Israel's withdrawal of settlers: an exchange

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[Editor's note: The proposed withdrawal of Israeli settlers from Gaza and a portion of the West Bank (also known as Samaria) has proven to be a highly controversial policy of the Sharon government.   Some critics of the Labor Party government's policies during the Oslo process have been supportive of the current disengagement plan under the Likud Party.  In part, this is because of their confidence in its architect, Ariel Sharon, but also because they believe that the disengagement from Gaza, along with completion of the security barrier, will enhance Israel's security. Others are horrified at the prospect of forcible removal of Jews from land where they had been living for many years under the former blessing of the Israeli government, and turning that land over to what they consider to be an unreconstructed terrorist entity. 

Last weekend we published a strong critique of the disengagement policy by Rachel Neuwirth, followed by a rebuttal by Richard Baehr. The two writers have now each responded to the other. We present the entire exchange here today, so that our readers may examine for themselves both sides of the argument.]

Israel in retreat
February 27th, 2005

By Rachel Neuwirth

Under intense pressure from the United States, the European community, Russia and the United Nations —— the so—called "Quartet" of world powers —— Israel is pursuing a suicidal course that may well cause the state to collapse, and place its five—million—plus Jewish inhabitants at the mercy of Arab enemies who mean them no good. To put the matter bluntly, a second Jewish Holocaust, only sixty to seventy years after Holocaust I, may be in the offing in the not—too—distant future. American Jews, and the American public as a whole, are completely oblivious to these horrific developments. Worst of all, the majority of the Israeli public seems to be acquiescing in the suicidal policies of their own government, without realizing the tragic fate that awaits them if these policies are allowed to continue.

The Israeli cabinet has now given formal approval to the insane "disengagement" scheme of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, which calls for the destruction of twenty—two Jewish communities in Gaza and Samaria, the expulsion of the ten—thousand—plus Jewish inhabitants of these communities, abandonment by the Israel Defense Forces of vital military positions in Gaza, and the release of a minimum of nine hundred* Palestinian terrorists from Israeli prisons, including many with "blood on their hands" —— all in return for absolutely nothing at all from the Arab side.
 
That's right. Israel is retreating unilaterally, and expelling thousands of its own people from their homes, without even receiving a promise from the Palestinian Authority to put a stop to terrorism and violence against Israel. The most that the PA's 'new' leader, Mahmoud Abbas ("Abu Mazen"), has promised to do is to jaw—bone Palestinian terrorists into suspending their attacks for a time. Friday's bombing reveals his lack of such influence.  But he has also made a public commitment not to use force to restrain the terrorists or disarm them. But surely Abbas knows —— and both Israel and American officials should know —— that verbal exhortations to terrorists to exercise restraint are completely ineffective and worthless. Hamas and Islamic Jihad, two of the most vicious of the terrorist organizations, have publicly promised to continue their reign of terror despite Abbas' pro forma jaw—boning. Abbas' response has been to announce that six hundred Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists will be inducted in the Palestinian Authority's "police force." And Abbas freely admits that his primary motive for this decision is to protect the terrorists from possible arrest and retaliation by Israel.
 
The much—ballyhooed "summit" between Sharon and Abbas in Sharm—el—Sheikh earlier this month broke up without a joint declaration, a joint press conference —— or a promise from Abbas to do anything at all to stop terrorist aggression
 
Despite claims by some Israeli officials that Abbas has toned down anti—Israel and anti—Jewish incitement in the Palestinian Authority—funded—and—controlled media, a study published by the authoritative Israeli website Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center reveals only superficial improvements in the Palestinian media's war and hate propaganda. For example: the number of songs broadcast daily of PA television urging children to become shaheeds ("martyrs" or suicide bombers) in the war against Israel has declined from thirty a day to "only" about four a day!  However, sermons by Muslim preachers urging war with Israel and the "liberation" of all "Palestine' —— including every acre of Israel, even Tel Aviv—— continue to be broadcast regularly by the government—owned television station. For example, in a recent broadcast the chief Muslim clergyman in Gaza, whose salary, like all Muslim ministers, is paid by the PA, explained to television viewers that any settlement with Israel, even one that forced Israel back to its pre—1967 borders, would only be a temporary stage on the way to the liberation of all of "Palestine.'
 
Israel has not even demanded that alleged Israeli agents sentenced to death by the PA and held in Palestinian prisons be exchanged for the five hundred terrorists that Israel has already released, or the four hundred more that it planned to release shortly. Instead, Abbas has affirmed the death sentences on these brave Palestinian Arabs, the true resistance fighters of the Palestinian territories, who have put their lives on the line to protect Israelis from terror, without so much as a whimper of protest from Israel! This betrayal of Israel's loyal and courageous friends among the Palestinian people, whose lives could easily have been saved by insisting on their release along with the accused terrorists, is perhaps the most shocking, but also the least publicized aspect of the Sharon government's appeasement policy.
 
Meanwhile, the expulsion order against the Jewish inhabitants of Gaza and Samaria is straining Israel internally to the breaking point. Politicians on all sides of the political spectrum speculate openly about the possibility of "civil war." According to numerous leaks of government documents published in the Israeli press, the government is planning to set up detention camps to hold thousands of Gaza and Samaria Jews, and their children, if they offer any resistance, even non—violent, to the expulsion order. The camps will also be built to accommodate thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of protestors against the expulsion.

Government cabinet ministers have been talking for months in public about detaining opponents of the expulsion, without any criminal charges or evidence of crimes committed by them, in order to ensure that the withdrawal and expulsions proceed smoothly. Senior officials of the government have labeled any public opposition to the expulsion order as "incitement," which under Israeli law is grounds for imprisonment, and they have suggested that anyone who speaks out against the policy should be arrested. One government minister said that it was "incitement" for anyone to oppose the expulsion "as an organized group," or even for members of parliament to "threaten" not to vote for the government if it goes ahead with the expulsion. All of this talk carries with it an ominous threat to carry out the harshest and most massive political repression in Israel's history, one that would transform the country from a democracy, however flawed, into a dictatorship. And all this to placate and appease terrorists who have made it plain over and over again, by word and by deed, that they are implacable and unappeasable.
 
