You do not have to believe that it is in Israel's permanent interest to remain in the territories to argue that unilateral withdrawal is a bad idea.
Even if the ultimate outlines of a plausible political settlement with the Palestinians are fairly clear, the means Israel should or should not take to achieve it are equally important.
If Israel is to retrench territorially, will it do so in a manner that conveys an impression of weakness or strength?
For decades, the Israeli Left has accurately diagnosed many of the problems posed by occupation, above all the demographic aspect. But the medicine the Left prescribed – legitimizing the PLO, ignoring Palestinian non-compliance with the Oslo accords, and then negotiating under fire after Oslo collapsed – has proved to be poison. Territorial depth may not be the strategic asset it once was, but it remains absolutely vital that Israel maintain its credibility in the face of the continuing Palestinian terrorist onslaught.
For three years Ariel Sharon has pursued a broadly consistent policy, refusing to negotiate under fire while also refusing to rule out the possibility of a Palestinian state. This was wise – if the goal was to defeat Palestinian terror or at least outlast it in the hope that a more responsible Palestinian leadership would emerge. Sharon's policy was also in tune with the vision laid out by President Bush in his June 24, 2002 address, which gave a conditional green light to Palestinian statehood.
In recent months, however, two things have become clear: First, that a new Palestinian leadership would not emerge on its own, and second, that neither Israel nor the United States was prepared to force its emergence by removing Yasser Arafat from power. This called into question the sense of everything that had come before. If the endgame was Israeli withdrawal in exchange for no Palestinian concessions, why the long and agonizing wait? What was the point of the sacrifice? Indeed, what was the point of electing Ariel Sharon rather than Ehud Barak or Amram Mitzna?
Under Sharon's disengagement plan, Israel was to give the Road Map a last chance to work before resorting to unilateral measures, within a time frame of about six months. This was a retreat from the prime minister's original policy, but at least it had the virtue of giving the Palestinians an incentive to meet their Road Map commitments before Israel set new borders unilaterally. Had Israel also pursued a vigorous policy of targeted killings and other anti-terror measures, the Palestinian incentive to do so would have been enhanced.
Now, with the prime minister's reported intention of withdrawing unilaterally from the Gaza settlements, the incentive has been removed completely. Why should the Palestinians raise a finger against terrorism if Israel appears to be heading toward a complete unilateral withdrawal?
Of course, Sharon's disengagement plan calls not only for territorial withdrawal but also for consolidating its control over the part of the territories that would "constitute an inseparable part of the State of Israel." But it's hard to see why Palestinians should fear such threats if the Gaza withdrawal indicates that Sharon is not going to carry them out. More broadly, why should the Palestinians make peace with Israel if they can get the land without making peace?
In response, the prime minister will argue that withdrawing from Gaza puts Israel behind more defensible lines. It also eliminates the high physical and financial cost of defending the Gaza settlements.
These are indeed advantages. But similar pragmatic and strategic arguments were put forward to justify Israel's withdrawal from its security zone in southern Lebanon. Whatever benefits that withdrawal offered, it is now widely acknowledged that the precipitous and humiliating manner of the withdrawal – handing Hizbullah both a strategic and a propaganda victory – did much to inspire the Palestinians to resort to violence four months later.
And here is where the credibility factor comes in.
To withdraw in the face of terror is to inspire further terror. Whatever peace Israel gains on its southern front it will surely lose elsewhere, as Palestinians intensify their efforts to drive Israel to the Green Line – at least. Nor does it help that the timing of this announced withdrawal seems to coincide with the prime minister's burgeoning legal difficulties. It sends the signal that it is the Palestinians who can afford to wait Israel out, not vice versa.
That's not a signal this government, or any future government, ought to send.
When asked in 1787, as the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia came to an end, whether it had created a monarchy or a republic, Benjamin Franklin replied. "A republic, if you can keep it."
His pessimism comes to mind whenever a republic makes a terrible mistake, from the French policy of appeasement toward Germany in the 1930s to the American policy of incrementalism in Vietnam to the South Korean "sunshine policy" now under way.
And Franklin's worry felt newly relevant on Thursday last week, as the state of Israel effected a most extraordinary swap with Hezbollah, one of the world's leading terrorist groups.
In exchange for one rogue Israeli civilian, captured while possibly engaging in dubious transactions, plus the remains of three soldiers, Israel released 429 living terrorists and criminals, including 400 Palestinians, 23 Lebanese, five other Arabs, and one German, as well as 59 corpses.
It comes as little surprise to learn, in the description of the New York Times, that this exchange prompted "a day of national celebration" in Lebanon and a "somber" mood in Israel. Nor is it astonishing to hear the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, describe the present as "not a time of happiness."
