The only way is out

The unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza is creating more problems than solutions both in Israel and Palestine.

In Palestine, the Palestinian Authority and the relevant donor parties including the World Bank are unable to identify any benefit to Palestinians from the move. Politically it won’t contribute to efforts to restart a peace process. Security-wise it won’t serve to reduce violence because all the ingredients of that particular recipe–continued settlement expansions in the West Bank, the killings and arrests of Palestinians and crippling economic sanctions–will still be in place.

In Israel, meanwhile, the plan is being questioned vociferously. In the eyes of the Israeli right wing, Israel is paying a price without getting anything in return. More worryingly for a country where the military remains the backbone there have been serious threats of mutiny in the army, so serious that leading Israeli personalities within the government and military elite are wondering aloud whether such a withdrawal can really take place in this atmosphere.

In turn, these developments have created an increasingly heated debate about how Israel should respond to resistance to the withdrawal by Israelis. The main problematic here is how the army should behave if settlers should choose to refuse evacuation. The only two options Israel appears to have seem either ineffective or carry the danger of backfiring.

The first option, which has already been set in effect, is to offer financial compensation. This measure has met with some success but has also left a hardcore of settlers to whom staying in Gaza is a matter of ideological and religious conviction. Should financial compensation fail to persuade these settlers to move, the only other option left to the army is the use of force. This, however, is something both the Israeli government and the army would be keen to avoid.

Thus a third option has been mooted. Rather than confront the settlers, the Israeli army will simply withdraw, leaving them without any services, whether civilian or security. In other words, these settlers will be considered as outside the jurisdiction of the state of Israel.

How might Palestinians react to this hypothetical situation?

I imagine there will be two tendencies (we will assume that the settlers will be heavily armed). The PA will try to establish contact with the settlers in order to bring about a resolution. The settlers are likely to refuse any such mediation. In the meantime, others will propose a more aggressive approach.

What is certain is that the PA will be put in a very difficult position. On the one hand it will have to try to stop any violent confrontations. This, however, will on the other hand prove very difficult if, as expected, the settlers prove to be hostile to any mediation by the Authority.

In this situation, the PA might ask for third party involvement including a UN presence to deal with immediate needs and possible protection. But that cannot be accepted as a long-term solution, because ultimately the Palestinian side will want to see these people evacuated. In the long run, the Authority would have to give the settlers a choice: either they go home, or they agree to live under PA jurisdiction.

The assumption is that the situation would be ultimately unsustainable for the settlers and it would only be a matter of time before pressure both from Israel and the Palestinians, in addition to the difficult circumstances the settlers would be living under, are enough to "convince" them to follow the only viable outcome in this rather strange situation, and evacuate.