Nor will we have seen the last of the unilateral withdrawals and expulsion of Jews from their homes once the eviction of the ten thousand Gazan and Samarian Jews from the twenty—five villages ("settlements") now on the chopping block is completed. Minister of Trade and Industry Ehud Olmert, a close advisor and confidant of Sharon, says that the present disengagement plan is only a preliminary for "Disengagement Plan # 2," which will be a "massive" withdrawal and forced evacuation of Jews from Judea and Samaria. Sharon's office issued an immediate denial that this was government policy. But Sharon has disassociated himself from Olmert's "trial balloons" in the past, only to announce his decision to carry them out a few months later. Over the past four years, since becoming Prime Minister, Sharon has reversed himself on nearly every policy and principle that he advocated, and practiced, throughout his adult life. Why should it be any different with Olmert's latest "trial balloon"? The patriotic warrior Ariel Sharon that the Israeli public had come to love and respect seems no longer to exist. It is almost as if an alien spirit, a dybbuk or golem, had taken over the old soldier's body and mind.
 
Why is Israel's government behaving in this craven and self—destructive fashion? Why is it appeasing terrorists while oppressing its own people? As an American, I am ashamed to admit the truth: one reason is relentless pressure on Israel from the United States government, from our own President, George W. Bush and his assistants and advisors, to do exactly what Israel's government are now doing. In November and December of 2004 President Bush's White House advisor for Middle Eastern Affairs, Elliot Abrams, told closed meetings of American Jewish leaders that the administration expects Israel to dismantle all of the Israeli "settlements" that will be outside the "security fence" that Israel is now building.

Some sources suggest that Abrams did not specify the precise route of Israel's future border fence. But the usually well—informed Debka internet newspaper says that it must exclude all "settlements" to the east of the segment of the security fence that Israel has already built, along its narrow, ten—mile—wide "waist." This would place Israel's border literally a stone's throw from its major metropolitan area, Tel Aviv and the neighboring towns and suburbs along Israel's central coast.  If Debka's information is correct, nearly all Israeli towns and villages ("settlements") outside of Israel's 1949 armistice lines would have to be abandoned under the Bush plan, and their inhabitants expelled and resettled —— well over 400,000 people in all, including some 200,000 within the city limits of Jerusalem. Among the communities that would have to be "dismantled," according to Debka, are Ariel (18,000 inhabitants), Maale Adummim (30,000), Efrat (7,300), Kiryat Arba (7,500) and their nearby villages. Debka also asserts that Abrams will soon be appointed America's new ambassador to Israel with the mission of "ascertain [ing] that these Jewish sites are removed from the West Bank."
 
According to the Jerusalem Post's columnist Caroline Glick, a position paper written jointly by a team consisting of officials of the U.S. State Department, the Egyptian government, the Palestinian Authority, Canada, and the World Bank, joined by representatives of Israel's leftist opposition —— but without any input solicited from the Israeli government —— lays out the Bush plan in greater detail. The chief architect of the document is George Bush the First's former Secretary of State, James Baker, who is still a major player behind the scenes in the administration of George the Second. The present Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, relies on this document for guidance, according to Glick.
 
The Baker "street map to the Road Map," as one U.S. diplomat calls it, makes it explicit that all 400,000—plus Jews living outside Israel's pre—1967 borders must be expelled to make way for a "contiguous" and ethnically pure Palestinian Arab state. The document doesn't even mention the word "terrorism," and does not require the Palestinian Authority to crack down on terrorism or dismantle terrorist organizations. An international force will patrol the frontier between the Palestinian state and what is left of Israel, thus making it impossible for Israel to strike back at the terrorists if there are more attacks. Israel will be required to facilitate the training, arming and operation of the Palestinian "security forces," without interfering with them in any way. Political "reforms" will be instituted in the Palestinian state with the objective of "consolidating Fatah [a terrorist organization dedicated in its Constitution to the destruction of Israel] as the main political player in Palestinian society." And enforcement of the settlement will be controlled by the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, thus depriving the State of Israel of sovereignty even within its truncated borders. Egyptian military forces will play a more important role in implementing the "agreement" than the IDF.
 
Apparently Israel's Foreign Minister, Silvan Shalom, has been informed of these American dictates and has acquiesced in them. When asked by a reporter about the future of Israeli settlements outside the pre—1967 lines, he said that U.S. has never accepted the idea of settlements in the territories, and that the consent of the Palestinians would be needed for their long—term survival. Needless to say, that consent will not be given.
 
It was the late Foreign Minister Abba Eban who first called the pre—1967 Israeli borders, to which the Bush Administration demands that Israel retreat, the "Auschwitz borders." No nation in today's high—tech world could survive within such frontiers against an enemy armed with superior numbers, state—of the—art weapons, and the training and will to use them effectively. And if history is any guide, the impact of repeated retreats and forced evacuations displacing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, all without any real letup in Arab terrorist attacks and hostility, will be to so demoralize and divide the Israeli people that they will lose the will and psychological stamina to defend themselves.  Signs of this demoralization, war—weariness and deep internal divisions are already all too evident in Israel.
 
Under similar external pressure from "friends" as well as enemies, Czechoslovakia withdrew from the predominately German—speaking areas of their own country in 1938. Czech refugees streamed out of the areas seized by Nazi Germany under the terms of the Munich "peace process." Within five months, the Czechs had surrendered their country without a fight. In 1975, following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Vietnam and cutbacks in American aid, President Nguyen Van Thieu decided on a strategic withdrawal of South Vietnamese troops from the Central Highlands region, then under attack by the North Vietnamese forces, to what he thought would be more defensible positions near the coast. But the mass flight of soldiers and civilian refugees demoralized the army and the whole nation. Within seven weeks, North Vietnamese tanks were in Saigon. Czech and Vietnamese societies couldn't hold up under the pressure of withdrawals and mass evacuations before an advancing foe. Can we assume that things will be any different for Israel?
 
