It was nine years ago last week–August 19, 2005 to be precise–that Israel voluntarily turned control of the Gaza strip back over the Palestinian leadership.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon shocked the world and Israel’s body politic by announcing that not only would Israel withdraw it’s substantial military and police presence from “occupied” Gaza, the goverment would also forcibly remove the residents of all Israeli settlements.
Sharon had grown tired of waiting for the Palestinians to get serious about negotiating a two-state, live-and-let-live solution. (Spoiler alert: The Palestinians don’t want to live-and-let-live. They want Israel destroyed.) What’s more, Israel was being vilified globally for being an “occupier” in Gaza.
So, Sharon proposed a radical move. A unilateral, no preconditions, no quid pro quo withdrawal from Gaza. The withdrawal would also serve as an grand experiment. Namely, if Israel’s good faith in withdrawing in little Gaza was rewarded with some peace and quiet, perhaps it could pave the way for a future withdrawal from all or part of the “occupied” West Bank.
It was massively controversial within Israel–and even within Sharon’s own governing coalition. In fact, then-cabinet-member Benjamin Netanyahu resigned in protest, warning that the withdrawal meant allowing the creation of a terrorist base of operations for attacking Israel that could be constantly supplied via the Red Sea or Egypt’s desolate, lawless Sinai desert.
Netanyahu’s objections have obviously proven well-founded. Almost immediately Hamas took control and began to receive aid from Israel’s mortal enemies such as Iran and Syria. Hamas also began hijacking the billions of dollars of annual aid poured into dysfunctional Gaza by the international community.
For example, instead of building infrastructure or creating an self-sustaining economy to lift the suffering people of Gaza out of poverty and dependence, Hamas commandeered aid funds and poured them into creating invasion tunnels. Just one tunnel discovered in the recent ground fighting is said to have cost $10 million and required two years and 800 tons of concrete to build.
There are scores of similar tunnels leading into Israel.
I point all of this out to pose a simple question: Given what Israel has experienced since withdrawing from Gaza, how motivated should they be to withdraw from the West Bank at any point in the future?
Answer that question with this additional thought in mind. Israel is massively dependent on tourism for it’s economic health. For several days a few weeks ago, all international air traffic in and out of Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport was halted because a missile fired from Gaza had gotten close to the airport. If that moratorium had continued it would have dealt a crippling blow to Israel’s economy.
Ben Gurion Airport is about three miles away from the theoretical dashed line on maps that represents the edge of the West Bank.
My point is, the day that Hamas missile sailed too close to Tel Aviv airport is the day the chances that Israel would ever leave the West Bank died. Israel will never withdraw from the West Bank territories. It cannot. Not as long as, in the words of Golda Meier, “the Palestinians hate the Israelis more then the love their children.”