What can and should Israel do about the West Bank? The wave of lone-wolf kitchen- knife terrorism that began last October may be abating somewhat, but debate over the West Bank has heated up again.
Two opposing proposals are on the table.
One calls for increased Israeli presence and control (annexation), supported by the political right. Another calls for unilateral Israeli withdrawal (separation), especially from east Jerusalem, supported by the political Left.
Close examination reveals that neither plan is viable. Neither Left nor Right lives in the real world.
Before explaining why, I want to set the stage. Most Israelis alive today were born after the Six Day War in 1967 and do not recall a time when Israel did not control the West Bank. Here are some basic facts and history that are unfamiliar to many.
The West Bank comprises some 5,640 square kilometers (2,177 square miles), or roughly one-quarter the area of pre-1967 Israel, and, according to the CIA’s “World Factbook,” has a population of about three million Palestinians and 371,000 Israeli settlers. However, experts tell me there are more likely between 2.5 and 2.7 million Palestinians, and around 320,000 settlers (based on adding up the population of individual settlements). East Jerusalem has about 200,000 Palestinians.
What is now known as the West Bank was part of the Ottoman Empire for 400 years, from 1517 until the empire dissolved in 1917 and the League of Nations gave Britain a mandate over what is now Israel and the West Bank.
The 1947 United Nations partition plan proposed creating from British mandate territory, a Palestinian state, part of which was the West Bank, and a Jewish state. The neighboring Arab states rejected this plan, leading to Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948 and the resulting war. The 1949 Armistice Agreement that ended the war defined Israel’s borders with Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt – what are now known as the pre-1967 borders.
Jordan occupied the West Bank in 1948 and, in 1950, annexed and ruled it, until 1967. This annexation by Jordan was recognized by Britain and Pakistan, but not by the international community.
The Foreign Ministry claims that since the status of the West Bank was not defined in 1967, Israel is not subject to the international law of occupation, which specifies rules for administering land captured from an “established and recognized sovereign country.” The International Court of Justice at The Hague has rejected this claim, and international law continues to regard Israel as an occupying power with all the obligations this entails.
In 1988, Jordan cut its administrative and legal ties with the West Bank and stripped West Bank residents of Jordanian citizenship.
Actually, Jordan ceased representing West Bank Palestinians as early as 1985, in the wake of an agreement between Jordan’s King Hussein and PLO chief Yasser Arafat.
In 1993, the Oslo Accords signed by Israel and the Palestinians created the Palestinian Authority. Under this peace agreement, the PA fully controls and runs Area A, about 11 percent of the West Bank land, jointly runs Area B with Israel, comprising 28 percent of the West Bank, and ceded full control of Area C to Israel, about 61 percent of the West Bank.
The West Bank economy generates per capita GDP of some $4,000, measured at exchange rates that reflect true purchasing power. This is about one-tenth the level in Israel.
The PA’s budget deficit in proportion to GDP, 16 percent, is among the highest in the world. This means the PA, which has an annual deficit of more than $1 billion, is crucially dependent on aid and gifts from other countries to pay its bills.
This is why the PA is continually on the brink of collapse. A decline in the flow of aid means the PA becomes unable to pay the salaries of legions of its workers. This weakness is, in fact, its main strength ‒ the PA’s constant refrain is “send us money or we will disintegrate, and the picture will not be pretty.”
The debate over what to do with the West Bank and the Israeli settlements there has generated enormous heat but very little light. To better understand the issues, I spoke with an old friend, Colonel (Res.) Moshe Elad of the Galilee Institute’s Center of Middle East Studies.
Elad’s PhD dissertation was on the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, and has just been published as a book, “If You Wish It, It Is the West Bank” (a play on Theodor Herzl’s phrase “im tirzu, ain zo agada” ‒ if you will it, it is no dream). Elad served in the IDF for nearly three decades, mostly in the West Bank and Lebanon, and continues to serve in the reserves.
As coordinator with the PA, he played a key role in implementing the 1993 Israeli- Palestinian peace accord. He launched Israeli-Palestinian joint patrols in Hebron, Ramallah, Nablus and other West Bank districts, and during the first intifada, served as military governor of the Bethlehem and Jenin districts. His Arabic is fluent. He came to understand the West Bank the hard way, through the soles of his feet.
The Jerusalem Report:
Some think that in order to diminish the wave of terrorist attacks, it is necessary to annex parts of the West Bank.Elad
: “Israel taking over the administration of the whole West Bank from the PA? Nobody should even consider it! Even in their worst dreams! We Israelis are not made to rule over other people. We have difficulty doing so. And, most important, 2016 is not 1967. Just running one single rebellious Arab city, by an Israeli military officer, would take massive force. It just isn’t worth it!” The Report
: There is a proposal by the Movement for Saving Jewish Jerusalem, now embraced by Zionist Camp leader Isaac Herzog, to exclude 200,000 East Jerusalem Palestinians, and some 20 Palestinian villages, from Jerusalem’s official borders for political, demographic, economic and social reasons. Unilateral separation – this is being pushed by, for instance, a senior former police official Arie Ami, and former Labor leader Haim Ramon. What are your views? Elad:
“Both Palestinians and Israelis have to agree to this. And the Palestinians will not. Even if we have separation from 20 villages and 200,000 Palestinians, international law will continue to regard Israel as responsible for their well-being. The Gaza separation exploded in the face of those who sought an instant solution.
