People often talk of Occupation in black and white: Israel must “end the Occupation” tomorrow. It’s often unclear what that means logistically: Does it just come with a bunch of bulldozers and kick tens of thousands of people out of their homes? Does it suddenly pull back the army and let the cards fall where they may -as it did in Gaza, which empowered a corrupt, autocratic Hamas that oppresses Palestinians and is bent on Israel’s destruction?
On the flipside, people often say, “There is no partner for peace negotiations” and accept that as the end of the story. According to this logic, if there is no partner on the other side, then Israel has no obligation to try to take steps on its own to end the Occupation. Similarly, this line assumes that Israel has no obligation to try to find a partner or be more flexible in its definition of partner.
But as usual, things in life are often more complicated than the binaries allow for. It is unclear at this point how Israel could effectively end the Occupation tomorrow; because there have not been serious negotiations for so long, there may or may not be a partner – it’s unclear. But one thing is clear: Israel does have both a moral and a logistical imperative to end the Occupation, and the lack of a partner is not an excuse for inaction. Even if ending it tomorrow may be impractical (or immoral, if it involves forcibly evicting people from their homes without adequate plans to compensate them and help them to resettle within the Green Line) there are many steps that Israel could take to minimize the Occupation while it actively looks for a partner, as part of readying the ground for a 2-State Solution:
- Do not issue any new housing permits for settlements -even if they are the “natural growth” process of the settlement. The goal is to limit the natural growth of settlements, not to encourage it.
- Crack down on any illegal settlement activity. A home goes up one day -it gets bulldozed the next. Refuse to provide water, electricity, or security to illegal settlements. If the settlers want to provide their own security -so be it. If they are afraid to live in an area deemed illegal to them under Israeli law, because of the security risks -then they shouldn’t live there.*
- Create financial disincentives for living in settlements. Right now, settlements receive tax breaks and government subsidies that make them attractive to people looking for affordable places to live, even if they are not ideologically committed to the settlement process. Take away those tax breaks and subsidies. Create extra taxes every time a settlement house is bought/sold. Create financial disincentives to living in settlements -for example, a security tax on settlements that is used to help finance the extra security that is provided to settlements and the drain it reflects on IDF resources.**
- Create a fund, with joint Israeli government and international philanthropic support, that will a) help settlers to voluntarily relocate, aiding with logistics such as finding a new house, community, employment (if applicable), etc. b) compensate settlers who voluntarily relocate for the loss of their homes by buying it at an above-market value -and then not selling it on, ensuring that the house remains unoccupied and that therefore, the settler population decreases c) provide financial compensation -a type of “leaving bonus” for each settler who leaves voluntarily, if they can prove that they are moving to a home within the Green Line.***
*It has been pointed out to me that this risks illegal settlements providing their own security, which might carry out price tag attacks. In such a case, the IDF, as the occupying power, would be morally obligated to deploy forces to protect Palestinians from such attacks. Unfortunately, given the rise in price tag attacks in recent years, it certainly doesn’t look like de facto allowing illegal settlements is preventing said attacks. This is why a key component of the plan is not allowing illegal settlements to be there long enough to organize security for themselves in the first place.
** Given high costs of living and of homes, Israel should take these breaks and apply them to the economic and social peripheries within Israel proper, in order to encourage development of those peripheries and to ensure that people still have an affordable housing option. It’s just that this option shouldn’t be located in the West Bank.
*** Perhaps this would be paid in two installments, with the second installment contingent on being able to prove that one continued living within the Green Line for three years after the move, in order to ensure that people don’t “relocate” to Israel proper, take the money, and then “relocate” right back to the West Bank again.