Commentary Magazine


Topic: Gaza withdrawal

Assessing Sharon’s Complex Legacy

When larger-than-life figures such as former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon die, writers struggle to adequately summarize their legacies. But few historic leaders are as as difficult to assess as Sharon, who died yesterday after lingering for eight years in a vegetative state following a cerebral hemorrhage suffered in January 2006. A man born in 1928 whose military and political career reflected the entire history of the State of Israel, there is simply no analogy to be drawn between Sharon and any contemporary American leader. It’s not just that he was, perhaps, the last of those who were part of the Jewish state’s founding generation to pass from the scene. Nor does Sharon’s decision to withdraw from Gaza during his last years in power — making him a belated hero to many on the left and causing him to be reviled by his erstwhile backers on the right — entirely explain why it is so hard to neatly pigeonhole his career.

Love him or hate him, there was never any denying that Sharon was an extraordinary soldier and one of those rightly seen as one of the chief architects of the victories of the Israel Defense Forces during the several wars it was forced to fight to defend the state’s existence in its first decades. Nor could even his sternest critics deny that he was almost as good a politician as he was a military man. By the time illness felled him he bestrode his country’s political scene and, at least for a short time appeared to have permanently altered its balance with the creation of a new centrist party built around his personal reputation and philosophy.

But though the Jewish state’s enemies decry him as a war criminal because they believe Israel has no right to defend itself against those who seek its destruction, the problem with understanding Sharon goes well beyond the usual pro-Zionist/anti-Zionist arguments or even those that divided Israeli politics during his long career. Sharon may have seen himself as consistent in his concerns for his country’s safety, but his behavior and decisions always reflected an impulsive nature that was impatient with hierarchy and the norms of the democratic political process. As such, it is impossible to talk about what he accomplished and what he tried to do without resorting to conditional praise or criticism.

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When larger-than-life figures such as former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon die, writers struggle to adequately summarize their legacies. But few historic leaders are as as difficult to assess as Sharon, who died yesterday after lingering for eight years in a vegetative state following a cerebral hemorrhage suffered in January 2006. A man born in 1928 whose military and political career reflected the entire history of the State of Israel, there is simply no analogy to be drawn between Sharon and any contemporary American leader. It’s not just that he was, perhaps, the last of those who were part of the Jewish state’s founding generation to pass from the scene. Nor does Sharon’s decision to withdraw from Gaza during his last years in power — making him a belated hero to many on the left and causing him to be reviled by his erstwhile backers on the right — entirely explain why it is so hard to neatly pigeonhole his career.

Love him or hate him, there was never any denying that Sharon was an extraordinary soldier and one of those rightly seen as one of the chief architects of the victories of the Israel Defense Forces during the several wars it was forced to fight to defend the state’s existence in its first decades. Nor could even his sternest critics deny that he was almost as good a politician as he was a military man. By the time illness felled him he bestrode his country’s political scene and, at least for a short time appeared to have permanently altered its balance with the creation of a new centrist party built around his personal reputation and philosophy.

But though the Jewish state’s enemies decry him as a war criminal because they believe Israel has no right to defend itself against those who seek its destruction, the problem with understanding Sharon goes well beyond the usual pro-Zionist/anti-Zionist arguments or even those that divided Israeli politics during his long career. Sharon may have seen himself as consistent in his concerns for his country’s safety, but his behavior and decisions always reflected an impulsive nature that was impatient with hierarchy and the norms of the democratic political process. As such, it is impossible to talk about what he accomplished and what he tried to do without resorting to conditional praise or criticism.