The Jewish people in America and throughout the Diaspora must shake themselves out of their comfortable lethargy, ignorance and indifference to what is going on before it is too late. They must raise the alarm, and cry out "No" to the Bush—Baker—Sharon plan from the rooftops, with all their heart and soul. Only then, perhaps will Israelis be roused from their world—weariness and demoralization, and their slavish obedience to U.S.
government pressure. There is no time to lose; in a few months it may be too late to prevent Holocaust II.

John Landau contributed research and reporting to this article.

*The terror bombing in front of a Tel Aviv nightclub Friday has put at least a temporary halt to the release of further prisoners.

Response to "Israel in retreat"
February 27th, 2005

By Richard  Baehr

Rachel Neuwirth's article "Israel in Retreat" is, to put it mildly, a bit hysterical. The Gaza disengagement plan was put together by Ariel Sharon, the father of the settlement movement, more than a year ago.  He did not prepare it as a result of US pressure, which was nonexistent when it was released. Yassar Arafat, a man President Bush justifiably loathed, was still running the PA at that time, and to use the catchphrase of critics of President Bush's policies, Bush was not actively engaged in the non—existent peace process last year.   The idea that American pressure made Sharon do it is absurd and worse than that, a vicious smear of a President who has been the best friend Israel has had.
Americans and Israelis can certainly disagree about the wisdom of the Gaza disengagement. I do not trust Abbas. He has so far proven nothing. I do not believe the Palestinians will have turned any corner until they stop talking about hudnas, and start to disarm the terrorist killers, arrest them, and destroy the infrastructure of the terror groups. It is not even close to sufficient to merely achieve a ceasefire, or try to co—opt the gunmen by making them part of the PA security forces.  Arguably, this could be worse than the current chaotic situation that exists.  The fox would be guarding the chicken coop.   The incitement needs to end. Less frequent exhortations to kill the sons of pigs and monkeys is not sufficient. 

That said, Neuwrith shows no comprehension of Sharon's plan and writes as if he were Shimon Peres or Yossi Beilin.  I suggest she read Charles Krauthammer's column from this past week. Krauthammer has always been a glass half empty guy on the Israel—Palestinian conflict. He is no cockeyed optimist. His argument, with which I agree, is that Sharon is working to separate the two populations, and make it harder for the terrorists to get from the West Bank into Israel. Neuwirth completely ignores that Israel is committed to completing the West Bank security fence, and quickly. The completed sections have succeeded (along with targeted strikes against terror targets) in greatly reducing the number of terror attacks.  Just as suicide bombers have not come from the enclosed Gaza strip into Israel, the fence will also weaken the terrorists' capability  to strike across the much longer border between Israel and the West Bank.  If the terror weapon is largely taken away, then maybe, repeat maybe, the climate will change. We shall see. 

Arguably, for Israel not to have to defend the 8,000 constantly exposed settlers living amidst a million Palestinians in Gaza, will enable the IDF to better deploy to provide security for 5 million Israelis.  Neuwirth seems to forget that Israel is a democracy, and the decision to disengage has been reached democratically, not by fiat. It is supported by a large percentage of the Israeli population.
Israel withdrew from all of Sinai, an area 150 times larger than Gaza, a quarter century ago, and relocated the Sinai settlers.   The world did not come to an end.

Neuwirth attacks the disengagement plan, but offers nothing in its place. This is because the critics of the plan have only two alternatives — the status quo, or the Elon plan — to forcibly remove millions of Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank. Try that long march, and support from Congress and the White House would disappear overnight. Israel would become a  pariah state even for its few friends.

Neuwirth also suggests  that Bush and Rice are working from James Baker's playbook. This is insane. The Baker Center has been churning out position papers for years, and Bush has wisely ignored them.  Jimmy Carter,  James Baker, Zbigniew Brezinsky, and Brent Snowcroft are NOT running Middle East policy at the White House. So too, the idea that what Elliot Abrams said was tantamount to demanding Israel's retreat  to the '67 border is also a fantasy.  The US Administration has accepted the line of the security fence that Israel's government is now building.  Of the 450,000 Israelis living beyond the 67 green line, almost 90% of them are INSIDE the area marked off by the fence.

Israelis are going through an emotional, risky period, and everybody is understandably on edge. That however is not an excuse for misinformation, and maligning our friends. 

Response to Richard Baehr
March 3rd, 2006

By Rachel Neuwirth

Richard Baehr's reply to my column "Israel in Retreat" contains several serious factual errors. Sharon's "disengagement" plan may be his own, but he adopted it in response to American pressure. As early as 2001, the Bush administration's "Mitchell Plan" and Tenet Plan" demanded that Israel freeze all "settlement activity," "including natural growth" (the Mitchell report's own phrase). In early 2003, the Bush administration twisted Israel's arm until it reluctantly accepted the "road map" of the "Quartet" powers, which not only repeats Mitchell's demands for a freeze on all settlement construction ("including natural growth"), but added to this the demand that Israel "dismantle" the so—called "illegal settlement outposts." In May of 2003, at the Aqaba summit, Bush extracted a personal commitment from Sharon to remove the "illegal outposts," all of which were within the municipal boundaries of the settlements, and mainly on land already owned by Jews.  It took no genius on Sharon's part to realize that Bush wanted all of the settlements outside the pre—1967 border to go in the long run. No community can survive for long if forbidden to grow.
 
Finally, in December 2003, the administration pulled out all the stops to compel Israel to honor its pledge to dismantle the "illegal outposts." When the Israeli government sought to explain that the expulsion orders had been temporarily stayed by Israel's courts in response to appeals by the residents slated for eviction, the US Ambassador to Israel, Dan Kurtzer, went so far as to demand that Israel dismantle the outposts even if the Israeli Supreme Court should decide that the proposed expulsions were illegal. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell pointedly met with the authors of the so—called "Geneva Accord" between Israeli leftists and Palestinian officials, which call for Israel's withdrawal to its pre—1967 borders. White House "sources," speaking off the record to reporters, let it be known that Bush was personally angry with Sharon's failure to keep his word to him about dismantling the outposts, and that those who angered the President had a way of not faring so well. Only then did Sharon announce his plans for the Gaza "disengagement" —— an obvious attempt to relieve American pressure on the larger and more heavily populated Judea and Samaria settlements.
 
