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What Arik Did

10 September 2005

By Yisrael Ne'eman

Many people are trying to assess what Israeli PM Ariel Sharon accomplished with this summer’s Disengagement. In the immediate future the lives of the 10,000 Jews uprooted from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria will continue to be disrupted. The trauma will follow them forever, never to be wiped out. The State of Israel and the Jewish People will have to deal with these personal tragedies for a very long time.

The following list might provide some insight as to what is happening on the foreign policy front and the domestic/political side in Israel.

• With the complete evacuation of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians are now forced into a two-state solution. Those who thought to suck Israel into a bi-national state are watching such a strategy fall apart. Right wing settlement “entanglement” is becoming a policy of the past.

• Egypt’s Pres. Hosni Mubarak is now responsible for security on the 14 kilometer Philadelphi line separating Gaza from Israel. Egypt will be expected to halt terrorist, weapons and other contraband smuggling from Sinai in an overall effort to battle world terrorism. The US and European Union are watching closely. On this issue, eyes are off Israel.

• Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and the PA are now responsible for all security, social and economic issues confronting the Gaza Strip and its 1.3 million Palestinian residents. Will there be law and order? Jobs? The PA will be responsible for European infrastructure funds and development in Gaza. Israel is no longer a player in what happens in Gaza. PA management of the funds and suspicion of corruption will be scrutinized by all donor countries. It is possible the foreign media may also take an interest (if they do not censor themselves).

• From the diplomatic perspective Israel finally has the upper hand in responding to terrorism coming from Gaza. The IDF will answer terror attacks or shellings with a very heavy, pin pointed response, diplomatic pressure and the closing of crossings between Gaza and Israel.

• On the military side, the Palestinians can be expected to smuggle in more contraband, either past the Egyptians or by way of the Mediterranean. However, they will not have tanks, artillery or and air force. The possibility of a smoldering border war exists, despite the threat of major Israeli retaliations. US support is expected in line with the April 2004 letter from Pres. Bush to Sharon emphasizing Israel’s right to pursue terrorism wherever it may be found. It is hoped Europe has moved closer to the US position but there are no guarantees especially due to interests in the Arab/Moslem world.

• The European Union position is slowly shifting from an overtly pro-Palestinian position to more balanced one based on compromise. The EU expects the PA to disarm the Hamas, Jihad and Al Aksa militias. Furthermore, the EU is fearful of Gaza turning into a radical, dictatorial, Islamic fundamentalist haven after the Madrid and London terror attacks. Europe will carefully follow PA actions to build a civil society, not because of their love for Israel, but because of their own security interests. The EU will no longer be able to rationalize the existence of Palestinian militias as necessary for “the armed struggle against Israel.”

• The right wing Messianic rabbis are undermined. Despite all the prayers, incantations and inferred “Godly intervention” to halt the “evil decree”, the Disengagement happened. A fair amount of faith is being shaken, and the avalanche of “accounting” (heshbon nefesh) has just begun. The National Religious Movement and the religious settlement oriented Right are confronted with remaining within the Zionist movement, secular as it may be, or calling it quits and moving over to the ultra-orthodox (haredi) camp. The crisis should reach its pinnacle towards the next elections (within a year).

• On the one hand ultra-orthodox issues such as yeshiva and educational funding, child and housing subsidies are marginalized but on the other, issues pertaining to participation in the Zionist State remain unanswered. Much of the haredi leadership led by Shas founder Rabbi Ovadia Yosef took the side of the orange wave anti-Disengagement activists. Here the haredi political factions find themselves in a similar situation to the National Religious.

• The Israeli Left is seriously undercut. Labor as a junior partner in the government has little to say and no real party platform at variance with Sharon’s actions. Meretz is attempting to show the differences and emphasize that they are further to the left, but Israelis in general do not consider them credible. As long as foreign affairs and defense are the major issues facing society, the traditional Left will continue to dissipate.

• Sharon gained time from the US, the EU and the UN. He can test Palestinian actions and behavior to see if they are really interested in peace. Many say “this army will not be involved in another Disengagement”. The enlisted army comes and goes every three years, the others are professional soldiers or reservists. Soldiers are smashed up psychologically and it will take Israeli society years to recover. Illegal outposts (by Israeli law) may be removed in Judea and Samaria (West Bank), but not much more in the immediate future.

To conclude, Sharon is uniting his new power base, the political center. Former PM Benyamin Netanyahu will continue to challenge him for the Likud leadership and may convince the Likud Central Committee to dump Sharon as party leader while he is still premier. As far as Arik is concerned, such an outcome would not be so terrible since it would free him from leading the increasingly right wing and rebellious Likud in the next elections. Despite charges of corruption (and an indictment against his son, Omri) the average Israeli voter agrees with Sharon’s line of security and diplomacy and will support him over Netanyahu, Labor’s Shimon Peres or any of the right wing and/or religious factions.

And finally, Arik did what many believed to have been “the impossible.”