post-retreat vacuum or a conventional military threat from the east.
The government\'s wrongheadedness is amplified by its emphasis on demographics, its insistence that Israel will retain large settlement blocks, as though these facts on the ground are a reasonable and sufficient basis for drawing a new border and as though the demographic criterion would have some sway on world opinion.
But much of the world looks at the settlements as simply an Israeli land grab and views border claims based on them as illegitimate. The only internationally recognized basis for Israeli claims to West Bank land is the security basis enshrined in Resolution 242 and the principle of aggressors\' forfeiture of territory used for their aggression. Thus, American administrations have repeatedly recognized Israel\'s right to "defensible" borders. Israeli settlement policy was initiated to reinforce claims to areas of key strategic importance, and this security dimension provides essential legitimacy to the settlements. (That many international players call the West Bank "occupied" rather than "disputed," and label settlements "illegal," does not render either position valid or legitimate and is inconsistent with the import of Resolution 242, still the fundamental document underlying all diplomatic activity concerning disposition of the West Bank.)
A right-thinking government should not only defer any territorial concessions until it has a genuine partner but must base any ultimate concessions on the principle of defensible borders. If Israel believes that there are demographic imperatives for ultimate concessions, in particular the desirability of separation from the vast majority of Palestinians, the overriding principle must still be defensible borders. What is the use of giving priority to "assuring a Jewish majority in Israel" - a current mantra of the government - if at the same time you are compromising the state\'s capacity to survive? In any case, it is possible to retain defensible borders, hold onto that portion of the West Bank necessary for defense of the nation, and still separate from the overwhelming majority of Palestinians.
FP: David Keyes, what do you make of Ms. Glick’s and Dr. Levin’s comments? Also, Dr. Levin has written in his book The Oslo Syndrome about how the Israelis have engaged in ongoing delusions about their predicament, believing that certain actions on their part might offset he nature of the hatred and threat against them. Could you talk about that a bit in the context of our discussion?
Keyes: Both Caroline Glick and Dr. Levin make cogent and convincing arguments. While we cannot ignore the demographic factor, it also must not monopolize the debate. Other issues, such as the necessity of defensible borders for Israel, need to be taken into account. The Defensible Borders Initiative of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs has done great work on this front by raising awareness about the imperative of maintaining certain strategic territory in order to defend against current and future threats.
It is certainly true that no one can predict the immediate, let alone the long term future of the Middle East. Policy decisions must have a longer time horizon than the next few months or years. Iran is on the verge of attaining nuclear weapons, and the entire balance of power in the region may soon shift dramatically. With the backing of a nuclear-armed Iran, the audacity of radical terrorists groups may rise to levels never previously seen. Jordan’s restive Palestinian majority coupled with the ever-present potential for conflict with Hezbollah in the north, means that the days of conventional warfare for Israel are not necessarily over. Naturally, Iran is still the gravest threat posed to Israel and America, and all steps must be taken in order to ensure that it does not attain nuclear weapons.
As for the question of delusion in Israeli society, one fact is most assured: given a commensurate threat, few nations would conduct themselves with such restraint as has Israel. America’s military flew thousands of miles, destroyed two regimes and occupied two countries after three thousand people were killed in a single major terror attack. Now imagine what America would have done if 50,000 people had died, because that is approximately proportional to the number of Israelis killed in the past 5 years alone. Meanwhile, during its major offensive in 2002, the IDF did not bomb Jenin from the air—a city that had launched dozens upon dozens of suicide-bombers. Rather, they sent in ground troops, more than two dozen of whom died in the operation. The morality of abstaining from an aerial campaign and sending young soldiers to walk through a city booby-trapped with explosives and crawling with terrorists was questionable at best.
I do not believe that Israelis who argued for disengagement from Gaza were cowardly, anti-Israel, or traitors. I just believe that they were wrong. That said, people make decisions based on a variety of factors, and it is inconceivable that decades of unrelenting terror and war have not taken their toll. Though disengagement may have been a calculated strategic move in the eyes of some, for others, it was surely the result of fatigue. This is not to say that Israelis would not fight when called upon—as evidenced by the stupendous turnout of soldiers during Operation Defensive Shield, but many Israelis simply wanted to rid themselves of Gaza, no matter what the price. Sharon was not suicidal and he undoubtedly believed that withdrawing from Gaza was the best option for Israel. Nevertheless, as Woolsey’s article points out, disengagement has led to a number of very troubling outcomes. Just this week, head of the Shin Bet, Yuval Diskin, reported that since disengagement, the amount of explosives and weapons smuggled into Gaza has exceeded the total amount smuggled during the previous 39 years combined. And so we await the next round of fighting.
Glick: I think it is important to note that Israel, as a young republic suffers from some very serious, systemic growing pains and that much of Israel\'s current political and strategic confusion is a result of these growing pains. Specifically, Israel\'s media, academia and legal establishment are mirror images of the Western European media, academia and legal establishments. As is the case in Europe, these three elite power structures in Israel are overwhelmingly populated by radical leftist, neo-Marxist elements who have for the past 15 years or so prevented Israel from having any serious intellectual or political debate about the strategic and cultural challenges to the Jewish state.
Activists and political leaders on the Right, from the religious Zionist sector, from the national security community and lone voices in the media and academia who opposed the withdrawal from Gaza last summer for national security and moral reasons were demonized by these Israeli elites. The legal system in Israel systematically abrogated the civil rights of those who protested against the withdrawal. Hundreds of minor children were incarcerated for months pending their trials on charges that didn\'t even entail maximum sentences as long as their pre-trial imprisonment. We\'re talking about 12-16 year old boys and girls arrested for standing at traffic junctions holding signs opposing the withdrawal. Thousands of law abiding Israelis were jailed on trumped up charges in an effort to stem the massive protests against Israel\'s withdrawal from Gaza and to demonize those who opposed the withdrawal.