However, the pressure from the United States has only increased since Sharon announced his ill—advised "disengagement." In 2004, for example, the administration demanded that "technical teams" from the State Department, under the personal direction of Ambassador Kurtzer, be allowed to conduct on—site inspections to make sure that Bush's no—settlement—construction order was being obeyed. The US also demanded that Israel create a special Ministry of Defense office, more or less answerable to Ambassador Kurtzer as well, to enforce the construction ban. And White House advisor Elliott Abrams has made it plain that the President is impatient with what he considers to be the slow pace in carrying out the "disengagement" from Gaza. In November and December 2005, Abrams went so far as to suggest that the settlers should be expelled before the Palestinian Authority elections scheduled for January 2005.
 
It is simply untrue that the United States administration has accepted Israel's proposed route for the security fence. When Sharon first announced plans to build the fence, then—National Security advisor Condoleeza Rice publicly denounced the idea. When Israel announced its initial proposed route for the fence, President Bush personally and publicly denounced it as a "Wall" that would "cut deeply into Palestinian territory" and pre—empt the outcome of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. But even when Israel announced revisions in the proposed route of the fence to make it much closer to the 1967 lines, no one in the Bush administration endorsed the proposed route. Its silence has been deafening. If Baehr can produce a single quotation from a single administration official expressing support for the route most recently approved by the Israeli Cabinet, I hereby challenge him to publish it, with attributions, in these pages.

If Baehr is correct that the US government is ignoring the recent "street map to the road map" written under the auspices of the James Baker Institute for Public Policy, how is it possible that the report was co—authored by the present Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, William Burns, as well as by Norman Olsen, the political counselor of the US embassy in Tel Aviv?  Is any administration likely to dismiss out of hand the recommendations of one of its—highest ranking officials with responsibility for the policy area concerned?
 
It is understandable that conservative Americans who are fervent supporters of both President Bush and Israel passionately desire to believe that Bush is a true friend of Israel. But we should not allow what we wish to believe about someone to blind us to the facts.


Response to Rachel Neuwirth
By Richard Baehr

March 3rd, 2005

It is a very sad and troubling thing that within the community of Americans most passionate about support for Israel, a serious schism has developed about the Prime Minister's proposed plan for disengagement from Gaza, and four West Bank communities. I have no interest in deepening the divide. It is obvious that neither Miss Neuwirth, nor I will change the other's mind, so my preference is that we just agree to disagree. Israel has enough enemies without civil war among its supporters. 

However, a few things need to be noted. Miss Neuwirth remains convinced that the Prime Minister's Gaza plan was a result of American pressure. She admits there is no evidence for this, only inferences she draws from the fact that the US did not always agree with the Sharon government on all other matters before the plan was released. Her conclusion is that Sharon must therefore have developed the plan because he perceived American pressure.

That jump in logic does not follow. If Sharon believed strategically that the disengagement plan was a good long—term strategy for Israel,  (as Krauthammer and many other Oslo skeptics agree it is) then he should be judged on his policy. He has not looked for excuses ('America made me do it'), so why should we?  Caroline Glick who also finds American support for Israel imperfect (not absolute), does not blame Bush or the Americans for the Gaza plan, as Miss Neuwirth does, but Sharon.

Most important is the question of what long term strategy Miss Neuwirth would propose for Israel. Sharon's plan is designed to separate the two populations, preserve a substantial demographic majority of Jews in Israel,  greatly reduce the terror threat by completing the security barrier (a part of his strategy Miss Neuwirth seems to disregard)  and prevent the two communities from constantly being in each other's faces. What alternative  plan does Miss Neuwirth have for Gaza and the West Bank? Will the Palestinians forever be in limbo status? Should Israel annex the territories, and make the Palestinians citizens? If this is a bad idea (because of the eventual Palestinian majority that would emerge at some point), does she support moving the Palestinians from the territories, assuming someone would accept them? Frankly, I do not see how the status quo, annexation or deportation are either realistic, or promising long term alternatives. I also can not understand the emotional attachment to holding on to Gaza at all costs. Is Miss Neuwirth aware of how many Israelis, soldiers and citizens, have died in this hellhole since 1967? There are obviously security issues to be dealt with after the 8,000 Israelis in Gaza are relocated.  But why is this relocation any different than what occurred in Sinai?

As to the issue of the security barrier and its path, the Americans have supported Israel at the International Court in the Hague as to its right to build it.  This support on its own counts for something. The Americans have also publicly stated that they hope the path of the fence will cause minimal disruption to Palestinian lives.  Since the Israeli Supreme Court forced the Sharon government to revise the path relying on the very same principles,  there has been no further comment from the American government suggesting the revised path is still a problem. I take silence to be implied consent. I could be wrong on this, but I don't think I am. I also suspect that if  a real peace were ever achieved between the parties, the Americans would hope that a fence would no longer be necessary. But we are not dealing with illusionists in this administration, who are waiting around for this glorious moment.

Finally Miss Neuwirth  should understand that my position on the Sharon plan is not made more difficult because of any dual loyalty to Bush and to Israel. Here there is cause and effect. I supported Bush in 2004, among other reasons, because he supported Israel — at the Durban hatefest in 2001, with vetoes at the UN, by isolating Arafat, by allowing Sharon to effectively win the intifada war by aggressively eliminating terror group leaders and killers, and by not pressuring Israel in any meaningful way for four years. And I support the disengagement plan because I think it makes sense.
 
Of course Miss Neuwirth can find comments  that were made by some administration figure, at some time, that are not as favorable for Israel as many others that one could easily find which are much more favorable, if one digs a little. As with much else in life, the perfect is the enemy of the good. The President's policies on the Israeli—Palestinian conflict will not always mesh 100% with the views of the maximalist supporters of Israel (all concessions by Israel, at any time, are always wrong).  The President, lest we forget, also has other fish to fry. But he has been a good friend to Israel. And perhaps where Miss Neuwirth and I part company, is that I trust that Bush will neither lean very hard on Sharon nor sell out Israel, and she thinks he will. The historical record I think is pretty strongly on my side on this one.

