Billmon, assessing Israel’s prospects in its war against Hezbollah and Hamas, remarks:
Unilateral withdrawal was, in the end, a dangerous fantasy. The reality is that Israel can only disengage from [the Palestinian territories] if there is a PA willing and able to play the role of … government – providing some minimal level of public services and guaranteeing some minimal level of security, which in this context means keeping the militiamen and the rocketeers under control.
Daniel Levy, as well, doesn’t think much of that whole “unilateral withdrawal” business:
Israel withdrew from the Sinai in the context of a negotiated peace agreement with Egypt and from parts of the Arava in a negotiated peace treaty with Jordan, results: quiet borders, no military exchanges since, solid if cool peace. Israel withdrew from South Lebanon and Gaza unilaterally without agreements … enough said.
Now, I can understand why a Bibi Netanyahu fan would say “See, I told you that unilateral withdrawal was a bad idea.” But these guys are leftists. WTF? Instead of pulling Israeli troops out of a morale-sapping occupation of southern Lebanon, PM Ehud Barak should have kept them there until…what? Instead of moving Jewish civilians out of settlements where they were surrounded on all sides by hostile Arabs and therefore required a disproportionate share of military resources to defend, PM Ariel Sharon should have let them stay there until…what?
As early as 1968, Yeshayahu Leibowitz זצ״ל argued that Israel should unilaterally withdraw from the Arab-majority land that it conquered during the Six-Day War. After predicting (correctly) the corruption the state would suffer if it had to maintain an occupation of hostile foreigners, Leibowitz said:
Out of concern for the Jewish people and its state we have no choice but to withdraw from the territories and their population of one and a half million Arabs; this action to be done without any connection with the problem of peace. I speak of withdrawal from the territories and not of “returning them,” because we have no right to decide to whom to return them: to Jordan’s King Hussein? to the PLO? to the Egyptians? to the local inhabitants? It is neither our concern nor our obligation nor our right to decide what the Arabs will do with the territories after we withdraw from them. (“The Territories”, reprinted in Judaism, Human Values, and the Jewish State, p. 226)
Twenty years later, Leibowitz argued:
Some people oppose the withdrawal from the occupied territories on the grounds of security. Arab tanks will be stationed twenty-five kilometers from Tel-Aviv and fifteen kilometers from Natanyah. They ignore the fact that Israeli tanks would be stationed twenty-five kilometers from Shechem and two kilometers from Gaza… (“Forty Years After”, ibid., p. 246)
The current war with Lebanon is a test of Leibowitz’s thesis: can Israel effectively defend its border without maintaining a perpetual buffer zone of occupied territory? If Israel passes the test, withdrawal from the West Bank will be more politically feasible as well.
P.S.: An effective defense does not merely repulse the enemy military forces but protects, as much as feasible, innocent civilians on both sides. I can’t blame people for being skeptical of how well Israel is protecting Lebanese civilians, but I don’t yet see how the IDF can do a better job at this task without getting back into the occupation business—and such an occupation won’t be good for civilians, either. Remember the Sabra and Shatila massacres?
P.P.S.: All the right-wingers who are encouraging Israel to not only turn Lebanon into glass but go after Syria and Iran—and encouraging the US government to do the same—please put down your World War II histories and read Josephus. Being the most zealous nationalist army in your neighborhood is not always a ticket to glorious victory. Sometimes it’s a ticket to national destruction.
P.P.P.S.: I suppose, as an American, I should say something about what the US should do to bring peace to the region. OK, here’s what we should do: get ourselves a competent President.