Reviewed by Uzi Arad

A Land Divided: Israelis Think About Disengagement
by Ari Shavit
Keter, 2005, 254 pages, Hebrew

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ri Shavit, a columnist for the daily Haaretz and one of Israel’s most celebrated journalists, published his new book just three months be­fore Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria this past summer. A Land Divided has attract­ed attention, due in no small measure to the fact that quite a number of the public figures interviewed in it—and not only those associated with the Right—chose to assail Prime Minis­ter Ariel Sharon and his withdrawal plan, known as the “disengagement.” Yet the book’s importance extends far beyond the pros and cons of dis­engagement; indeed, it sheds a great deal of light on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a whole.

Shavit describes his own book as “strange,” and it is indeed unusual, in both its structure and its method. Although the main part is a collection of interviews which Shavit conducted, his introduction takes the form of a candid personal confession in which the author traces the development of his thought on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In his own sharp style, Shavit describes his evolution from the fringes of Zionism on the far Left (in movements such as Peace Now, Ratz, and Meretz) to his current view, which he characterizes as moderate-Left. As he explains, Shavit once identified with those Israelis who saw “ending the occupation” as the ultimate goal, but then his eyes were opened by the violence of the first Palestinian upris­ing beginning in 1987. And yet, while the first Intifada made him reconsider certain elements of his thinking, it certainly did not end up changing his basic position that the solution to the Israeli–Arab conflict lay only in the partition of the territory west of the Jordan.
Shavit publicly endorsed the idea of unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip well before Ariel Sharon adopted it as official Israeli policy, and he has not wavered from this view. Yet he was profoundly disturbed by what he saw as the absence of any serious discussion about disengage­ment—and this is what ultimately drove him to write A Land Divided. Shavit argues that if Israel were to pull out, it ought to have been a “proper withdrawal”: Not an act of desperation, but one carried out from a position of strength and as part of a larger strategy enjoying broad public legitimacy. Unfortunately, he writes, the decision-making process that led to disengagement was never public enough or serious enough to do jus­tice to so momentous an act. Shavit goes on to record the disquieting fact that Sharon “never explained the logic behind the disengagement.” The cabi­net never discussed the plan before it was announced at the 2003 Herzliya Conference, and the institutions re­sponsible for strategic planning were given no chance to prepare their plans properly.
Beyond the wholly inadequate decision-making process in the up­per echelons of government, Shavit was also disturbed by what he saw as the intellectual shallowness of the wider public debate over withdrawal. This is what Shavit may haves ought to rectify by bringing together thirty-three Israelis (myself among them) from the political, academic, and military arenas, whose views repre­sent a broad spectrum of Israeli public thought. According to Shavit, all the interviewees can be called “thoughtful Israelis,” but the most obvious com­mon denominator is the fact that they are all people in a position to address authoritatively the subject at hand. Shavit has arranged them alphabeti­cally by last name; although by not grouping the interviews according to themes or areas of expertise, the reader is forced to leap between arguments and levels of analysis. This can be somewhat difficult to follow....

Uzi Arad is the founding director of the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Lauder School of Government, Diploma­cy, and Strategy of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. He is also an adviser to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and was former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s foreign policy adviser. Arad served in the Mossad for twenty-five years, ultimately being appointed Director of Intelligence.

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