Israel's New Strategy

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (R) shake hands during their meeting at Sharm el-Sheikh, February 8, 2005. Aladin Abdel Naby / Courtesy Reuters


Israeli politics and policy are undergoing a revolutionary transformation -- one of the most important developments in the nation's history. As dramatic as recent events have been, equally important is the emergence of a new strategic paradigm that reverses 30 years of debate and practice and overturns some of Israelis' most basic assumptions.

Why have perceptions, politics, and strategy changed so dramatically? The shift began when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered a complete withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank, including the dismantling of Jewish settlements in those areas. Within a few months, Sharon's Likud Party had revolted against him; Sharon had quit Likud and formed another party, Kadima; the Labor Party had chosen a populist outsider as its leader; the governing coalition had collapsed, necessitating new elections; Sharon had been physically incapacitated by a stroke and replaced by a top deputy, Ehud Olmert; and Olmert had gone on to win in the March 2006 elections. Hamas' victory in the January 2006 Palestinian elections only underscored already existing trends.

The emerging new policy is based on a broad Israeli recognition that holding on to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is simply not in Israel's interest, despite the fact that the Palestinian leadership has been uninterested in and incapable of making peace and that both Fatah and Hamas will use that land to try to launch attacks on Israel. The territories no longer serve a strategic function for Israel, given the unlikelihood of a conventional attack by Arab state armies, and Israel could better defend its citizens by creating a strong defensive line rather than by dispersing its forces. Moreover, because a comprehensive peace deal is not likely to be reached for many years, the territories are no longer of value as bargaining chips. During the long era before the Palestinians will be organized and moderate enough to make peace, Israel has to set its own strategy based on these realities.



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