Thursday, January 24th, 2008 https://adamkhan.net/rambles/israels-greatest-victory-since-67
t’s a hard lesson to learn, especially for a country that feels itself to be tiny: that defeat can sometimes look like victory, and victory defeat. With the Six Day War in 1967, Israel won a stupendous victory, smashing a number of Arab armies simultaneously and gaining much more territory: the West Bank, Gaza and the Sinai, and of course Jerusalem. But that victory brought seeds of woe and danger: Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza.
When the great tactician Ariel Sharon became prime minister (“those who don’t want him as chief of staff will get him as defence minister; those who don’t want him as defence minister will get him as prime minister”), he left behind two positive legacies: economic reform implemented by his finance minister Binyamin Netanyahu; and the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, which Sharon steamrolled through and seemed such a mystery coming from the great advocate of settlement.
My conjecture here is that Sharon had a masterplan that justified this seeming about-face. The withdrawal was intended to undo in a controlled fashion the damage done by the victory of 1967. Its purpose was to bifurcate and thereby defang the Palestinian national movement, to have the Palestinians ease back into their natural spheres of influence—the Gazans to Egypt, the West Bankers to Jordan, leaving Israel be at long last. When Hamas took over Gaza, Israel expressed dismay, but if Sharon did indeed have an unspoken Gaza masterplan then this was its first milestone. Today, as reported in ‘Gazans Flood Egypt After Border Breach’ by the AP, and ‘Palestinians Topple Gaza Wall and Cross to Egypt’ in The New York Times, we saw the second. With the border between Gaza and Israel sealed and the floodgates opened between Gaza and Egypt, Gaza takes another step towards being absorbed back into Egypt.
Perhaps fancifully, I’d also like to think that the reason Ehud Olmert remains prime minister despite his rock-bottom popularity in polls is that he presented this idea to Sharon, and Sharon was impressed with its subtlety and audacity and decided that this is the wily Machiavellian figure to lead Israel through the coming perilous times; and that the nation trusts Ariel Sharon’s judgment and understands that a plan has been set into motion; and that plan is wise; and that we need some patience to see enough of it bear fruit before making a change. I’d also like to think that George W. Bush is well aware of this plan, and that he and Sharon struck a deal: if the Palestinians are peaceable, then fine, they will get their state in Gaza and the West Bank; but if they are not, if the scorpion cannot help but sting, then their national movement will not be allowed to fester indefinitely as a swamp providing safe harbor for jihadists, and circumstances will have been set in place that permit the Palestinians to rend asunder their own national movement; a majority of them embrace pan-Islamism, wherein the nationstate is not paramount.
Today, the news report says: “The United States expressed concern about the border breach. Israel demanded that Egypt take control of its border.” Here then is the un-‘67, a defeat that permits delicious moments. Egypt, given a reprieve regarding Gaza for 40 years, must shoulder its responsibilities once again.
And in an editorial A Farewell to Gaza, the New York Sun opines: “What some see as a problem to be concerned about may also be an opportunity to be seized on, because it could be a first step in getting the world to perceive that many of the residents of Gaza are Egyptians rather than Palestinians. They’d rather be in Egypt than in Gaza, as they showed by voting with their feet these past days. They speak Egyptian Arabic. They have closer family ties to Egypt than they do to the West Bank, where many of them have never even visited.”