It's time for real disengagement


The attempt to control Gaza from outside, via its residents' diet and shopping lists, casts a heavy moral stain on Israel and increases its international isolation.


By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, 2.6.10


The "flotilla affair" offers a good opportunity to complete the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, five years after Israel withdrew. It's time to sever the last ties of the occupation and leave Hamastan to its own devices.


The attempt to control Gaza from outside, via its residents' diet and shopping lists, casts a heavy moral stain on Israel and increases its international isolation. Every Israeli should be ashamed of the list of goods prepared by the Defense Ministry, which allows cinnamon and plastic buckets into Gaza, but not houseplants and coriander. It's time to find more important things for our officers and bureaucrats to do than update lists.


How could a disengagement be done? Israel would inform the international community that it is abandoning all responsibility for Gaza residents and their welfare. The Israel-Gaza border would be completely sealed, and Gaza would have to obtain supplies and medical services via the Egyptian border, or by sea. A target date would be set for severing Gaza's water and electricity systems from those of Israel. The customs union with Israel would end, and the shekel would cease to be Gaza's legal tender. Let them print their own Palestinian currency, featuring portraits of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.


Israel would also make it clear that it will exercise its right to self-defense by inspecting suspicious cargo on the high seas in order to thwart arms smuggling. That is also how the Western powers behave: They search cargo ships for nuclear weapons and missile components. And if we are shot at from Gaza, we will shoot back - with intent to cause harm. We have already proved that we can do so.


This scenario has a precedent: Until the peace agreement was signed with Egypt, all of Israel's borders were sealed tight. Israel's foreign trade was conducted entirely via its air and sea ports. Even today, traffic over its land borders remains negligible.


This isn't pleasant, but it is legal. A sovereign state has the right to close its borders, especially when its neighbors are hostile and hate-filled.


The situation in which the border is intermittently open, based on the judgment of some anonymous Defense Ministry bureaucrat, is no longer acceptable to the world. It is perceived as intolerable brutality toward the civilian population of the party being blockaded.


Ariel Sharon decided to withdraw from Gaza all the way to the Green Line, and hoped thereby to obtain international acknowledgment that the occupation had ended. But Israel did not truly succeed in disengaging.


Even before Hamas took control of the Strip, Israel insisted on controlling entry to and exit from it. After Hamas won the Palestinian election, and Gilad Shalit was kidnapped, the blockade and the supervisory regime only tightened.


It was as if Israel had regretted the disengagement at the last moment and sought to retain at least a little something - a tiny handful of hated Gaza.


Today, the blockade of Gaza has a fourfold purpose: to compel the Palestinians to reunite Gaza with the West Bank under a leadership friendly to Israel; to pressure Hamas to restrain the rocket fire and other attempts to attack Israel; to maintain the fiction that the Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, is still the legal sovereign in Gaza; and to prevent friction with Egypt, which fears the opening of its border with the Palestinians.


But judging by the results, this policy has been unsatisfactory. True, strategic cooperation with Egypt has been strengthened, and Hamas has been restrained since Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008-09. But Hamas' control over the Strip has not weakened. Abbas and Fayyad exercise no authority in Gaza.


The Israeli public is being told that the ban on coriander and the like is aimed at "helping Gilad Shalit." The very mention of the captive soldier now languishing in a Hamas prison has prevented any serious discussion of what policy Israel should adopt toward Gaza. But this merely demonstrates the government's populism and lack of leadership: It is hiding behind Shalit and his family, who justly have the public's sympathy, instead of seeking a new reality.


Those who oppose Israel's very existence will continue to fight and persecute it even if Jerusalem abandons the last shred of responsibility for Gaza. No disengagement will persuade them to change. But they are not the audience at which Israeli policy is aimed: Its target audience is Western governments, from which it needs support and with which it needs diplomatic and economic ties. And these Western governments are telling it to end the blockade and free Gaza.


Monday's deadly operation against the aid flotilla has only strengthened these demands. Hence this is Israel's opportunity. Instead of arguing with the international community, it should tell it: You want Gaza? Fine. Take it.