What if withdrawal doesn’t end it?

Norman Geras links to a disturbing and depressing piece in The Guardian by an Egyptian journalist who recently visited the West Bank. It reminds us once again of the routine humiliations and hardships suffered by people trying to go about their daily lives in the midst of Israel’s severe and somtimes arbitrary security measures. Like most such reports it almost entirely ignores the causes to focus on the effects. But even if it were more balanced, it wouldn’t make life any easier for those suffering the indignities on the ground.

Norman concludes his post, “…I do not defend everything done on the Palestinian side, neither do I defend the amoral ways of ‘understanding’ the inexcusable, the inexcusable in both word and deed. But I am ashamed that a State of the people to which I belong has been for 36 years an occupying power, with all the ugly brutalities that that has come to entail. Whatever the faults, the mistakes and the crimes in both directions – and it has been in both directions – Israel now has the primary responsibility and the power to bring this horror to an end. It is enough.”

I share Norman’s anguish that this bloody and miserable conflict– which could and should have ended years or even decades ago– drags on from one generation to the next, with no end looming. However I’m not sure I understand his meaning when he writes, “Israel now has the primary responsibility and the power to bring this horror to an end.”

But how? The problem is that Israel tried to do that three years ago– and look what happened. What if the Palestinians under Arafat’s leadership are simply incapable of reaching an agreement that Israelis can accept– whether the prime minister happens to be Ariel Sharon or Shimon Peres or Yossi Beilin?

That raises the far less desirable possibility of a Plan B– withdrawal of Israeli forces from the West Bank and Gaza and evacuation of settlements without an agreement. Maybe that is the least bad option now. But can anyone guarantee that will be the end of it?

What about control of the Western Wall, the Temple Mount and East Jerusalem? What about the right of return for Palestinians to pre-1967 Israel? What if Palestinians terrorists in the West Bank and Gaza launch attacks in Israel after an Israeli withdrawal? What if the Palestinian authorities cannot or will not stop them, or even assist and encourage them?

No one should be naive enough to believe these possibilities are unthinkable. What should Israel do in that case? Will it then have the right to stop the attacks and defend its people? I believe Norman would agree with me that it would. And maybe that’s what it will come down to at some point.

But what about the more one-sided critics of Israel– those who denounce Israel for every one of its military actions? I really want to know what it will take for them to acknowledge Israel’s right to strike back in its own defense.