- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 18, 2005

What we see this week in the withdrawal from Gaza of 8,000 Israelis is as noble an act on behalf of peace as has been recorded in modern history.

No peace demonstration on record has involved so much personal sacrifice. Nor has any peace demonstration involved so much trust. The trust, for the most part, comes from Jerusalem and the Sharon government, believing that, after Israel vacates Gaza, the Palestinian Authority will hold elections, establish a peaceful government and control those terrorists intent on destroying Israel.

Mr. Sharon is a general of proven prowess. Yet he will now, as the phrase has it, give peace a chance. This withdrawal is his plan. So much for the claptrap that generals only want war.

Yet I am skeptical this withdrawal will lead to peace. Eighty percent of the Palestinian Arabs deny the right of Israel to exist. Most swallow the historically inaccurate line that the Jews “stole” the lands they now inhabit — and their Gaza settlements too — from what are now called the Palestinians. Scholars, whether historians or archaeologists, have demonstrated this is hooey. Jews have inhabited these lands since the time of Abraham. Writers as diverse as H.L. Mencken and Winston Churchill a century ago when visiting these lands remarked on the peaceful Jewish villagers cultivating their fields and pursuing civilized lives.

The land of Israel is rightfully the land of the Jews. After World War II, the Jews accepted the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan to live peacefully with Arab indiginae and others in the region. Yet neighboring Arab states attacked these Jews to rid them from the region, setting off Israel’s War of Independence.

The Arab armies were beaten. Israel was established, and very cruelly the Arab nations allowed uprooted Palestinian Arabs to collect in refugee camps where they became angry pawns of irredentist Arab states hoping to eliminate Israel. That is the origin of the present hostilities.

Arabs live in Israel with full citizenship. Arabs also live under the Palestinian Authority outside Israel and in areas it is hoped will become a peaceful Palestinian state. The Sharon government intends the withdrawal will lead to peace between the two nations.

As I say, it is a noble gesture and one that places great trust in the Palestinians. Yet there is plenty of evidence firebrands from the Islamic Resistance Movement known as Hamas, among others, will be emboldened by Mr. Sharon’s generosity to see his withdrawal as a sign of weakness or worse, a sign Hamas’ terrorist violence has caused an Israeli defeat and could cause still more Israeli defeats. Already The Washington Post reports the head of a Gaza branch of Hamas as saying, “Without jihad, without attacking the settlements, digging the tunnels, launching the rockets, the Israelis wouldn’t have moved.”

Thus Mr. Sharon’s noble gesture could encourage more violence and legitimatize in the eyes of Palestinian voters the most militant of Israel’s enemies.

If all goes well, Gaza will be peacefully resettled and the PA will govern in harmony with its Israeli neighbors.

Yet elections among the Palestinians lie ahead. On Jan. 21, Hamas will field candidates against other less violent Palestinian groups, mainly Fatah, Yasser Arafat’s old political organization. What if the Israeli withdrawal is seen by the Palestinian electorate as vindicating terror and leads to Hamas’ electoral victory? This magnanimous policy could backfire on Mr. Sharon and leave him with a more dangerous situation than before.

Yet I write as an American, comfortably living thousands of miles from that vexed part of the world. Whether my skepticism is right or wrong, I shall not have to pay any price.

It is the Israelis who pay the price. For now, they support Mr. Sharon and withdrawal. Thousands of their countrymen who settled Gaza out of religious conviction and the sense they were fortifying Israeli democracy are being summarily uprooted and denied the land in which they invested their hearts and their labor. The price they pay is beyond simple calculation.

All in all, this is an enormous effort on behalf of peace by a noble leader and a noble nation. If it is repaid by continued terror, let the critics of Israel shut down. On behalf of peace, this time the Israelis have done all they can — and a Nobel Prize for Peace should await Mr. Sharon either way.

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor in chief of the American Spectator, a contributing editor to the New York Sun and a Hudson Institute adjunct scholar. His most recent book is “Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House.”

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