Withdrawing. Which begs the question of whether unilateral withdrawal is a good idea altogether. I've been advocating it since Barak suggested it three years ago and I think that, unquestionably, it is what will eventually happen, although what the specific borders will be I don't know. My personal support for unilateral withdrawal stems from three principles:
1. The demographic situation. I have yet to see any argument from the pro-settler Right that argues successfully in favor of the possibility of retaining the territories without losing the Jewish majority. Even if, by some miracle, the Jewish majority is maintained, it will be so thin that Israel will still become, in effect, a bi-national state. Any Zionist who advocates indefinate retention of the territories is ultimately arguing Transfer, and I am not prepared to support Transfer except as an absolute last resort. Whatever the extremists say, we are not at that point yet. Israel can live without Hebron, we are not in a life or death confrontation which demands such brutal actions for the sake of survival.
2. Palestinian intransigence. I see no indication whatsoever that Palestinian society either accepts the Jewish State or is overly interested in an agreement with it except as a political tactic leading to more war. I think it will take at least two or three generations to reconcile Palestinian society with Israel's existence, if it is ever reconciled. This, and nothing else, was the reason for Oslo's failure and the reason the Road Map will, ultimately, fail as well. Since an agreement is not forthcoming, the demographic situation threatens Israel's existence, and Transfer is not an option, the only recourse is unilateral withdrawal.
3. Israel's own interests. There is no question in my mind that all the major factors which work in the Palestinians's favor, most especially time, are neutralized and reversed by unilateral withdrawal. Firstly, the demographic issue. Instead of a threat to Israel's Jewish character, it suddenly becomes a humanitarian disaster in the making. Birth rates of that level simply cannot be sustained for long without the threat of famine, disease, and a catastrophic collapse in infrastructure. This will push the Palestinians into concentrating on their humanitarian situation and not on war with Israel. It also makes reconciliation with Israel, with its sundry economic advantages, far more attractive to the Palestinian leadership. Secondly, it removes from Israel the economic and social burden of maintaining a military presence in the territories, a monkey which Israel has carried on its back for decades at great cost. Thirdly, it allows Israel to decide which settlements it will retain and which it will not, thus minimizing social upheavels. And finally and perhaps most importantly, it removes completely the threat of international pressure to implement a distastrous Right of Return for Palestinian refugess and permits the retention of sovreignty over Jerusalem's holy sites as well as keeping East Jerusalem as a viable bargaining chip for future negotiations.
I am not unaware of the drawbacks to this plan. Israel will look weak and defeated, which will most certainly embolden its enemies. However, I doubt they will do much in the way of acting on their blustering. Only Egypt has the power to truly confront Israel militarily, and they are a long way from abrogating their peace treaty (although there are ominous rumblings in that direction) and, at any rate, retaining the territories does nothing to defend against an attack from the south. There will be an uptick in terrorism for a brief period, although the political latitude which Israel will enjoy due to the end of its occupation of the territories will allow it to deal with the problem more effectively then in the past. The worst consequences will likely be social, as Israelis try to adjust to the loss of a piece of their ancestral land. For the Israel Right, especially, of which I count myself a member, the upheavel will be wrenching, but to put it off is merely to postpone the inevitable. I do not believe such an attitude is defeatist. To withdraw from the territories is not a defeat. It helps, more then anything else possibily could, to ensure the future of Zionism and, thus, the Jewish people themselves. Our enemies will rejoice in days, but we will rejoice for generations. There could be no greater victory.