JRT: In 2005 Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip. Those on the Left, and even many on the Right, pronounced the withdrawal to be the only way forward for the Jewish State, a step that would give Israel a measure of real legitimacy on the international stage, and give Palestinians a chance to building something of their own. Today most observers see how off the mark the Gaza disengagement was, and countless pundits who championed it at the time have since admitted their mistake. Gaza is not a little Switzerland on the Mediterranean coast but a terrorist stronghold. Now, as the doomsayers had predicted in 2005, Hamas missiles can hit Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Which leads to the next question: Given how wrong conventional wisdom was regarding disengagement from the Gaza Strip, what other policies and ideas being hailed today are actually dangerously wrong? Take the idea that Mahmoud Abbas is the best partner Israel has ever had for peace. Abbas claims the Jews and Zionists themselves were responsible for the Holocaust and actively collaborated with the Nazis to further their goals. His dissertation at Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow was on the subject, and he has yet to repudiate it. Is this man really Israel's "best partner for peace"?
What about the two-state solution, is that really so obvious today? Seeing as we do what the Palistineans did when they got Gaza, knowing that Abbas has no qualms with forming a government with a terrorist organization like Hamas, maybe it's time we rethink such enlightened positions as the two-state solution as well, lest the lessons post-Gaza be forgotten. A mistake Israel continues to pay too high a price for.
Many pundits who supported Sharon and his Gaza disengagement took their words when they saw what happened there. Here is the Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephen's recantation from 2012:
The Truth About Gaza
I was wrong to support Israel's 'disengagement' from the Strip in 2005.
Sometimes it behooves even a pundit to acknowledge his mistakes. In 2004 as editor of the Jerusalem Post, and in 2006 in this column, I made the case that Israel was smart to withdraw its soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip. I was wrong.
My error was to confuse a good argument with good policy; to suppose that mere self-justification is a form of strategic prudence. It isn't. Israel is obviously within its rights to defend itself now against a swarm of rockets and mortars from Gaza. But if it had maintained a military presence in the Strip, it would not now be living under this massive barrage.
Or, to put it another way: The diplomatic and public-relations benefit Israel derives from being able to defend itself from across a "border" and without having to get into an argument about settlements isn't worth the price Israelis have had to pay in lives and terror.
That is not the way it seemed to me in 2004, when then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to pull up stakes, reversing the very policy he had done so much to promote as a general and politician in the 1970s. Gaza, I argued, was vital neither to the Jewish state's security nor to its identity. It was a drain on Israel's moral, military, political and diplomatic resources. Getting out of the Strip meant shaving off nearly half of the Palestinian population (and the population with the highest birthrate), thereby largely solving Israel's demographic challenge.
Withdrawal also meant putting the notion of land-for-peace to a real-world test. Would Gazans turn the Strip into a showcase Palestinian state, a Mediterranean Dubai, or into another Beirut circa 1982? If the former, then Israel could withdraw from the West Bank with some confidence. If the latter, it would put illusions to rest, both within Israel and throughout the Western world.
Finally, I argued that while direct negotiations with the Palestinians had proved fruitless for Israel, Jerusalem could use its withdrawal from Gaza to obtain political and security guarantees from the United States. That's just what Mr. Sharon appeared to get through an exchange of formal letters with George W. Bush in April 2004.
Things didn't work out as I had hoped. To say the least.
Within six months of Israel's withdrawal, Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections. Within two years, Hamas seized control of the Strip from the ostensible moderates of Fatah after a brief civil war.
In 2004, the last full year in which Israel had a security presence in Gaza, Gazans fired 281 rockets into Israel. By 2006 that figure had risen to 1,777. The Strip became a terrorist bazaar, home not only to Hamas but also Islamic Jihad and Ansar al-Sunna, an al Qaeda affiliate.
Palestinians in the West Bank protesting Israel's operations in the Gaza Strip on Monday. EPA
In late 2008, Israel finally tried to put a stop to attacks from Gaza with Operation Cast Lead. The limited action—Israeli troops didn't go into heavily populated areas and refrained from targeting Hamas's senior leadership—was met with broad condemnation, including a U.N. report (since recanted by its lead author) accusing Israel of possible "crimes against humanity."
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