Mr. Sharon went on to explain his motives in carrying out the exchange by referring to the relatives of the dead Israeli soldiers: "Three dear families, whose souls knew no rest for the past 40 months, will now be able to unite with their sorrow over a modest grave, and composure as a promise was kept, and a right and moral decision was made despite its heavy price."
In other words, a major decision of state was taken for the sake of bringing small solace to three families. But what are the strategic consequences for Israel of this act of seeming morality?
The Sharon government also failed its allies in the global war on terror.
These many negative consequences raise questions about the morality of this Israeli government action.
In its early decades, Israel's strategic prowess was legendary, transforming a weak country into a regional powerhouse. The past decade has seen the opposite process, whereby that powerhouse reduces itself to a tempting target. That this change is entirely self-induced and achieved through the democratic process makes Benjamin Franklin's prophetic concern all too real.
When will the descent stop? By then, how much damage will have been done?
Here's the dilemma:
A democratic country might be prosecuted for trying to defend itself from terrorist attacks that leave innocent citizens dead in cafes and buses, on streets and on roads.
The terrorist perpetrators of the attacks - government, citizens and those who actually support, sponsor and carry out the attacks - are perceived as the innocent victims.
Strange scenario? True scenario.
Why is the democratic country, Israel, being charged? How is it that the perpetrators, the Palestinians, are emerging as innocents? What really is the crime that has been committed? The answers to these questions make so little sense that the situation would be laughable were it not so serious. It would be ludicrous, if the world were not paying so much attention.
Israel has finally begun to plan a response to the charges brought before the International Court on the issue of their "fence," the cause for all this brouhaha, hoopla, outrage and media frenzy.
And Israel may be successful at staving off the attack.
Over 30 countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, have made clear to the United Nations that they do not believe that the UN International Court of Justice at the Hague should hear a case against Israel concerning the fence.
The diplomatic channels and full court press that Israel is currently utilizing to establish their case seem to be bringing about the desired result. Israel has, so far, successfully convinced many leaders of Western democracies that this case of "the fence" is simply an issue of "self de-fense."
If Israel does succeed in having this case withdrawn from The Court's agenda, it will be a great victory for justice. If Israel fails, it will be a travesty of justice and a mockery of humanitarian prosecutions, a situation that will reverberate with devastating repercussions for international justice far into the future.
These are serious issues at stake. It can only be called an inversion of the basic values of justice when murderers are seen as victims, and defending one's self is deemed a violation of human rights.
Add to that the knowledge that the creation of this fence is not a military, nor a permanent, response but simply a separation, a short term, move. If the United Nations goes through with its prosecution of the State of Israel it will be reaching a new low in the pursuit of humanitarian justice - allowing evil to triumph, encouraging mass murder of innocents.
Let me be clear. The fence is not a panacea. The concept itself is not a first choice measure to avert terrorist activities and the boundaries that have been drawn and redrawn and will probably continue to be redrawn are certainly problematic. A court that prosecutes humanitarian injustice throughout the world is a wonderful tool for justice loving democracies coming to the aid of underprivileged and oppressed societies. But I think that the UN can and should exercise its role more appropriately and protect those being persecuted at the hands of dictators and despots throughout the world and try to help those who have little hope of receiving justice in their own lands. I do not think that it should evaluate a country's decision to make a peaceful, non-forceful move as a crime.
The priorities of The Court should be clear. A list of egregious violators and their violations should top the list of intended prosecutions. Not Israel and a fence.
Given the amount of tragedy and injustice that exists in the world right now, today, and that will continue for many tomorrows, there is plenty to attract The Court's attention and to keep it active. This fence should not be found anywhere near such a list.
The reality is that the real problem is not the fence, but terror. The fence is a response to terror. It will not deprive anyone of food or housing or schooling or medical care. If it succeeds, it will save lives. And no country, not even Israel, can be denied the right to defend itself from a threat that is so real and so palpable, so easily identifiable.
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Only six decades ago, the world gasped in horror at the grim handiwork of man's inhumanity to man with the liberation of Auschwitz.
Every January 27 since, several European countries, including Sweden, Denmark, England, Italy and Germany, have called up memories of death and destruction to remember. With tears and public discussion of the cruelty reckoned as unique, they try to understand something that cannot be understood. For most of these 60 years, the civilized world took consolation in the certain belief that "never again."
The representatives of the European nations gathered once more to mark Jan. 27, but this year with a difference. For the first time, the Israeli government designated the anniversary as a "National Day to Combat Anti-Semitism." Something new had invaded discussions of the Holocaust - a not-so-new anti-Semitism, revived and rampant, that trivializes the Holocaust and hides hatred of Jews in the conflict between Arabs and Israel.
