(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi )
Israelis will head to the voting booths on February 10, and polls indicate that Likud will have a strong showing. Such a scenario will see Binyamin Netanyahu ushered back into the position of prime minister. Immediately, the issue of the West Bank settlements will come to the forefront as he deals with the Obama administration's special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell.
Netanyahu keeps a rather ambivalent position with regard to West Bank settlements - one that can appeal to elements of the Likud base, but not one that frightens centrists. He will neither promote new settlements nor pull back current ones. Instead, he intends to allow "natural growth" for the settlements, although what that means in actual numbers remains unclear. The Palestinian negotiating team will undoubtedly bring the issue of settlement growth, and the security elements around the settlements, to the attention of Mitchell.
Have no fear, however, for Netanyahu has the answer. "Economic peace" he tells us - the Palestinians will ignore the massive security apparatus that the settlements require in exchange for a few extra shekels. One wonders how the Palestinians can build a functional, autonomous economy amid the maelstrom of bypass roads, settlements and checkpoints. Disconnected from other Palestinian localities, the Palestinians will find work where they can - building housing and infrastructure for the "naturally growing" settlements.
With Palestinians increasingly reliant on settlements for their livelihood, they may prosper, but they will become incapable of developing their own economy - an ingredient necessary for statehood.
Netanyahu has no plan in the foreseeable future for confronting any of the settlers, and his economic peace plan will give him an excuse to not do so. As a result, a dire state of affairs will ensue. Israeli control of the West Bank will deepen, the Palestinian population will grow and apartheid will loom ever closer.
MOSHE DAYAN had a similar notion shortly after the Six Day War. As the cabinet and he debated what to do with the newly conquered West Bank, Dayan offered his own economic peace plan. Israel would integrate the territories economically, Palestinians would work in Israel and the material benefits for the Palestinians would make them grateful and happy. As evidence, he cited the colonial efforts of the Germans in Togo before World War I; the people of Togo, he added, became appreciative for the orchards and culture the Germans left behind.
Dayan's ideas were adopted and the standard of living for the Palestinians rose. What Dayan did not foresee was a revolution of rising expectations. When the material and educational standards of a population rise, the people come to expect greater civil rights and privileges. The first intifada became the Palestinian revolution of rising expectations.
Dayan's scheme harkened back to some of the most troubling aspects of 19th-century colonialism. The British in India believed they were lifting the people out of barbarism and abject poverty, and for that reason the British colonial administrators employed the Indians as servants and laborers. The Indians, in their view, lacked any political and ideological positions of their own; the servants of the British Raj bureaucrats were at best part of the Oriental scenery.
Netanyahu would like to continue this shameful legacy. To quote the Book of Joshua, he will retain the Palestinians as "the hewers of wood and the drawers of water." Palestinians will leave home each morning to work amid the splendor of the settlers' red-tile-roofed houses, and return each night to the squalor of their refugee camps - for this, they will be grateful. Netanyahu would have Palestinians pave settlement roads and build settlement schools, but otherwise remain part of the Oriental landscape.
IN THE BOOK OF JOSHUA, Joshua made the people of the city of Gibeon the hewers of wood and the drawers of water for the Israelites after Gibeon's conquest. Where Gibeon once stood, now stands the Palestinian village of al-Jib to the northwest of Jerusalem. The settlements of Givat Ze'ev, Givon Hadasha, and Givon now surround it, obstructing the village's access to Palestinian villages located northwest of Jerusalem and villages located on the other eastern side of the settlements.
In such a situation, the people of al-Jib cannot build an economy. The people of al-Jib, like all Palestinians, will remain ever reliant upon Israel for their livelihood. Netanyahu thinks he has the best interests of Palestinians at heart with his plans to resuscitate Dayan's economic peace plan. While the plan might accrue material benefits for the Palestinians, it will keep them as a permanent underclass of menial laborers.
To build a state, the Palestinians must have a sustainable and indigenous economy. Netanyahu's economic peace plan, combined with natural growth for the settlements, will prevent that from happening. His proposal comes across as less of a genuine concern for the Palestinians, and more as a patronizing "white man's burden." His economic peace plan could cause a blowback like the first intifada. Even if a revolution does not come, the plan will further entwine the economies of Palestinians and Israelis, making nearly impossible the prospect of a two-state solution. Without the creation of a Palestinian state, in the future, the Palestinians will continue to serve as the hewers of wood and the drawers of water, but in the apartheid state of Israel.
The writer is pursuing a master's degree in Middle East studies at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.