As Elliott Abrams, who dealt directly with him during the George W. Bush administration, writes here in COMMENTARY, Sharon was a bundle of contradictions that made him fascinating. He played at being the bluff citizen soldier/farmer in the tradition of the Roman hero Cincinnatus, but he was actually something of an intellectual, sensitive to criticism and capable of looking at problems from a variety of points of view. He was capable of complex thinking. The British military historian Peter Young described Sharon’s plan for an assault on an Egyptian position in the Sinai during the Six-Day War as almost impossibly complicated yet brilliant. But his defining characteristic from his earliest days in command to his last days in power appeared to be an indomitable belief in his personal judgment and a determination to ignore other points of view. Sometimes this worked; but not always. And sometimes the cost to others—and to Sharon—was greater than he imagined.

The examples of when his brash resolve was not only right but also inspired are integral to the history of Israel’s early conflicts. His decisive leadership as the head of the country’s first commando unit and its paratroop brigade stemmed the tide of cross-border terrorism that threatened to overwhelm the country in its first decade. Similarly, his exploits during the Six-Day War, his campaign quelling terror in Gaza in the early 1970s and, most memorably, when he led the counter-attack across the Suez Canal against Egyptian forces during the Yom Kippur War that turned the tide of that conflict, showed the benefits of having a general who didn’t always play by the rules. His heroism in this era etched for him a permanent place of honor in Jewish history. The same can be said for his decisive reaction to the second intifada as prime minister when he commanded a counter-attack and ordered the construction of a security fence that effectively defeated the terrorists.

However, that same impulsive nature would sometimes prove disastrous. His decision to ignore orders during the Sinai campaign of 1956 resulted in a deadly ambush of his paratroop brigade at the Mitla Pass. Many of its veterans never forgave him. On a larger scale, this scenario played out again when he turned the limited offensive against Palestinian terrorists in Lebanon that Prime Minister Menachem Begin agreed to in 1982 into a drive to Beirut that embroiled Israel in an ill-conceived attempt to transform Lebanese politics that was bound to fail. That was bad enough, but the alliance with Lebanese Christians also led Sharon to ignore warning signs of trouble and resulted in the Sabra and Shatila massacre of Palestinians by the Christians that allowed Israel’s critics to claim the entire offensive was a war crime. Time Magazine and others that claimed he was directly responsible for the crimes committed by Lebanese who had suffered their own atrocities at Palestinian hands, in fact libeled Sharon. But Sharon had still blundered and his unwillingness to work cooperatively with colleagues or superiors was, at least in part, to blame.

That same characteristic was at play when he made the decision to try to break the logjam with the Palestinians by making unilateral gestures that would, he hoped, determine Israel’s borders without a peace agreement. In this case, the same “bulldozer” that helped establish settlements throughout the territories used his determination to push through the forced evacuation of 9,000 Jews from Gaza. He put the proposal to a vote of Likud Party members but ignored the negative result. As Abrams notes, he did the same thing again by firing recalcitrant ministers in order to get the Cabinet to approve the scheme. His decision to ignite what Israeli political writers called the “big bang” and destroy the Likud in order to create a new centrist faction called Kadima was a product of the same belief in his own star. He skimmed the leading opportunists of both Likud and Labor together under the same tent and, seemingly, altered the country’s politics forever by promoting a new pragmatism built on the clear failures of both the right and the left.

But though we are being subjected to a chorus of eulogies lamenting that Sharon’s stroke cut short a real chance for peace, the Gaza gambit was as much a flawed big idea as the drive to Beirut. We are now told that the magic force of Sharon’s personality and political popularity would have somehow enabled Israel to set its own borders and then effectively hamstring Palestinian terrorism. But just as unforeseen circumstances proved that Sharon’s strategically brilliant vision for transforming Lebanon from a Palestinian terror bastion into an ally was inherently flawed, so, too, was the notion that the Gaza withdrawal would lead to de facto, if not  de jure, peace. As I wrote last week, the unwillingness of the Palestinians to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn is what is preventing peace, not the lack of a leader of Sharon’s stature. For all of his great qualities and dedication to ensuring Israel’s security, Sharon’s popularity would not have survived the Hamas coup in Gaza and the years of missile strikes that followed. Nor would his plan for unilateral withdrawals in the West Bank have rallied the world behind Israel’s position. Though Sharon believed, as Abrams writes, that he had achieved a lasting victory by getting Bush to back Israel’s position on the settlement blocs, that triumph didn’t survive Bush’s replacement by Barack Obama.

