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What Next After the Gaza Withdrawal?

The withdrawal of Israeli troops and the evacuation of Jewish settlers from Gaza, after 38 years of occupation, is the most recent proof of the limits of military power, even when that power is overwhelming. Now is the time to take stock of the lessons learned from the years of occupation and resistance in order to understand what Israelis and Palestinians should do next.

To begin with, it is imperative to understand how much credit Palestinians can credibly claim for the Israeli withdrawal. True, Palestinian resistance and sacrifices were a contributing factor in Ariel Sharon’s decision to reverse a policy he had espoused for decades. But it would be a mistake to attribute the Israeli withdrawal exclusively to Palestinian militancy. After all, this bittersweet Israeli action was neither a clear result of military defeat nor a consequence of political negotiations.

But unilateralism is not a rational long-term and effective policy, for it will not lead to a genuine and lasting peace in the Middle East. Just as President Bush has discovered in Iraq, Sharon will also be forced to acknowledge the limits of his strategy.

Unilateralism seems very expedient to shortsighted politicians, for it obviates the need for what they perceive as the mess of actual negotiations – that is, meeting their counterparts face to face and discovering the human results of their policies. Going it alone also seems politically advantageous domestically, because leaders can decide how much and how far they want to carry out a particular policy.