Outside of Israel, almost everyone who supports further Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank also seems to support an immediate ceasefire in the Israel-Hezbollah conflict, before Israeli is able to deal Hezbollah a decisive blow. But do these positions in fact go together? There is a strong case that they are actually at cross-purposes with each other. If you really want Israel to withdraw from more of the West Bank and allow the establishment of a Palestinian state, you should hope that the Israelis defeat Hezbollah as decisively as possible.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his Kadima Party won the Israeli elections earlier this year on a platform calling for continued unilateral withdrawals from Palestinian territories, similar to last year's withdrawal from Gaza and the 2000 withdrawal from southern Lebanon. Olmert and Kadima assured the Israeli public that the withdrawals would enhance Israeli security (or at leat not harm it) and increase the chances for a permanent peace.
If, however, further withdrawal means that land is turned over to terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah who will then use it to launch more attacks on Israeli civilians, Israeli support for the Olmert-Kadima strategy will evaporate. This is especially likely if the terrorists can use the newly acquired land to launch their attacks, but Israel is prevented from responding effectively by pressure from the "international community," much of which is now trying to accomplish exactly that by calling for a ceasefire. Most of the Israeli public is willing to accept "land for peace;" that is one of the reasons why Kadima won the election. But they aren't going to accept land for missiles.
Dovish Israelis understand this dynamic, which is why most of them support the current offensive against Hezbollah. Consider this article in the left-wing Israeli publication Haaretz, describing the views of the Four Mothers, a group of women peace activists whose sons were killed in Lebanon and whose agitation for Israeli withdrawals played a key role in persuading the government to remove its forces from Lebanon in 2000. Here is a telling quote by Zohara Antebi, one of the Four Mothers:
So if you are saying now that I was wrong when I believed that it would be possible to ensure far fewer casualties and far more quiet after leaving Lebanon, you're right. I was wrong. I'm afraid of those who are incapable of saying 'I was wrong' in the first person. I lived on the border, in Malkiya, and I saw the small tobacco plots of the farmers in southern Lebanon, and I believed that prosperity on both sides of the border would ensure quiet. That Nasrallah would aspire for his people to have a good life. In that I was wrong. I was definitely wrong . . .
[T]here is now no choice. Now we have to change the diskette. This time we are fighting for our home. This time we are fighting so that we will have lives here.
The other three leaders of the Four Mothers still believe that the 2000 withdrawal was the right decision at the time, but they too support Israel's military effort today. Indeed, they seem to recognize that withdrawal can only be justified to the Israeli public if it permits Israel to retain a free hand in responding to terrorist attacks from the territories in question. As Bruria Sharon [no relation to Ariel], one of the other Mothers, puts it:
[B]eing out of Lebanon makes it possible for us to mount this strong response. When we were in Lebanon we could not respond like this, because then we were occupiers, whereas now we are just. Today we are fighting for our home from within the international border.
If Bruria Sharon is proven wrong and the international community forces a ceasefire on Israel anyway, it is unlikely that she would support future withdrawals. More importantly, neither will the vast majority of the Israeli public who are more skeptical of the "peace process" than the Four Mothers are.
For another prominent Israeli dove taking a similar view, see this op ed by famous Israeli novelist and peace activist Amos Oz. And, of course, it's worth mentioning that Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz is the leader of very left-wing and dovish Labor Party. If Israel is forced to stop short of victory, Peretz and his party (which is more dovish than Olmert) will be even more discredited than Kadima.
Left-wing Israeli supporters of withdrawal are not the only ones drawing such conclusions. So too are their right-wing, anti-withdrawal domestic opponents. Consider this statement by Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu, the most prominent opponent of further Israeli withdrawals:
What will help the Likud [politically] is that after the fighting stops, people will assess what the Likud said about the effects of unilateral disengagement and what other parties said, and then they will come to the right conclusions.
Bibi and the Likud, of course, argued from the beginning that Israeli withdrawals would stimulate terrorism and that the international community would not give Israel any more latitude to respond than it has in the past. If Israel is forced to stand down before achieving a clear victory, Bibi will be the big winner politically. Even if Olmert and Kadima are able to stay in power, they will have to change their policies. Further Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank will be highly unlikely, to say the least. Those who truly want to see Israel withdraw from all or most of the West Bank and permit the establishment of a Palestinian state should hope that Israel wins as big a victory as possible. And should oppose any ceasefire arrangements that prevent that.
UPDATE: Co-blogger David Bernstein asks (by e-mail): "[A]re there left-wing types outside of Israel who were critical of Israel in the past who are supporting Israel in Lebanon on the grounds you suggested?" A good question to which I do not know the answer. If there are readers who do know of relevant examples, feel free to point them out in the comments.