Saturday, August 20, 2005

Why is Ariel Sharon evacuating Gaza?

The Secret of Gaza
By David Frum

Why is Ariel Sharon evacuating Gaza?

It is not because he believes that a decent Palestinian state will emerge after the Israelis withdraw. Nobody believes that. The almost universal consensus among experts on the region is that post-occupation Gaza will became a Mediterranean Somalia: an unstable failed state in which gangs compete for power and extremist Islam finds a sanctuary.

Nor was Sharon responding to international pressure. His plan for unilateral evacuation surprised and displeased the United States and the European countries. They wanted Sharon to negotiate with Abbas. They wanted the deal to involve all the Palestinian territories, not just Gaza. And they wanted the whole thing to happen very, very slowly.

Israel’s strategic situation did not force Sharon’s hand: Israel was more than capable of holding Gaza for years to come. Domestic public opinion is not the explanation: Sharon won Israel’s 2003 elections by ITAL opposing END ITAL a Gaza withdrawal.

So why, why, why?

Let me try a theory.

Israel is the victim of an organized international hypocrisy.

After the experience of the 1990s, few people retain an illusions about the likely character of any Palestinian state. The Palestinian leadership is corrupt through and through. The only effective opposition to that leadership is violent and extremist. Palestinian public opinion utterly rejects coexistence with Israel. A Palestinian state, whatever its borders, will wage terror war against Israel – and give sanctuary to Islamic extremists from around the world. It will murder Israelis and threaten the security of Europeans and Americans.

European and American political leaders recognize this depressing fact. But they also recognize that Palestine issue has excited passions throughout the Muslim world – and among Muslim minorities in the West. These leaders believe that if they want to quell Muslim extremism, they must be seen to work toward the creation of a Palestinian state.

In Charles Dickens’ novel David Copperfield there is a character who answers every request with a sigh: Ah, if it were up to him, he would of course say “yes” with pleasure – but his partner, Mr. Jorrocks,* is so very difficult ….. In just such a way, European and American political leaders favor a “peace process” that moves the Palestinians ever closer to statehood, without ever quite reaching it; a process that positions the Israelis as the Mr. Jorrocks of the world.

Ariel Sharon has decided to put an end to this play.

The world wants a Palestinian state? Very well – let them have it. And the result, as we are seeing, is something close to panic in the foreign ministries of the West. Not just the West: the Middle East too. The Egyptians do not want a Hamas state on their borders. They had expected Ariel Sharon to place a cordon between Egypt and Gaza. He has said he will not do so – that he is leaving the job up to the Egyptians. And indeed last month Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz announced that 750 Egyptian soldiers would soon arrive to replace the Israeli Defense Forces.

Is this Egyptian role on the border a precursor to a larger Egyptian role within Gaza? Egypt after all remains far more vulnerable to Islamic extremist ideology than Israel. The Egyptian authorities have crushed the extremist movement within their borders. Do they wish to see a jihadist state emerge on their borders? It seems unlikely.

Could it be that Sharon is calling the bluff of Western governments and the Arab states? By creating the very Palestinian state that those governments and those states pretend to want but actually dread – Sharon is forcing them to end their pretense and acknowledge the truth:

The Palestinian leadership is incapable of creating a state that can live at peace with anyone, not Israel, not the other Arab states, not Europe, not the world. Somebody else must govern the restless and violent Arab-majority territories west of the Jordan River. Israel has suffered four decades of condemnation for doing the job. Sharon is now resigning the task to anybody else who would like to step in and take over the job. Nobody wants to. But Egypt and Jordan may soon realize that they have no choice. If there is a secret behind Sharon’s plan – that is it.

* I should of course have said Jorkins. Thanks to NRO's Dickens-loving readers.


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