Eventually the question must be asked: Why are so many advocates of the bloody struggle in Iraq to empower a people and change an entrenched culture of brutality and violence so quick to dismiss a similar "long, hard slog" in Gaza? Why do those who defend so voraciously the idea that democracy and civil society can be fostered in Iraq despite the chaos and mass killings of civilians by suicide bombers, in the next breath tell us that despite protests by ordinary Palestinians to this weekend's post-Gaza withdrawal attack that it somehow proves there is no possible hope for Palestinian self-governance?
If the naysayer hordes are still capable of opening their ears, now is as good a time as any to be reminded that not even the most ardent supporters of the unilateral withdrawal ever claimed it would be a silver bullet in the heart of terrorism. The end of occupation will not be easy or painless. It is, however, inevitable, necessary, and, most importantly, a morally inescapable eventuality -- as the United States, Russia, the European Union, the United Nations, and, indeed, the Israeli government, have all accepted.
The beginning of this latest unfortunate episode was such a caricature of the long-running conflict that it approached farce: A truck full of Hamas members with (apparently not very well-produced) homemade weapons blew themselves up, killing sixteen of the Palestinians they purportedly exist to defend. The terror group immediately blamed their own deadly incompetence on the omniscient Jewish conspiracy. Some militant group or other -- Israel believes it was Syria, the Palestinians claim it was Hezbollah, and Syria, mimicking Hogan's Heroes's Sgt. Schultz, basically said, "I see nothing, I know nothing!" -- then launches 39 Qassam rockets, instigating a retaliation that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promises will be "a continued action, whose aim is to hurt the terrorists and not to let up."
This is the problem the Palestinian people perpetually face: The epic failures of their quasi-leadership are never cured because they are never addressed. Like a child who does not want to own up to a mess it's made, Hamas simply ignored the evidence and started crying that the boogeyman did it.
There was a silver lining to all of this, aside from the fact that no Israelis were killed in the attack. In the wake of the rocket attacks, the predictable official denunciations were delivered with a wink, but that was not the end of it. In fact, the Associated Press had no trouble finding Gazans willing to loudly criticize "their" side's breaking of the February ceasefire deal.
"If Hezbollah was behind this attack, I as a Palestinian tell them, 'Deal with your own problems and stay out of ours,'" Akram Abu Sbaa of Jenin told the reporter, who wrote of widespread Palestinian anger over the attack.
Ironically enough, this story which should inspire optimism is generating more scoffing negativism than anything else. The War Blog over at FrontPage Magazine, for example, suggested taking Palestinian protests with "a huge, Lot's-Wife-sized grain of salt." Certainly there is cause for skepticism, but it is difficult to imagine a scenario where a pro-war publication would dismiss Iraqi civilians protesting militant groups so out of hand. Anyone who did would likely be shellacked as a Fifth Columnist communist sympathizer.
The attitude fits a pattern wherein the supposed friends of Israel dismiss all positive developments out of overt opposition to the sort of independent state they clamor for in Lebanon. A year ago Yasser Arafat was the obstacle to peace. Then he dies and overnight they decide he wasn't the problem after all. Next it was the lack of democracy in Gaza holding up the works, but when some semblance of albeit imperfect democratic elections begin to emerge -- threatening to finally make Hamas a political party at the mercy of voters, no less -- it is on to something else.
This insatiable desire for stalling may be borne of loyalty to Israel and well intentioned, but is no longer realistic. If Israel wanted to permanently own real estate in the West Bank or Gaza, it should have annexed it after the 1967 war. But that is not what it chose to do. Whether it was to maintain the Jewish identity of the "official" Israeli population or doubt over whether the United Nations would accept annexation, there are political realities that emerged from the decision that must be dealt with.
It is not enough to simply say the Palestinians will assume the withdrawal was a sign of weakness, and, therefore, Israel should not have withdrawn. Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Zalman Shoval's recent contention that Jewish settlers had turned Gaza "from a barren wasteland into a blooming oasis" is totally immaterial at this late date. Civilized, rational governments do not make policy based on the delusions of others. They make it based on the best interests of their country, first, and, hopefully, the best interests of humanity in a not-too-distant second.
The pullout from Gaza fits the bill on both counts. It is right for Israel, it addresses many of the legitimate grievances of the Palestinian people, and it sets an example of a bold, unilateral action in the service of peace that the world sorely needs right now. Israel's true friends will stand by her in this endeavor, not merely carp and whine at the first sign of trouble.
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