[Editor's note: The proposed withdrawal of Israeli settlers from Gaza and a portion of the West Bank (also known as Samaria) has proven to be a highly controversial policy of the Sharon government.   Some critics of the Labor Party government's policies during the Oslo process have been supportive of the current disengagement plan under the Likud Party.  In part, this is because of their confidence in its architect, Ariel Sharon, but also because they believe that the disengagement from Gaza, along with completion of the security barrier, will enhance Israel's security. Others are horrified at the prospect of forcible removal of Jews from land where they had been living for many years under the former blessing of the Israeli government, and turning that land over to what they consider to be an unreconstructed terrorist entity. 

Last weekend we published a strong critique of the disengagement policy by Rachel Neuwirth, followed by a rebuttal by Richard Baehr. The two writers have now each responded to the other. We present the entire exchange here today, so that our readers may examine for themselves both sides of the argument.]

Israel in retreat
February 27th, 2005

By Rachel Neuwirth

Under intense pressure from the United States, the European community, Russia and the United Nations —— the so—called "Quartet" of world powers —— Israel is pursuing a suicidal course that may well cause the state to collapse, and place its five—million—plus Jewish inhabitants at the mercy of Arab enemies who mean them no good. To put the matter bluntly, a second Jewish Holocaust, only sixty to seventy years after Holocaust I, may be in the offing in the not—too—distant future. American Jews, and the American public as a whole, are completely oblivious to these horrific developments. Worst of all, the majority of the Israeli public seems to be acquiescing in the suicidal policies of their own government, without realizing the tragic fate that awaits them if these policies are allowed to continue.

The Israeli cabinet has now given formal approval to the insane "disengagement" scheme of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, which calls for the destruction of twenty—two Jewish communities in Gaza and Samaria, the expulsion of the ten—thousand—plus Jewish inhabitants of these communities, abandonment by the Israel Defense Forces of vital military positions in Gaza, and the release of a minimum of nine hundred* Palestinian terrorists from Israeli prisons, including many with "blood on their hands" —— all in return for absolutely nothing at all from the Arab side.
 
That's right. Israel is retreating unilaterally, and expelling thousands of its own people from their homes, without even receiving a promise from the Palestinian Authority to put a stop to terrorism and violence against Israel. The most that the PA's 'new' leader, Mahmoud Abbas ("Abu Mazen"), has promised to do is to jaw—bone Palestinian terrorists into suspending their attacks for a time. Friday's bombing reveals his lack of such influence.  But he has also made a public commitment not to use force to restrain the terrorists or disarm them. But surely Abbas knows —— and both Israel and American officials should know —— that verbal exhortations to terrorists to exercise restraint are completely ineffective and worthless. Hamas and Islamic Jihad, two of the most vicious of the terrorist organizations, have publicly promised to continue their reign of terror despite Abbas' pro forma jaw—boning. Abbas' response has been to announce that six hundred Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists will be inducted in the Palestinian Authority's "police force." And Abbas freely admits that his primary motive for this decision is to protect the terrorists from possible arrest and retaliation by Israel.
 
The much—ballyhooed "summit" between Sharon and Abbas in Sharm—el—Sheikh earlier this month broke up without a joint declaration, a joint press conference —— or a promise from Abbas to do anything at all to stop terrorist aggression
 
Despite claims by some Israeli officials that Abbas has toned down anti—Israel and anti—Jewish incitement in the Palestinian Authority—funded—and—controlled media, a study published by the authoritative Israeli website Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center reveals only superficial improvements in the Palestinian media's war and hate propaganda. For example: the number of songs broadcast daily of PA television urging children to become shaheeds ("martyrs" or suicide bombers) in the war against Israel has declined from thirty a day to "only" about four a day!  However, sermons by Muslim preachers urging war with Israel and the "liberation" of all "Palestine' —— including every acre of Israel, even Tel Aviv—— continue to be broadcast regularly by the government—owned television station. For example, in a recent broadcast the chief Muslim clergyman in Gaza, whose salary, like all Muslim ministers, is paid by the PA, explained to television viewers that any settlement with Israel, even one that forced Israel back to its pre—1967 borders, would only be a temporary stage on the way to the liberation of all of "Palestine.'
 
Israel has not even demanded that alleged Israeli agents sentenced to death by the PA and held in Palestinian prisons be exchanged for the five hundred terrorists that Israel has already released, or the four hundred more that it planned to release shortly. Instead, Abbas has affirmed the death sentences on these brave Palestinian Arabs, the true resistance fighters of the Palestinian territories, who have put their lives on the line to protect Israelis from terror, without so much as a whimper of protest from Israel! This betrayal of Israel's loyal and courageous friends among the Palestinian people, whose lives could easily have been saved by insisting on their release along with the accused terrorists, is perhaps the most shocking, but also the least publicized aspect of the Sharon government's appeasement policy.
 
Meanwhile, the expulsion order against the Jewish inhabitants of Gaza and Samaria is straining Israel internally to the breaking point. Politicians on all sides of the political spectrum speculate openly about the possibility of "civil war." According to numerous leaks of government documents published in the Israeli press, the government is planning to set up detention camps to hold thousands of Gaza and Samaria Jews, and their children, if they offer any resistance, even non—violent, to the expulsion order. The camps will also be built to accommodate thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of protestors against the expulsion.

Government cabinet ministers have been talking for months in public about detaining opponents of the expulsion, without any criminal charges or evidence of crimes committed by them, in order to ensure that the withdrawal and expulsions proceed smoothly. Senior officials of the government have labeled any public opposition to the expulsion order as "incitement," which under Israeli law is grounds for imprisonment, and they have suggested that anyone who speaks out against the policy should be arrested. One government minister said that it was "incitement" for anyone to oppose the expulsion "as an organized group," or even for members of parliament to "threaten" not to vote for the government if it goes ahead with the expulsion. All of this talk carries with it an ominous threat to carry out the harshest and most massive political repression in Israel's history, one that would transform the country from a democracy, however flawed, into a dictatorship. And all this to placate and appease terrorists who have made it plain over and over again, by word and by deed, that they are implacable and unappeasable.
 
