We are entering the 100-day period before the disengagement from Gaza begins. The odds are we will see pictures similar to what we saw when Israel gave back Yamit - a settlement that came to be known as the Jewish capital of Northern Sinai - in 1982. As Ehud Barak famously remarked after the Israeli pullout of Lebanon, "Withdrawals are not photogenic." We may assume that contested withdrawals are even less so.
In his book The Revolt, former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin was confident that despite opposing political beliefs during the British mandate the Jews would never reach a point of civil war. As he wrote, "Two factors saved the people from the catastrophe of civil war. In the first place we did not teach Irgun fighters to hate our political opponents. One-sided hatred is obviously a threat to national unity. Mutual hatred brings almost certain civil war. Whenever we saw manifestations of hatred against us we grieved and were astonished. Was such brother-hatred possible, we asked ourselves." He held this belief to be true when he agreed to give back the Sinai Peninsula for peace with Egypt. And yet, Israelis still did not leave peacefully and many left the country disappointed in Begin and his government.
In 1982, Ariel Sharon had to go down to Yamit and help remove the residents. Now he is asking many of those same people more than 20 years later to evacuate their homes from Gush Katif. Begin had an easier task than Sharon does today. As Israel's prime minister Sharon is possibly facing the one scenario Begin thought would never occur among Jews. As he moves ahead with the disengagement from Gaza, Sharon himself admitted to an NBC interviewer, "The tension here, the atmosphere here looks like the eve of civil war." Moreover, Sharon's plan puts Israel's democracy to the ultimate test - a democratic state forcing thousands of its own citizens to leave their lawful homes.
Oslo proved to the world that all the promises made by Arafat were just talk, with no real intention to resolve the situation between Israelis and Palestinians. And yet, Sharon is taking Israel back to the road map - an outgrowth of that same program. To the naked eye it would seem like Israel has overcome the latest intifada, and then Arafat's death created the right environment to cede Gaza to Abu Mazen's Palestinian Authority.
But have the rules of the game really changed that much since Arafat's death? If one looks at Abu Mazen's list of demands for peace, they have not changed since Arafat's tenure. He still is demanding a complete right of return for Palestinians refugees, Israel's complete withdrawal to the untenable pre-1967 borders, and making Jerusalem the Palestinian capital. Abu Mazen's "peace" is more means than end here again, Abu Mazen and the PA will be tested.
President Bush vowed to defeat terrorism in an unprecedented global war. Part of that promise required that the Palestinians crack down on the radicals' in their midst. Yet, today, the PLO covenant still calls for the destruction of Israel in any means possible and still acts as the Palestinian constitution: "The liberation of Palestine, from an Arab viewpoint, is a national [qawmi] duty and it attempts to repel the Zionist and imperialist aggression against the Arab homeland, and aims at the elimination of Zionism in Palestine." How is the disengagement furthering peace if the Palestinians own constitution has not be changed to recognize the other's right to exist? If there is no recognition there is no compromise or solution.
In practice, security will be the bottom line. Can it be achieved? The basis for coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians depends not only on rebuilding trust and acknowledgment between the two parties but on creating a secure environment, dismantling terrorist networks, reforming the media and education, and stopping weapons smuggling into Gaza and the West Bank. If we are to believe that Abu Mazen is sincere, he should make it clear now, though real actions and deeds.
Begin was right to say that "we are a small nation which has laid the foundations for its freedom. Our enemies are many; our friends are very few. Who knows what the morrow holds for us…" Sharon cannot know what tomorrow will bring, but as someone who has fought an every war since Israel's establishment the big question for him is how will these 100 days be used and will they create a concrete understanding between Israelis and Palestinians. At the same time he must secure the foundations of freedom that make Israel the Jewish state, and not place such duties in the hands of Israel's enemies.
Asaf Romirowsky is a Campus Watch Associate Fellow for the Middle East Forum and the Israel Affairs associate for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.