At a time when the Jewish people needed great soldiers, Sharon was exactly that. His leadership qualities and dogged persistence in pursuit of power also inspires our admiration as we study his three-decade run as an Israeli politician. He wanted a secure Israel as well as an end to the conflict with the Arab world and if he did not succeed (and probably could not have even if he had not fallen ill) in the latter endeavor, he deserves credit for trying. But his career also demonstrates that while a lone wolf can sometimes achieve great things, a man who can’t work comfortably within democratic structures or listen to colleagues is also liable to create disasters. Ariel Sharon’s memory should be as a blessing, but his career is a cautionary tale about the inherent limits of his unique style of leadership.

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Which Israeli Party is Dangerous?

Polls don’t show former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s new political party having much of an impact on the Israeli electorate, but she is enjoying some success in attracting veteran politicians to her banner. Seven members of the Kadima party that she led in the last elections have jumped over to the Movement, as her party is dubbed. More importantly, she has attracted Amram Mitzna, a former leader of the Labor Party to run with Livni. Mitzna, who led Labor in the 2003 election against Ariel Sharon’s Likud, is likely to be named to the number two slot under Livni. In announcing his decision, Mitzna denounced the administration of Prime Minister Netanyahu as a “failed government” and said the right-wing tilt of the Likud Knesset list made it “dangerous.”

But Mitzna, who was highly regarded for his service as a general in the Israeli army and as mayor of Haifa, is hardly in a position to say the ideas of his opponents are dangerous. Mitzna is, after all, one of the original advocates of one of the worst decisions in the country’s history: the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza that led to the creation of a Hamas terrorist state on Israel’s doorstep.

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Polls don’t show former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s new political party having much of an impact on the Israeli electorate, but she is enjoying some success in attracting veteran politicians to her banner. Seven members of the Kadima party that she led in the last elections have jumped over to the Movement, as her party is dubbed. More importantly, she has attracted Amram Mitzna, a former leader of the Labor Party to run with Livni. Mitzna, who led Labor in the 2003 election against Ariel Sharon’s Likud, is likely to be named to the number two slot under Livni. In announcing his decision, Mitzna denounced the administration of Prime Minister Netanyahu as a “failed government” and said the right-wing tilt of the Likud Knesset list made it “dangerous.”

But Mitzna, who was highly regarded for his service as a general in the Israeli army and as mayor of Haifa, is hardly in a position to say the ideas of his opponents are dangerous. Mitzna is, after all, one of the original advocates of one of the worst decisions in the country’s history: the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza that led to the creation of a Hamas terrorist state on Israel’s doorstep.

Mitzna, whose reputation for honesty and thoughtfulness enabled him to shoot quickly to the top of Labor after his retirement from the army, led the party off the electoral cliff in 2003 by campaigning on a platform that pledged to try to jump-start the peace process via a unilateral retreat from the Gaza Strip. Then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon scoffed at the notion and called it dangerous. The Israeli people agreed. The Likud doubled its number of Knesset members in that election from 19 to 38. Mitzna’s Labor went in the opposite direction, going down from 26 to 19 and Mitzna was quickly replaced as the party’s leader.

In retrospect, that election seems like something of a dirty trick played on the Israeli people. Although Israelis completely rejected Mitzna’s idea, in a shocking turnaround, Sharon decided to implement it anyway. In the process, Sharon split his party in an attempt to fundamentally alter Israeli politics. The leading opportunists of both Likud (like Livni and Ehud Olmert) and Labor followed Sharon to Kadima and a majority of the Knesset that won their seats in an election that hinged on rejection of Mitzna’s idea voted to put it into action.

