08/23/05 — Bold move: Will Israel’s withdrawal bring peace or danger?

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Bold move: Will Israel’s withdrawal bring peace or danger?

Ariel Sharon, the prime minister of Israel, should get a Nobel prize. Time will tell whether it should be the Nobel Prize for Peace or the Nobel Prize for Stupidity.

As you have read, Sharon has ordered the 8,500 Jewish settlers in the Gaza strip to abandon their homes and farms and return to Israel. His intention is to allow to Arabs, presumably Palestinians, to move into Gaza.

Sharon is an old general whose military career was checkered occasionally by a conviction that his own judgment excelled that of his superiors. He was a maverick, but sometimes his maverick moves brought him success. Militarily, this move out of Gaza seems unlikely to do so.

Gaza is a finger of land that sticks into western Israel from Egypt, just south of the Mediterranean. It belonged to Egypt before the Seven Days War, which started when Egypt and other nearby Arab countries attacked Israel in 1967.

Israel defeated the aggressors and occupied land from which they had staged their assault. This included two pieces of Egyptian land, Gaza and the Sinai Desert.

The Israelis also took the Golan Heights from Syria and the West Bank from Jordan. They returned the Sinai to Egypt in the 1970s in exchange for a peace treaty, but they continue to occupy the other three areas.

This is a great annoyance to the Arab countries, which would like to see an Arab “Palestinian state” in some of those lands.

Note that when the Arab countries held this land, they weren’t so anxious to turn it over to the Palestinians. It was only after they lost the tracts to Israel that the Palestinian refugees got so all-fired important to them.

Might it be that these Arab nations are not as concerned as they claim to be about the purportedly homeless Palestinians? Might it be that they just want to get these militarily strategic areas back into Arab hands, and that they are using the Palestinians merely as pawns in their game?

Yes, it might.

After all, no Arab country has promised anything in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza

Sharon’s unilateral move presumably is intended as a gesture of good will to help the Palestinian Authority discourage fanatic Islamists from bombing restaurants, buses, weddings, synagogues and other targets in Israel. The history of the relationship between Israel and its Arab neighbors does not provide hope that it will work.

Neither does the Arab reaction to the pullout. As one leader said to a reporter from Reuters, “People have learned from Gaza that resistance succeeds, not smart negotiators.”

That attitude signals that the pullout will ultimately backfire on Sharon, resulting in more Arab violence, not peace.

Published in Editorials on August 23, 2005 8:52 AM