Friday, 6 July 2012

Should Israel Annex the West Bank?

In politics, the so-called unimaginable can always be imagined; the unthinkable can always be thought.

Next Thursday, 12 July, perhaps as a riposte to the One-State Conference held at the Harvard Kennedy School in May 2012, a conference concerned with applying Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria (aka the West Bank) is due to take place in Israel. An impressive list of right-wing Israeli speakers, including several Knesset members, has been lined up to discuss the issue from a wide range of angles. The location selected is, somewhat provocatively perhaps, the Machpela Visitors Centre in Hebron.

The Harvard event envisaged the State of Israel being submerged into a new sovereign entity including the West Bank and Gaza, with equal rights for all its citizens. Right-wing voices within Israel − and some elsewhere as well − are becoming increasingly bold in proposing a quite different one-state solution to the perennial Israel-Palestine dispute. They are, quite simply, advocating the annexation by Israel of the whole of the West Bank, ignoring or discounting or downgrading the likely effects of such action.

Speakers at next Thursday’s conference are due, among other matters, to advocate no further concessions by Israel in pursuit of Palestinian involvement in a renewed peace process, to assert Israel’s ancient and biblically-based claim on Judea and Samaria, to set out a programme for extending Israel’s sovereignty over those areas, to explain the legal aspects of such action, to assess the balance of profit and loss of doing so, and to propose ways of winning over public opinion to support such a policy.

Advocates of such political action have in common so blinkered a world view that they see before them only their desired objective, and cannot – or choose not to − appreciate the disastrous consequences of what they are proposing.

Not that their ultimate purpose is necessarily unworthy. Most advocates of this version of the one-state solution are concerned very largely with Israel’s security – indeed, in some respects, its very survival. They point to Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, and Hezbollah’s subsequent launching of Katyusha rockets into northern Israeli towns, together with their continued attacks on Israeli troops positioned beyond the agreed boundary. They see that the result of Israel withdrawing totally from the Gaza Strip in 2005 − undertaken in the expectation of a democratic Palestinian government taking over − was almost immediately undermined by a bloody fratricidal coup organised by Hamas against the Fatah-led Palestinian administration. The result: a veritable torrent of rockets from Gaza rained down indiscriminately on Israeli citizens, until Israel undertook its military incursion into Gaza in 2009.

They see that the founding documents of virtually every Palestinian political organisation includes the aspiration of eliminating Israel altogether from the Middle East. And they fear that the establishment of a sovereign Palestine on the West Bank could result in a new Gaza – a terrorist take-over, and this time within easy striking distance of major Israeli towns and cities, including Tel Aviv.

All of which may partly explain what they propose and why they propose it, but certainly cannot condone the politically disastrous effects.

World opinion in general could surely never accede to, or endorse, a land-grab of this sort by Israel, nor the flagrant violation of the Oslo Accords − officially signed on behalf of Israel by Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres − that it would represent. Israel would have de-legitimised herself, would be roundly condemned by friend and foe alike, and would have laid herself open to punitive economic, commercial and financial sanctions, if nothing worse.

It is no secret that an ideal Middle East, from the Muslim point of view, would contain no Jewish state. Many Arab politicians cling to this aspiration to retain their appeal to the hotter-heads among their followers. Polls of Palestinian opinion, however, reveal a quite different picture. The majority of Palestinians now accept that Israel is here to stay, and yearn for a happy, peaceful, reasonably prosperous life for themselves and their families. In a recent poll conducted in the West Bank and Gaza, only 13.5 per cent of those questioned thought that “violent action” was the best way to end the occupation and establish a Palestinian State. No less than 84.4 per cent of those questioned thought that when their children were their own age there would “definitely”, “possibly” or “likely” be peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The effect on the Arab world in general, and Palestinian opinion in particular, of removing forever the hope of an eventual sovereign Palestine, would be a recipe for a “1984” scenario of constant, unending conflict in the region, with no hope of resolution. This is certainly not the future that most Israelis or Palestinians want.

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