Why Israel’s Unilateral Withdrawal From Palestinian Territory Will Deliver Neither Peace Nor Justice
This is a guest post by mettaculture
Recently Peter Tatchell wrote an article for HP where he argued that:
The Israeli seizure and occupation of Palestinian land, and the denial of a Palestinian state, is the root cause of the on-going conflict and the current flare up in Gaza. That’s a fact. There will be no enduring peace without first securing justice for the people of Palestine.
Many commenters took issue over his basic premise, asserting that, on the contrary, Arab violence against Jews predates the creation of Israel and that universal Arab rejection of any plans to partition Mandated Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab Palestinian state and the continuation of a complete rejection of the state of Israel is the cause of the failure to establish peace.
I argued, along with many others, that Peter Tatchell should read further back into the history of the region particularly that of the decline and fall of the Ottoman Empire, from a multi-cultural polity, into 40 or more nation states, all formed along ethnic religious and linguistic lines involving significant population transfer.
Here I wish to take a different argument and assume, for the purpose of debate, that Peter’s proposition is in some way correct, because at a simple and reductionist level, Peter is saying that it is the existence of Israel that precludes the creation of a Palestinian state.
If we can agree on no more than this rather straightforward fact, without agreeing as to how this state of affairs arose, other than the rather obvious fact that Jewish people arrived into the region, in increasing numbers, under the terms of the League of Nations Mandate, to establish a state, it allows us to test Peter’s actual proposal to resolve the conflict.
His central argument is that unilateral withdrawal, by Israel, from the West Bank, the ending of the ’siege’ of Gaza, the immediate dismantling of the separation wall and Israeli recognition of an Independent Palestinian state along 1967 borders, will bring about peace and reconciliation for all and justice for the Palestinians. He also argues that, together with backing from the ‘international community’, this will also, directly, bring about critically needed social, economic and political development within Palestinian territories and produce the good governance that is required for this geographical territory to become, for the first time, a unified state.
This argument is in fact presented as a demand upon Israel, delivered in the form of the Avaaz petition, that has so far received more than 1.5 million signatories.
This demand for Israeli unilateral withdrawal and immediate Palestinian state recognition (either unilaterally by Israel or unilaterally by the Palestinian authority through the UN) is presented with great moral and emotional force. Peter Tatchell, however, does not propose any blueprint or road map or any possible practicable model for how this may be done nor does he draw upon any relevant policy related research into what the probable effects of unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank would be.
Now one would hope that at least some of the more pragmatic of the 1.5 million signatories to the Avaaz petition would be interested in evidence based inquiry into the likely results of Israel entering into an irrevocable future and even the most morally impelled might pause a moment in thought at the probable consequences to the lives of millions in the region that would be brought about in such an instantaneous transformation.
Many commenters, not least those living in Israel with functioning medium term memories have insisted that the grand kick-starting for peace experiment of unilateral withdrawal from Palestinian territory has already been tried.
Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005 with supposedly iron clad backing from the international community. This was a pilot study of the unilateral concept that Peter Tatchell is still promoting, however the results are in and, as a consequence the demonstration project has not been extended nationally for all Palestinians in the Occupies Territories.
The resulting evidence of this bold and unprecedented experiment is pretty robust and one has to demand why anyone would today propose more of the same, as a one-shot deal, yet singularly fail to look at this evidence.
Even those who considered, at the time, that the security risk associated with unilateral withdrawal, was undeniably great but the gamble worth it to kick start the peace process, have now realised their errors.
Max Boot for the Los Aneles Times, at the time said:
So does this mean that Ariel Sharon is making a big mistake? It certainly means he is taking a risk — the risk of creating a Hamastan where terrorism will flourish — but, on balance, it is the right decision.
The Gaza settlements were simply not sustainable. Approximately 8,500 Jews could not live safely among 1.3 million Arabs. That may be a sad commentary on the Arabs, considering that a million Arabs live safely among 5 million Jews in Israel, but that’s life. The Gaza settlers had a right to risk their own necks but not the necks of soldiers who had to protect them. Sooner or later they would have had to go. If Sharon had waited, like his predecessors, for a comprehensive peace treaty with the Palestinians before the inevitable pullout, he would have waited until kingdom come. In the meantime the settlements would have remained an easy debating point for Palestinian propagandists.
