Far-right Israelis are furious, but almost everyone else in the world should be relieved that Ariel Sharon — at long last — is pulling everyone and everything out of Gaza.
NEVE DEKALIM, Gaza Strip – On the first day of Israel’s Gaza pullout, soldiers handed out eviction notices to sobbing Jewish settlers and helped some pack, but troops also scuffled with protesters who barricaded their communities with burning tires and locked arms.
Army commanders took pains to avoid serious clashes and refrained from forcing their way into settlements where opposition was heavy — a display of sensitivity before unleashing the military’s muscle to forcibly remove holdouts starting Wednesday.
“Your pain and your tears are an inseparable part of this country’s history,” Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told settlers during a nationally televised address in which he called the pullout a painful but essential step for Israel’s future.
He said previously it had become too hard to defend the Gaza settlements and their 8,500 residents in an overcrowded area of 1.3 million Palestinians, and the presence of so many Arabs under Israeli control was threatening the Jewish character of the state.
Sharon has repeatedly said the withdrawal is designed to allow Israel to hold on to all of Jerusalem and major parts of the West Bank — a position that raises questions about the prospects for peace since the Palestinians claim those areas for a state.
Nevertheless, Palestinians celebrated the beginning of the end for the 38-year occupation of the Gaza Strip, and militant factions competed for credit for expelling the Israelis with their violent five-year uprising.
In his speech, Sharon urged Palestinian leaders to control extremists. “To an outstretched hand of peace we will respond with an olive branch, but fire will be met by fire more intense than ever,” he said.
The timing is right. Terrorism against Israelis is at a low point. I don’t know about you, but I would feel safe if I traveled to Israel now. Two years ago I would not have. No one can make a plausible argument that this pullout is a surrender to terrorism. Obviously it is not. The suicide bombers were fenced off and beaten back before the pullout began.
The settlers in the West Bank and (especially) Gaza always seemed more than a little cracked to me. They make a two-state solution to the conflict far more difficult, which is part of the point of their movement. But they’re also placing themselves in clear and present mortal danger by surrounding themselves with fanatics who want them dead. They have needed an “intervention” by their Israeli friends for a very long time.
Israelis needs to be out of Gaza for their own sake, as well as for the sake of Palestinians. Yitzak Rabin summed up the reasoning very effectively when he campaigned for prime minister in 1992. He promised not only to get Israel out of Gaza but to get “Gaza out of Tel Aviv.” Hopefully it won’t take another thirteen years to get the West Bank out of Tel Aviv, too.