Bible Commentator

Special Stories

Rabbi Moshe Reiss

Special Stories #11 – September 24,  Winners and Losers

Who Won and Who Lost in the Gaza Disengagement?

Israel won the second intifada and consequently could afford to disengage from Gaza. The past nine months have seen a radical reduction in Palestinian violence. It is not unrelated to Arafat’s death and Abbas election. The IDF and Israel Police emerged from the withdrawal operation itself as winners in Israeli and International eyes. The State of Israel has also proved it can limit the power of its own fundamentalist messianists with their Land over the State thesis. Israel also won the first stage for its own democracy by defeating the first stage of is demographic context.  

Most people seem to think the Palestinians were rewarded for terrorism; I believe the Palestinians were rewarded as a result of their failure to win their Jihad. Mahmoud Abbas fought against the war and considered it destructive to the Palestinian statehood was elected on that basis. He was rewarded. Hamas claims that the disengagement was a reward to their Jihad. That Hamas lost is clear, there leadership; spiritual and operational have been highly diminished although not destroyed.  How many Palestinians understand that Hamas lost I do not know.

Hizbollah believed that it won when the Israeli armed forces left Lebanon in disarray. Did they? (Thanks to Abbas the IDF did not leave Gaza in disarray but in great order.) Israeli soldiers are no longer being killed – who won that war? The only success Hizbollah is currently winning (or not) is in the Lebanese Parliament - is that bad for Israel? When Hamas enters the new Palestinian Parliament after the January 2006 elections will that be bad for Israel? Apparently Sharon and others believe that. Can not Hamas be like Hizbollah? These people may be fundamentalists, but they are not stupid or irrational.

Suppose Hamas and its Jihadist associates renew their terrorist attacks? If it from Gaza, highly unlikely, Israel clearly has the military power to respond without needing to be concerned about the lives of the settlers. Israel has already proven it can retake Gaza probably in one day, or it can respond with a vast array of airpower. In the West Bank, aside from completing the security wall, Israel has operational flexibility in its responses.  Given the positive reception received by Sharon at the U.N. meeting who will be blamed? We are finally taking control of our lives. The International community – which does matter; we are militarily and economical dependant on the U.S. and E.U.  - may finally realize what we Israelis have known for a long time that we face a Terrorist war. When Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom spoke at the U.N. General Assembly with Dan Gillerman elected as President of the General Assembly for that day (September 20) he spoke of the lessening of shadows between the Israel and the Muslim world; particularly Pakistan and Turkey, two of the largest Muslim states in the world. That is Sharon’s achievement.

The next stage will involve domestic politics among both Israelis and Palestinians. The domestic politics make it unlikely that the Israelis will help Abbas. He seems to be unable to reorganize the security forces and defeat the warlords.  The January elections may result in chaos. In the Palestinian elections Fatah may win the most seats in the Parliament but unlikely a majority; thus they will have to create a coalition with Hamas. Sharon has already complained about Hamas being able to run in free elections. Does he really expect Abbas to reject their willingness to participate in elections?

There is some logic for the suggestion of a right wing party run by Netanyahu, a centrist party by Sharon/Peres/Lapid, a left wing party by Beilin and the various religious parties. The ‘Big Bang’ combination is however unlikely – too many big egos. More likely Likud will split into a right wing and centrist wing and then any coalition of center parties or some part of them and/or some religious parties will result.

Is the end game at hand; no – but a Palestinian state is nearer rather than further away. The Palestinians won, the Israeli won. To quote an American proverb there may be light at the end of the tunnel.

Shahar Ilan interviewed Prof. Moshe Kaveh, President of Bar Ilan University (the only religious university in Israel) in the Magazine section of Haaretz on September 23. Since his position on the Extremist Rabbis versus moderate Religious Zionism is so similar to my own I list the website to those interested in reading the interview.

Rabbi Mordecai Eliahu who told soldiers to refuse evacuation orders told the Jerusalem Post in an interview that ‘members of the national religious camp [should] remain loyal to the state and army’ (Jerusalem Post, September 23).