Israel must allow Palestinians complete freedom of movement, which requires removing all roadblocks and checkpoints in the West Bank. In particular, Israel should dismantle the security barrier erected throughout the last decade to defend against Palestinian terror attacks...
– Naftali Bennett, “A New Plan for Peace in Palestine,” The Wall Street Journal, May 20
The proposals from the Israeli right-wing, however inadequate… add a little bit to that hope [of bringing an end to Jewish Israel]… We should watch how this debate develops and engage and encourage it....
– Ali Abunimah, co-founder of the vehemently anti-Zionist “Electronic Intifada,” on Al Jazeera
Full disclosure: I voted for Bennett’s party in the last elections, not because I really believed in the man or his political program, but because I saw them as the “least of all evils” on offer at the January 2013 polls.
Since then, however, I have had occasion for second thoughts and am approaching the conclusion that I may have been mistaken.
Getting it all wrong
My gathering buyer’s remorse was greatly heightened by the op-ed in the Journal, in which he presented an “enhanced” version of his ill-conceived policy proposal, perversely dubbed the “Stability Plan.” In it he recommends doing virtually everything that should be avoided, and avoiding everything that should be done.
What is truly astounding is that anyone could get so much so wrong in such a short article of under 800 words.
As one whose vote contributed to getting Bennett into a senior post in the governing coalition, it is deeply disturbing to see him bandy about such reckless policy prescriptions, totally detached from reality, with such cavalier abandon.
It is difficult to know what is more troubling: Whether Bennett believes the delusional drivel he wrote in his op-ed, or whether he doesn’t but wrote it anyway.
Thus, while I agree with his repudiation of the two-state paradigm, and his rejection of negotiations with Hamas, Bennett’s proposal, if implemented, is likely to be even more disastrous for the Zionist ideal of a historically durable nation-state for the Jewish people in their ancient homeland.
I have pointed out in previous critiques of his plan, it will solve none of the major problems facing Israel today on the Palestinian issue.
Quite the opposite. In all likelihood it will exacerbate many.
At the heart of Bennett’s misguided program is the unilateral annexation of the “portion of the West Bank, known as Area C where 400,000 Israelis and 70,000 Palestinians live… The Palestinians… would be offered full Israeli citizenship.”
(Area C in which Israel maintains authority for both security and civil affairs comprises about 60 percent of Judea-Samaria, while Areas A and B, which include no Jewish communities and where about 90% of the Arab inhabitants live, comprise the remaining 40%.)
Truth be told, even if alternative estimates, which put the Arab population at double Bennett’s figure, are correct, the idea appears, prime facie, highly attractive.
Indeed, the formula seems seductively and superficially simple for Israel: Maximum territory, minimum Arabs.
What could possibly be the problem – especially as any accusations of “racism” could be countered by offering citizenship to a manageable number of Arab inhabitants? But, the very fact that it appears so plausible is perhaps the major reason Bennett’s plan is so hazardous.
For a country’s declaration of sovereignty over a given territory to have significance, it must be able to differentiate it from areas over which it does not exercise such sovereignty.
It must be able to demarcate the frontiers of that territory and secure them against infiltration or attack from without. If it cannot, any formal declaration of sovereignty is substantively meaningless.
Even a cursory glance at any map of Area C and adjacent Areas A and B will quickly dispel the plausibility of the idea of such partial annexation, and reveal how hopelessly impractical it would be for Israel.
For just like Areas A and B, Area C is a crazy-quilted patchwork of enclaves, corridors and access roads, with outer contours well in excess of 1,000 km., making any endeavor to demarcate and secure them unfeasible or prohibitively costly.
The inability to demarcate and secure frontiers has significance far beyond any theoretical/philosophical debate.
For if Israel does not demarcate/secure the boundaries of its sovereign territory, how would it prevent the influx of residents from Areas A and B into it – with all the attendant security and demographic ramifications – totally undermining the neat rationale for annexing Area C? Just how crucial this matter is, is underscored by Bennett’s alarming suggestion that “Israel must allow Palestinians complete freedom of movement, which requires removing all roadblocks and checkpoints in the West Bank.... [and] dismantle[ing] the security barrier erected throughout the last decade to defend against Palestinian terror attacks…”
So in effect, Bennett is advocating forgoing any mechanism to check – even monitor – the influx of the Arab population of Areas A and B, not only into Area C but into pre-1967 Israel.
With a differential in GDP per capita of about 30:1 relative to Areas A and B, and no impediment of movement following the “remov[al of] all roadblocks and checkpoints” and “the dismant[ling of] the security barrier,” one needs little imagination to envisage the outcome: Inevitable pressures on the population in these relatively impoverished areas to move into areas under Israeli sovereignty.
Even if the result was only a large, undocumented and un-enfranchised minority, the resultant socioeconomic impact on the fabric of Israeli society is liable to be dramatic and detrimental.
Almost incredibly, Israel’s economy minister declares that “Annexing Area C would limit conflict by reducing the size of the territory in dispute, which would make it easier to one day reach a long-term peace agreement.”
Of course, the facetious response that immediately springs to mind on encountering such a mindless pronouncement is: “Really? So if we take such an argument to its ‘logical’ conclusion, we should annex all the territory – and then there will be nothing in dispute.”
