The tenth anniversary of a tragic Israeli mistake

Jeb Bush’s candidacy has turned his brother’s presidency into a campaign issue. The focus, naturally, is on President Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq.

This month marks the 10th anniversary of another controversial Bush policy preference — Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza. The withdrawal was, of course, Israel’s call, not Bush’s. However, Bush strongly urged then-Prime Minister Sharon unilaterally to “disengage” from Gaza and he lauded Sharon’s decision as “courageous.” It’s likely, as Washington Post reporters William Booth and Ruth Eglash suggest, that that Sharon was motivated in part by a desire to mollify the U.S.

Israel has paid a heavy price. Booth and Eglash remind us:

A few months after the pullout, Hamas won parliamentary elections against the weak and unpopular Fatah party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The following year, after street battles between Hamas and Fatah militias, Hamas seized control of the strip. . . .

Since then, Gaza, or Hamastan as Benjamin Netanyaha aptly calls it, has served as a launching pad for attacks on Israel, most notably rocket attacks. Hamas built an elaborate system of tunnels into Israel for the purpose of carrying out attacks on the Jewish population (it used child labor and at least 160 Palestinian children reportedly died in the effort).

At the time of the disengagement, the head of Israel’s southern command said, “I hope the departure of our forces from the Gaza Strip symbolizes a period of tranquility.” Three wars later, Israelis see (as many, including the Power Line crew, saw at the time) that it symbolized just the opposite.

If anything good for Israel has come out of its misguided Gaza disengagement it is this: Israelis better appreciate that it would be folly to withdraw from the West Bank:

Today, many Israelis point to the unilateral withdrawal of troops to argue, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does, that Israel cannot risk giving the Palestinians an independent state.

The premier and his allies warn that if Israel pulled out of the West Bank, Hamas would take over as it did in Gaza and expose Israel’s major cities to more rockets at closer range. . . .

Ten years ago, the notion that Israel had a genuine peace partner and that “moderates” might govern in the absence of Israeli forces held considerable sway. Today, this notion isn’t passing the straight-face test.

“The Palestinian Authority without Israeli protection won’t last five minutes” in the West Bank, said Yossi Kuperwasser, former director general of Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs. “They exist by Israel’s bayonets.”

The rise of Hamas in Gaza “undermines the credibility of a two-state solution,” said Efraim Inbar, a professor at Bar-Ilan University. “It shows the Palestinians are not capable of establishing a state as the world understands the word.”

Inbar told an audience at a recent conference on the Gaza pullout that the years since have only “strengthened the Israeli consensus that there is no partner” for a peace deal.

According to the Post, a recent poll showed that half of Israelis favor the return of Israeli civilians to Gaza. The idea is totally impractical — a fantasy, really. But the widespread desire to unscramble the egg in Gaza confirms what a disaster the Gaza withdrawal has been, from Israel’s perspective.