The malice of Gaza disengagement

Published in The Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom, July 24, 2015.

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The wrecking of Gush Katif wasn’t really about peace with the Palestinians, but about the crushing of Religious Zionism. The expulsion was a trenchant exhibition of bleak and vengeful impulses that course through Israeli politics.

Ten years ago exactly, a few days after the expulsion of Gush Katif’s residents by the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, I hosted in Israel a group of 14 Canadian newspaper editors. The group met its peers at all Israeli newspapers, including the then-editor-in-chief of Haaretz, David Landau.

Mr. Landau was an English gentleman, and to me, always a good colleague. While we were poles apart ideologically, I appreciated his advice and even his support. I knew that my Canadian guests would find him fascinating. But this time, Landau’s radical creed got the better of him, and he proceeded to give a lesson in raw Israeli politics to the neophyte Canadians.

“You undoubtedly want to know what I think about the disengagement from Gaza,” he told the unsuspecting Canucks. “I’ll tell you: I think that it was the most important and uplifting thing that has happened in this country in decades! It gives me great hope for the future.”

“I am delighted by the disengagement. But not for the reasons you imagine,” Landau asserted with a smirk on his face.

“You Canadians probably think that the withdrawal is a fine thing because it ends the Israeli occupation of Gaza,” Landau said, toying with the visitors. “But that’s not it,” he proclaimed, gesticulating with his hand in a dismissive motion. “That’s not what makes the disengagement important.”

“And you Canadians probably think that the withdrawal is a good thing because the Palestinians now will be able to build a thriving state in Gaza, and show Israel and the world that they can live in peace alongside Israel.”

“But that’s not it,” Landau again proclaimed, again waving his hand dismissively. “That’s not what makes the disengagement important.”

“And you probably think that I think the withdrawal is a very good thing because my sons and daughters will no longer have to do army duty patrolling the alleyways of Khan Yunis and Jebalya,” said Landau.

“But that’s not it,” he proclaimed, his hands flicking furiously and derisively. “That’s not what makes the disengagement important. In fact, that’s really not important at all.”

Here Landau turned red in the face. He began banging on the table and bellowing at full volume. “I’ll let you in on a secret; a dirty little secret known only to true Israeli insiders!” he said.

Now screaming: “The reason why the disengagement is so important; the reason why it is so historic a move; the reason why it makes Ariel Sharon into such a great hero; the reason why it fills me with hope for the future – the reason is…” Landau barked, “because we crushed Religious Zionism!”

There was shocked silence in the room.

Boom, crash, whack. Landau pounded on the table some more. “We crushed the Religious Zionist rabbis and settlers! We destroyed their Gush Katif towns, and we smashed their political power! We decimated the Religious Zionist lock-hold on Israeli politics. And now, now, now… Now there may be, finally, true hope for peace!”

Landau then wiped away the foam that was literally dripping from his mouth. He had completed this bloody baring of his soul.

The Canadian visitors sat dumbfounded. They had come seeking understanding of Israel’s strategic environment and of Israel’s diplomatic horizons. Instead, they were treated to a trenchant exhibition of the bleak and vengeful impulses that course through Israeli politics.

EVER SINCE THEN, it has been clear to me that a very deep and central motivation for the Left’s enthusiasm for the Gaza disengagement indeed was the evisceration of the settlement movement and the disembowelment of the Religious Zionist community that stands mainly behind it.

In other words, the wrecking of Gush Katif wasn’t really or only about peace with the Palestinians, but about the crushing of Religious Zionism.

This ugly truism was borne out at conferences marking the tenth anniversary of the disengagement, held over the past week at the Israel Democracy Institute and the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

None of Sharon’s aides who spoke at these conferences – Dov Weissglass, Yisrael Maimon, Amos Yaron and others – could cobble together a convincing diplomatic rationale for the expulsion; a logic which stands the test of time. Nor did they express any remorse, despite the obviously catastrophic security consequences of the unilateral withdrawal.

Intellectual figures like A.B. Yehoshua and Fania Oz-Sulzberger were no better. No regrets, no political repentance, no recalibration of their ragged strategic worldview.

“The settlers are just a bunch of fanatic right-wing crybabies,” the foul-mouth Yaron London roared. “So they had to move a few kilometers away, so what? I moved 16 times in my lifetime and never demanded compensation from anyone!”

Then London let the cruel cat out of the bag. “We had to get out from under your strangling grip,” London told former National Religious Party MK and Gush Katif resident Zvi Hendel, with whom he shared a stage. “The domination of Israeli politics and policy by messianic settler forces was much too overwhelming. So we clobbered you, and I am not sorry.”

David Landau (who passed away six months ago, at too young an age) could not have said it better.

The only pint of penitence to be heard from figures on the Left relates to the continuing crime of callousness towards the evicted settlers. Not because of true sympathy for victims of the wreckage that Sharon wrought, but because the failure to properly resettle them makes it hard to convince the Israeli public to support a future uprooting of settlers in the West Bank.

Former MK Haim Oron candidly admitted that “I fought for higher compensation for Gush Katif farmers so that the precedent properly would be set for efficient evacuation of the settlements in Samaria.”

IT’S INSTRUCTIVE that the ten-year mark of the Gaza withdrawal, this week, overlaps with UN Security Council approval of President Obama’s deal with Iran. Proponents of these controversial initiatives each have sought to wrap their schemes in heroic terms and in promises of improved security.

Yet the disengagement weakened Israel and empowered Hamas. The Iran deal enfeebles America, and indubitably will embolden Iran.

Alas, in both cases it seems that the people behind these policies never will admit mistake.

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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