But of course, not only is it absurd to suggest that unilateral annexation of 60% of the “West Bank” will reduce any element of the conflict, it will raise insurmountable diplomatic obstacles and generate massive (and largely justifiable) international censure.
Israel would be placed in the unenviable – if not impossible – diplomatic predicament of having to explain the status of the remaining Areas A and B in which over 90% of the Palestinian population would reside, on less than 40% of the territory, spread over a myriad of disconnected enclaves.
What would be their long-term political fate? What would be Israel’s message to the world on this matter? It is clearly impossible to forge these scattered blotches of territory into any sustainable/manageable entity, making the accusations of ethnically delineated Bantustans (or rather Arabstans) far more difficult to repudiate.
Moreover, a political cul de sac seems inevitable. After all, who would regulate the lives of those living there, and how? Bennett attempts to contend with this conundrum by resurrecting the failed, unworkable notion of autonomy, stating, “Palestinians living in certain portions of the West Bank (known as Area A and B) should govern themselves.
They should hold their own elections, run their own schools, issue their own building permits and manage their own healthcare system. In short, they should run their own lives. Israel should not interfere in day-today governance.”
Clearly, it is unthinkable that the current Palestinian Authority leadership, or any conceivable alternative with the requisite authority, would accept responsibility for the administration of such an emasculated, fractured entity.
But even if the unthinkable were to come about and such a pliable Palestinian administrative body were to be found, is Bennett really proposing that Israel allow it to conduct totally unhindered elections? What if radical Islamists are elected? How would Israel respond to such an outcome? Or would it preempt its occurrence? And should Israel really refrain from intervention in the running of schools? What if the curricula include Judeophobic – even Judeocidal – incitement? Should Israel have no power to control what is and what isn’t taught? Issue their own building permits? Should Israel not be concerned with, and have the authority to determine, matters such as sewage disposal, the prevention of contamination – intentional or otherwise – of shared ground water resources, the disposal of domestic, industrial and agricultural waste that would impact life both in Area C and within the pre-1967 lines? Manage their own healthcare system? What about the issue of control of infectious diseases? Vaccinations? Rabies inoculation of domestic pets? Should none of these be of concern to Israel, blithely left to the Palestinian authorities – whoever they may be – to deal with?
Shades of a ‘New Middle East’
Several of the elements in Bennett’s so-called “Stablity Plan” are eerily reminiscent of, and equally risible as, Shimon Peres’s discredited vision of “A New Middle East.”
Although of far more modest dimensions, Bennett’s scheme is no less far-fetched, when he suggests extending the notion of Israel as the “Start-up Nation” to include the envisaged Palestinian-administered areas in a “Startup Region.”
Seemingly oblivious that (a) the Palestinian Authority is already arguably the world’s highest per capita recipient of foreign aid; (b) with his prescription that “Palestinians… should govern themselves. Israel should not interfere in day-to-day governance,” he blithely goes on to suggest that Israel achieve this goal by: (i) providing the Palestinians with more money and (ii) intervening in the running of their economy. Thus he states: “One idea is to encourage multinational corporations to invest in Palestinian areas by offering economic incentives such as insurance guarantees and tax breaks.”
This of course begs the questions of why, with all the political support and financial aid the Palestinians have already received, multinational corporations have refrained from investing in the those areas, why the Palestinians themselves have not offered such economic incentives and why establishing a fragmented, disconnected entity, embedded in a sovereign Israel, will induce such outcomes.
There is, however, a far more disturbing defect in Bennett’s ill-conceived initiative.
Endorsing the ‘root-cause-of-terror’ canard
Perhaps the gravest aspect is that he endorses (albeit implicitly) the detrimental canard of many of Israel’s most vehement critics and some of the most ardent apologists for Palestinian acts of terror: i.e. that terrorism is the result of economic deprivation, and enhancing economic conditions will reduce terror and improve security.
Thus he suggests that, after dismantling the security barrier, “Israel can stay reasonably secure. This will prove especially true if the Israeli government works with the international community to promote Palestinian economic development in Areas A and B.”
You have to read to believe.
I could go on to analyze virtually every sentence in Bennett’s unfortunate article and discuss the minutiae of the detrimental defects inherent in every one – but I must move onto the more general principle reflected in his ill-advised policy proposal.
Bennett’s poorly thought-through idea is merely another in the recent spate of distressingly myopic “alternatives” from “right-wing” pundits for the almost defunct two-state paradigm. One can almost hear the myriad of Judeophobes of the ilk of Ali Abunimah (see introductory excerpt) rubbing their hands in glee.
Political truth not political correctness
To arrive at a viable alternative to the two-state paradigm, Israel must abandon political correctness and embrace political truth. Its leaders must enlist the intellectual depth and ideological courage to drop the pretense that the Palestinians could, at some future time, become either potential peace partners, or potentially loyal Israeli residents – and relate to them as they really are: Implacable enemies.
Neither Israel, nor its economy minister, has any moral or democratic obligation to support or promote the enemy’s economy.
To the contrary, it could be argued, on entirely ethically grounds, that they has a duty to let it collapse, and to contend with accusations of precipitating a “humanitarian crisis” by providing individual Palestinians generous relocation grants to extricate themselves from the consequences of such collapse, inflicted on them by the incompetence of cruel, corrupt cliques who have led them astray for decades.
This to me seems the only truly viable and durable Zionist alternative to the two-state disaster.
Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.net) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.