Nor will we have seen the last of the unilateral withdrawals and expulsion of Jews from their homes once the eviction of the ten thousand Gazan and Samarian Jews from the twenty—five villages ("settlements") now on the chopping block is completed. Minister of Trade and Industry Ehud Olmert, a close advisor and confidant of Sharon, says that the present disengagement plan is only a preliminary for "Disengagement Plan # 2," which will be a "massive" withdrawal and forced evacuation of Jews from Judea and Samaria. Sharon's office issued an immediate denial that this was government policy. But Sharon has disassociated himself from Olmert's "trial balloons" in the past, only to announce his decision to carry them out a few months later. Over the past four years, since becoming Prime Minister, Sharon has reversed himself on nearly every policy and principle that he advocated, and practiced, throughout his adult life. Why should it be any different with Olmert's latest "trial balloon"? The patriotic warrior Ariel Sharon that the Israeli public had come to love and respect seems no longer to exist. It is almost as if an alien spirit, a dybbuk or golem, had taken over the old soldier's body and mind.
 
Why is Israel's government behaving in this craven and self—destructive fashion? Why is it appeasing terrorists while oppressing its own people? As an American, I am ashamed to admit the truth: one reason is relentless pressure on Israel from the United States government, from our own President, George W. Bush and his assistants and advisors, to do exactly what Israel's government are now doing. In November and December of 2004 President Bush's White House advisor for Middle Eastern Affairs, Elliot Abrams, told closed meetings of American Jewish leaders that the administration expects Israel to dismantle all of the Israeli "settlements" that will be outside the "security fence" that Israel is now building.

Some sources suggest that Abrams did not specify the precise route of Israel's future border fence. But the usually well—informed Debka internet newspaper says that it must exclude all "settlements" to the east of the segment of the security fence that Israel has already built, along its narrow, ten—mile—wide "waist." This would place Israel's border literally a stone's throw from its major metropolitan area, Tel Aviv and the neighboring towns and suburbs along Israel's central coast.  If Debka's information is correct, nearly all Israeli towns and villages ("settlements") outside of Israel's 1949 armistice lines would have to be abandoned under the Bush plan, and their inhabitants expelled and resettled —— well over 400,000 people in all, including some 200,000 within the city limits of Jerusalem. Among the communities that would have to be "dismantled," according to Debka, are Ariel (18,000 inhabitants), Maale Adummim (30,000), Efrat (7,300), Kiryat Arba (7,500) and their nearby villages. Debka also asserts that Abrams will soon be appointed America's new ambassador to Israel with the mission of "ascertain [ing] that these Jewish sites are removed from the West Bank."
 
According to the Jerusalem Post's columnist Caroline Glick, a position paper written jointly by a team consisting of officials of the U.S. State Department, the Egyptian government, the Palestinian Authority, Canada, and the World Bank, joined by representatives of Israel's leftist opposition —— but without any input solicited from the Israeli government —— lays out the Bush plan in greater detail. The chief architect of the document is George Bush the First's former Secretary of State, James Baker, who is still a major player behind the scenes in the administration of George the Second. The present Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, relies on this document for guidance, according to Glick.
 
The Baker "street map to the Road Map," as one U.S. diplomat calls it, makes it explicit that all 400,000—plus Jews living outside Israel's pre—1967 borders must be expelled to make way for a "contiguous" and ethnically pure Palestinian Arab state. The document doesn't even mention the word "terrorism," and does not require the Palestinian Authority to crack down on terrorism or dismantle terrorist organizations. An international force will patrol the frontier between the Palestinian state and what is left of Israel, thus making it impossible for Israel to strike back at the terrorists if there are more attacks. Israel will be required to facilitate the training, arming and operation of the Palestinian "security forces," without interfering with them in any way. Political "reforms" will be instituted in the Palestinian state with the objective of "consolidating Fatah [a terrorist organization dedicated in its Constitution to the destruction of Israel] as the main political player in Palestinian society." And enforcement of the settlement will be controlled by the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, thus depriving the State of Israel of sovereignty even within its truncated borders. Egyptian military forces will play a more important role in implementing the "agreement" than the IDF.
 
Apparently Israel's Foreign Minister, Silvan Shalom, has been informed of these American dictates and has acquiesced in them. When asked by a reporter about the future of Israeli settlements outside the pre—1967 lines, he said that U.S. has never accepted the idea of settlements in the territories, and that the consent of the Palestinians would be needed for their long—term survival. Needless to say, that consent will not be given.
 
It was the late Foreign Minister Abba Eban who first called the pre—1967 Israeli borders, to which the Bush Administration demands that Israel retreat, the "Auschwitz borders." No nation in today's high—tech world could survive within such frontiers against an enemy armed with superior numbers, state—of the—art weapons, and the training and will to use them effectively. And if history is any guide, the impact of repeated retreats and forced evacuations displacing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, all without any real letup in Arab terrorist attacks and hostility, will be to so demoralize and divide the Israeli people that they will lose the will and psychological stamina to defend themselves.  Signs of this demoralization, war—weariness and deep internal divisions are already all too evident in Israel.
 
Under similar external pressure from "friends" as well as enemies, Czechoslovakia withdrew from the predominately German—speaking areas of their own country in 1938. Czech refugees streamed out of the areas seized by Nazi Germany under the terms of the Munich "peace process." Within five months, the Czechs had surrendered their country without a fight. In 1975, following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Vietnam and cutbacks in American aid, President Nguyen Van Thieu decided on a strategic withdrawal of South Vietnamese troops from the Central Highlands region, then under attack by the North Vietnamese forces, to what he thought would be more defensible positions near the coast. But the mass flight of soldiers and civilian refugees demoralized the army and the whole nation. Within seven weeks, North Vietnamese tanks were in Saigon. Czech and Vietnamese societies couldn't hold up under the pressure of withdrawals and mass evacuations before an advancing foe. Can we assume that things will be any different for Israel?
 
