The greatest trick the right has ever played on the Israeli public is making them think that the Palestinian issue is nothing more than a territorial dispute. It’s not. It’s an occupation. And here’s why this status-quo will inevitably put an end to a reality of a Jewish state.
Israel conquered the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Golan Heights during the 1967 Six Day War, and declared those areas to be occupied military territories. A number of UN resolutions called for a reversal of this situation, namely 242 and 336. Following the disengagement plan from Gaza in 2005, only the West Bank and Golan Heights remain occupied under international law. While both areas fall under the same category, there are significant differences between the two.
For starters, there’s in no trespassing barrier between the Golan and Galilee. Second, Israelis are allowed to travel there freely. Third, there are Israeli towns and villages that fall under standard Israeli rules – mainly construction and tax laws. Lastly, all citizens living there have complete freedom of movement. All non-Jewish Israeli citizens living there before the Six Day War were given a choice to become Israeli citizens or not, and those who chose not to were given permanent resident status. They have travel documents and they are allowed to cross into Syria and back (an enemy state) for the purpose of employment, education, family visits,and marriage. There was a war, we won, it’s ours. We owned up to it.
In the West Bank it’s quite the opposite. The separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank is almost 800 km long, twice longer than the green line – June 6th 1967 border line between Israel and then Jordanian territory. Second, the Bank is divided into three control zones: A – mainly Palestinians cities and urban areas, about 18% of the West Bank that is under complete Palestinian control, both civil, political and security wise; B – mainly villages and farming grounds about 22% of the area, where Palestinians have control over civil affairs but Israel maintains security policy; C – about 60% under complete Israeli control – civil, political and security.
It’s forbidden for Israelis to enter area A. It is considered leaving Israeli governance. The same goes for Palestinians desiring to enter area C – it is strictly forbidden. Area B allows for Palestinians to travel freely, but their movement could be stopped in any event due to “security needs”. Most Palestinians live in areas A and B. According to UN estimates about 300,000 Palestinians live in area C. The issue is that area C is defined as “not area A or B”. Meaning that while areas A and B are defined areas that allow for a “normal” civil live for their residents, the structure of area C is to allow maximum comfort for Israeli residents and not Palestinian ones. This causes families to be separated between different areas although they live only a few hundred meters apart, sometimes even in the same village.
The issue of freedom of movement for Palestinians in the West Bank is a grave one. There are countless stories of how people have to wait at checkpoints between areas A and B, because they are coming from a village to a hospital, to visit family members or to work. The issue is much graver for Palestinians living in East Jerusalem. They are considered residents of Israel, but are not allowed to have travel documents, are not allowed to live anywhere else in Israel, and if they choose to live somewhere else in the West Bank they automatically lose their residential status.
The question we must ask ourselves as Israelis is how is this in our best national interest? There are three possible sustainable long term solutions.
First, Israel could annex the West Bank, make it officially a part of Israel. All of the West Bank would become “Area C”, the Palestinians would get citizenship, voting rights, Israeli passports, freedom of employment all over the country, freedom to reside everywhere in Israel, and every other possible civil right that rest of Israelis are privy to. This is how democracy works. That would mean in the not-so-distant future that the Palestinian representatives would be the majority in Israeli parliament, and not before long probably the end of Jewish state. On the other hand, if Israel is to annex the West Bank but keep the status quo in terms of division into areas and other restrictions, that would automatically classify Israeli as an apartheid state, with all the international scrutiny that follows – economic boycott, an end to bilateral travel agreements, academic and scientific research, isolation in the international arena. It would keep the state Jewish, by definition no longer democratic, and far from the standard of living that we’ve become accustomed to.
The third option is for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank, with territorial exchanges for the big settlement blocks. I’ve addressed the security argument here, and there are more studies conducted to the financial and economical benefits – here, to name one. Their point is a very simple one – Israel is associated in the world with the occupation of the West Bank, and the end of that association will open a host of economic opportunities – more tourists, trade with Arab and Muslim countries, less security expenses and so on.While the exact figures deserve further review, the point is valid. Just look at South Africa over the last two decades: it has become one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and enjoyed all the benefits listed above.
The worst thing we could do is allow the status quo to continue. History and the international community are against us. There’s only one way for Israel to continue as a Jewish and democratic state, controlling the lives of 3 million people isn’t it.