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February 20, 2004
Israelis to Evacuate More Settlements

Israel's deputy Foreign Minister, Ehud Olmert, said that Israel is not only preparing to evacuate all Gaza Strip settlements but also a number of West Bank settlements as well:

Israel will seek to retain major settlement blocs in the West Bank, but will dismantle Jewish settlements close to Palestinian towns and villages "wherever possible," the deputy prime minister said Friday. ... Olmert said that as part of a West Bank withdrawal, "the major settlement blocs have to stay under our control."

"The Americans understand this ... the argument is over all those areas where the Jewish settlements are mixed in with the Palestinian population in a way that causes confrontation and damage to both sides," he said.

It's difficult to determine whether this represents a reluctant acknowledgement of a difficult, if not impossible, tactical and political situation or a unilateral surrender to terrorism. Yasser Arafat has waged a war of attrition with the Israelis, calculating that the slow, steady drip of terrorism will wear down Israeli (and Western) stamina and allow him to either drive the Israelis into the Mediterranean, or at least help him cut the best deal possible in the interim. European reaction certainly encouraged Arafat; just a while ago, some in Europe were considering a plan to encourage the Israelis to abandon their country and move to Germany, of all places. Rewarding this strategy only encourages more of the same.

However, the very nature of Israel's settlements in the West Bank make them almost indefensible in the case of outright military action, and while the Palestinians don't have that kind of capability now, they've repeatedly attempted to smuggle heavier arms into PA territory. Also, in any negotiation, some settlements will be dismantled, perhaps most of them. In this, the Israelis lose nothing of consequence except some low-value bargaining chips, and they gain enough momentum to complete their wall along the Green Line. They also keep more Israelis secure by getting them behind that wall, even if the dislocation costs get expensive, monetarily and politically.

In the end, I suspect this debate comes up a wash, and in reality the Israelis need to build the wall to keep the bombers out of Israel itself. Once the wall is built, the logistics of protecting those settlements that are small or integrated tightly into Palestinian communities becomes much more difficult. Very reluctantly, I have to agree that this may be the best decision for Israelis, especially in that it is unilateral and doesn't require any negotiation with Arafat or his puppets. Perhaps it is better to let him die and then pursue diplomatic solutions with whomever comes to power. Certainly, we've seen that doing everything else hasn't worked.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 20, 2004 1:24 PM

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