Prime Minister Sharon of Israel, under enormous pressure by the U.S. government to “do something,” has agreed to vacate Israeli settlements in Gaza, together with certain settlements in Samaria (the northern “West Bank”), in hopes that this might lead to an end of the bloody Arab/Israeli conflict. Perhaps not too surprisingly, Mr. Sharon’s own Likud party has overwhelmingly rejected the plan. But that is certainly not the end of it. It is bound to be resurrected.
What are the facts?
A brief history. The primary error is that Gaza belongs to its mostly Arab inhabitants. Gaza, which had previously been a province of the Ottoman Empire, became after the First World War part of the British Mandate of Palestine. In 1947, the U.N proposed to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab sectors. The Jews accepted the partition — the Arabs rejected it out of hand, and in 1948, on the very day of Israel’s founding, five Arab armies invaded the nascent Jewish state. Miraculously, the ragtag Jewish forces defeated the combined Arab might. But after that war, Jordan remained in occupation of the “West Bank” and the eastern part of Jerusalem. Egypt stayed in control of the Gaza strip. It remained there until after the Six-Day War of 1967, when, in one of the most astonishing actions in military history, Israel once again defeated the combined Arab might. At the end of that brief but decisive conflict, Israel found itself in possession of all of the areas that the Arabs had previously occupied, including the Gaza strip. After it assumed administration of the Strip in 1967, Israel made every effort to improve the life of the Gazans, and to provide decent housing and infrastructure. All such efforts were rebuffed by the Arabs, who preferred keeping the Gazans in miserable “refugee camps,” where they would fester in squalor for over fifty years, dreaming of bloody vengeance against Israel.
A very poor plan. If Jewish “settlements” in Gaza were to be abandoned, it would be understood as a victory for terrorism. Inevitably, if Israeli settlers and the Israeli military were to leave the area, the terror emanating from Gaza would increase, the violence would explode. The Gaza terrorists, no longer restrained by the Israeli military, would launch hundreds more rockets, missiles and mortar rounds into Israel. Short of blanketing the area with massive artillery and air strikes, which would cause tens of thousands of deaths (and which the world would not allow to happen), Israel would stand defenseless against such onslaughts.
In proposing the abandonment of Gaza by its approximately 7,500 Jewish inhabitants, who, in stark contrast to the Arabs surrounding them, have created prosperous communities, industries and agriculture in the area, there is nothing at all that the Israelis are expected to receive for such an enormous sacrifice. There isn’t even a promise — though it would in any case be quite meaningless — to abstain from violence. In accepting a plan to vacate Gaza, Israel would effectively relinquish the right of its citizens to live anywhere they wish in the land of Israel. Such right is unquestioningly granted to the Arabs. They live in Gaza, of course, and in the “West Bank”. Over one million of them live in Israel proper, where they have equal rights with the Jews and enjoy all benefits of citizenship.
The plan for the Jewish inhabitants to vacate Gaza is a thoroughly bad one. It would acknowledge that, in order to be acceptable to the Arabs, Gaza had to be “judenrein” – free of Jews — a concept invented by the Nazis. It would reward terror and would be understood as a sign of weakness. It would leave the Arabs at complete liberty to import the most destructive weapons through their port and their airport. Nobody doubts that they would do just that. It would not bring the solution to the Arab/Israeli conflict one step closer — on the contrary, it would exacerbate it and very likely result in full-fledged war, quite possibly involving weapons of mass destruction.
But here’s a better idea: Yes, move all Jews from Gaza and even from those parts of the “West Bank,” that might eventually be ceded to form an autonomous Arab entity and repatriate them to “Israel proper.” But at the same time, evacuate all Arabs from Israel and resettle them in Gaza, the “West Bank,” or wherever they might want to go. Such exchange of populations would be drastic, but certainly not unprecedented. The vast exchange of Muslims and non-Muslims on the Indian subcontinent, though accompanied by much bloodshed, is perhaps the best and ultimately most successful example of such population exchange.