Military occupation of another nation is immoral, unless there’s a very good reason. In order to continue the Occupation, it’s Israel’s responsibility to prove that there is a very good reason. The two usually offered are: 1. Terror threats 2. The Palestinian leadership
As far as 1 goes, it’s true that there are terror threats. The question is how effective the Occupation is at preventing those threats and whether there are other, equally effective measures that could be taken to enhance Israeli security. Those on the left, myself included, believe a long-term peace agreement has the potential to offer greater security than a long-term Occupation.
As far as 2 goes, how true is it?
Abu Mazen, the head of the Palestinian Authority, is complex: He cooperates with Israeli security forces, but his recent statements about Israel have been full of falsehood and incitement.
A recent lecture from Elhanan Miller* indicates that Abu Mazen is unpopular with Palestinians due to his perceived closeness with Israel; some of his statements are meant to combat that image.*** However, according to Miller, Abbas’s words aren’t as bad as they seem: He is on record recognizing Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. Abu Mazen’s low polling numbers with his own people might be due in part to his lack of success at bringing Israel to the table through non-violent means, in contrast to Hamas, which was gained land and a prisoner exchange through terrorism. Since Israel is refusing to negotiate with Abu Mazen, they bear some responsibility for his lack of popularity.
The alternatives to Abu Mazen, a mix of Hamas, Mahmoud Dahlan**, and Marwan Bargouti, are all far more radical in their animosity towards Israel – which means that time might be running out for a two-state solution. If we want it, we must act NOW.
Of course, the two-state solution has its flaws. Some might argue that it is an imperialist construct imposed by the Western powers, who are once more redrawing the boundaries of the Middle East. But there doesn’t seem to be a better solution on the horizon, unless you count extended Occupation as a legitimate solution.
Even if you accept the Netanyahu government’s assertions that security concerns and lack of credible Palestinian leadership prevent it from ending the Occupation, it is clear that Netanyahu sees these obstacles as a permanent state of affairs. This means it’s Israel’s obligation to explain what steps it is taking to either decrease or surmount those obstacles, in order to bring the Occupation to an end. If it is not taking any steps to bring the Occupation to an end, and doesn’t envision doing so in the near future, then it has essentially accepted the Occupation as a permanent state of affairs – and then we’re in a completely different moral ball park.
Prime Minister Netanyahu – the ball’s in your court. Won’t you play?
*This is based on my lecture notes. Any mistakes are my own.
** Dahlan is more unreadable and might be merely corrupt enough that he can be swayed by money, but that’s not really a good thing in a potential negotiating partner, because it means you have to keep on bidding more in order to win.
*** This does say something disheartening about Palestinian society’s readiness for peace with Israel. Other statistics presented were equally disheartening: Over 50% of Palestinians don’t support a Palestinian state; over 60% believe such a solution is impossible, in part due to settlement expansion. (Low support for a two-state solution among the Palestinian public is definitely one of its “flaws”.)