Editor’s Notes: Marching on ‘Disengagement II’

By David Horovitz July 22, 2005

What is in danger of getting lost amid the rising climate of intra-Jewish hostility is that once the summer is over, we will – all of us, on both sides of the disengagement divide, in and out of uniform – have to go on living here together

A few months ago, long before the anti-disengagement campaign reached the mass civil-disobedience clamor of the past few days, a prominent settler leader told me that the Gaza pullout could not ‘be stopped by the street,’ but that holding mass protests against it was important nonetheless.

For one thing, Shaul Goldstein said, such rallies might, however improbably, yet prompt a majority of Knesset members to change their minds and vote to cancel the pullout. For another, entirely realistically, a huge public display of opposition would serve as an effective deterrent to future governments and to future pullouts – from Judea and Samaria.

‘We have to make sure that the public is with us so that we can fight the next stages… on Hebron, the Jordan Valley, the Golan, Itamar,’ said Goldstein, deputy head of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.

After this tumultuous week at Kfar Maimon, Israelis (and a largely bemused watching world) can have no doubt that tens of thousands of people are prepared to put their daily lives on hold to demonstrate against a government policy they are convinced is utterly wrongheaded. After intermittent demonstrations in past weeks – some well attended, some less so – the gathering for the thwarted march to Gaza was a truly dramatic outpouring of commitment, one which drew participants who had never before joined a major anti-disengagement event.

But even as the Kfar Maimon protesters were confirming their resilience by staying put long into a third day on Wednesday, the Knesset was sealing off the very last avenue of legislative reversal, firmly voting down a series of bills designed to stave off the Gush Katif withdrawal.

HOWEVER troubled the anti-disengagement camp may be by a deficient spirit of democracy in the process by which the prime minister has championed his pullout policy, that policy has nonetheless now cleared every formal barrier in our parliamentary democracy. If it is yet to be thwarted, therefore, other than because an upsurge in Palestinian terrorism renders it impossible to implement, it can only be via non-democratic means – because a critical mass of soldiers proves unwilling to carry it out, say; or because the level of confrontation between the anti-disengagement camp and the security forces becomes unthinkably bloody. Via a process, in other words, that along with blocking the pullout spells the end of Israel as a workable democracy in which the government is capable of enforcing its policies.

The degree to which the anti-disengagement camp recognizes this will determine the degree to which its campaign yet proves capable of achieving the second of those goals set out months ago by Goldstein. If the next few, fraught weeks find the anti-pullout camp mounting a succession of disciplined protest events, drawing calm crowds who do not resort to violence and speakers who do not incite it – as was overwhelmingly the case at Kfar Maimon – the campaigners could go a long way toward boosting their desired ‘Disengagement II’ deterrence.

But if, by contrast, mass law-breaking is championed and a descent into heavy intra-Jewish confrontation ensues, with legitimacy sought in the argument that it was Ariel Sharon who debased Israeli democracy and therefore the rules no longer apply, one of two things will happen: Those involved might achieve their goal and thwart the pullout, but destroy the democratic Jewish state in the process. Or they may fail, see the pullout carried out regardless, and destroy any claim to legitimacy in their battle against further pullbacks.

In danger of getting lost amid the rising climate of intra-Jewish hostility is the realization that, once the summer is over, we will – all of us, on both sides of the disengagement divide, in and out of uniform – have to go on living here together.

Those anti-disengagement activists unprepared to accept that our sovereign parliament has had its say and gear their protests toward trying to ensure that future government decisions are more acceptable to them must be marginalized, if there is to be any future at all for democratic Israeli government. Otherwise the battle over the Gaza pullout will indeed prove apocalyptic – not because, as some in the anti-pullout camp argue, it will strategically empower Palestinian terrorism, but because it will have destroyed Israel from within.

AS THINGS stand, if civil disobedience is disciplined from now on, it will be a thick-skinned prime minister, and only one who has won explicit public support for his platform in a general election campaign, who will order further unilateral pullbacks in the West Bank.

Pulling out 8,000 reluctant Jews from Gaza is proving wrenching enough. Ousting tens of thousands from the biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria, and in the absence of a reliable peace partner, would be an operation of an entirely different magnitude.

Whether or not Sharon would want to oversee a significant ‘Disengagement II,’ it is near-impossible to conceive of him attempting to do so from within the Likud. And it is near-unthinkable that any other figure capable of winning the Likud leadership would attempt it in the short term, either.

Indeed, it is by no means impossible that the Likud, however grateful it was to Sharon for rehabilitating it as Israel’s leading parliamentary faction, would reward him for disengagement by ousting him as leader in favor of Binyamin Netanyahu.

Meanwhile Labor, whose leaders are certainly capable of ordering a major unilateral pullout from the West Bank, is plain unelectable.

All this, it must again be stressed, is ‘as things stand’ – if civil disobedience does not deteriorate into violent confrontation. If the anti-disengagement campaign proves disinclined to ensure restraint, or incapable of ensuring it, the picture would change radically.

Opinion-poll fluctuations in recent weeks – with a narrowing gap between pro- and anti-disengagement adherents reversed after the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway was sullied with oil and nails – underline the volatility of the mainstream Israeli public mood.

Ugly protests will push mainstream sympathy away from the anti-pullout camp as surely as did the oil and nails, the fake bombs, the attempted lynching and the mercifully short-lived resort to orange Holocaust-style stars. A sufficient swing of support might even prompt the oft-anticipated ‘Big Bang’ in Israeli politics – the realignment of our parties along lines that more effectively represent the new electoral segments.

The Likud is a party at odds with itself. Formally opposed to Palestinian statehood, it is led by a prime minister whose policies are certain to create just that. Labor, which ought to be the main opposition, instead sits in the governing coalition, committed more passionately to nothing more than keeping Sharon in power.

The likes of Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Shaul Mofaz in the Likud, and Matan Vilna’i, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Isaac Herzog in Labor, have much more in common with each other than with many ‘colleagues’ in their own parties. If anti-pullout activists lose control and alienate the Israeli middle ground, those politicians from the major parties who see themselves as occupying that middle ground may well be tempted to formalize their stake.

History is littered with the shells of over-hyped centrist alliances, but that would not be enough to deter Sharon from leading another centrist effort. Not if he felt his Likud party was lost to him on the ureconstructed Right, and that the great uncertain mass of Israelis, alienated by an irresponsible anti-disengagement campaign, was ready to follow him elsewhere.

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