People tend to speak about making peace in the same way as they tall a fairy tale. It tends to be a scene where there’s a handshake on the White House lawn followed by a narrator saying over the scene “and then they all lived happily ever after.”
It’s not surprising so many Israelis feel this way since it’s exactly how it was sold to us. That picture on the White House lawn, Clinton, Rabin and Arafat standing together hand in hand, combined with that iconic line “enough of war, enough of bloodshed. Enough”. A line that so perfectly represented so many people’s feelings. This picture showed us a vision of a perfect future. And we believed in it too.
We were wrong.
Does that mean we simply quit trying to make our country a better, safer place to live in? Does that mean that we should just allow our country to slip into the abyss by grappling Palestinians in a slow dance into oblivion?
When the Zionist project really got underway we were settling as much of the land as possible. We were building settlements as far North, South and East as we could while developing the coastal plain too. We did that, knowing masses of European Jewry were waiting to come into the country. Knowing that as the gates to the USA closed and Jews were looking to get away form the Nazi menace the responsibility for the future of the Jewish people was on the backs of the Zionists in Palestine.
At the same time it was also clear that for a Jewish state to succeed it would need a Jewish majority. Hence the refusal to allow Palestinian refugees back into Israel.
Now we’re building as many settlements as we can in the West Bank but there isn’t a massive Jewish populace standing ready to make aliyah en masse. There isn’t even a plan for bringing the area into the state of Israel. There isn’t even a plan for what to do with the Palestinians living in the West Bank who have their own hopes and dreams for the future, none of which include Israel. We have the same modus operandi that we had during the 1930s but without any idea how to turn it to our advantage. Back then we were trying to create a country. The guiding hand of Ben Gurion and others was very clear about what it was doing and why. The exact opposite to the lack of a vision coming from the current government.
As a result this mass settlement , without any corresponding expectation of another wave of aliyah is leading Israel into a situation whereby this won’t be a majority Jewish state anymore. It is ensuring that what so many of our forebears died to bring into being will fade from existence. Ironically this won’t happen because of enemy attacks. It will happen because of our own stubbornness. Our own inability to accept that the West Bank is a Zionist bridge too far.
Continued settlement of the West Bank coupled with harsh security measures on the Palestinian populace isn’t just going to somehow work out for Israel. It’s going to backfire and we’ll find ourselves not just under threat but gone.
When tactics help us today and hurt us tomorrow
In the short term our counter terror tactics help us. In the long term they ensure there is no possibility of a permanent settlement with Palestinians. Human rights groups use terms like “collective punishment” when describing Israeli anti terror tactics. Particularly when it comes to checkpoints.
They’re wrong but it doesn’t matter.
Israel’s tactics aren’t created as punishments they have grown up over the years as effective responses to the various threats Israel has faced over time. But if you’re a Palestinian experiencing them you’re not going to care about that. It won’t matter to you that as a result of a successful terror attack against Israel you have to pass through a checkpoint whenever you want to get from A to B. Maybe constantly being treated like a security threat would be enough to make you throw stones, maybe enough to make you participate in a demonstration. Maybe you’d run into the arms of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Granted the Palestinian Authority broadcasts incitement against Israel on television. As do Hamas, who encourage a cult of suicide bombing. But should we really make their job easier? What do you think helps Hamas recruitment more, blowing up someone’s baby cousin by mistake because we happened to be going after their neighbor, a wanted terrorist, or a TV program? What are the odds of convincing the PA to stop their incitement on television while we are raiding houses throughout their cities?
When all focus is tactical and none is strategic
The very methodology we use to keep us safe from day to day is keeping the hatred simmering in the background ready to explode. Our continued settlement of the West Bank ensures that these security tactics have become more than simply a precaution instituted to protect Israel from attack, they have become a part of life in the West Bank. Many of the patrols and sentries are in place not to protect the Israeli heartland they are there to protect settlements. By instituting all of these extra precautions to keep settlers safe we are inflaming Palestinian hatred.
The very tactics that keep Israelis safe are also ensuring the continuation of the conflict.
To remove these security precautions while leaving settlers in place is to invite disaster. There is so much hatred on the ground today that there would simply be a massacre.
After not one but two Intifadas the question isn’t if but when the pressure cooker is going to blow…again. Continued settlement activity is not only anathema to the EU and the USA it is also utterly incomprehensible for the future of the country. The longer it goes on the less credibility Israel will have. The more intertwined the two populations become the smaller the chances of being able to separate them. The more intertwined the two peoples are the harder it is to justify treating Palestinians differently from Israelis.
Right now the Palestinians hate Israel. Of course they do, we’re occupying them. The ideologies espoused by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, not to mention the elements of al Qaeda and ISIS that are now spilling into the territories have found very fertile grounds for growth.
Yet for some reason we insist our citizens can live among them. It makes no sense. According to the Jewish Home plan we are even going to give thousands of Palestinians Israeli passports.
It’s time to admit that none of this makes any sense. The fairy tale ending won’t happen. The settlers of the West Bank won’t wake up one morning and find out that there aren’t any Palestinians around them any more. The left aren’t going to be able to sign an agreement with the Palestinian Authority and overnight there’s no terror anymore.
It’s time to stop thinking in these all or nothing terms.