Some may argue that what followed wasn’t inevitable. Perhaps with better decisions on the part of the Palestinians as well as Sharon and Olmert who succeeded him in January 2006, Gaza might not have slipped into the chaos of Hamas rule. But that is merely counter-factual speculation. What happened is that a weak Palestinian Authority and a weak Israeli government watched meekly as Gaza was transformed into a terrorist state from which thousands of missiles have been fired at southern Israel, necessitating two IDF offensives that attempted to reduce the threat.

But no matter how you look at it, the idea of a unilateral retreat from Gaza must be considered a disaster for the country. It not only did not advance the peace process nor gain Israel credit for wanting peace, it set in motion a train of events that has led to two wars and gave Hamas, an Islamist group that is implacably committed to Israel’s destruction, a base from which it can challenge Fatah for control of the West Bank.

The lion’s share of the blame for Gaza must belong to Sharon, Olmert, Livni and the rest of the government that chose this perilous path. But Mitzna deserves a portion of it too. The Likud may have its share of hotheads in the next Knesset, but whatever you can say about them, none of them have a disaster as bad as Gaza on their resume. Seen in that light, it’s hard to argue that the current Likud — whose membership rejected Sharon’s plan — is the dangerous party in Israeli politics.

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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.” Read More

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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Gaza Withdrawal’s Lesson? Preserve Israel’s Right to Self-Determination

Like the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens and our own Max Boot, I, too, have been thinking a lot lately about the seven-year-old debate about whether Israel was wise to withdraw from Gaza. Both Bret and Max are of course right when they say that, looking back on it now, it is clear that the decision was a colossal blunder. Despite the assurances of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and many of the country’s military leaders, Israel’s security was compromised by the decision. It led directly to the creation of a Hamas terror state whose existence may not ever be undone. Just as troubling, Israel did not receive one bit of credit from the international community, let alone its foes, for removing every soldier and settler from the area. Bret summed it up nicely when he wrote:

Put simply, Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza yielded less security, greater diplomatic isolation, and a Palestinian regime even more radical and emboldened than it had been before. As strategic failures go, it was nearly perfect.

But unlike Bret and Max, I don’t feel obligated to offer any mea culpas about my position on the withdrawal. While I supported the move, it was not because I didn’t have doubts about whether the army was right about it being easier to fight Hamas outside Gaza rather than inside it. Nor was I under any illusions about Israel reaping any public relations benefits from the scheme. To the contrary, I was quite sure that, as was the case with previous territorial surrenders, it would merely increase the appetite of Israel’s enemies for more. So why didn’t those reservations compel me to take a stand against Sharon? It was because the decision to withdraw was the decision of the democratically elected government of the state of Israel. Indeed, I believe the defense of that principle — that Israel’s people must be accorded the right to make their own decisions about their fate — is a far more important duty for us today than the need to second-guess the decision of a leader and a government that has long since faded from the country’s political scene.

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Like the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens and our own Max Boot, I, too, have been thinking a lot lately about the seven-year-old debate about whether Israel was wise to withdraw from Gaza. Both Bret and Max are of course right when they say that, looking back on it now, it is clear that the decision was a colossal blunder. Despite the assurances of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and many of the country’s military leaders, Israel’s security was compromised by the decision. It led directly to the creation of a Hamas terror state whose existence may not ever be undone. Just as troubling, Israel did not receive one bit of credit from the international community, let alone its foes, for removing every soldier and settler from the area. Bret summed it up nicely when he wrote:

Put simply, Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza yielded less security, greater diplomatic isolation, and a Palestinian regime even more radical and emboldened than it had been before. As strategic failures go, it was nearly perfect.

