Sharon’s daring 2005 Gaza pullout backfires

The late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon speaking at the Knesset in Jerusalem, in 2005. (Reuters)

2017/11/05 Issue: 130 Page: 12

The Arab Weekly
Ed Blanche

Beirut- In 2005, Ariel Sharon, os­tensibly seeking to move the stumbling peace pro­cess forward, unilaterally withdrew Israel from the ever-turbulent Gaza Strip, which would supposedly be part of any Palestinian state that may mate­rialise, to fierce opposition from Israel’s right wing.

This powerful clique champi­ons the ever-expanding Jewish settlements in the occupied ter­ritories, particularly in the West Bank. These are mainly inhabit­ed by ultra-Orthodox Jewish col­onists who claim God ceded the territories to Abraham, and thus the Jewish people, for all time.

Sharon, a war hero who as leader of Jewish commandos in the 1960s killed hundreds of Pal­estinians during raids, failed to foresee the disastrous aggression of Hamas, the militant Islamist group that emerged in Gaza and the wars that were to follow.

“The consequences of uni­lateral withdrawal have put back prospects for peace even further,” the Jerusalem Post warned.

For 2,000 years, most Jews had lived outside the Holy Land dis­persed throughout Europe and the United States but many were galvanised by the nationalist fer­vour of Theodor Herzl, founder of the Zionist movement that emerged in the late 19th century.

Britain’s opening of a new war front in Palestine against the Ottoman Empire, imperial Ger­many’s ally, in hopes of breaking out of the military stalemate and massive casualties in the trench­es of the Western Front, led to Turkey’s defeat.

That victory and its conse­quences, however, led to the conflict that has plagued the Middle East to the present day and, as the Balfour Declaration centenary reawakens religious and nationalist passions, shows every sign of raging for years to come.

It is, perhaps, ironic — to say the least — that as Israelis cel­ebrate Balfour’s centenary they are also marking another grim anniversary that underlines the depressing prospect that lies ahead:

On November 4, 1995, Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin, the soldier turned statesman who was one of the pillars of the Oslo Accords of 1993-94 that, for a brief mo­ment, seemed to bring closer the peace envisaged by Balfour, was assassinated.

Rabin was killed in Tel Aviv by a Jewish extremist who rep­resented the hard right bitterly opposed to Israel relinquishing the West Bank as a Palestinian homeland.

Ed Blanche has covered Middle East affairs since 1967. He is the Arab Weekly analyses section editor.

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