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Gaza Withdrawal’s Lesson: A Caveat

Jonathan follows Bret Stephens and Max Boot in reviewing the debate over the Gaza disengagement back in 2005, when Israel withdrew civilians and military personnel from the Strip. “But unlike Bret and Max,” Jonathan writes, “I don’t feel obligated to offer any mea culpas about my position on the withdrawal.” After all, to his credit he presciently anticipated that Israel would not receive the benefits from the disengagement that its advocates predicted.

“So why didn’t those reservations compel me to take a stand against Sharon?” he continues. “It was because the decision to withdraw was the decision of the democratically elected government of the state of Israel.” This, Jonathan says, is why the “Diaspora kibitzers who are now saying, ‘I told you so,’ are still missing the key point about that debate,” since “decisions about settlements, borders, Jerusalem and the territories must be made by those elected by the Israeli people, not by American Jewish wiseacres, be they of the left- or the right-wing persuasion.”

In so writing, Jonathan retains the position long occupied by Jewish conservatives outside of Israel, who prefer to leave Israeli policy to the Israelis and focus instead on defending the Jewish state from its indefatigable liberal critics, Jewish and gentile. This is an admirable position, but one that nonetheless may need revision and certainly deserves more debate among its adherents. That, though, is for another post.

Regarding the disengagement in particular, one might raise a caveat to Jonathan’s analysis. In a general sense, he is of course correct: “the decision to withdraw was the decision of the democratically elected government of the state of Israel.” But the disengagement was implemented by a party (Likud) which had just been elected on a platform opposing the (actually even more modest) disengagement plan of its opponent, Amram Mitzna’s Labor. Having been reelected prime minister, Likud’s leader, Ariel Sharon, apparently changed his mind and took his own more ambitious disengagement plan to his party for ratification. He lost, leaving him and several defectors from both the Likud and Labor to form a new party, Kadima, instead, in order to pursue the policy.

Now, this was of course entirely legal and simply the outcome of political maneuvering within an unimpeachably democratic system (even though conceptually it is a little bizarre that members of a party who are elected not as individual representatives but specifically as members of that party’s list can nonetheless secede from that party during a parliamentary term–and even more so the prime minister). However, given Sharon’s history as a longstanding advocate of the Israeli presence in the territories, it is not incomparable to, say, a President Rick Santorum reversing himself upon assuming office and signing gay marriage into law.

To call the disengagement democratic, therefore, is certainly not inaccurate, and Jonathan is by no means wrong to do so. And yet it still misses part of what so angered its opponents at the time and since.



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