Sunday, August 14, 2005

Treat Gaza Settlers Like Adults

That's the title of a Hillel Halkin article from December 2004. His basic thesis is that instead of forcing the settlers to leave, Israel should just give them a date and pull out. The settlers who want to stay can bear the consequences, while the rest will leave on their own. We avoid Jew against Jew bloodshed and minimize the risks facing the soldiers.

A little after the article was published I argued on AOL's Israeli Politics board in support of this position. Most supporters of disengagement disagreed, arguing that it's worse for Israel to allow Jews to be slaughtered by Palestinians than to go in and force those people out. One poster posited that Israel cannot allow Israeli children to be placed in harm, so Israel has to remove the children, and then might as well remove the adults as well at that point. I disagreed based on the assumption that parents can choose to give up their children's nationality, and the settlers who stay would be giving up Israeli citizenship for themselves and their children. Israel has no obligation to save non-Israeli children, even if they happen to be Jewish.

The primary benefit of just getting out – let's call this Plan A – is avoiding today's chaos. Is it sensible for Israeli troops to put their health and lives on the line for the sake of holdouts? It is worth the chasm that could divide our society, pit Jew against Jew? Doesn't Israel have enough divisions (Jew vs. Arab, religious vs. secular, etc.)?

Moreover, Plan A would allow Israel to deploy its troops where they are needed: in defense against Palestinian terrorism.

It would avoid the dilemma that many soldiers must be facing. Do they remove Jews from their homes?

The negatives are self-evident. At least some of the settlers would remain. Can Israel really stand on the sidelines and watch Hamas slaughter Jewish children? Letting that happen could pose an existential threat equally as great as the Jew v. Jew confrontation.

And the soldiers' dilemma moves from deciding whether to evacuate Jews to whether to stand by and watch Jews be murdered. Not any better.

For any benefit of Plan A, there's an equal cost. It's the same with forcing the settlers out – Plan B. So which plan makes more sense?

Halkin makes a good point. If we follow Plan A there's no guarantee that the Palestinians will slaughter them. Perhaps Abbas will be pressured to protect them. Maybe he'll have no choice but to evacuate them into Israel. Or maybe he'll work something out with them.

It's also not a given that settlers will stay. It's more than likely that faced with a real threat they might realize that they can't win. But if they do stay, Israel could go in and evacuate them, a far smaller number. Less risk to the soldiers.

The primary difference between the plans is that Plan A involves certain problems. Plan B creates potential problems. Faced with absolute difficulties vs. possible (probable) hardships, the smart money is on taking the risk.

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