WASHINGTON -- The Israeli abandonment of Gaza is a withdrawal of despair. Unlike the Oslo concessions of 1993, there is not even the pretense of getting anything in return from the Palestinians. Nonetheless, unilateralism is both correct and necessary. Israel has no peace partner -- Mahmoud Abbas has nothing to offer and has offered nothing -- and in the absence of a partner, there is only one logical policy: rationalize your defensive lines and prepare for a long wait.
Gaza was simply a bridge too far: settlements too far-flung and small to justify the huge psychological and material cost of defending them. Pulling out of Gaza leaves behind the first truly independent Palestinian state -- uncontrolled and highly militant -- but one from which Israel is fenced off.
If Israel can complete its West Bank fence, it will have established a stable equilibrium and essentially abolished terrorism as a regular and reliable means of attack -- i.e., as a usable strategic weapon. That will leave the Palestinians a stark choice: remain in their state of miserable militancy with no prospects of victory, or finally accept the Jewish state and make a deal.
That is Israel's strategy. There are two problems with it: What about the rockets? What about the world?
The first problem is that while the fences do prevent terrorist infiltration, they do nothing about rockets. For months, Palestinians have been firing rockets from Gaza into towns within Israel proper. The attacks are momentarily in suspension, but with the enhanced ability to smuggle in weapons from Egypt and with no Israeli patrols looking for them, the attacks will resume and get far worse.
What to do? Something Israel should have done long ago: active and relentless deterrence. Israel should announce that henceforth, any rocket launched from Palestinian territory will immediately trigger a mechanically automatic response in which five Israeli rockets will be fired back. There will be no human intervention in the loop. Every Palestinian rocket landing in Israel will instantly trigger sensors and preset counter-launchers. Any Palestinian terrorist firing up a rocket will know that he is triggering six: one Palestinian and five Israeli.
Israel would decide how these five would be preprogrammed to respond. Perhaps three aimed at the launch site and vicinity, and two at a list of predetermined military and strategic assets of the Palestinian militias.
This new policy would echo, though in far more benign form, America's Cold War deterrence policy of ``massive retaliation." That was all somewhat theoretical, but the Soviets apparently thought otherwise when they backed down during the Cuban missile crisis. In Gaza, the issue is not theoretical. Once Israel leaves, there is no way to dismantle the rockets. Deterrence is all there is. After but a few Israeli demonstrations of ``non-massive retaliation,'' the Palestinians themselves will shut down their terrorist rocketeers.
The second problem is world reaction to the Gaza withdrawal. Far from Israel getting any credit for this deeply wrenching action, the demand now is for yet more concessions -- from Israel. The New York Times called the Gaza withdrawal ``only the beginning'' and declared sonorously that Ariel Sharon ``must also be forewarned'' that giving up the West Bank must be next.
This is a counsel of folly. The idea that if only Israel made more concessions and more withdrawals, the Palestinians will be enticed into making peace is flatly contradicted by history.
We are not talking ancient history here; we are talking the last 12 years. Under Oslo, Israel made massive, near-suicidal concessions: bringing the PLO back to life, installing Yasser Arafat in power in the West Bank and Gaza, permitting him to arm militia after militia, and ultimately offering him (at Camp David 2000) the first Palestinian state in history, with a shared Jerusalem and total Israeli withdrawal from 95 percent of the formerly occupied territories (with Israel giving up some of its own territory to make the Palestinians whole).
How were these concessions met? With a savage terror war that killed 1,000 Israelis and maimed thousands more.
The Gaza withdrawal is not the beginning but the end. Apart from perhaps some evacuations of outlying settlements on the West Bank, it is the end of the concession road for Israel. And it is the beginning of the new era of self-sufficiency and separation in which Israel ensures its security not by concessions, but by fortification, barrier creation, realism and patient waiting.
Waiting for the first-ever genuine Palestinian concessions. Waiting for the Palestinians to honor the promises -- to recognize Israel and renounce terrorism -- they solemnly made at Oslo and brazenly betrayed. That's the next step. Without it, nothing happens.