"They are now being asked to relinquish these accomplishments for the greater good," the government press release said of their houses and farms, of their synagogues and greenhouses. And the greater good was served. The greenhouses were turned into Hamas training camps and the synagogues were burnt to the ground. Rockets fly into the air from the ruins of broken houses.
No longer will your sons have to die in Gaza, the experts said. A month later rockets were falling on Sderot. A year later Gilad Shalit had been kidnapped and Israeli soldiers were back again, dying in a Gaza that was now run by Hamas.
Among the bundle of promises from the Sharon government, was that the Gaza withdrawal was part of an oral agreement with the United States limiting further withdrawals and concessions. That agreement lasted for another few years until Obama took office and no one in his administration could ever remember such an agreement or accept its validity.
"The moment of truth has arrived," Netanyahu said, on resigning from the Sharon government. "At the moment of truth, a man - especially a leader - must ask himself: 'What are you doing, what do you stand for, what are you fighting for?'"
These moments of truth come fast and furious in Israel, but hardly anyone waits around for an answer. Not even Netanyahu, who knows better.
Hamas' objectives have always been straightforward. Its commanders and suicide bombers, its militia members, bomb experts, smugglers, launchers and embezzlers know what they are fighting for.
"Our struggle against the Jews is extremely wide-ranging and grave," the Hamas charter says. "Israel, by virtue of its being Jewish and of having a Jewish population, defies Islam and the Muslims." It has the simplicity that you would expect from the Muslim Brotherhood, a fascist organization that drew equal inspiration from the Koran and Nazism.
What however is Israel fighting for? Since Oslo, the slogan of Israeli moderate conservatives has been "Peace with Security" even though it was quite clear that you could pursue peace and have neither peace nor security, or you could pursue security and have peace. Their slogan was muddled and their policies even more so.
Israel may have superior firepower, but like most Western countries, its policymakers are too muddled to be able to apply that firepower in a useful way. The limited scale warfare that has been adopted by America, including drone assassinations and extensive security measures, came out of Israel's futile efforts to find a more humanitarian style of warfare that would limit civilian and military casualties. But all that these measures really did was make life with terror more manageable.
Withdrawals and a variety of defensive measures such as Iron Dome made it seem like Israel could maintain the status quo. Peace with Security meant no peace and no security, but enough of the illusion of both that it would seem as if the slogan had been fulfilled. Suicide bombings dropped and the terrorists were forced to resort to rocket attacks and drive-by shootings with much lower casualty rates. Rates so low that those who didn't live in Sderot or Samaria could ignore them.
Instead of ending the threat, Israeli conservatives had found a way to live with the pain of terrorism while turning their focus to economic reforms. The left with its emphasis on finding a permanent solution through appeasement and withdrawals was discredited and collapsed. But the problem had not gone away.
While Israel slept, the makeup of the region changed. Hamas had formerly been strongly backed by Syria and Iran, with some support from more distant Islamist Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Egypt and Jordan were both wary of Hamas because their governments were concerned about being overthrown by the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Arab Spring put Islamists into power in Egypt. Suddenly the Muslim Brotherhood was running things on both sides of the Rafah Crossing. Hamas switched its allegiance from the shaky Shiite axis of Iran, Syria and Iraq over to the rising Sunni Islamist axis of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Egypt. The Islamist terrorist group was no longer an isolated arm of Iranian foreign policy, it could count on the backing of Turkey, Qatar and Egypt.
Under Iran or Egypt, Hamas is not fighting for Palestinian nationalism, which was already a fiction manufactured by Soviet propagandists looking up to prop up a Greater Syria, but to support the aims of Iranian and Egyptian domestic policy. And suddenly those aims were uncomfortably close.
Terrorist militias serve an ideology, but function as a business. Al Qaeda, Hamas, Fatah or any other of the many groups blanketing the region, need money and weapons to be viable. They need state sponsors and the states that sponsor them want something in return. Terrorist groups find sponsors the way that Renaissance artists found patrons, they show off their skills and wait for someone to come calling with money and guns. And then they perform for their patrons.
