Magazine article The Spectator

A Necessary Betrayal

Magazine article The Spectator

A Necessary Betrayal

Article excerpt

Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister of Israel, deserves praise for forcing the settlers in Gaza off the land and out of the homes that he encouraged them to settle and to build over 35 years ago. As he admitted in his televised address to Israel on Monday evening, he 'hoped we could forever hold on' to the settlements in Gaza -- and he certainly encouraged the unfortunate settlers he sent there to share his hope.

Until very recently, Mr Sharon was one of the leading advocates of the policy of settling Jews in the areas occupied by Israel after its victory over its Arab neighbours in the 1967 Six Day War. In Gaza, however, the costs of defending an archipelago of 8,500 settlers in a sea of over a million hostile Palestinians have proved to be too great. Mr Sharon has now recognised that -- in Gaza at least -- the settlement policy was an unsustainable mistake. An army of 50,000 Israeli soldiers and policemen is on hand to ensure that the rump of unrepentant settlers and their supporters, who believe the land was given to them by God, are removed from Gaza. By Wednesday, according to the army, more than half the settlers had left.

The Gaza pull-out should be only the start of Israel's 'reassessment' -- as Mr Sharon has put it -- of its policy towards the Palestinians. Most observers insist, however, that Mr Sharon has started the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza without the least intention of making any further concessions. If that is indeed Mr Sharon's position, it is quite understandable. Behind Mahmood Abbas, the reasonable-sounding leader of the Palestinian Authority, lies Hamas. Hamas does not recognise the legitimacy of the state of Israel. Its stated policy is 'to push Israel and the Jews into the sea', and it is responsible for most of the suicide bombings which have killed so many Israeli men, women and children.

Hamas is already celebrating the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza as a 'victory' for its policy of indiscriminate murder. Its supporters state openly that the withdrawal from Gaza has been achieved through their use of violence. They draw only one lesson from the Israeli pull-out: terrorism works, and if we want to achieve our goal of eliminating Israel altogether, we need more suicide bombings.

Given that context of Hamas terrorism, it is unsurprising that Mr Sharon regards any further concessions to the Palestinian Authority as a mistake. Further concessions there will have to be, though, if Israel's long-term future is to be assured. …

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