By removing the settlements on his own initiative, Sharon has helped to regain the initiative — moral and political — for the Jewish state. The international opprobrium into which Israel had sunk was not fatal to its existence, but it was not good either. Israelis feel themselves part of the West, and it is deeply dispiriting for them to be shunned by every Western country except the U.S. The pullout, on top of the concessions offered by Ehud Barak at Camp David five years ago, eases (if not erases) the onus on Israel and puts pressure on the Palestinians to get their own house in order.
Opponents of the withdrawal cite parallels with the 2000 Israeli evacuation of southern Lebanon, which helped spark the second intifada, but the danger now is much less. Even if Palestinians want to attack Israel — and they do — they will be hard-pressed to do so.
Now Max Boot admits:
But I nevertheless argued that “on balance” the pullout was worth the risk because it would allow Israel “to regain the initiative — moral and political,” and that “if the Palestinians fire rockets from Gaza, Israel will be free to mount a military response — more free, in fact, when the threat comes from a sovereign Palestinian state than when it emanates from Israeli-occupied territory.”
Obviously I overestimated the extent to which Israel would get credit for its risky pullout. I overestimated, too, the willingness of the international community to support the Jewish state’s attempts to defend itself from terror.
Much of the world continues to view Gaza as quasi-occupied territory because of Israel’s attempts to stop the importation of heavy weapons, and it continues to criticize Israel for supposedly “disproportionate” responses to terror.
Bret Stephens from the Wall Street Journal has also issued a mea culpa:
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.
It is worth listening to the full audio interview with Bret Stephens a where he describes the extremely dangerous ‘Jihad in Sinai’ situation which is now threatening Israel, particularly the Gaza-Egypt border along which, following withdrawal, Israel finds almost impossible to control the flow of increasingly heavy weaponry.
Arguably the ‘peace and justice remedy’ proposed by Peter Tatchell and others for Israel is another piece of unique Israeli exceptionalism, as is the moral displacement represented by the refusal to enquire into the practical consequences for the security of millions. It is a repeatedly observed fact of history that no immediate and unilateral withdrawal from any occupied territory works terribly well.
One cannot switch off all the holistically interdependent machinery of a state, that governs a region or minority within it, one day and then leave it in the ‘off’ position hoping that someone else will know how to totally re-wire the system before switching it back on again.
The left has always criticised Portugal after its revolution in 1974 for its disastrous unilateral withdrawal from its colonies. In the case of Timor this left a population at the mercy of Indonesia who annexed the territory.
Unilateral withdrawal does not work – it creates a governance vacuum where deadly forces play out, this is really elementary state building stuff that everyone should know from ‘history of decolonisation 101′ classes. Again these recent examples of, failures by the international community and the lack of political will (from the isolationist right as well as the national sovereignty-fetishising left) among the major powers to intervene with sufficient robustness to deliver upon their promises of support should be mandatory reading for those who would propose that Israel unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank as a grand gesture of magnanimous peace making as an unconditional gift.
In any other case such a grand gesture of peace from any nation towards those who refuse to recognise their right to exist would be considered a futile and immoral act of gesture politics that would endanger millions. In the case, however, of Israel, yet again, we see this disconnected exceptionalism that sees great moral virtue in transcendental thinking and Ghandian acts of piety without any heed for prosaic practicalities, get a content-free pass.
It is really simply not good enough, seven years after Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, that Peter Tatchell would simply repeat the mantras of a failed experiment, without appraising himself, of the honest opinions of those moderate voices who supported the withdrawal at the time, for effectively the same reasons of initiating a game-changing radical but since considering the consequences of withdrawal have admitted they were wrong.
It is not so that Peter Tatchell should appraise himself of these facts for his own benefit, I would not seek to demand of a private individual that they must read this or that, but in this case Peter is seeking to persuade millions to support the same policy of peace as an act of grand wishful thinking, in the circumstances this is grossly irresponsible and the millions whose lives would be endangered by such unilateralism have the moral right to demand more of him.
