As I say, it is a noble gesture and one that places great trust in the Palestinians. Yet there is plenty of evidence that firebrands from the Islamic Resistance Movement known as Hamas, among others, will be emboldened by Sharon's generosity to see his withdrawal as a sign of weakness or worse a sign that Hamas' terrorist violence has caused an Israeli defeat and could cause still more Israeli defeats. Already the Washington Post is reporting the head of a Gaza branch of Hamas as saying that "Without jihad, without attacking the settlements, digging the tunnels, launching the rockets, the Israelis wouldn't have moved." Thus Sharon's noble gesture could encourage more violence and legitimatize in the eyes of Palestinian voters the most militant of Israel's enemies.
If all goes well for now, Gaza will be peacefully resettled and the Palestinian Authority will govern in harmony with its Israeli neighbors. Yet elections among the Palestinians lie ahead. On January 21 Hamas will field candidates against other less violent Palestinian groups, mainly Fatah, Yasser Arafat's old political organization. What if this withdrawal by the Israelis actually is seen by the Palestinian electorate as a vindication of terror and leads to Hamas' victory at the polls? This whole policy of magnanimity could backfire on Sharon and leave him with a more dangerous situation than before.
Yet I write as an American, comfortably living thousands of miles from this vexed part of the world. Whether my skepticism is right or wrong I shall not have to pay any price. It is the Israelis who pay the price. For now they support Sharon and withdrawal. Thousands of their countrymen who settled Gaza out of religious conviction and the sense that they were fortifying Israeli democracy are now being summarily uprooted and denied the land in which they invested their hearts and their labor. The price they pay in beyond simple calculation.
All in all, this is an enormous effort on behalf of peace made by a noble leader and a noble nation. If it is repaid by continued terror let the critics of Israel shut down. On behalf of peace this time the Israelis have done all they can -- and Sharon's Nobel Prize for Peace should await him either way.
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