Many people on the Israeli and American Jewish Left (such as the young and naive American Jews in the relatively new movement known as If Not Now) live by the slogan “End the Occupation”. The occupation refers to the military control of the Palestinian population of the West Bank and East Jerusalem since the end of the Six Day War in June 1967, fifty two years ago. People seem to think that by repeating this mantra several times a day, it will lead to peace and harmony among Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs in our region. Unfortunately, nothing could be farther from the truth. Let me explain why.
Let me say at the outset of this post that I am against this brutal military occupation of another people for religious, moral, political, diplomatic and strategic reasons. And I want it to end since it is anti-human, anti-Jewish, and counterproductive for the future of Israeli-Palestinian coexistence in this troubled region. But it should not happen unilaterally.
The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, which has been going on for a long time now (more than 100 years, since the rise of Jewish Nationalism (Zionism ), and Palestinian Nationalism) will not end by any one-sided measures. The unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip of all the Israeli soldiers and civilians who were there in the summer of 2005 is probably the most recent proof of this. This withdrawal did not lead to peace. Instead, it has led to the take-over of Gaza by militant fundamentalist rejectionist Islamic groups, especially Hamas, several wars, ongoing violence and counter violence and the threat of imminent war at any moment. This one-sided move —as opposed to a negotiated agreement— was a historic, political and diplomatic failure from the point of view of a serious attempt to reach an accord that could have led to living in a peaceful relationship with our neighbors.
Does anyone seriously think that ending the occupation without an iron-clad agreement between Israelis and Palestinians to end the conflict will produce anything other than more bloodshed and security challenges, both to Israeli Arab Palestinians who live as citizens alongside Jewish citizens of Israel, and to Palestinians and Israeli Jews who live in the West Bank (what some call Judea and Samaria), whose security would be threatened by Islamic militants. These radicals would gladly keep the conflict going, due to their extremist religious theology, and would do everything in their power to take over the West Bank as they have done in Gaza, if not prevented from doing so by Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation.Rather than ending the conflict, we would most likely continue to experience more and more violence and counter-violence.
What then should be done?
What is needed is a peace agreement that will end the conflict, to be negotiated between responsible leaders on the Israeli and Palestinian sides, with the help of serious and sensitive international mediation. The end of the occupation will of course be part of this mutually agreed upon accord, as well the end of terror or “armed resistance”. Any treaty which will be signed must be mutual, for the benefit of both peoples — the Jewish People in Israel and the Palestinian People — in order for it to be sustained.
The problem is that we do not have the leaders currently in place who are ready and willing to do this. Instead, both current leaderships, Palestinian and Israeli, only know the blame game, and have become quite adept at blaming the other side for the absence of any progress in the peace process for the past 19 years, since the failure of the Second Camp David Summit between Israelis and Palestinians in summer 2000. The current leaders, Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, have both proven themselves completely incompetent and unwilling to move forward towards a peace agreement in any meaningful fashion. Talking about the need for a peace process — with all kinds of non-starter non-negotiable conditions — has been their method of madness, and it has led to a complete freeze in peace negotiations.
They are, of course, aided and abetted by the most incompetent, outrageous and anti-peace president in the history of the USA, whose promise of “the deal of the century” is a complete bluff and a lot of hot air, leading nowhere. He has helped the two intransigent leaders bury the peace process in the most blatant and destructive manner possible, with ignorance and ignominy, unparalleled in the history of modern diplomacy. In so doing, he has totally destroyed the reputation of the United States as an honest broker in this process, to the delight of the rejectionists in Israel and the evangelical Christians in America.
It seems, therefore, that we must somehow outlast this current group of “leaders”.
What will be needed in the future?
Three main elements will be needed, all pointing towards the same goal — the creation of a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine, similar to the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, which have become major foundations of stability in the region.
First, the American people must elect a president who is sincerely committed to promoting a fair peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians, not a president who only supports one of the partners, as has unfortunately been the case during the disastrous Trump administration since 2017 until today. In the past, only American presidents (Carter and Clinton) have been able to broker deals between Israelis and Palestinians and this will probably be the case in the future as well.
Second, the Israeli people must elect a government which places a high priority on making peace with the Palestinians as a matter of self-interest and as a matter of what is morally the right thing to do. This has not been the case during the ten reactionary years of the right-wing reign of Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister (which hopefully will be over soon!). We can only hope that a sensible leader will arise who will understand the existential imperative of making peace with our neighbors.
Third, the Palestinians will need to elect a strong leader who is similarly committed to reaching an agreement, for the benefit of his or her people as well. The current President of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, was elected for 4 years and has remained in power 11 years, and has ceased to become a genuine partner for peace for many years already.
A new generation must arise, which is more practical, more future-oriented and less mired in the past, for the genuine benefit of the Palestinian people and the people of Israel.
In other words, only new political leaders will bring about real peace accords, rather than any unilateral actions, and instead of simply talking about peace or merely blaming the other side, both in Israel and in Palestine. The sooner the better.