In fact not to do some thorough policy research in this area before recommending a massive expansion of the same policy in a once and for all package, is negligent and arguably bordering on the criminally irresponsible.
Unilateral withdrawal will not succeed because it does not allow Palestinian leaders to succeed as stakeholders and to claim credit for building and achieving a state. A democratic functioning state, if its institutions and economy are to be sustainable, has to be worked for by all not granted by fiat.
The history of successfully decolonised states (compared to those which have failed and turned into brutal tyrannies and economic disaster zones) teaches us these basic things; of the necessity for the creation of a new state’s social contract with itself and its securely negotiated political settlement with it’s neighbours.
Israeli unilateral withdrawal from Gaza was seen as a victory for the Palestinians and hence Israel’s defeat and humiliation. Such a logic of victory (perfectly understandable for those who believe they are fighting a war of liberation against an over powerful enemy) is not conducive to the necessary collective psychology required to work together to build a new state. If the mighty Israelis left without a fight, so goes the logic, what was there to be actually gained?
It is a pyrrhic victory for any liberation struggle to simply gain a place with some looted buildings and smashed symbols of the former rule without having built and pre-figured clearly in their minds and in their disciplined training the form of the new state they hope to bequeath to their children.
On Gaza the research has been done there is a must read article that describes the sequence of events following Israeli unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, the failure of this policy to deliver any aspect of the hoped for gains and the detailed reasons why.
Joel Peters, Associate Professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech, specialising in the ﬁeld of global security and conflict resolution, describes in succinct but compelling detail the failure of Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. I recommend reading the article in full but here are the essential facts.
Sharon’s announcement of his disengagement plan for Gaza was met with a mixture of disbelief, skepticism, anger, and praise. For many observers, Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza was heralded as a momentous occasion in Israeli–Palestinian relations that would kick-start the moribund peace process.
At the same time, in many quarters, Sharon was denounced for betraying the settler movement and for undermining Israel’s security.
For others, Sharon’s move was seen as a calculated step designed to consolidate Israel’s long-term control over the West Bank.
Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in the summer of 2005 failed to transform Israeli–Palestinian relations and trigger the revival of the peace process as had been hoped.
Within months of the pullback, the optimism engendered by Israel’s move quickly turned to despair for Palestinians and regret for Israel.
Instead of building the foundations of a state, the Palestinians witnessed a sharp decline in their socioeconomic and living conditions.
For Israel, the security situation in the south continued to deteriorate with the number of missile attacks from Gaza only increasing.
In the four months following the Israeli withdrawal, 283 rockets were launched from Gaza into Israel.
To best meet the economic challenges posed by the plan, the World Bank conducted a number of studies on how the border crossing with Israel could be modernized, on how industrial parks might be established, and speciﬁed the reforms required to make the Palestinian economy more competitive.
In April 2005, as the date for Israel’s withdrawal drew closer, James Wolfensohn, the former head of the World Bank, was appointed as the Quartet’s Middle East Special Envoy for Gaza Disengagement to oversee international efforts to rebuild the Palestinian economy.
One month later, the leaders of the G8 summit pledged up to $3 billion a year to support these efforts. A package of so-called “Quick-Impact Projects” was quickly identiﬁed and $750 million was earmarked by the donor community for disbursement between July and December 2005.
The unwillingness of the Palestinian leadership to openly embrace the disengagement plan and to clamp down on attacks on Israel in the months after its withdrawal was interpreted as a further sign of its political ineptitude and its lack of good faith
Unilaterally conceived and implemented, and without any assurances to address Israel’s security concerns or to improve the socioeconomic conditions of Gaza, the plan failed to overcome those underlying political tensions.
For its part, the international community placed its faith in the plan in the hope that it would re-energize the peace process.
Though supportive of Israel’s decision to leave Gaza, the international community lacked the capacity and the necessary political leadership to address the plan’s fundamental weakness, namely its unilateral nature.
Joel Peters has given us a solid piece of evidence based policy research written by someone who is heavily critical of many aspects of Israeli policy towards Palestinians. I would argue that anyone who continue to argue for Israeli unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank or for attempts by the Palestinian Authority to unilaterally claim statehood cannot afford not to read and digest his work.
