The Moose salutes the peace activists of the Israel Defense Forces.
There is much talk of peace in the world, but little action. That is why it is so significant when a state takes concrete steps to attempt to bring reconciliation. Israel is doing just that this week as her troops remove their fellow citizens from Gaza settlements.
The Gaza withdrawal, of course, has nothing whatever to do with reconciliation, rather it has to do with Sharon's (very) belated recognition that the Gaza colonization enterprise is unsustainable, for a variety of reasons, and must be abandoned in the interest of securing more desirable West Bank settlements, especially in and around East Jerusalem. One can recognize that the withdrawal is a good thing while at the same time understand that it is driven by a purely rational political calculus.
It is true that Israel is making a sacrifice, but necessity of that sacrifice is a direct consequence of Israel's concerted, 38-year attempt to expand its borders by changing the demographic character of the region, in direct contravention of international law. How much congratulation does Israel really deserve for doing what it should have done years ago, for finally uprooting settlements that have done little more than create conflict, misery, and distrust? How much congratulation does Israel really deserve while, even as the plans for the Gaza withdrawal have gone forward, settlement activity in the West Bank has increased?
Quite the opposite of reconciliation, as Uri Avnery notes, the Gaza withdrawal has been planned and is being carried out in a unilateral way specifically to remove the Palestinians as a negotiating party. (The negative effects of this upon Mahmoud Abbas's legitimacy as a leader, indeed upon Palestinian regard of democratic processes in general, should be obvious. Why should they bother with democracy if Sharon treats their elected leaders as irrelevant?) The Gaza withdrawal is part of a deal that Sharon is trying to negotiate with the U.S. In exchange for pulling out of Gaza, he intends for the U.S. to support Israel's claims on settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. He may even get it, but the idea that maintaining the Palestinian people in a series of Bantustans will ever lead to true security for Israel is a fantasy.
There's no question that the Palestinian refugees have been extremely poorly served by their Arab brethren, but this of course neither lessens nor justifies Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. Judging Israel according to a special regional sliding scale ("Her neighbors are so much worse!") is a technique that is unique to Israel's extreme partisans, one from which no other democracy in the world seems to benefit.
That said, I think Israel does deserve recognition as a democracy, if an illiberal one, in a region where democracy is notably lacking. But the settlement problem is one that Israel has made for itself, indeed is still making for itself, so I hardly think "courageous" is the right term for, at long last, taking a step in the right direction.