by Dan Jacobson
The disengagement from Gaza, from the Israeli point of view, had the attributes of a defining event. Defining events provide the potential for change, but not the change itself. The potential is there in at least four important respects:
1. Democracy prevailed
. Unlike other countries in the 20th century under threat of fascism (e.g. Mussolini’s march on Rome, Franco’s Spain, the Weimar Republic etc.) where the army either passively or actively supported the forces of evil, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), police and other security forces behaved in an exemplary fashion. They unequivocally obeyed the democratically elected civil institutions. It was not Prime Minister Ariel Sharon they followed but the legitimate decisions of the government, Knesset and courts. Furthermore, the dignified and sensitive manner in which the army and police conducted themselves, can, and should in the future, be presented as a realistic alternative model when it comes to dealing with Palestinian protestors inside Israel proper or in the occupied territories.
2. The right took a severe beating
, not a death blow but painful nonetheless, on both the political and religious levels. Politically, they were clearly shown the limits of their power. They failed to even get close to achieving their stated objective of mobilizing a critical mass of Israelis to block the withdrawal. Life within Israel went on as normal. All of Peace Now’s predictions on the basis of our earlier surveys as to the level and ferocity of opposition to be expected were validated. The settlers themselves, despite highly emotional hysteria, refrained from violence. The only real problem was the outcast ultra-religious criminal youngsters who infiltrated the area. The settlers’ leadership, for the first time in 35 years, is not dictating the national agenda anymore. On the spiritual level, the extremist rabbis failed “to deliver the goods.” They predicted that “it was not to be,” a divine miracle would occur at any moment and prevent withdrawal. Well, it did happen; there was no miracle. The Almighty was apparently busy that day or looked the other way. The long-term impact of this remains to be seen.
3. The Palestinians became a partner
. Although unilateral, the withdrawal was coordinated all the way. The Palestinians succeeded in imposing discipline in their ranks, demonstrated pragmatism and sent out the right signals. Given a positive alternative, when their interests are at stake, they don’t shoot, Hamas, included.
4. Finally, a vitally important lesson has been learned: settlements can be removed
. It is not impossible. This is a very important precedent. It can be done without the threat of civil war or the break-up of Israeli society.
What follows is specific data concerning the aftermath, an integration of the results of surveys carried out following the disengagement by the Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University, the Dachaf Institute headed by Mina Zemach and our own survey data at Peace Now. There is a great degree of inter-study reliability between those surveys.
Majority Rejects a Continuation of Unilateralism
The prevalent view among the Jewish public is that the disengagement from Gaza is not the end of the story. 71.5% believe that it is only a first step toward an extensive evacuation of West Bank settlements that will be carried out in the context of an agreement with the Palestinians. But at the same time, only a small relative majority (47.8%) support an evacuation of this kind, whether in the framework of an agreement with the Palestinians or in a unilateral fashion, with the clear preference given for an evacuation that is part of an agreement. 41.8% said they would not support a far-reaching evacuation in the West Bank under any conditions.
A comparison with a similar question presented last April reveals that the rate of supporters of a unilateral disengagement declined by half (from 26.2% to 13.5%), while there was an increase by similar rates of those who support an evacuation only in the context of an agreement (from 27.5% to 34.3%) and of those who oppose one under any circumstances (from 37.1% to 41.8%).
These findings indicate that after the unilateral disengagement and the evacuation of the Gaza settlements, the Jewish public generally rejects applying the unilateral disengagement idea to the West Bank. The majority is divided into two camps: supporters of an evacuation in the context of an agreement and opponents of an evacuation under any circumstances, with a small advantage for the supporters.
Palestinian Authority Actions Will Impact Israeli Public Opinion
It is important to emphasize that these results reflect the views of the Jewish public a short time after the evacuation of the Gaza settlements, when the difficult images of the evacuation were still fresh, helping to strengthen the emotional component of the views. To this should be added the widespread pessimistic assessments of what was expected from the Palestinians after the IDF had completed the disengagement from Gaza. A decisive majority of 67.1% believed a situation of chaos would prevail, with violent struggles between various organizations. Only 16.4% thought the Palestinian Authority (PA) would succeed at consolidating its rule in Gaza and maintaining law and order. Furthermore, a similar majority, 68.4%, believed there was high or very high chances that after the withdrawal of IDF forces, the attacks on Israel from this area would intensify.
Seeking a link between the assessments about what could be expected, and the degree of support or opposition to evacuating West Bank settlements, reveals that among those who view the chances of future attacks from Gaza as low, about 70% support an evacuation and 20% oppose it, while among those who think such chances are considerable, 40% support an evacuation and 51% oppose it. Similarly, the rates of support and opposition to an evacuation among those who believe the PA will be able to establish its rule in Gaza come to 70% and 23%, respectively, while for those who expect it will not succeed, the corresponding rates are 42% and 50%.
Emotional Fatigue or Hope for the Future
Given the background of the difficult struggles that were waged before and during the evacuation of the Gaza settlements, it may be of interest to see how the public views the behavior of three of the main actors that were involved in these struggles — the settlers’ leadership, the settlers themselves, and the security forces. Regarding the settlers’ leadership, a higher proportion of the public views the degree of responsibility they displayed as low or very low, 34.5%. 28.2% thought that the settlers’ leadership demonstrated very high or high level of responsibility. The settlers themselves received a higher rate of positive than negative assessments. Thus, 49.1% think the settlers’ level of violence was low or very low, whereas only 20.6% viewed their behavior as very violent or violent. However, the most positive evaluations went to the security forces: 77.3% say they showed a great or very great extent of consideration during the evacuation, compared to 9.1% who saw their degree of consideration as low or very low. These figures indicate that even among those who opposed the unilateral disengagement, about 41% of the total Jewish public, there were many who had a positive view of the security forces’ behavior in implementing it.
Finally, I would add that following the disengagement the Israeli public was in a state of emotional fatigue. Or perhaps in a wait and see mood. This is dangerous since the process cannot be put on hold. Either there will be progress, or we will be facing another disastrous round of violence, losing the present window of opportunity. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians need to be shown evidence that there is real prospect for hope. In this regard Abu Mazen’s’ statement that now is the time for the “big Jihad” meaning, the challenge of economic development, is very helpful, if it will be followed by deeds. Our challenge is to find the means to transmit hope to our respective civil societies by reinforcing each other’s demands for positive actions.