I have no particular faith that those who argue so easily from a content-free position of moralising that Israel must immediately move to unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank and unconditionally recognise a state of Palestine will be swayed by such evidence based research.
Because there is so little practicality swamped by such a tendentious moral rhetoric in these insistent demands over what Israel must do to grant peace and justice to Palestinians, without anything as much as a recognition of their right to exist in return, the grand wishful-thinking does not reveal a generosity of heart and mind as much as their closure to blind ideology.
Justice is a beautifully simple word, one that is easy to say or to write but as a concept, it writhes implacably refusing to be pinned down let alone give itself to judgement in restitution. incredibly difficult to deliver.
Peter Tatchell seeks to resolve a contemporary conflict with the use of contemporary international legal instruments and yet he speaks of justice in Biblical terms, where two wrongs don’t make a right and an ‘eye for an eye’ leaves justice blind.
Yet the eye for justice though seeking balance can never really be blind as lies as our cherished symbols demand, justice lies as much in the humble detail as in the grandiloquent pronouncements of policy by acts of piety. When Peter Tatchell speaks of ‘Justice for Palestine’ one must assume that he wishes for equal Justice for Israelis (Jews and Muslims, Christians and Druze and Bahai) as for Palestinian Muslims and Christians .
The problem with viewing Justice as some kind of historic wrong dealt to Palestinians by Israeli Occupation is that it sidesteps the real issue of how one can do justice to two peoples who have a home and a claim to that home that occupies the same geographical territory. Peter Tatchells formulation of justice is actually blind because it refuses to be burdened by messy practical things like evidence and displaces the problem into a purely moral and rhetorical problem.
Purity of conviction expressed as moral certainty may serve in the mind of the deliberator to wonderfully clarify and simplify what has to be done. But where pious pronouncement in effect replaces practical problem solving, where demand for a radical and final solution is seen as more important than long slow, messy and difficult negotiation and compromise, then even Angles should fear to tread.
Peter Tatchell’s noble conviction that the sole cause of Palestinian violence is the Israeli denial of statehood to a territory corresponding to the 1967 borders which leads him to the equally determined conviction that the grand gesture of Israel granting ‘back’ of land will lead to peace and justice, frankly terrifies me.
I do not see a dream arising from Peter’s demands where little Jewish Boys and little Muslim girls will play together, one day. I see a recurring nightmare where the beginning is fuzzy followed by a strange sense of calm before one realises it is ground hog day and and then comes the running on the spot unable to escape that evil that has come at exactly this point in the dream before and then I wake up in a cold sweat.
It scares me that so many people do not want to read deeply into the background of this conflict considering such contextualising of history to be dodging the simple point of Israeli illegal occupation.
I would hope that if people don’t want to read back in history to the root causes of this conflict and the profound and often ugly forces that are at play, then at least they will read a few pages that shed light on the failed policy of the last seven years of the grand experiment by Israel of unilateral withdrawal from Palestinian land for peace.
You see Justice, an actual equal determination of the wrongs suffered by both sides in this conflict cannot deliver both sides all of what they claim in restitution. When no settlement on Earth can deliver that idealised and moralised sense of Justice, what is most just is not what is most morally grand it is on the contrary what is, rather more prosaically, fair and reasonable and deliverable, through hard work and honest compromise and agreement.
If Peter Tatchell believes that justice for the Palestinians must be delivered right here right now by a grand gesture of withdrawal from the West Bank and a grand commitment to the recognition of a Palestinian state enforced by the international community without any demand, from that same international community that there be a comprehensive Palestinian recognition of the state of Israel then the legitimate security needs of Israelis, are not simply ignored they are sacrificed to the winds of fortune in a place and time of great danger.
To risk the security and even continued existence of Israelis for the sake of an expanded utopic experiment, that in trial form has ended so disastrously, ignoring the devil in the detail of the outcomes already documented is an intended act, not of the dispensation of even handed justice but of justice conceived as the final judgement of of a deadly, Calvinist, piety over the frail generosity of humanism.