The Disengagement Myth

Let’s begin from the end, tragic as it is. Abdullah Abu Gaba, a Gaza resident killed by a Palestinian rocket during Israel’s Operation Shield and Arrow, was recognized (by Israel) as a casualty of hostile actions and his family will be entitled to rights in accordance with the law.” Abdullah Abu Gaba was killed while working in one of Israel’s “Gaza envelope” settlements located within 7 kilometres from Gaza. He worked legally in Israel therefore was recognized as a casualty of hostile actions. From this point we can begin to unravel the story of Operation Shield and Arrow against the Islamic Jihad, which operates as Iran’s proxy. In response to Jihad rockets, retaliating the death of Khader Adnan, a Jihad prisoner on hunger strike, the Israeli government launched a military operation in which it meticulously differentiated between Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. Only those familiar with the particulars will understand the ideological differences between the two organizations, but the Israeli security establishment knows how to distinguish and even separate between them.

Although Hamas is the organization controlling Gaza, Israel remains the sovereign force, from issuing identity card numbers to supplying water, electricity, and other daily needs. The role of Hamas is to manage Gazan lives and to keep order, just like the Palestinian Authority does in the West Bank. This is the result of the May 2021 Operation Guardian of the Walls against Hamas, which attained its goal. The demolition of high-rise buildings in central Gaza and massive bombings made Hamas realize that launching 4,000 missiles into Israel cannot change the strategic equation between them.

Gaza fell to its knees, its residents are unable to withstand the unbearably heavy burden of a hopeless war, and Hamas had no choice but to reach an understanding with Israel. The opening of border crossings for 20,000 residents from Gaza to work in Israel (process began in August 2022) reflects the fact that economic peace does indeed work. Since the Islamic Jihad did not accept this new arrangement, two more rounds of violence and damage to the organization’s leadership were required, to tame the Jihad, and force it to come to terms with this new reality.

Today, after 18 years, the unilateral disengagement plan (2005) conceived by Likud prime minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, has borne its fruits. The same disengagement that members of Religious Zionism and other advocates of the regime change scheme lament and condemn day and night, was actually intended to benefit them. It was this disengagement from Gaza that finally buried any chance of a political settlement and rendered the idea of a Palestinian state irrelevant. On the other hand, there is no doubt that since the disengagement from Gaza the settlement enterprise in the West Bank has flourished under the auspices of right-wing governments.

The fact is that even representatives of the right-wing government refrain from mentioning the idea of “re-occupying Gaza” or overthrowing the Hamas government. The truth is that until 2005, the Israeli presence in Gaza to protect 8,600 settlers took a huge security toll, and it is worth noting that Qassam rockets were also fired at Israeli towns while Jewish settlements in Gaza still remained. The Gaza settlements did not prevent this.

In retrospect, it was the disengagement that allowed Hamas to take control of Gaza through its forcible expulsion of the Palestinian Authority. The retreat of the IDF from Gaza was the trigger for a civil war and deepest division within Palestinian society, which continues to this day. This division also conveniently allows Israel to claim it has no partner for a political settlement. Things have reached the point where the issue of a potential political solution has completely disappeared from national and international agendas. This situation allows delusional leaders like Bezalel Smotrich to move toward what he calls “A final decision,” meaning a change of the status of the Territories from “occupied” to “annexed”, for the Jewish settlers to become “full” Israeli citizens, with no planning restrictions on lands, and for the Palestinians to emigrate or else accept being subjected to Israeli (Jewish) dominance. Thus, in addition to the occupation itself, the disengagement from Gaza strengthened a layer of Israelis who exploited the political void in seeking any solution, stepped into this vacuum in-order to further nourish fascist messianic ideas. These voices are today at the core of the ideological fight to turn Israel into a Hungarian style dictatorship. For example, Meir Rubin’s family, the current CEO of the right wing think tank Kohelet Forum, was evacuated from one of the Gaza settlements.  

While Smotrich and Religious Zionism strive to annex the West Bank, Israel’s security establishment, Supreme Court, and leaders of the protest movement against regime change, have no answer regarding the future of the occupied territories. When you ask a politician or a military official what’s the solution to the “Gaza problem” and God forbid, what are the chances of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians, the answer is one: “There is no solution” and all that can be done is “deterrence.” This means to use excessive military might to force the Palestinians to continue living in a situation of “no solution.” In fact, it is to accept the undeclared apartheid as a given situation and at most settle for economic good will gestures.

It seems that this policy was more than successful. No matter how many Palestinians Israel kills daily in the West Bank, how many raids it carries out in broad daylight inside Palestinian cities and refugee camps – security coordination with the PA in the West Bank continues. In Gaza, Hamas’ non-intervention in Operation Shield and Arrow against the Islamic Jihad proves it is “deterred.” It continued its coordination with Israel while the bombings went on. It must be admitted, therefore, that so far, Israel has reached an understanding with the two official Palestinian authorities, Abu Mazen’s in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, and that “economic peace” is ostensibly working.

Yet, if we want to learn from the reality created in the West Bank to future consequences in Gaza, we must admit that the economic peace has made the Palestinian Authority irrelevant. When 200,000 Palestinian workers from the West Bank depend on Israel for their livelihood, and the PA is unable to provide even minimal services while corruption pervades all PA institutions, the citizens’ trust in it, is fatally eroded. This is the reason why, as the PA control loosens, “lone wolf terror” increases. In other words, organized resistance has been eliminated, and what remains is for the IDF to pursue the spontaneous initiatives of young Palestinians who obtain weapons to attack Israeli citizens, soldiers and settlers. That’s why the Israeli security presence is gradually being sucked deeper into the West Bank, and it will be forced to take control of it again if the Palestinian Authority collapses due to its failures or following the death of Abu Mazen.

From here we can speculate what will happen in Gaza. Jihad will eventually become “deterred” and Hamas, which has already abandoned the armed struggle, will play the double game of not recognizing Israel while simultaneously cooperating economically with it, and the flow of workers from Gaza into Israel will increase. In a situation where Hamas, like the PA, will also become a corrupt dictatorial government that leaves Gazan residents in a state of abject poverty and without any basic civil rights, “individuals” will begin to fill this vacuum. A rocket here, an improvised explosive device there, firing over the fence or any other such act, will once again create security tension for which Israel has no answer. Air Force planes will remain grounded due to a lack of an adequate target to bomb from the air and targeting individuals will require boots on the ground in Gaza, as occurs in the West Bank. In other words, this “no solution,” and the so-called normalizing of relations with the leaderships of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, are sucking Israel back into the occupied territories.

That is why the time has come for all those, who rightly take to the streets today, against the plans of this conservative, messianic government, to consider how the Palestinian question can be resolved. The attempts to separate between the West Bank and Gaza have failed, and the “no solution” paradigm is not a solution at all. The emerging processes show there is only one way, and that is to add political peace to the economic peace. In other words, we need to create a situation in which the economic unit that already exists today between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, which includes Israelis and Palestinians, will become one political unit, in which both Israelis and Palestinians will enjoy equal civil rights. Only in such a situation will the call for d-e-m-o-c-r-a-c-y receive its true meaning.

About Yacov Ben Efrat