We need move unilaterally
An immediate cessation of settlement building followed by dismantling of illegal settlements. After that we need to dismantle all settlements that fall within territory that the Israeli government has designated for a Palestinian state.
Once the settlers are out the IDF will be able to redeploy in a way that both prevents terrorists from moving into Israel proper and allows them to conduct intelligence led operations unencumbered by the duties that come with protecting settlements. Without settlements we will finally be able to alter our tactics regarding the Palestinians. Placing them in line with a strategy that draws a clear route towards Palestinian sovereignty.
With the removal of settlements such as the one in Hebron, day to day friction between the IDF and Palestinians will be greatly reduced. With no settlers in the area to protect, the army redeployment will be able to remove a great deal of the checkpoints that create tensions with Palestinians and allow a greater freedom of movement.
In short life in the West Bank for Palestinians will be easier.
At the moment all Palestinians are hearing from the Israeli government is that they have no future. That there will never be a chance for them to gain sovereignty. There is no plan for their lives to become easier. For a young Palestinian there isn’t even a glimmer of hope that life will get better. The prime minister said as much just the other day.
It’s no wonder they get frustrated.
With my plan we allow Palestinian actions to dictate their future. If there are no terror attacks and the area remains calm then the IDF security control can be reduced gradually in favor of PA security forces. This would be a gradual process until they are in complete control and Israel is living next to a stable state of Palestine.
But since we know that fairy tales tend not to come true there will be no timetable for an IDF withdrawal from the West Bank even after the settlements are removed. What Israel will do is guarantee that if terror attacks and terror attempts trickle down substantially then the IDF will gradually scale down its presence in favor of Palestinian security services. We let Palestinians know that they can have sovereignty if they prove capable of implementing certain democratic institutions and hit certain targets relating to the building of their economy and reducing corruption.
In this way we provide ultimate protection to our citizens by removing them from the most dangerous parts of the country and provide optimum conditions for Palestinians to move away from terror organizations in the long term. Unencumbered by sentry duties the IDF will be able to use the manpower that has been freed up to defend Israel proper and mount intelligence led operations.
I’m not arguing that there will be an end to terror. I am arguing that this is the way to ensure our future among the nations of the world. Only by taking meaningful steps to reduce terror strategically can we hope to tackle its long term causes and reshape our strategic environment. Simultaneously we will be removing our civilians from the most dangerous parts of the area as well as ensuring a Jewish majority in Israel proper.
With such a massive change in Israeli policies we should be able to leverage our withdrawal from settlements for international recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
At the time of writing Israel is in military conflict with the Hamas rulers of Gaza. Now that we’re in this conflict we have to win. To win we have to decide on criteria for victory.
In the short term Hamas’ stockpile of arms needs to be destroyed by whatever means necessary. If that means a ground invasion then so be it. Defining criteria for victory means accepting the limitations on use of force. Militarily it is impossible to destroy Hamas. This is political. We can no more destroy them than we could destroy Hezbollah in 2006.
Militarily you can kill middle level and hopefully some senior level Hamas leadership. The most realistic results the IDF can expect to achieve are to cripple Hamas in the short term.
In the long term Hamas will simply go about rebuilding their arsenal as soon as some kind of ceasefire deal is signed, but there will be a period in the wake of the military operation where they will have been drastically weakened.
Their political infrastructure is strong, they have schools, control the media and have their hands on the reins of power in Gaza. Ultimately Israel needs to find a way to live with the existence of a Hamas government in Gaza without resorting to missiles every couple of years. To move forward in this direction there needs to be a political deal brokered between the two sides.
Whilst Hamas ideology calls for the end of Israel, while their charter is openly anti-Semitic it appears that there is no room to talk. This depends on the extent to which they are capable of rational behavior. They face isolation on all fronts at the moment, Egypt is openly hostile, they are at war with Israel. There are no goods coming into Gaza save those approved by Israel, their popularity rate stood at 20% before this current crisis. They are under blockade, there is no commerce, no trade, no industry. They have no money to pay their employees. What’s more they are facing growing challenges from within in the form of al Qaeda and ISIS.
Set against this Israel has a heavy stick which it is currently using. It also has several carrots. These include lifting the blockade, allowing Gazans to fish further out into the Mediterranean and allowing Gazans to work in Israel. If extending these carrots to Hamas ensures that Israel doesn’t have to suffer these continuous attacks. If Hamas can hold fire then it is in the country’s interests to use them.
From Israel’s perspective there are three choices;
1. reoccupy the Strip,
2. Make a political deal
3. Continue with the half measure of airstrikes every once in a while. These strikes are already proving to be ineffective since Hamas have moved their missile arsenal underground, out of reach of the Israeli Air Force.
Israel faces stark choices. Only one of them leaves even the remote possibility of a peaceful future for Israel. More to the point Hamas should be left in no doubt that should they say no, more bombing awaits. Should they say yes bombing stops, the blockade ends and tacit acceptance by Israel of Hamas control is given.
This is what it looks like to let go of the fairy tale ending but have a state with the possibility of lasting indefinitely. Alternatively you can close your eyes to the problems facing Israel in the long term and argue that everything will be fine if we keep settling the West Bank and go even harder on Palestinians after every terror attack perpetrated against us.