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The West Bank Solution to Israel’s Crisis

The West Bank.
The West Bank. Via Wikitravel.

Every day, Israel’s current war seems to bring it closer and closer to the brink of disaster. With antisemitism on the rise worldwide, the conflict in Gaza more and more unpopular by the day, and Iran unleashing direct strikes against Israeli territory with a vengeance, it may seem that Israel’s Vietnam could not possibly get any worse. 

Except it could. Very easily. Because before Iran brought its shadow war against Israel out of the shadows, it helped smuggle weapons to what it considers the new potential flashpoint for Iran’s war against Israel. I am talking, of course, about the West Bank. Unfortunately, Iran has plenty of fires to stoke there. Settler violence against West Bank Palestinians has reached all-time highs. So has Israeli police and off-duty police violence against innocent Palestinian civilians. Like what happened to peacemaker, well-respected coexistence advocate, and USAID employee Jacob Toukhy. Or what happened to people like young unarmed autistic Palestinian Eyad al-Hallaq. I could go on and on. As an American, I know a great deal about the type of unrest examples upon examples of police brutality can unleash. As an American, I also know that a full-blown conflict on the West Bank will further chip away at the American support Israel has left. 

True to form, Netanyahu has pooh-poohed these concerns, retorting that “Jews should not pin their hopes for safety on ‘Gentiles who make promises.’” Yet a reasonable Israeli knows better. Yes, Israel currently possesses one of the most sophisticated defense systems known to mankind. However, Israel could not have fended off extensive Iranian attacks without American-directed and American-coordinated help. Iran’s theocratic government controls a large swath of territory both directly and by proxy. Israel, by contrast, is a country roughly the size of New Jersey. Israel must realize that it is in an existential struggle with a nation whose raison d’etre has been to encircle Israel like a boa constrictor. Fighting off such a determined and zealous autocratic foe requires international support. That is why Netanyahu’s attempts to sideline President Biden should both flabbergast and concern every Israeli. President Biden has always had Israel’s interests at heart, from his time in the Senate, to October 7, to this present moment. 

Only President Biden can help deliver lasting security for the Israeli people. Should he lose to Donald Trump come November, America will gradually withdraw completely from foreign affairs. Maybe in the short-term, that will not mean as much for Israel, but in the long-term it will be disastrous. Given enough time, America’s historically ironclad commitment to Israel will not carry half the weight it once did. And when America passes up its place on the world stage, which superpowers does Israel imagine will fill the vacuum? That’s right. The same autocratic nations that are currently in lockstep with the imperialist ambitions of Iran. Like China, which has already hosted talks between the Palestinian Authority’s Fatah Party and Hamas. For now, these talks are mainly symbolic; they may not be so in the future. And if China gets to replace U.S. leadership in the Middle East, Israel will pay the price. China will be more than willing to sacrifice the Israeli people to Iran’s whims. 

The clock is ticking, and time is not on Israel’s side. Which is why, now more than ever, I want to offer an unconventional solution to the Israeli crisis. First, ditch Netanyahu and his record of corruption, incompetence, and insanity. Then, pull the rug out from under Iran. Swiftly and decisively. Recognize the sovereignty of the West Bank as separate from Gaza. Set up a timeline for a gradual withdrawal from the West Bank starting now. Then, secure a hostage deal with Hamas, even if it requires agreeing to a permanent cease-fire in Gaza. On the most basic level, those moves will ensure Israel completes an Israeli-Saudi normalization deal which will keep Iranian expansionism in check. At the end of the day, no such agreement will happen without a concrete and irreversible recognition of Palestinian self-determination. The Saudis have said as much. If Israel wants to accept the Saudi offer, it must either endorse a “three- to five-year ‘pathway’ to establish a Palestinian state in [all] the occupied territories” or a different plan that guarantees “a credible political advance for the Palestinians.” Now, can Israel accomplish any of that without unleashing the horrors of a supposed “Hamastan”? Without appearing to reward or incentivize terrorism? It could. But the path to doing so is recognizing and respecting the West Bank’s claim to autonomy. 

I know what some people may be thinking. Isn’t support for Hamas in the West Bank higher than ever? To the contrary, a good amount of the recent Palestine public opinion data has suggested otherwise. Per polls released a little over a month ago, “[s]upport for Hamas as a political party has fallen to 34% among Palestinians in Gaza and the…West Bank.” As of late March, West Bank support for Hamas specifically has fallen significantly since its peak in December of last year. Similarly, “[s]upport for armed struggle has also plummeted seventeen points since December.” In the West Bank, this has translated to “a fifteen-point drop in support for armed groups to provide local protection.” Given the alarming pace of Israeli settler attacks post-October 7, that last statistic is nothing short of remarkable.

Israel may still have its concerns. The hills of the West Bank have always presented the Israeli people with a dangerous defensive conundrum. Is it better to occupy indefinitely than risk allowing West Bank militants to launch catastrophic attacks on those hills? Certainly not. Right now, “West Bank militants are overwhelmingly young,” and “some of them [are] teenagers, with no allegiance to well-known groups such as Hamas” (emphasis mine). Even if one does not believe the opinion polls per se, the West Bank militant movement is undoubtedly weak and decentralized. If a strong West Bank government with Israeli and U.S backing took control of the situation, those movements are more likely than ever to falter under the pressure. And only a strong West Bank government, perhaps led by an advocate of peaceful coexistence like Marwan Barghouti, will have the moral authority necessary to stamp out West Bank violence without creating more West Bank violence. 

Often we say, “strike while the iron is hot.” But Israel should strike before the iron is hot. Make a bold move of support for moderate Palestinians before it is too late, before the West Bank militant movements coalesce around Hamas or something worse. If Israel delays, the whole region could become completely enveloped in and unified around a centralized Iranian-exported model of terrorism. If, on the other hand, Israel successfully negotiates with the West Bank, it could serve as a dramatic contrast to what Gaza has lost because of Hamas’s authoritarian, oppressive, Jew-hating rule. Let Sinwar come out of his gopher hole and declare victory after that. We will see how much more of him ordinary Gazans can tolerate. 

So, let us put the Palestinian people to the test. In the West Bank and Gaza, they will face two different choices, two very different paths forward. One will lead to poverty and misery, the other to prosperity and peaceful coexistence. Let them choose what path they want to live under. That is how Israel will win the war against Hamas. 

About the Author
David Salzillo Jr. is a recent graduate from Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island, USA.
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