Palestine: Sharon’s Gaza Gambit – Brilliant Move or Tactical Disaster?
By: David Singer
“Gambit – an act that is calculated to gain an advantage, especially at the outset of a situation” - Oxford Dictionary
The end of the eight day bombardment of Israel’s civilian population by hundreds of rockets indiscriminately fired from the Gaza Strip has caused many respected commentators such as Caroline Glick to roundly criticise former Israeli Prime Minister – Ariel Sharon – for having unilaterally disengaged from the Gaza Strip in 2004 by withdrawing its army and 8000 Israeli citizens – many of whom had lived there for almost 40 years.
Writing in the Jerusalem Post on 22 November Ms Glick stated:
“As for that withdrawal from Gaza, just like the phony peace process with the PLO and the strategically demented withdrawal from south Lebanon, the withdrawal from Gaza was a self-evidently insane policy. It was obvious that it would lead to the strengthening of Palestinian terrorist groups and so put Israel’s population centers in striking range of their missiles…
… To force this mad initiative through, Sharon had to explicitly disavow the platform he was elected to implement. Sharon won the 2003 elections by pledging never to surrender Gaza.
After he betrayed his voters, Sharon demonized and, when possible, fired everyone in positions of power and influence who opposed him.
He called a referendum of Likud members to vote on his plan, and when his opponents won the vote overwhelmingly, he ignored it. He fired Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, then IDF chief of General Staff. He fired his cabinet ministers. He castigated as “rebels” his party members who opposed his plan.”
Was Sharon’s decision indeed an “insane policy” or rather a brilliant gambit by Sharon with Israel’s long term national interests uppermost in Sharon’s mind?
Israel has certainly paid an enormous price in deaths, injuries and ongoing trauma resulting from more than 8000 rockets being indiscriminately lobbed from Gaza into a target area covering one million of Israel’s civilian population since Sharon’s fateful decision eight years ago. The civilian population of Gaza has also suffered as Israel has responded to protect its civilian population against such attacks.
A bewildering number of terrorist groups has since sprung up in Gaza like mushrooms – all hell bent on indiscriminately terrorising Israeli Jews and Arabs as well as foreign workers in pursuit of their heinous objective of wiping the Jewish state off the map.
The Hamas Government has done nothing to prevent such rocket attacks against the civilian population of Israel – initiated in many instances from schools,mosques, homes and hospitals located within Gaza’s civilian community – all of which actions constitute war crimes under international law.
However Caroline Glick and those other commentators joining her on the Sharon blame game bandwagon all fail to acknowledge the written commitment Sharon obtained from American President George W Bush on 14 April 2004 to enable such Israeli evacuation from Gaza to occur.
President Bush was well aware of the risks Israel’s unilateral disengagement would involve – and yet at the same time he recognized the opportunity such disengagement would offer to progress his Roadmap when he told Prime Minister Sharon:
“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 toward peace. …The United States appreciates the risks such an undertaking represents. I therefore want to reassure you on several points. “
President Bush’s letter then clearly – and unambiguously – pledged American support for the following positions;
- The borders of the new Arab State would not encompass the entire West Bank
- Jewish towns and villages in the West Bank would be incorporated into the borders of Israel in the light of new realities on the ground including existing major Israeli population centres.
- The Palestinian refugees would have to be resettled in the new Palestinian State rather than in Israel
- Israel’s security and well being as a Jewish State would be a strong American commitment
- The United States would do its utmost to prevent any attempt by anyone to impose any plan other than the Roadmap
- As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338.
The Bush letter was overwhelmingly endorsed by the United States House of Representatives and Senate on 23 June 2004 when the following Resolution was passed by a vote of 407-9:
“Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That Congress–
(1) strongly endorses the principles articulated by President Bush in his letter datedApril 14, 2004, to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon which will strengthen the security and well-being of the State of Israel; and
(2) supports continuing efforts with 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 to the security of Israel.”
The Bush commitment now takes on added importance as the PLO seeks to commit political suicide by embarking on its third unilateral action outside of and in breach of the Oslo Accords and the Bush Roadmap within the past thirteen months – this time to secure recognition of the State of Palestine as a non-member observer state at the United Nations.
It seems to matter little – as was also evidenced at UNESCO – that there is no Palestinian entity meeting the requirements prescribed by international law for statehood – specifically the Montevideo Convention 1933.
The fictitious State of Palestine will be admitted as an observer non- member State at the UN – notwithstanding that such a decision can lead to withdrawal of US financial contributions as happened at UNESCO and risk Israel taking unilateral action of its own in the face of the PLO repudiation of the Oslo Accords and the Bush Roadmap
President Obama has yet to definitively declare that he remains bound by President Bush’s 2004 commitments to Israel.
Congress needs to demand that President Obama honour America’s above assurances. Disavowing the commitments of one President and Congress by another President and Congress would be the height of diplomatic treachery.
Honouring the Bush commitments is crucial in ensuring that the sacrifices made by Israel’s population following Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza in the pursuit of peace have not been in vain.
President Obama and the Congress hold the keys to determining whether Sharon’s decision to disengage from Gaza was a indeed a brilliant move or a tactical disaster.