The sound and fury surrounding this week's Israeli pullout from the Gaza strip is a sad index of the difficult road ahead toward peace. 1.7 million Palestinians live in Gaza, the population of Israeli settlers has never risen above 7 thousand. Withdrawal from Gaza is a first indispensible step toward the creation of a Palestinian state, an outcome that virtually all reasonable participants in and observers of Israeli-Palestinian relations accept as necessary. If evacuating Gaza, which has never had deep emotional resonance for religious Zionists, stirs up this cloud of turmoil, the prospects for disengagement from the West Bank and East Jerusalem seem bleak. Unlike Gaza the West Bank and East Jerusalem contain sites of great symbolic importance to religious Zionists and house over 300,000 Israeli settlers.
The histrionics surrounding the Gaza pullout amply illustrate the part-comic, mostly tragic conundrum at the heart of the failure of the Oslo and subsequent peace accords. Religious Zionist settlers are the one insurmountable obstacle standing in the way of Palestinian statehood and Israeli-Palestinian peace. These settlers were cynically encouraged by the Likud party to invest themselves in the Occupied Territories in what could only have been a foolhardy game of brinksmanship- threatening Palestinians with the prospect of a "Greater Israel" that was never politically or demographically tenable in order to force them to the bargaining table. Now the Likud Sharon government finds itself hostage to its own manipulative policies, as the Gaza pullout demonstrates just how hard it will be to sell those religious settlers, whose views Likud never shared, down the river.
In fairness, the Gaza drama also provides ample evidence of extremism and bad faith on the Palestinian side. Pronouncements by groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad that the pullout represents a "triumph of arms" are deeply viscious attempts to undermine support for Israeli-Palestinian coexistence among the Israeli electorate. Portraying disengagement as a sign of Israeli weakness can only hamper efforts to do what is necessary to further the goal of peace, and Hamas' execrable propoganda can only come from those who are resigned to endless violence.
Even so, Hamas ultimately derives more political power from a delayed peace process than it does from transparently empty bravado. Anti-Zionism (which I understand as the denial of Israel's right to exist) is anti-Semitism, but not all Zionisms are equal. Those who hamstring the peace process through devotion to unrealistic and unjust political ideals are a threat to Israel's security as grave as that posed by Hamas or Islamic Jihad. Israel's rightful territory exists outside of the Green Line of occupation- anyone who would further the cause of peace must adhere to that first principle.