Israel should end its occupation of the West Bank because the West Bank is land intended for a future Palestinian state. To end the occupation, Israel must first remove the Jewish settlements as about 80% of the Israeli troops in the West Bank guard the settlements. West Bank settlements provide Israel with strategic depth which offers limited protection from an attack. Israel can partly mitigate the risk of an attack by strengthening the West Bank security barrier.
Hopefully, after hastily removing all Israeli settlers and troops from Gaza in September 2005, Israel learned not to expect this process to produce grateful Palestinians ready to make a formal peace with Israel. Two years after the Israeli exodus from Gaza, Hamas overthrew the Palestinian Authority in Gaza and began its ongoing campaign of firing rockets into Israel. At best, evacuating the West Bank settlements and ending the occupation will produce an uneasy equilibrium under which both sides will develop informal political and economic arrangements allowing disputes to be settled by dialogue.
A major benefit to Israel of ending the occupation will be the ability to redeploy considerable human and material resources to constructive activities that will improve the quality of life in the Jewish state. Furthermore, once the occupation has been substantially downsized, a major barrier to the establishment of diplomatic relations and greater commercial ties between Israel and Muslim countries will have been removed. Anti-Zionism may even become slightly less fashionable.
The occupation must be downsized gradually so that new housing can be constructed in time to accommodate settlers who are removed from the West Bank. To begin the process of emptying the West Bank settlements, the following three issues should be addressed. Issues 2 and 3 will need to be addressed multiple times until all settlers and soldiers have been evacuated from the West Bank.
- Define the borders of Israel.
- Select the next destination in Israel to which a West Bank settlement will be transferred.
- Select the next West Bank settlement to be transferred to Israel.
The borders of Israel should be roughly the 1949 armistice lines plus a united Jerusalem, Israel’s capital (overriding Palestinian objections), and the Golan Heights (overriding Syrian objections). East Jerusalem, from which the Jordanian army expelled Jewish residents and desecrated Jewish holy sites in 1948, was annexed in June 1967 after its liberation in the Six Day War. Currently, about 5% of the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are citizens of Israel. The others are welcome apply for Israel citizenship. The Golan Heights, annexed in 1981, was used by Syria as a launching pad for lobbing artillery shells and rockets into northern Israel.
One promising area in Israel to which settlers from the West Bank can be moved is the Negev desert of southern Israel, a large region in which Israel wants to build new communities. A particularly attractive destination in the Negev is the city of Beersheba, home to Ben Gurion University of the Negev. The university plays a central role in the development of industry and agriculture, and conducts research on ways to “make the desert bloom.”
A good candidate for the first West Bank settlement to be moved to Beersheba is Ariel because Ariel lies deep inside the West Bank, preventing the eventual formation of a contiguous Palestinian state. In addition, Ariel has its own university which could also be moved or perhaps merged with Ben Gurion University of the Negev. Prior to the evacuation of Ariel, the mayor of Ariel should ask the mayor of Beersheba to build homes and apartments to house the approximately 20,000 residents of Ariel.
The process of downsizing West Bank settlements can be jump started by the recent vote in the Israeli Knesset against applying Israeli civilian law to Israeli settlers living in the West Bank. Unless that vote is overturned, settlers will be subject to the military law by which Israel governs Palestinian living in the West Bank.