The Jewish people in America and throughout the Diaspora must shake themselves out of their comfortable lethargy, ignorance and indifference to what is going on before it is too late. They must raise the alarm, and cry out "No" to the Bush—Baker—Sharon plan from the rooftops, with all their heart and soul. Only then, perhaps will Israelis be roused from their world—weariness and demoralization, and their slavish obedience to U.S.
government pressure. There is no time to lose; in a few months it may be too late to prevent Holocaust II.

John Landau contributed research and reporting to this article.

*The terror bombing in front of a Tel Aviv nightclub Friday has put at least a temporary halt to the release of further prisoners.

Response to "Israel in retreat"
February 27th, 2005

By Richard  Baehr

Rachel Neuwirth's article "Israel in Retreat" is, to put it mildly, a bit hysterical. The Gaza disengagement plan was put together by Ariel Sharon, the father of the settlement movement, more than a year ago.  He did not prepare it as a result of US pressure, which was nonexistent when it was released. Yassar Arafat, a man President Bush justifiably loathed, was still running the PA at that time, and to use the catchphrase of critics of President Bush's policies, Bush was not actively engaged in the non—existent peace process last year.   The idea that American pressure made Sharon do it is absurd and worse than that, a vicious smear of a President who has been the best friend Israel has had.
Americans and Israelis can certainly disagree about the wisdom of the Gaza disengagement. I do not trust Abbas. He has so far proven nothing. I do not believe the Palestinians will have turned any corner until they stop talking about hudnas, and start to disarm the terrorist killers, arrest them, and destroy the infrastructure of the terror groups. It is not even close to sufficient to merely achieve a ceasefire, or try to co—opt the gunmen by making them part of the PA security forces.  Arguably, this could be worse than the current chaotic situation that exists.  The fox would be guarding the chicken coop.   The incitement needs to end. Less frequent exhortations to kill the sons of pigs and monkeys is not sufficient. 

That said, Neuwrith shows no comprehension of Sharon's plan and writes as if he were Shimon Peres or Yossi Beilin.  I suggest she read Charles Krauthammer's column from this past week. Krauthammer has always been a glass half empty guy on the Israel—Palestinian conflict. He is no cockeyed optimist. His argument, with which I agree, is that Sharon is working to separate the two populations, and make it harder for the terrorists to get from the West Bank into Israel. Neuwirth completely ignores that Israel is committed to completing the West Bank security fence, and quickly. The completed sections have succeeded (along with targeted strikes against terror targets) in greatly reducing the number of terror attacks.  Just as suicide bombers have not come from the enclosed Gaza strip into Israel, the fence will also weaken the terrorists' capability  to strike across the much longer border between Israel and the West Bank.  If the terror weapon is largely taken away, then maybe, repeat maybe, the climate will change. We shall see. 

Arguably, for Israel not to have to defend the 8,000 constantly exposed settlers living amidst a million Palestinians in Gaza, will enable the IDF to better deploy to provide security for 5 million Israelis.  Neuwirth seems to forget that Israel is a democracy, and the decision to disengage has been reached democratically, not by fiat. It is supported by a large percentage of the Israeli population.
Israel withdrew from all of Sinai, an area 150 times larger than Gaza, a quarter century ago, and relocated the Sinai settlers.   The world did not come to an end.

Neuwirth attacks the disengagement plan, but offers nothing in its place. This is because the critics of the plan have only two alternatives — the status quo, or the Elon plan — to forcibly remove millions of Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank. Try that long march, and support from Congress and the White House would disappear overnight. Israel would become a  pariah state even for its few friends.

Neuwirth also suggests  that Bush and Rice are working from James Baker's playbook. This is insane. The Baker Center has been churning out position papers for years, and Bush has wisely ignored them.  Jimmy Carter,  James Baker, Zbigniew Brezinsky, and Brent Snowcroft are NOT running Middle East policy at the White House. So too, the idea that what Elliot Abrams said was tantamount to demanding Israel's retreat  to the '67 border is also a fantasy.  The US Administration has accepted the line of the security fence that Israel's government is now building.  Of the 450,000 Israelis living beyond the 67 green line, almost 90% of them are INSIDE the area marked off by the fence.

Israelis are going through an emotional, risky period, and everybody is understandably on edge. That however is not an excuse for misinformation, and maligning our friends. 

Response to Richard Baehr
March 3rd, 2006

By Rachel Neuwirth

Richard Baehr's reply to my column "Israel in Retreat" contains several serious factual errors. Sharon's "disengagement" plan may be his own, but he adopted it in response to American pressure. As early as 2001, the Bush administration's "Mitchell Plan" and Tenet Plan" demanded that Israel freeze all "settlement activity," "including natural growth" (the Mitchell report's own phrase). In early 2003, the Bush administration twisted Israel's arm until it reluctantly accepted the "road map" of the "Quartet" powers, which not only repeats Mitchell's demands for a freeze on all settlement construction ("including natural growth"), but added to this the demand that Israel "dismantle" the so—called "illegal settlement outposts." In May of 2003, at the Aqaba summit, Bush extracted a personal commitment from Sharon to remove the "illegal outposts," all of which were within the municipal boundaries of the settlements, and mainly on land already owned by Jews.  It took no genius on Sharon's part to realize that Bush wanted all of the settlements outside the pre—1967 border to go in the long run. No community can survive for long if forbidden to grow.
 
Finally, in December 2003, the administration pulled out all the stops to compel Israel to honor its pledge to dismantle the "illegal outposts." When the Israeli government sought to explain that the expulsion orders had been temporarily stayed by Israel's courts in response to appeals by the residents slated for eviction, the US Ambassador to Israel, Dan Kurtzer, went so far as to demand that Israel dismantle the outposts even if the Israeli Supreme Court should decide that the proposed expulsions were illegal. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell pointedly met with the authors of the so—called "Geneva Accord" between Israeli leftists and Palestinian officials, which call for Israel's withdrawal to its pre—1967 borders. White House "sources," speaking off the record to reporters, let it be known that Bush was personally angry with Sharon's failure to keep his word to him about dismantling the outposts, and that those who angered the President had a way of not faring so well. Only then did Sharon announce his plans for the Gaza "disengagement" —— an obvious attempt to relieve American pressure on the larger and more heavily populated Judea and Samaria settlements.
 
