In 2002, then-prime minister Ariel Sharon wrote a letter to US president George W. Bush, informing him of his intentions to make a bold new initiative for peace by removing thousands of Jews from their homes in the Gaza Strip and completely withdrawing all Israeli forces, and he received a response from Bush.
In this letter, Sharon wrote, “The Palestinian Authority under its current leadership has taken no action to meet its responsibilities under the road map. Terror has not ceased, reform of the Palestinian security services has not been undertaken, and real institutional reforms have not taken place. The State of Israel continues to pay the heavy cost of constant terror.
“Israel must preserve its capability to protect itself and deter its enemies, and we thus retain our right to defend ourselves against terrorism and to take actions against terrorist organizations. Having reached the conclusion that – for the time being – there exists no Palestinian partner with whom to advance peacefully toward a settlement, and since the current impasse is unhelpful to the achievement of our shared goals, I have decided to initiate a process of gradual disengagement with the hope of reducing friction between Israelis and Palestinians.
“The Disengagement Plan is designed to improve security for Israel and stabilize our political and economic situation. It will enable us to deploy our forces more effectively until such time that conditions in the Palestinian Authority allow for the full implementation of the Road map to resume.”
The response from President Bush contained the following: “We welcome the disengagement plan you have prepared, under which Israel would withdraw certain military installations and all settlements from Gaza, and withdraw certain military installations and settlements in the West Bank. These steps described in the plan will mark real progress toward realizing my June 24, 2002 vision, and make a real contribution towards peace.
“We also understand that, in this context, Israel believes it is important to bring new opportunities to the Negev and the Galilee. We are hopeful that steps pursuant to this plan, consistent with my vision, will remind all states and parties of their own obligations under the road map. The United States appreciates the risks such an undertaking represents.
I therefore want to reassure you on several points.
“First, the United States remains committed to my vision and to its implementation as described in the road map. The United States will do its utmost to prevent any attempt by anyone to impose any other plan. Under the road map, Palestinians must undertake an immediate cessation of armed activity and all acts of violence against Israelis anywhere, and all official Palestinian institutions must end incitement against Israel.
“The Palestinian leadership must act decisively against terror, including sustained, targeted, and effective operations to stop terrorism and dismantle terrorist capabilities and infrastructure. Palestinians must undertake a comprehensive and fundamental political reform that includes a strong parliamentary democracy and an empowered prime minister.
“Second, there will be no security for Israelis or Palestinians until they and all states, in the region and beyond, join together to fight terrorism and dismantle terrorist organizations.
“The United States reiterates its steadfast commitment to Israel’s security, including secure, defensible borders, and to preserve and strengthen Israel’s capability to deter and defend itself, by itself, against any threat or possible combination of threats.
“Third, Israel will retain its right to defend itself against terrorism, including to take actions against terrorist organizations. The United States will lead efforts, working together with Jordan, Egypt, and others in the international community, to build the capacity and will of Palestinian institutions to fight terrorism, dismantle terrorist organizations, and prevent the areas from which Israel has withdrawn from posing a threat that would have to be addressed by any other means.
“The United States understands that after Israel withdraws from Gaza and/or parts of the West Bank, and pending agreements on other arrangements, existing arrangements regarding control of airspace, territorial waters, and land passages of the West Bank and Gaza will continue.
“The United States is strongly committed to Israel’s security and well-being as a Jewish state.
“It seems clear that an agreed, just, fair and realistic framework for a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel.”
What is striking, 17 years later, are the consequences of Sharon’s initiative in Gaza. He based his initiative on the Palestinians total lack of movement toward peace and on the continuation of their terror campaign against Israel. Is anything different today? No.
Israel withdrew, totally. It physically ejected over 8,000 Jews from their homes and their livelihood on the land. It removed every last Israeli soldier and dismantled the army bases in the Gaza Strip. It left behind fine homes and flourishing agricultural facilities, infrastructure and productive fields and orchards.
And what did Israel get in return from the Palestinians? A desire for ongoing normalization for the mutual benefit of both people, but mainly to the benefit of Arab Gazans? From Israel, yes. From the Palestinians? Absolutely the opposite.
Bush and Sharon envisioned a Palestinian will to fight terrorism, dismantle terrorist organizations, and to prevent the areas from which Israel had withdrawn from posing a threat. Has any of this come about as a result of the Sharon withdrawal from Gaza? Absolutely not. On the contrary, the Gaza Strip has turned into one huge base from which Palestinian terror organizations constantly bombard Israeli towns and villages. They not only destroyed the rich agricultural development projects that Israel gifted them.
They replaced them with terror training and operation bases.
Instead of educating their young to productive lives, Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza indoctrinate impressionable young minds into religious Jew-hatred and a theology of martyrdom.
So, has the world absorbed these facts as they plan to solve the Palestinian problem going forward? They haven’t. They ignore the facts of the ground as they plan future Israeli concessions, this time in Judea & Samaria, known to international diplomats as the West Bank.
Just like Sykes-Picot, they pour over maps as they carve up the territory. Somehow they have to wedge as much territory as possible for a Palestinian state and persuade, or force, Israel into more withdrawals of citizens and soldiers.
This time the concessions will bring a Palestinian control just a few miles from outlying kibbutzim and villages in central Israel. It will bring them onto the high ground overlooking Tel Aviv, Ben-Gurion Airport, Netanya, and just 70 meters from Highway 6, the main North-South artery in central Israel.
And who will govern this new Palestine? Do they think that Mahmoud Abbas will live forever, or be more honest in facing up to his peace commitments to the Jewish State than was Arafat – who signed the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn in the presence of president Bill Clinton and the entire world, and then returned to Ramallah to launch a horror campaign of suicide bombers, bus and café bombings known as the Intifada?
Inevitably, the Palestinian psyche will not change. Not against Israel, and not among themselves.
Anyone who thinks that a full and permanent peace will be achieved by the creation of a Palestinian state is delusional.
By the ballot, or by the bullet, Hamas will usurp control of what was once known as the West Bank, what was once Israeli territory, and no international diplomacy will stop them. They didn’t in Gaza. They won’t in their new Palestine. And a Hamas-led Palestine will continue their eternal holy war against the Jews. This time, to eradicate what is left of the rump state of Israel.
This time, they will fire their rockets at us from the high ground. From the Arab village of Rantis down onto Israel’s international airport stretched out below their feet. Or fire missiles at Tel Aviv within eye-shot distance. Tel Aviv skyscrapers fill their horizon. Or lob missiles over the security barrier from their sovereign territory by Tulkarm onto Israeli vehicles on Highway 6. They can’t miss.
This then is the Sharon legacy of withdrawal for the sake of peace.
It didn’t work then. It won’t work now.
Barry Shaw is the senior associate for public diplomacy at the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. He is the author of several books, including Fighting Hamas, BDS and Antisemitism: Fighting Violence, Bigotry and Hate.