PMW in the Media
Deal with the Demography: A Purely Civilian Disengagement?
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As many expected, the withdrawal from Gaza was seen as a Hamas victory. Haaretz wonders if this then is a good reason for Ehud Olmert (the Kadima party candidate in the upcoming Israeli elections) to ask more Jewish settlers to leave their homes with the promise of good times ahead when Hamas leaders themselves make no such promises.
"The army of the Jews was defeated," crows a recently produced Hamas video clip that shows pictures of the destruction of Gush Katif and Qassam launches at Israel in the background. "The house and the homeland," croons a singer on the backdrop of scenes of Haifa. "We [will] return through blood, not through negotiations or submission or promises."
And Hamas is not the only one that views the disengagement as a flight. Al-Hayat al-Jedida, the Palestinian Authority's mouthpiece, wrote in the wake of Hamas' electoral victory that "the liberation of the land of Palestine in Gaza... was achieved solely by the heroes and warriors of jihad, not through barren peace negotiations and bowing our head."
Thanks to Palestinian Media Watch, an organization whose material unfortunately receives very little exposure, one also learns that according to the PA mouthpiece, "the Palestinian nation believes in nothing but the resistance option as the only way to liberate Palestine from Zionist settlement."
Avi Dichter, who is now speaking of another unilateral disengagement, does not need the Palestinian press. As a former head of the Shin Bet security service, he has far more diverse sources. Just two months ago (Maariv, December 30, 2005), he advised against withdrawing without receiving anything in return, "as if under fire," and warned against additional unilateral steps. He correctly noted the differences between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and said that it would be "simply unreasonable to accustom the Palestinians and the United States to [a situation where] every time the diplomatic process gets stuck because the PA does not do its part, Israel retreats... We must not reward them for stymieing the initial stages of the road map. Under such circumstances, there is no justification for going to the Jewish settlers... and telling them that they have to evacuate their homes because we hope that there will be quiet some day. Anyone who carries out such a withdrawal will be abandoning [the] security [of Israel] with no collateral."
Just two months have passed, and the changed circumstances - Hamas' election victory - reinforce the positions expressed by Dichter in that interview. Yet now, in the name of Kadima and its leader, Ehud Olmert, the former Shin Bet chief is offering a seemingly new formula for a unilateral pullout - "a purely civilian disengagement." In other words, the evacuation of settlements, but without a military disengagement: The army would remain.
This, however, merely makes his proposal doubly puzzling: Israel should dismantle settlements, uproot residents from their houses, create another rift in the Israeli public, yet continue to hold onto the land? Leave the "demographic problem" in place? Continue the "occupation?" Under such circumstances, Israel would not even receive the minimal dividend that it ostensibly obtained by leaving Gaza - disengagement. And who better than Dichter knows that when it comes to terrorism, any kind of unilateral withdrawal is viewed as flight in every respect and constitutes clear proof that terror pays and should be increased?
In recent weeks, the proper balance between discussion of Olmert"s character (too much) and discussion of his views (too little) has been undermined. The centerpiece of the policy prescription that Olmert is presenting is Palestinian demography and its effect on Israel"s permanent borders. But the real questions are being swept under the rug. Of these, one of the most important is the credibility of the data concerning this demographic threat. The U.S.-Israeli study done by Bennett Zimmerman and Yoram Ettinger raises many questions marks about the credibility of the accepted figure of 2.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank. It concludes that only 1.4 million Palestinians currently live there. The study also takes a much more optimistic view of future demographic trends than does Israel's demographic establishment. Yet this debate has not attracted enough attention from the public.
The second issue is even more important, as it deals with the fundamental question: Under what circumstances, in which areas and through what means should Israel try to alter the demographic balance in its favor?
The entire Zionist enterprise within Israel's pre-1967 borders was one of changing the country"s demographic make-up - in other words, Judaizing the land. And even in the West Bank, there are large areas in which the chances of changing the demographic balance in the Jews' favor, using the same means used by the Zionist enterprise - immigration and settlement - are excellent. What kind of leadership is it that recommends throwing up our hands, bowing to Arab and international pressure and conceding these areas in advance? Why was it possible to win in Har Homa, but impossible to do so in western Binyamin or parts of the southern Hebron Hills?
If Olmert is conceding areas in which he believes that the demographic battle is already lost, why is he not simultaneously fighting to cement the Jewish hold on areas where the demographic battle is not lost - even if this means facing off against the United States? The freeze on building in area E1, between Maaleh Adumim and Jerusalem, is a prime example of this failure - not to mention the weakness of spirit broadcast by Olmert's circle regarding continued Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem, where everything, even the demographics, still depends on Israel rather than on others.