However, the pressure from the United States has only increased since Sharon announced his ill—advised "disengagement." In 2004, for example, the administration demanded that "technical teams" from the State Department, under the personal direction of Ambassador Kurtzer, be allowed to conduct on—site inspections to make sure that Bush's no—settlement—construction order was being obeyed. The US also demanded that Israel create a special Ministry of Defense office, more or less answerable to Ambassador Kurtzer as well, to enforce the construction ban. And White House advisor Elliott Abrams has made it plain that the President is impatient with what he considers to be the slow pace in carrying out the "disengagement" from Gaza. In November and December 2005, Abrams went so far as to suggest that the settlers should be expelled before the Palestinian Authority elections scheduled for January 2005.
 
It is simply untrue that the United States administration has accepted Israel's proposed route for the security fence. When Sharon first announced plans to build the fence, then—National Security advisor Condoleeza Rice publicly denounced the idea. When Israel announced its initial proposed route for the fence, President Bush personally and publicly denounced it as a "Wall" that would "cut deeply into Palestinian territory" and pre—empt the outcome of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. But even when Israel announced revisions in the proposed route of the fence to make it much closer to the 1967 lines, no one in the Bush administration endorsed the proposed route. Its silence has been deafening. If Baehr can produce a single quotation from a single administration official expressing support for the route most recently approved by the Israeli Cabinet, I hereby challenge him to publish it, with attributions, in these pages.

If Baehr is correct that the US government is ignoring the recent "street map to the road map" written under the auspices of the James Baker Institute for Public Policy, how is it possible that the report was co—authored by the present Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, William Burns, as well as by Norman Olsen, the political counselor of the US embassy in Tel Aviv?  Is any administration likely to dismiss out of hand the recommendations of one of its—highest ranking officials with responsibility for the policy area concerned?
 
It is understandable that conservative Americans who are fervent supporters of both President Bush and Israel passionately desire to believe that Bush is a true friend of Israel. But we should not allow what we wish to believe about someone to blind us to the facts.


Response to Rachel Neuwirth
By Richard Baehr

March 3rd, 2005

It is a very sad and troubling thing that within the community of Americans most passionate about support for Israel, a serious schism has developed about the Prime Minister's proposed plan for disengagement from Gaza, and four West Bank communities. I have no interest in deepening the divide. It is obvious that neither Miss Neuwirth, nor I will change the other's mind, so my preference is that we just agree to disagree. Israel has enough enemies without civil war among its supporters. 

However, a few things need to be noted. Miss Neuwirth remains convinced that the Prime Minister's Gaza plan was a result of American pressure. She admits there is no evidence for this, only inferences she draws from the fact that the US did not always agree with the Sharon government on all other matters before the plan was released. Her conclusion is that Sharon must therefore have developed the plan because he perceived American pressure.

That jump in logic does not follow. If Sharon believed strategically that the disengagement plan was a good long—term strategy for Israel,  (as Krauthammer and many other Oslo skeptics agree it is) then he should be judged on his policy. He has not looked for excuses ('America made me do it'), so why should we?  Caroline Glick who also finds American support for Israel imperfect (not absolute), does not blame Bush or the Americans for the Gaza plan, as Miss Neuwirth does, but Sharon.

Most important is the question of what long term strategy Miss Neuwirth would propose for Israel. Sharon's plan is designed to separate the two populations, preserve a substantial demographic majority of Jews in Israel,  greatly reduce the terror threat by completing the security barrier (a part of his strategy Miss Neuwirth seems to disregard)  and prevent the two communities from constantly being in each other's faces. What alternative  plan does Miss Neuwirth have for Gaza and the West Bank? Will the Palestinians forever be in limbo status? Should Israel annex the territories, and make the Palestinians citizens? If this is a bad idea (because of the eventual Palestinian majority that would emerge at some point), does she support moving the Palestinians from the territories, assuming someone would accept them? Frankly, I do not see how the status quo, annexation or deportation are either realistic, or promising long term alternatives. I also can not understand the emotional attachment to holding on to Gaza at all costs. Is Miss Neuwirth aware of how many Israelis, soldiers and citizens, have died in this hellhole since 1967? There are obviously security issues to be dealt with after the 8,000 Israelis in Gaza are relocated.  But why is this relocation any different than what occurred in Sinai?

As to the issue of the security barrier and its path, the Americans have supported Israel at the International Court in the Hague as to its right to build it.  This support on its own counts for something. The Americans have also publicly stated that they hope the path of the fence will cause minimal disruption to Palestinian lives.  Since the Israeli Supreme Court forced the Sharon government to revise the path relying on the very same principles,  there has been no further comment from the American government suggesting the revised path is still a problem. I take silence to be implied consent. I could be wrong on this, but I don't think I am. I also suspect that if  a real peace were ever achieved between the parties, the Americans would hope that a fence would no longer be necessary. But we are not dealing with illusionists in this administration, who are waiting around for this glorious moment.

Finally Miss Neuwirth  should understand that my position on the Sharon plan is not made more difficult because of any dual loyalty to Bush and to Israel. Here there is cause and effect. I supported Bush in 2004, among other reasons, because he supported Israel — at the Durban hatefest in 2001, with vetoes at the UN, by isolating Arafat, by allowing Sharon to effectively win the intifada war by aggressively eliminating terror group leaders and killers, and by not pressuring Israel in any meaningful way for four years. And I support the disengagement plan because I think it makes sense.
 
Of course Miss Neuwirth can find comments  that were made by some administration figure, at some time, that are not as favorable for Israel as many others that one could easily find which are much more favorable, if one digs a little. As with much else in life, the perfect is the enemy of the good. The President's policies on the Israeli—Palestinian conflict will not always mesh 100% with the views of the maximalist supporters of Israel (all concessions by Israel, at any time, are always wrong).  The President, lest we forget, also has other fish to fry. But he has been a good friend to Israel. And perhaps where Miss Neuwirth and I part company, is that I trust that Bush will neither lean very hard on Sharon nor sell out Israel, and she thinks he will. The historical record I think is pretty strongly on my side on this one.