The United Nations General Assembly decision to seek the opinion of the International Court of Justice in The Hague on whether the Israeli occupation is permanent or temporary should not surprise anyone. Israel has been occupying the West Bank for over 55 years, persistently arguing that under international and Israeli law the occupation is temporary, a transitional situation accepted by international law and enshrined in the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The territories, with the exception of eastern Jerusalem, have therefore not been annexed to Israel, not legally and certainly not in terms of international recognition, and that is why the military commander of the region is the sovereign power in the territories rather than the Israeli Knesset.
The current government has embarked on a fundamental clash with international law due to its intent to transform the occupation into a permanent reality de facto, even if not de jure. Despite the claims of Israel’s political Right that a people cannot be an occupier of its own land and without denying the historical connection of the Jewish people to regions of the West Bank and east Jerusalem, this is also undoubtedly the land of the Palestinians living in these territories.
The Palestinians in the West Bank experience violent military occupation, whereas Palestinians living in annexed eastern Jerusalem face discrimination in all aspects of life. In the West Bank, a different law applies to Palestinians and to Israeli settlers living there and in eastern Jerusalem.
Palestinian residents do not enjoy Israeli citizenship and are discriminated against in terms of municipal and social services, and the residency permits they are required to obtain from the government and municipalities. In other words, Palestinians living in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem are subject to different and discriminatory rules compared to their Jewish neighbors.
Israeli governments have nonetheless managed to avoid significant international sanctions over this clearly immoral reality, unparalleled in Western democracies due to its claim that the situation is temporary in nature and that Israel is reaching out to the Palestinians in search of a peaceful solution to the conflict.
These two claims have long since ceased to hold water but nonetheless enjoy US backing and benefit from European inertia. Israel has thus been spared sanctions of the kind imposed on Russia since its 2014 occupation of Crimea, and even more so since its invasion and occupation of parts of eastern Ukraine.
Dr. Micah Goodman’s theory of “shrinking the conflict,” which was adopted by the previous government as an unofficial policy due to its inability to seek accommodation with the Palestinians, is nothing more than self-delusion. Anyone familiar with the situation in the Occupied Territories knows that the conflict cannot be shrunk and cannot be managed.
Occupation or not?
THE QUESTION is essentially dichotomous: Israel is either an occupying power or it is not. Vague definitions and hollow words cannot change this fundamental fact. In practice, the shrinking the conflict policy of the past year has failed to achieve its already limited goals. Israeli presence in the West Bank creates a routine of violence against the Palestinian population through Jewish settler violence intended to take over Palestinian territory and make Palestinian life a misery.
Discriminatory laws that allow Palestinians to be evicted from their homes and lands while their Jewish neighbors live comfortably in homes on land that belongs to Palestinians are intended to thwart any solution that would divide the land between Israelis and Palestinians. Nonetheless, successive Israeli governments, including the so-called government of change (2021-2022), have succeeded in convincing the world that the occupation that began in 1967 is temporary.
The new government, according to its declarations and the wording of the coalition agreements underpinning its formation, is about to expose this prolonged masquerade and thereby eliminate the international protective umbrella that allowed Israel to keep it in place. This government has announced its intention to continue building settlements in the Palestinian territories and even to whitewash the outposts considered illegal under Israeli law due to their location on private Palestinian land.
The new government also intends to significantly weaken the independence of Israel’s judicial system, which has served as a shield against international legal intervention by convincing the West that Israel should be allowed to deal with human rights violations in the Occupied Territories on its own.
Moreover, the new government intends to undermine the status quo on the Temple Mount, a move that would severely undermine the peace agreement with Jordan and damage Israel’s other agreements with Arab countries, not to mention the real danger of widespread violence as a direct result.
It should be noted that contrary to Netanyahu’s claim that the Abraham Accords proved that the Sunni Arab states are not interested in the occupation, all Arab states supported the December 2022 UN resolution seeking the International Criminal Court’s opinion on the Israeli occupation.
The new government’s policy reflects a disregard for international law and the norms underlying it. It is important to understand that most countries in the Western world, of which we claim to be a part, regard international law as the infrastructure for their foreign affairs policy.
Therefore, once it becomes clear that the occupation is not temporary and does not comply with the rules governing transition periods, their policy towards us may change significantly.
Without the US veto power in the Security Council, the Palestinians would have long since been accepted as a UN member. In fact, without the American diplomatic umbrella, most countries would have recognized a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. The two-state solution, which the new government is renouncing, is accepted by almost all countries of the world except Israel, Iran and a number of other non-democratic states.
Israel's protection is eroding
THE LONGSTANDING American diplomatic defense on which we have pinned our hopes for decades is about to be eroded and rightly so. The US administration will no longer be able to justify, either domestically to the majority of Democrats, nor externally to the international community, the protection it provides for Israel’s occupation once Israel’s new government exposes the fraud that enabled its existence.
There are already increasing calls in the Democratic Party to stop providing Israel with financial and diplomatic assistance, given the Israeli government’s contravention of the two countries’ shared values and interests.
Younger American Jews no longer remember Israel as the small and weak country extending a hand of peace to the hostile neighbors threatening its existence, which justified their parents’ mobilization to help the fledgling state at all costs. The younger generation rightly sees Israel as a military power making no move to end the conflict while continuing to expect American military aid.
The ultra-Orthodox right-wing government is causing the great majority of the American Jewish community and the Democratic Party to distance themselves from Israel, undermining not only the automatic defense of Israel but also our ability to serve as the national home of the Jewish people in the Diaspora, in accordance with the Zionist mission.
The vast majority of American Jews and Democratic voters will be unable to adhere for long to a partnership with Israel cemented by shared values and interests when Israel chooses to disengage from these values and turn itself into an ethnocracy based on Jewish supremacy.
Israel’s position at the center of US political consensus has already been severely eroded by Netanyahu’s previous governments. If Israel continues in the direction on which it has embarked, we will soon be left only with the support of Trumpist populists and evangelical Christians who hope for Armageddon and that most of us will be killed and the rest will convert to Christianity with the return of Jesus.
For years there has been talk of a political tsunami. The fact that it failed to materialize no longer means it will not. For those, like myself, who fear the demise of the Zionist dream and its promise as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people, external intervention to halt such deterioration is not bad news.
For all those who, like me, think that the eternal domination of the Palestinians is incompatible with our humane and Jewish values, removing the mask may actually be beneficial by exposing the obvious cost of the occupation and making it clear to all that we cannot be part of the enlightened world as an occupying people. My only hope is that the price we pay will not include bloodshed, and the dangerous weakening of Israeli society and of the magnificent Zionist project established by our grandparents and parents.
The writer is a board member of the Mitvim Institute for Regional Foreign Policies and the director of J Street Israel.