The Gaza withdrawal in itself plays only a small part in the current face-off between settlers and the Israeli government. Three other and more basic issues are at stake, and they go to the core of what the Jewish state will become, according to Arie Nadler.
Nadler, a professor of social psychology at Tel Aviv University, is a noted authority on conflict resolution, as well as on the impact of massive social trauma on individuals and groups. He meets frequently with both Palestinian and settler leaders, and will lead a weekend seminar in Irvine Aug. 19-21. he will discuss the Gaza disengagament from the Israeli and Palestinian perspectives and its likely aftermath.
The crux of the present confrontation is not Gaza, but whether Israel will eventually abandon the West Bank and, in essence, return to the pre-1967 borders, Nadler said in a telephone interview from Tel Aviv.
"The settlers are trying to make the Gaza withdrawal so traumatic that no future Israeli government will even consider evacuating [the settlement of] Ariel on the West Bank," he said.
On a second, deeper level, the confrontation is about "the meaning of democracy in Israeli society," whether its members are willing to accept majority decisions and play by the same political rules.
The most fundamental and important aspect of the Gaza disengagement goes to the seemingly intractable secular vs. religious divide in Israel.
"We face the question as to the ultimate source of authority in the state," Nadler said. "Is it democratic rule or Torah?"
From his discussions with settler leaders, Nadler is cautiously optimistic that the evacuation of Gaza will proceed without large-scale violence.
"The political leadership of the religious Zionist settlers has an intuitive sense of the fragility of the ties that bind us as a people," Nadler observed. "Just as in the Sinai Peninsula withdrawal in 1982, the majority of settlers will approach the red line, but they will not cross it."
This relatively hopeful scenario could change instantly if Palestinians decide to use the changeover to launch large-scale terrorist attacks, he warned.
Nadler, who describes himself as a political centrist, showed considerable sympathy for the emotional pain of the Gaza settlers.
"In a way, the settlers were the pampered children of both the Likud [right-wing] and Labor [left-wing] parties," he said. "They were told that they were the true Zionist pioneers. They saw themselves on a higher moral plane, and suddenly they are told to go away."
To help heal the settlers' trauma, it is vital for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to assign some deeper meaning, such as the welfare and survival of Israel, to the painful disengagement, Nadler believes.
In the aftermath of the withdrawal, the relocated Gaza settlers will go in two different directions, Nadler thinks.
"A minority will disengage itself from Israeli society and secular democracy," he said. "The majority, after overcoming a psychological crisis, will perhaps re-examine its assumptions and tactics, and ultimately move closer to the political center."
Nadler will be the scholar-in-residence at the seminar sponsored by Ameinu, formerly the Labor Zionist Alliance, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Irvine. Also on the program will be political scientist Raphael Sonnenshein, will who speak on "California in Ferment."
For seminar reservations until Aug. 16 call (323) 655-2842, or e-mail LZinLA@aol.com.