September 5, 2004

by Reb Yudel
Disengaging from illusions

Yossi Klein Halevy in the Jerusalem Post:
Astonishingly, Israeli society has yet to hold an intelligent debate over Ariel Sharon's Gaza plan. Instead, we have the cynical taunts of the settlers and their supporters, who assume that Sharon has become a defeatist, and the inarticulate responses of Sharon's supporters, who assume that the arguments in favor of withdrawal are so self-evident that they barely require defense.

In large measure, the poverty of our debate over withdrawal is the fault of Sharon himself. A disastrous communicator, Sharon hasn't offered a single compelling speech - or, for that matter, a single memorable argument - in defense of the trauma we are about to inflict on ourselves.

The arguments of opponents need to be treated seriously by those of us who support unilateral withdrawal. We need to admit that the opponents have a point: The projected scenes of Palestinian celebrations on the ruins of Gaza settlements could very well encourage terrorism, at least in the short term.

And what do we do when the missiles start falling on Ashkelon? What will we have gained by destroying thriving communities, dividing Israeli society, and embittering some of our most idealistic citizens? The most obvious answer as to what we will gain is what we will lose: We will be freeing ourselves from more than a million Palestinians.

For Sharon's opponents, though, the demographic gain of withdrawal isn't obvious at all. The demographic argument, they insist, is bogus: Israel has no intention of granting citizenship to Palestinians, so they pose no demographic threat.

But what opponents fail to understand is that in the 21st century, Israel doesn't have the luxury of indefinitely maintaining the status quo - or of granting "autonomy" to Palestinians, a position once vehemently opposed by settlers.

Instead, we have the following choice: continue to keep the Palestinians in limbo and turn Israel into an international pariah, the target of a campaign to become a bi-national state. However isolated we are today, we haven't yet become a pariah, and the still-intact Israeli economy is proof of that. For some settlers, the notion of Israel as pariah is hardly disconcerting but, instead, confirms Jewish chosenness. Yet the vision of the biblical Balaam of "a nation that shall dwell alone" is the antithesis of Zionism, which intended to restore us not only to the Land of Israel but to the community of nations. For Zionists, Balaam's vision isn't a blessing but the curse he intended it to be.

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