An Italian newspaper poll of nine European nations on the eve of the anniversary found that 46 percent of those interviewed across the continent say that Jews are "different," 9 percent do not "like or trust Jews," and 15 percent wish that Israel didn't exist.
What the Israeli designation of the anniversary recognizes is that anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment are hatreds joined at the heart. Many of the Europeans who want Israel to go away don't even know why they do. Nearly a third of those interviewed concede they have no idea what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is all about. It's enough to know that Israelis are Jews.
Bigotry thrives, as always, in the mouth of the ignorant.
Sometimes the ignorant are among the most educated. The Alexandria Library in Egypt, funded by the Egyptian and Italian governments with support of the United Nations, includes a manuscript room where the holiest books of the three Abrahamic faiths - the Torah of the Jews, the Bible of the Christians and the Koran of the Muslims - are displayed in places of honor.
Not long ago, the director of the museum placed next to the Torah a copy of the "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," an infamous forgery that sets out an outlandish Jewish plot to take over the world. None but the most credulous anti-Semites have ever taken the book as serious work, but it has taken on new life with the Islamist resurgence in the Muslim world.
The director of the Alexandria Library described "The Protocols" to an Egyptian newspaper as a sacred book of the Jews, who misrepresent their victimhood by exaggerating the number murdered in the Holocaust. It wasn't 6 million, "only" 1 million. This "scholarship" went unrebuked by the scholar's colleagues.
The "new" anti-Semitism is fueled largely, but by no means altogether, by radical Islamists. The liberal and left chattering class in Europe indulge in "anti-Zionist chic" with articles and books disparaging Israelis specifically and Jews in general.
"We failed to appreciate that after the defeat of Nazism the poison of anti-Semitism only went into remission," writes Isi Leibler, senior vice president of the World Jewish Congress, in the Jerusalem Post. "Admittedly much of this is a byproduct of post-modernism, which has been imbibed by European culture, creating an environment of moral equivalency that trivializes every distinction between good and evil."
But it's more than academic amorality. The moral defense of Muslim terrorists, while denying any appreciation for the burdensome duty of Israeli soldiers defending the only democracy in the Middle East, is an exercise of a double standard that reduces the Jewish state to the role of scapegoat.
Some of the most shameless perpetrators of this double standard are Jewish intellectuals, eager as always to make common cause with enemies of the Americans and their allies in the West. If the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were to disappear overnight, can anyone believe that anti-Semitism - or hatred of America and the West - would disappear with it? Resurgent anti-Semitism is merely camouflaged by conflict in the Middle East.
Natan Sharansky, the Israeli cabinet minister whose defense of human rights once lifted the hopes of the millions yearning to breathe free in the old Soviet Union, reminded the ambassadors and representatives of 25 nations for the Auschwitz observance at Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Museum, that "history has taught us that anti-Semitism starts with the Jews, but it doesn't end with them."
Simon McDonald, the British ambassador to Israel, agreed: "Anti-Semites are anti-Semites because they are 'anti-Semites.' It is a completely unreasonable and irrational position. It's our duty as governments to make sure that they cannot act on their anti-Semitism."
Civilized men and women mark this anniversary with uneasy hope, chilled by the breath of fear.
Canadian Amb. cancels condolence trip to W. BankYaakov Katz - Jerusalem Post - February 5, 2004
The Canadian Ambassador to Israel, Donald Sinclair, cancelled a condolence visit to the home of Yechezkel Goldberg who was killed in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem last week, since Goldberg's family lives in the West Bank.
Goldberg, from Betar Illit, was killed together with ten other Israelis when a Palestinian police officer blew himself up on a packed Jerusalem bus last Thursday.
Yechezkel's brother, Dr. Ron Goldberg, told the Jerusalem Post that his brother, who served in the Canadian armed forces, was a passionate Canadian and that the family was personally insulted by the ambassador's refusal to travel to the West Bank settlement.
"The message I received was that it was outside their jurisdiction to pass the green line," Goldberg said. "We believe in Canada's role in pursuing peace and they should have balanced and non-discriminatory policies."
Goldberg said that he was offered to meet the Canadian ambassador at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on Friday but that he declined since "it would be an insult to my brother's memory."
Spokeswoman for the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs Marie-Christine Lilkoff told the Post that Canada has taken "unusual steps" to console the Goldberg family, including the publishing of condemnations against the suicide attack and the offering of assistance.
She said however that Sinclair was "consistent with Canadian policy regarding the occupied territories" by not traveling to the West Bank, since the "ambassador does not have jurisdiction beyond the Green Line."
Yechezkel, 42, a native of Toronto who immigrated to Israel eight years ago from Brooklyn, had seven children of his own, ages one to 16, but he left behind dozens of children whom he helped as a social worker. Friends of Goldberg said he saved many lives.
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