Israel ended the occupation of Gaza in 2005 which led to the strip being taken over by terrorists who have been attacking Israel ever since. Fourteen years later, the Gaza situation is still not resolved. This experience demonstrated what an unconditional and unilateral withdrawal by Israel looks like.
Unlike Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, Israel has not extended Israeli law in Judea and Samaria, also known as the West Bank, and there is no serious proposal by any leading Israeli politician to do annex these territories. The reason is obvious. If Israel annexed all of Judea and Samaria, it would have to choose between two unsavory options:
- Adding a significant number of Palestinians to its citizenry, therefore placing its status as a Jewish state and a haven to the world’s Jews at a high risk.
- Creating an apartheid system where non-Jews have lesser rights than Jews.
For this reason, the only way to end the occupation of the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria is disengagement.
The Gaza experience is often used to reject disengagement in Judea and Samaria, but Israel can end the occupation using a very different approach than the one used in Gaza, and there is no reason why that cannot start immediately.
The occupation translates into significant costs for Israel which Israelis are acutely aware of:
- Financial costs: A study by the Adva Center found that the occupation has cost Israel NIS 55 billion between 1988 and 2015 (that is a little over US$15 billion).
- Human costs: Every Jewish Israeli family knows that the occupation means sending its young people to risk their lives ruling over the lives of another people, the Palestinians, in order to protect Israel against attacks from Judea and Samaria. Young Jewish Israelis and their families would greatly benefit from the end of the occupation.
- Costs in public opinion: The fact that the occupation continues with no end in sight is the main reason why Israel continues to lose support in Europe and North America. This could result in dire consequences for Israel as I wrote previously.
- Costs in relationship with Israeli Arabs: Israeli Arabs are ethnically Palestinian. The fact that Israel still occupies their fellow Palestinians in Judea and Samaria is a significant obstacle to Israeli Arabs feeling as patriotic as their Jewish counterparts. Peace with the Palestinians would facilitate better integration of Israeli Arabs into Israeli society, including its political system.
For the disengagement to be successful, Israel must ensure that some basic principles are applied, such as the following:
- The disengagement is done in stages, with each stage being conditional on a successful assessment of the previous stage.
- The Palestinian Authority (PA) must have incentives to cooperate with Israel in implementing each stage, and it must have penalties when failing to cooperate.
- The final stage must allow for the creation of a Palestinian state that is contiguous (not including Gaza) and viable, while protecting Israel’s security.
- The creation of a Palestinian state must occur only as a result of negotiations between Israel and the PA.
The following is an example of what the stages could look like:
- Stage 1: This stage would not involve any movement in Israeli troops or settlements. It would simply consist of defining the new areas (area 1, area 2, and area 3), not to be confused with existing zones A, B, and C. Area 1 would include Israel’s large settlement blocks as well as a buffer zone to facilitate protecting the security of Israel’s largest cities: Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Area 2 would include existing zones A and B, which are currently administered by the PA, plus other land to ensure that area 2 is contiguous. Area 3 would be a security strip around area 2, bordering with Jordan on the east, and bordering with Israel and area 1 on the north, south, and west.
- Stage 2: In this stage, Israel would commit to not build any further settlements and not to expand any existing settlements in zones 2 and 3. Like stage 1, this stage would not involve any movement in Israeli troops or existing settlements.
- Stage 3: In this stage, Israel would withdraw all settlements from zones 2 and 3, but IDF presence would remain unchanged.
- Stage 4: In this stage, Israel would withdraw the IDF from zone 2 while maintaining it in zone 3.
- Stage 5: In this stage, Israel would negotiate a peace agreement with the PA that would include the creation of an independent Palestinian state on land that includes zone 2, with the possibility of other land being added as part of the negotiations, most likely from zone 3. The peace agreement would be expected to include provisions for protecting Israel’s security, such as a demilitarized Palestinian state. IDF presence in zone 3 would be negotiated as part of the agreement.
- Stage 6: This stage would be the implementation of the peace agreement negotiated in stage 5. The implementation itself would be expected to include several stages.
Each transition to a new stage would be contingent on certain criteria being met by the PA, such as:
- Continue and improve efforts to control terrorist activity. In an example of such efforts, a few months ago, PA security forces thwarted a Hamas terrorist attack.
- Dismantle Palestinian refugee camps in Judea and Samaria and take away refugee status from all Palestinian residents of Judea and Samaria. According to the UN, Judea and Samaria is home to nearly 775,000 registered refugees.
- End the funding of terrorism by the PA.
- Eliminate incitement by PA officials, Palestinian media, and Palestinian schools.
The purpose of these criteria is to protect Israel’s security and to help ensure that the next stage is successful.
This approach has the following advantages:
- It makes it very clear, both to the Palestinians and to the rest of the world, that Israel does not stand in the way of the creation of a Palestinian state and does not wish to continue the occupation indefinitely.
- It is a cautious and incremental approach that carefully isolates and limits the risks to Israel’s security.
- It places pressure on the PA to speed up the process of eliminating terrorism and incitement, while at the same time, it empowers the PA to advance towards Palestinian statehood.
- It places the onus on the PA and not on Israel, or any external entity such as the US, the EU, or the UN, to take the necessary measures to ensure the creation of a Palestinian state, while allowing these external entities to fund and otherwise facilitate progress towards Palestinian statehood.
- It does not require compromises by Israel except in return to improvements and compromises implemented by the PA; conversely, it provides assurances to the PA that improvements and compromises will be rewarded with compromises by Israel.
- It would place even more pressure on the terrorists in Gaza to end terrorism and to work on developing an economy, either as an independent state or together with the emerging Palestinian state.
The ongoing election campaign in Israel is a good opportunity for leading Israeli politicians to suggest such an approach.
With this approach, the PA could choose to keep the Palestinians of Judea and Samaria under occupation indefinitely, or it could choose the path to statehood. The PA would no longer be able to credibly blame Israel for the lack of a Palestinian state. At the same time, Israel would be taking necessary steps towards protecting its strong Jewish majority and towards ending a costly occupation that it never wanted.
Note: I realize that this is a departure from some of my previous writing and even a contradiction of some points that I have made in the past. I had allowed myself to naively ignore the cost of the occupation and to believe that it could continue indefinitely. I no longer believe that. While I continue to support the occupation as long as it is necessary, I no longer support the Israeli government’s inaction in ensuring that the occupation stops being necessary.