The illusions about the occupation are shattering

A recent publication has revealed that – in a confidential meeting that took place a few months ago, representatives of Israel’s defense establishment warned that “under the reformed Supreme Court, everyone will be at risk of being considered a war criminal.”

Those who issued this warning, thereby revealed the truth that no one talks about: the Supreme Court has aided in “whitewashing” events that would otherwise be considered war crimes, and would warrant the arrest of senior leadership of the IDF and the Israeli Government.

The truth of the matter is far more severe. For 56 years, the State of Israel has defended its ability to maintain long-term control of another people, on the basis of two illusions: the illusion of a free Supreme Court, and the double illusion of political negotiations and the temporariness of the occupation.

True enough, the Supreme Court has at times been free to rule against the government and in favor of harmed Palestinians, and, for a short period of time, there really were good faith negotiations; but, for the most part, and certainly in the last decade, these have been illusions. Everyone turned a blind eye and allowed the occupation to continue and to deepen.

Netanyahu’s government has opted to shatter those illusions, but in doing so it has also shattered the defenses that have kept Israelis from facing the consequences for an occupation whose continuation is illegal under international law.

Alongside the subversion of the legitimate rule of law, another subversion has been taking place in the West Bank, one that is just as dangerous to Israeli democracy. Quietly, and with a strategic sophistication designed to “fly under the radar” of Israeli protestors and the international community, Bezalel Smotrich, the minister in charge of the Civil Administration in the occupied territories, has been working to dramatically transform the legal reality in the territories.

With every passing day, Smotrich makes progresses with his life’s work: shifting control of the territories from temporary military oversight to permanent civil administration. The territory that used to be under Israel Defense’ Forces sovereignty is being ceded to the Administrative Division of Settlements.

In this way, the West Bank is transforming from occupied territory under the authority of IDF Central Command, into an annexed territory under the authority of “Governor” Bezalel Smotrich.

Smotrich was not the one who began this 56-years-long occupation, and each Israeli government since 1967 is guilty of failing to end it. Nonetheless, under Smotrich’s influence, the current Israeli government has undertaken a dramatic change of course. The activity on the ground, as well as the government’s agreed-upon agenda and policies, make it clear beyond any doubt that Israel’s official position is that the occupation is not temporary and that there is no room for a Palestinian state adjoining the State of Israel. The occupation is becoming de jure, not only de facto.

The shattering of the illusion of a “temporary occupation,” and the shattering of the judicial system and the trust placed in it by the international community, which allowed that system to serve as a seal of approval for the occupation, are leading Israel towards a dangerous abyss: not only a catastrophe of a binational bleeding reality but also great damage to Israel’s international standing. The tangible danger faces Israeli senior officers, both in active duty and in the reserves, being arrested while visiting foreign countries.

While legal and military experts have admirably succeeded in making clear to the public the dangers posed to Israeli democracy by Minister of Justice Levin and the Chair of the Judicial Committee of the Knesset Rothman’s judicial overhaul, warnings from those same voices about Smotrich’s agenda have gone unheard.

The liberal camp has shown an impressive awareness of legal matters, and people who had remembered nothing of what they’d learned at school in civic studies are today able to quote Montesquieu’s doctrine on checks and balances and the separation of powers. Despite this, few have shown an interest in the implications of Smotrich’s subversion.

It’s quite possible that, before too long, we will face a reality in which the International Criminal Court will issue arrest warrants for the Minister of Defense and the Prime Minister, just as they’ve they have issued a warrant for Putin. Additionally, we could see international sanctions placed on Israel, of the sort that have crushed the Russian economy following the invasion of Ukraine. The “start-up nation” will become an international pariah, and many Israelis – who love to travel – will feel unwelcome across Europe and elsewhere.

If some Israelis are still unmoved by moral and Zionist arguments, perhaps the threat of the consequences each and every one of us might suffer will be more effective.

The overhaul of the judicial system and Smotrich’s overhaul of the governance of the West Bank are interlinked. Both constitute attacks on Israel’s stability and future, and we must fight them both.

About the Author
Nadav Tamir is the executive director of J Street Israel, a member of the board of the Mitvim think-tank, adviser for international affairs at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, and member of the steering committee of the Geneva Initiative. He was an adviser of President Shimon Peres and served in the Israel embassy in Washington and as consul general to New England.