But unlike Bret and Max, I don’t feel obligated to offer any mea culpas about my position on the withdrawal. While I supported the move, it was not because I didn’t have doubts about whether the army was right about it being easier to fight Hamas outside Gaza rather than inside it. Nor was I under any illusions about Israel reaping any public relations benefits from the scheme. To the contrary, I was quite sure that, as was the case with previous territorial surrenders, it would merely increase the appetite of Israel’s enemies for more. So why didn’t those reservations compel me to take a stand against Sharon? It was because the decision to withdraw was the decision of the democratically elected government of the state of Israel. Indeed, I believe the defense of that principle — that Israel’s people must be accorded the right to make their own decisions about their fate — is a far more important duty for us today than the need to second-guess the decision of a leader and a government that has long since faded from the country’s political scene.

Opponents of the withdrawal have, understandably, never stopped reminding those of us who backed Ariel Sharon’s decision that it turned out to be every bit the fiasco they thought it would be and more. The talking points Israel gained by pulling out of Gaza provide more proof that the Palestinians haven’t any interest in peace, but it’s doubtful this changed the mind of a single critic of the country. But those Diaspora kibitzers who are now saying, “I told you so,” are still missing the key point about that debate.

It may be that Israel’s prime minister was dead wrong (counter-factual arguments that history would have been different had Sharon not been felled by a stroke months after the withdrawal are unpersuasive) and the majority of Israelis who backed him were equally mistaken. But, right or wrong, it was their decision to make and the Israelis are the ones who have had to live with the consequences.

Looking ahead to the next round of peace processing and pressure on Israel after the current fighting in Gaza is concluded, what friends of Israel have to keep in mind is not so much the rehashing of Sharon’s blunder but preserving the right of the Jewish state to go on deciding its own destiny.

The conceit of most of the country’s left-wing critics is that Israel must be saved from itself. The fact is that the overwhelming majority of Israelis have drawn the proper conclusions from the last 20 years of peace processing (including the Gaza withdrawal) and decided that there will be no more repetitions of the mistakes committed at Oslo or Gaza. This sensible decision frustrates Israel’s critics so much that even those who consider themselves friends of the country believe their judgment should supersede that of the Jewish state’s electorate.

But just as was the case of those Americans who opposed the Gaza withdrawal or the Oslo Accords, such a stand is simply inadmissible. 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.

No matter how strong the faith of Zion’s critics that the country is heading down the road to destruction, nothing should shake us in our conviction that no foreign power or foreign community has the right to dictate to Israel’s people. That is a principle that applies whether it is a matter of Israelis mistakenly making concessions that have come back to haunt them or, as is the case now, wisely refusing to take steps that would endanger their security.

Seven years after the Gaza withdrawal, it is useful to examine the mistakes that were made by Sharon. But the abiding lesson of that episode for us today is that, right or wrong, Israel must be allowed to make its own decisions.

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Revisiting the Failed Gaza Experiment

This past weekend, southern Israel was hit by more than 200 rockets flying over the border from Hamas-controlled Gaza. Dozens of the missiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system but most got through with some casualties and damage. The lives of more than a million Israelis living in the southern part of the country were disrupted by the assault. Schools were closed as the population was urged to take shelter until the latest crisis passed.

To the extent the world is paying much attention to this (it was overshadowed by the story of the American soldier who murdered Afghan civilians) it has been in the form of the usual “cycle of violence” stories that depict the situation as one in which both Israel and the Palestinians are seen as being at fault. As is generally the case, the focus quickly shifts to efforts to reinstate a cease-fire, with Secretary of State Clinton condemning the missile fire while also calling for both sides to show “restraint.” But the real issue here is not who started it or how well the Iron Dome system is working. It is the way Israel must learn to live with an independent Palestinian state in Gaza in all but name that is run by terrorists. Those who continue to demand Israel withdraw completely from the West Bank and Jerusalem, as they did from Gaza in 2005, need to understand the lessons of that failed experiment will not be forgotten.