Israel's terrorist problem is unsolvable through any form of peace negotiations because there will always be sponsors. A terrorist group may sign a peace agreement, but then it quickly gets on the phone to its sponsors to assure them that it will go on committing acts of terror. Its militias are spun off into "separatist" or "splinter" groups that go on doing what they did before. And the group then asks its new friend American and Israeli friends for guns and money to fight these extremists. That way the terrorist groups get twice the money for terrorism and a farce of counter-terrorism.
Even if a terrorist leader is sincere, his movement is nothing but an umbrella group for terrorist militias. If the umbrella group stops funneling money from state sponsors to local militias, the militias go into business for themselves. And there is such a demand by sponsors for more and more "extreme" militias, that even the existing terrorist groups find themselves having to compete with newer and more violently Islamist militias.
Peace is useless and hopeless under these conditions. Fatah claimed that it could not control Hamas. Hamas claims it cannot control the men shooting rockets out of Gaza. The people shooting rockets out of Gaza will claim that they cannot control their fingers on the trigger. It's plausible deniability all the way down when it's convenient, but the real control is in the hands of regional regimes who feed coins into the slot and get out terrorism.
So what then is Israel fighting for? Peace with security. Which means slapping down Hamas hard enough that it will have to wait another 3-4 years before trying the same thing again, this time with bigger and better rockets. That was the policy six years ago and it's the policy today.
Israel will bomb Hamas targets, kill some of its senior leaders and destroy some of its weapons stockpiles. Its soldiers will enter Gaza, arrest some more senior leaders, walk into traps that will kill some of its best and brightest, and then withdraw again while Hamas celebrates its victory in the Battle of XX or YY where five or six Israeli soldiers were killed, along with ten or fifteen Hamas terrorists. And then the Battle of XX will become the Massacre of XX and lead to a documentary that will be doing an extended tour of American and Canadian campuses during the next Israeli Apartheid Week.
This is the status quo and it cannot be maintained indefinitely. The air raid sirens going off in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem warn that the war is heading into unsustainable territory. As Iran goes nuclear, Hezbollah is trying to become another Iran and Hamas is trying to become another Hezbollah. It is not a nuisance that can be ignored. Israel has no answer to the growing threat except to try and contain it through the same old methods that have now put Jerusalem and Tel Aviv into the line of fire.
Since 1992, Israel has been retreating and those retreats have replaced secure borders with borders of terror. Rather than reversing those withdrawals, the right has been satisfied with trying to stabilize them. But that has only created safe spaces for terror while setting the stage for the next round of retreats by the left which will create even broader territories of terror. These territories are staging areas for the next invasion, which will come not from Hamas, but a Muslim Brotherhood Egypt and an Islamist Turkey, once Israel has been sufficiently softened up.
The only way to end the threat of Hamas in Gaza is by retaking Gaza, but no such policy is on the table. Like America, Israel responds to terrorism not with the aim of achieving decisive victories, but with a policy of intimidating the terrorists into scaling down their attacks. This is a political policy of political generals and leads to terror becoming a permanent institution.
Israel has tried negotiating its way out of the terrorist trap. It has not tried fighting its way out. Israel has tried to escape the occupation, but in a region where you are either the occupier or the occupied, it may have no choice.
But what is Israel fighting for? Like so many modern countries it is fighting so as not to fight. It is fighting for peace. It is fighting to escape from fighting. And so like many modern countries it cannot bring itself to fight hard enough to break the cycle. Instead it fights just hard enough to defer the fight by another few years and the cycle continues.
Israel can retake Gaza once. Or it can retake Gaza every few years. It can have soldiers patrol Gaza or it can have rockets falling on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The options are as unfortunate as they are clear. The only hope for peace lies in driving out the terrorist militias who have turned Gaza and the West Bank into their own Somalia and Afghanistan and reclaiming the terrorists. Because after this fight is through, the next generation of rockets will go on being built and smuggled. And they will not fall in empty fields.
There can be farms and greenhouses on the hilltops of Gaza. Or there can be rockets.