The Debate About Getting Out of Gaza

, August 1, 2004

No. 521    August 2004

  • The current focus in Israeli discussion on whether some Jews have to leave their homes makes consideration of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan unnecessarily and harmfully divisive and misses the real issue of whether the current proposal improves or worsens Israeli security now and for the future.

  • The widespread agreement among Israelis that ultimately Gaza should not be part of Israel is virtually irrelevant to the question of whether Gaza disengagement is good for Israel now. Opposition to the proposal is not based on a concern for keeping Gaza.

  • Gaza disengagement needs to be evaluated on the assumption that it will result immediately or shortly in the loss of Israel’s ability to control Gaza’s borders with the world. It is unlikely that even the Israeli leadership believes that Israel can control these borders if it “gets out of Gaza” as he proposes.

  • Because the military benefit to the Palestinians of being able to import advanced weaponry, foreign political activists, and foreign military into Gaza will probably increase the military burden on Israel, the virtue of Gaza disengagement must be in its political benefits.

  • These political benefits have to be greater than the political cost of giving a victory to terrorism and encouraging Muslim and other supporters of the Palestinians. The prime minister and his advisers have not articulated a vision of how the disengagement will improve Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians or how Israel’s general political position would be improved by the disengagement (apart from President Bush’s letter); it is only said that Israel can’t keep everything and must do something now.

  • However, if the U.S. war against terrorism improves the political environment in the Middle East, Israel might be better off “disengaging” later rather than now. Furthermore, postponing disengagement might enable Israel to strengthen those in the U.S. who favor a realistic policy toward the Palestinians rather than giving support to the State Department approach.

  • Unless the Israeli public hears how valid security concerns are going to be addressed, the popular notion of getting out of Gaza could face rising opposition.

The State of Israel is strong and the State of Israel is in danger. Only the U.S. and a few others care about preventing Israel’s destruction. Therefore, Israel must follow a policy that best enhances its chances of survival. Since Israel is ready to sacrifice lives for its defense, it should also be ready to sacrifice homes if that would be useful.

It is clear that if several thousand families could make a serious contribution to Israel’s safety by moving to new homes, most Israelis would say they have an obligation to do so – with appropriate compensation. Indeed, if these families believed they could improve Israel’s security by moving, most would do so voluntarily.

Max Singer

Max Singer is an independent consultant on public policy and a Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute in the U.S. and at the BESA Institute of Bar Ilan University in Israel. He is also Research Director of the Institute for Zionist Strategies in Jerusalem . He was a co-founder of the Hudson Institute and its president until 1973. From 1974 to 1976 he was managing director of the World Institute in Jerusalem, and from 1977 to 1978 he was director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Planning and Research of the Synagogue Council of America. His most recent book is The History of the Future: The Shape of the World to Come Is Visible Today (Lexington Books, 2011)