The kidnapping of Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit on Sunday is dire news to anyone concerned about the prospects of peace in Israel-Palestine. My response to this affair is conditioned by my personal convictions as both a Jew and a Zionist. On the one hand and foremost, I hope fervently that Shalit is unharmed and will be returned safely to his family. Beyond this, however, I hope that Israeli and American leaders will draw the right lessons from this perilous moment moving forward. Sunday's attack is undeniably a gratuitous provocation, but it is nonetheless an omen of what will surely come if Israel continues down the path of unilateralism staked out by Ariel Sharon.
Israeli officials assert that the seizure of an Israeli military hostage was one of the primary aims of Sunday's raid, the ultimate goal being to negotiate for the release of Palestinian prisoners being held by Israel. The former part of this analysis makes sense- the effort expended and risk undertaken by the perpetrators of the raid indicate that the seizure of Shalit was not an arbitrary whim. The latter assertion, however, does not stand up to scrutiny. Their refusal to release any information that would confirm Shalit's status casts suspicion on the seriousness with which his captors approach potential negotiations. Moreover, the prospects of negotiation are slim at best, while an Israeli military incursion into Gaza is a virtual certainty as a result of Sunday's raid. Unless the militants are supremely daft they must understand these odds, thus in all likelihood it was not the extremely tenuous negotiations but the all-but-definite Israeli military incursion that was the true object of Sunday's raid.
Why would Palestinian militants want to provoke an Israeli military incursion into Gaza? Because it is the only way to undermine Kadima's strategy of unilateral disengagement. The perpetrators of Sunday's raid are not merely anti-Semites and anti-Zionists, they are opposed in principle to any successful two-state resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Polls show that most Paletinians are opposed to Kadima's unilateralist policy because they feel it will ultimately establish boundaries between Israel and Palestine that are unfair. Even so, if pressed they would most likely admit that a Palestinian state with abridged borders is preferrable to no Palestinian state at all. The militants who carried out Sunday's raid would not agree with this majority consensus, however.
For Sunday's attackers anything short of a Palestinian state that occupies all of Israel-Palestine is an unconditional defeat. They would thus prefer a situation in which the Israeli army occupied every inch of Israel-Palestine to one in which a stable and sovereign Palestinian government was ensconced in Gaza and the West Bank. As long as the bloodshed and hardship continue the militants' dream of "Greater Palestine" (in their minds, at least) remains theoretically possible, as enough violence might someday lead to the collapse of the Israeli state. A stable and sovereign Palestinian state bordering Israel would cut off all chance of "Greater Palestine," as that government would have a vested interest in cooperating with Israel to keep violence to a minimum. Sunday's raid was thus not merely an attack on Israel, but an attack on the peace process itself.
Unfortunately, if Ehud Olmert moves forward with Kadima's planned unilateral disengagement Sunday's attack will serve as a harbinger of things to come. Unilateralism may seem like a magic knife that can cut the Gordian knot of disputed Israeli-Palestinian sovereignty, but in the final analysis it is only a formula for putting extremists and terrorists in the driver's seat of Arab-Israeli relations. Drawing a line in the sand and building a wall on it will undoubtedly increase Israelis' security in the short term, but in the long run no wall can stand in place of diplomacy in dertermining Israel's boundaries. Sunday's attack shows that any wall is permeable. Tunnels can be dug under it, missiles can be fired over it. A determined opponent will, given time enough and murderous effort, succeed in launching a provocation that demands a response and undermines any attempt at unilateral disengagement. As Kadima moves forward with its planned disengagement in the West Bank this problem will evolve a domestic dimension as well. Extremists on the Israeli side are not likely to give up dreams of "Greater Israel" in the face of a Kadima defensive wall, they will almost certainly launch similarly provocative attacks into Palestinian territory by way of undermining any stable two-state peace.
Nothing justifies Sunday's attack against Israel, as it can only result in more bloodshed and hardship for all of Israel-Palestine's residents. Nor is it realistic to expect Israel to refrain from taking military action when one of her soldiers is in mortal jeopardy. Hopefully, however, Israel's leaders will read the signs of this sad affair for what they portend- unilateral disengagment will never ultimately lead to enduring stability, security and peace. Israel must have a sovereign and authoritative Palestinian counterpart with which to negotiate a two-state resolution and to coordinate joint efforts at security. If such a Palestinian partner does not now exist this is not an argument for unilateralism, but a sign that Israeli leaders must assist those on the Palestinian side, like Mahmoud Abbas, who are committed to a two-state solution to establish their authority so that a bilateral peace process may move forward.