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This past weekend, southern Israel was hit by more than 200 rockets flying over the border from Hamas-controlled Gaza. Dozens of the missiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system but most got through with some casualties and damage. The lives of more than a million Israelis living in the southern part of the country were disrupted by the assault. Schools were closed as the population was urged to take shelter until the latest crisis passed.

To the extent the world is paying much attention to this (it was overshadowed by the story of the American soldier who murdered Afghan civilians) it has been in the form of the usual “cycle of violence” stories that depict the situation as one in which both Israel and the Palestinians are seen as being at fault. As is generally the case, the focus quickly shifts to efforts to reinstate a cease-fire, with Secretary of State Clinton condemning the missile fire while also calling for both sides to show “restraint.” But the real issue here is not who started it or how well the Iron Dome system is working. It is the way Israel must learn to live with an independent Palestinian state in Gaza in all but name that is run by terrorists. Those who continue to demand Israel withdraw completely from the West Bank and Jerusalem, as they did from Gaza in 2005, need to understand the lessons of that failed experiment will not be forgotten.

This latest dustup along the border started when the Israeli Defense Forces acted to foil an impending terror attack being launched by one of the dissident Islamic groups that operate in Gaza with Hamas’s permission. The Popular Resistance Committees’ leader and several of his terrorist cadres were killed by Israeli action. The Palestinians responded with a massive missile barrage in response to the Israeli “aggression.” But as Israelis who live in the region know, missile fire from Gaza is hardly an unusual occurrence. Since the cease-fire agreed to by Hamas and Israel in January 2009, more than 1,200 rockets have been fired from Gaza, including 100 in just the last month prior to this weekend’s fighting.

The missiles are a fact of life in southern Israel, and though the country has learned to live with this threat, it has taken a toll on the people who live there that is often ignored abroad as well as by some who live in the central part of the country not currently under fire. If anything, the improved missile defense has lessened some of the pressure on the Israeli government to consider a repeat of the December 2008 Operation Cast Lead in which the IDF conducted a counter-offensive designed to silence the intolerable attacks on the country.

But few in Israel are oblivious to the meaning of this standoff. By its withdrawal of every settlement, soldier and Jew from Gaza in 2005, Israel set the stage for the creation of a terrorist state there that has given an indifferent world a foretaste of what Palestinian independence looks like. The assumption then, reinforced by the presence of the legendarily tough Ariel Sharon in the prime minister’s office, was that any cross-border attacks would be met with such force as to make them unlikely. However, the terrorist government of the strip has launched terrorist attacks on Israel with relative impunity and counts on the international community’s outrage to force Israel to always respond to these provocations with the “restraint” that Secretary Clinton desires. It is far from clear the stricken Sharon would have been any more capable of reversing this situation than his successors Ehud Olmert or Benjamin Netanyahu.

While few in Israel seek a permanent return to Gaza as they have no interest in ruling over Palestinians there, possible negotiations with the Palestinian Authority about withdrawal from the West Bank are necessarily informed by this example. Should the West Bank become as much of a no-go zone for the IDF as Gaza is, the likelihood of its long border with central Israel turning into another battleground is a nightmare for Israelis. With Hamas now planning on joining Fatah in the government of the West Bank, it takes little imagination to understand what a sovereign Palestinian state there would mean for Israel’s security. Rather than rockets flying over just the southern portion of the country, Hamas would acquire the ability to terrorize the whole of Israel as well as to interdict flights out of its international airport. No missile defense system could possibly protect the nation under those circumstances.

The vast majority of Israelis, including the majority of the members of its right-of-center government, have embraced a two-state solution as the answer to the conflict. Were the PA to return to the negotiating table, they would find most Israelis willing to talk about such an outcome. But the missiles flying out of Gaza provide us with a vision of what an independent Palestinian state actually looks like. So long as the Palestinian sovereignty is expressed in this manner, there is little chance Israel will be so foolish as to repeat the failed experiment in Gaza.

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