“Because Israel controls land, sea and air crossings into Gaza, it continues to be responsible for medical needs and the supply of food. If a humanitarian disaster occurs, Israel is responsible under international law ‒ so we will always pray no humanitarian disaster occurs in these territories, because if it does, we will be held responsible.”
“This Movement [for a Jewish Jerusalem] totally ignores the employment perspective.
If no substitute is found [for East Jerusalem Palestinians working in West Jerusalem and the rest of Israel], this is irresponsible, even a recipe for employment collapse. Separation is like a curfew. Imposing closure on most of East Jerusalem residents will hurt West Jerusalem even more than East Jerusalem.
Do Ramon and Amit have a solution to replace the Palestinian workers who do tasks Israelis will not or cannot do? “Separation in a time of lone-wolf terrorism, most of which comes from villages proposed for this separation idea, terrorism not put down by the IDF, is an admission of failure. It is liable to encourage more such terrorist incidents.”
“The chance of implementing a unilateral Israeli plan, in the current hostile climate, in a security reality that is unsolvable, is difficult or impossible. The time has long passed for a deluxe separation from the Palestinians.
Unilateral separation, like unilateral annexation of territory that is not done through bilateral negotiations, is doomed to failure.”The Report
: How exactly did Israel come to annex East Jerusalem, with its Palestinian residents, in the first place? Elad:
“Any political agreement must be grounded in historical truth. Arie Amit has said that ‘in 1967, an arrogant taskforce drunk with power found reasons to annex these [Arab] villages to the city of Jerusalem.’ This is a terrible distortion of the facts.
“The decision to annex East Jerusalem, including 28 villages and, at the time, 70,000 inhabitants, was taken by a Cabinet meeting held on June 27, 1967 and passed by a large majority. Prime minister Levi Eshkol and defense minister Moshe Dayan instructed General Rehavam Zeevi to draw up a map of the area chosen for annexation.
The addition of another 71,000 dunams to the Zeevi proposal was meant to accommodate mayor Teddy Kollek, who wanted the Atarot Airport to be included in the north.
And, on the other hand, in order to placate the Religious Zionist party, the southern area including Rachel’s Tomb was added.”The Report
: Many parts of the 1993 Oslo Accord peace agreement have not been implemented, by both sides. For instance, under Article I of the Oslo II Accord, Israeli troops would withdraw from populated Palestinian areas, enabling elections and the establishment of a Palestinian Council to administer them. Some 23 years later, this still has not happened. Is there any possibility to renew the accord? Elad
: “There are two difficult obstacles to overcome before the Oslo peace agreement can be renewed. On the Israeli side: Enable more, freer movement and employment for Palestinians. On the Palestinian side, stop living on handouts and seek more economic independence. Today, the PA is ‘donation addicted’ and has no incentive to create jobs. The PA is a potential failed state.”The Report:
Is there still a hope, even a faint hope, of reviving the two-state solution? Elad:
“We are at the 12th hour. In a very short while, the two-state solution will no longer be possible. We must reach a deal where each side will give up something.
Both sides, Israelis and Palestinians, know this. But each, like tough gunslingers, wants the other side to shoot first.”
As I listen to Elad, it seemed to me that in the current climate of mutual distrust and suspicion, there is only one way forward ‒ Israel should initiate some trust-building measures, small ones, in the realm of jobs and income generation. And the Palestinians must drastically change their we-arevictims- give-us-money mindset.
Psychologist Martin Seligman wrote widely about what he called “learned helplessness” – a state of mind in which people come to believe they are helpless, victims of external forces beyond their control. This seems to be the source of Palestinian desperation, and perhaps even terrorism.
But later, Seligman invented positive psychology, a mindset in which people take creative action to better themselves, with courage and perseverance. Can our Palestinian neighbors abandon learned helplessness, blaming everything (including mosquitos and bad weather) on the “occupation,” and embrace positive psychology – “we are responsible for our fate.”
And can we Israelis help them do this by finding ways to create jobs, income and wealth in the West Bank economy, and in East Jerusalem, and by boosting the number of West Bank workers authorized to work in Israel? Can our occupation be enlightened and pragmatic? Separation is a dangerous pipe dream. So is annexation. Instead? Collaboration, through the European Union model of “let’s do business together and find a win-win solution.”
True, this, too, sounds like a pipe dream in the current atmosphere of hatred and fear.
Palestinians are not present-day French or Germans (who were at each other’s throats for more than 100 years). However, on the Palestinian side, reality has begun to dawn.
Kobi Michael reports that most Palestinians “maintain that the current wave of terror that erupted last October has been counterproductive for the Palestinian side.” (see The Report,
Will reality begin to dawn on the Israeli side, as well? The writer is senior research fellow at the S. Neaman Institute, Technion and blogs at www.timnovate.wordpress.com