Ariel Sharon fired the most successful Chief of General Staff in Israeli military history -- Lt. General Moshe Yaalon -- because of his opposition to the withdrawal plan, which Yaalon rightly warned would cause the transformation of Gaza into a base for global jihad.
Today the media and the government continue to lie to the Israeli people about the impact of the Gaza withdrawal in order to build public support for the planned massive retreat from the West Bank and the expulsion of up to 100,000 Israeli citizens from their homes just because they are Jews. Ignoring the transformation of Gaza into a base for global terror, ignoring the ascendance of Hamas, ignoring the daily rocket, mortar and missile attacks on southern Israel, ignoring the fact that Al Qaeda has set up shop in Jerusalem, Olmert and his associates, including the current IDF Chief of Staff Lt. General Dan Halutz tell Israelis that we are more secure. They tell us that leaving the West Bank will make us popular internationally. And mainly they tell us that religious Zionists are the cause of our problems and continue to demonize anyone who warns of the coming dangers as a fear-mongers or as right-wing extremists.
Israel\'s media systematically plays down the attacks that Israel is absorbing. The media underplays Hamas\'s ties to Iran and ignores the significance of the Palestinians in the global jihad. The media makes no mention for instance of the leading role that Palestinians are now playing in the Sunni terror war against the US-led coalition in Iraq and against the democratically elected Iraqi government.
As a result of all of this, like their Western European counterparts Israeli citizens are either unaware of the dangers that threaten them or too intimidated to raise them. The Right wing in Israel is demoralized after last summer\'s expulsions from Gaza and the defeat of the Right in the March elections and is still unready to mount a new campaign against Olmert\'s planned retreat from the West Bank. The political opposition is similarly still in a state of shock after Sharon destroyed the Likud.
It is because of this state of affairs in Israel that I think it is vital for there to be a debate on the geopolitical consequences of Olmert\'s planned withdrawal in the United States. Such a debate in America will force the Israeli goverment and media to enable a more open discussion of Israel\'s predicament. Only such an open exchange will provide Israelis the opportunity to make the informed decisions necessary to ensure the future of the country.
FP: Kenneth Levin, last word goes to you.
Levin: Caroline Glick\'s observation that the Israeli public is in many respects ill served by the nation\'s elites, perhaps most notably its media, and that the true dimensions of the substantial and growing threat from Gaza and the potential threat of a replication of Gaza in the West Bank are not conveyed adequately to the public, is an essential point. With regard to the media, during the Oslo era all three Hebrew dailies, as well as, in general, the electronic media, acted virtually as cheerleaders for Oslo and failed to cover more than occasionally and superficially evidence of Arafat\'s support for ongoing terror or the murderous incitement that was endemic in PA media, mosques and schools. It is significant that a type of underground media - including MEMRI (The Middle East Media Research Institute) and Palestinian Media Watch - had to emerge to cover what was really being said and done by Arafat and his PA and fill the information gap left by the mainstream media\'s failures on this score. Similar failures are prevalent in the Israeli media today as well.
The political leadership is, of course, also involved in underplaying events in Gaza and the threats posed by unilateral withdrawal from parts of the West Bank. There is significant inconsistency and incoherence in government members\' explanations of what withdrawal will entail and rationales for such a wrongheaded and dangerous undertaking. But it is noteworthy that some in the government coalition still cling to the delusions of Oslo, close their eyes to the disasters those delusions have spawned, and view unilateral withdrawal - "realignment" in the current jargon - as a step toward peace via Israeli concessions in the spirit of Oslo. Others in the government recognize that no one on the other side is offering Israel peace and this is not likely to change for the foreseeable future but embrace variations on the Oslo delusions, wishful thinking that withdrawal and other concessions in the near term will still somehow mollify anti-Israel opinion and make the state safer.
I agree with Caroline\'s view that it would be useful for the government to get a clear message from the United States that it views with grave concern the prospect of Israeli withdrawal quickly leading to the emergence of another terrorist entity, one that will pose severe dangers not only to Israel but to American interests beyond Israel as well. That message should be consistent and it should be public, conveyed in manner that obliges the Israeli media to cover it and inform the Israeli public of it.
But even if the dangers of "realignment" are fully appreciated and the government abandons that course, Israel requires not only the eschewing of self-defeating policies but the pursuit of a positive course. Similarly, it is not sufficient for those on the Right who have opposed unilateral withdrawal simply to focus on the message of what Israel should not do; it must offer the public a clearer message on what should be done. David Keyes rightly notes the great work of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs in making the case for the necessity of Israel retaining key strategic territory for its defense against both current threats and potential future threats. The Jerusalem Center has done important work in elucidating what those essential strategic areas entail and in conveying the importance of their retention. It has received a very sympathetic hearing in the United States not only from military leaders, who share the Center\'s views and have made similar arguments in past Pentagon reviews of Israel\'s strategic needs, but from political leaders, including members of Congress.
In Israel, there is significant support for the work of the Jerusalem Center within what remains of the Likud, among others on the Right, even among some whose political allegiances are generally left of center, and among many retired and current IDF officers. That work can be the basis for a more forcefully argued positive vision that would reinvigorate opponents of the course mapped by Kadima and compete more effectively for public support. The Israeli public deserves a free and open debate on what should be government policy regarding Judea and Samaria, and everyone interested in Israel\'s future, and indeed the course of the broader struggle against the murderous ideologies that prevail in the Arab world and parts of the broader Islamic world today and target many beyond Israel - the struggle that America is engaged in as well, should encourage that debate.
FP: Caroline Glick, David Keyes and Kenneth Levin, thank you for joining us.