What does Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu want to do with the West Bank that Israel has occupied since 1967? He pays disingenuous lip service to the internationally-approved goal of a Palestinian state. But all his actions on the ground indicate that he has no intention whatsoever of moving ahead with the so-called two-state solution to cure the open sore of Palestinian/Israeli relations.
For those who don’t recall the pre-1967 situation, the west bank and about half of Jerusalem was controlled by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan until the six-day war in June 1967 when Israel wound up occupying the West Bank and all of Jerusalem. The West Bank, with its 2.6 million Palestinian Arabs, remains under firm Israel control. There is a nominal Palestinian Authority government, but it can take few actions without Israeli permission.
The Palestinian Authority cannot even defend its land from the pervasive encroachment by Israeli settlements. There are now more than 300,000 Israeli ‘settlers’ in the West Bank fanatic in their belief that what they call Judea and Samara are an integral part of Israeli heritage. Just read the polemic that Dani Dayan, a leader of the extremist settlement movement wrote in the New York Times last summer. He insists that the settlers are fully justified in pushing the Palestinians into an ever smaller enclave because Israel won the land in battle. He ignores completely the disastrous economic, political and social implications for Israel of such a move.
Sadly, Netanyahu is also a believer in the settlements. With an election due early next year he feels he cannot afford to appear soft on the settlement issue. He justified the latest move to completely encircle Jerusalem with Jewish settlements as a pay-back to the Palestinians for having the nerve to assert themselves in the United Nations. He is also threatening to cut off any financing for the Palestinian Authority.
It is fair to ask at this point just what his ultimate goal for the West Bank really is. The options are not infinite. He either thinks like Dani Dayan and wants the West Bank incorporated into Israel proper or he agrees to the much debated two-state solution. The only other possible alternative is to muddle along constantly creating new facts on the ground with additional settlements until there is nothing left of Palestine as such. The only problem with that are the 2.6 million Arabs currently living in the West Bank. What precisely does he envisage for them? Absorbing them into Greater Israel could, in the not-too-distant future, spell the end of a democratic Jewish state. Together with 1.6 million Arabs already living in Israel the total Arab population of Greater Israel would be 4.2 million – not far behind the 5.9 million Jewish population.
|The West Bank|
Given the higher birth rate among the West Bank Arabs they could easily outnumber the Jewish population in a few years, especially if you include the Palestinians in Gaza. Will Israel curtail the democratic rights of its non-Jewish citizens? Will it treat them as second-class citizens condemned to live in what amounts to Arab ghettos with limited voice in government? Will the extreme settlers get their wish and have the Arabs expelled from the West Bank? To where, exactly? Given their own horrible experiences of discrimination in Europe before and during the Holocaust one would think the Jewish population of Israel would be particularly sensitive to these issues.
Netanyahu often relies on the old excuse of protecting Israel’s security. This wears thin on a number of points. One, the West Bank Palestinians have not threatened Israel’s existence. Yes, the intifada was a strong protest. But in itself it was no real military challenge to Israel. Two, the West Bank is not Gaza. The relatively mild Palestinian Authority should never be confused with hard-line Hamas that controls Gaza. The quickest way to spread the influence of Hamas into the West Bank is for Israel to continue with its current policies. Three, Israel faces no, repeat, no serious military threat from any of its immediate neighbours. Israel is by far the strongest military presence in the region. It faces the threat of rocket attacks from Hizbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in Gaza, but these are no real challenge to the weight of Israel’s military machine.
|Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu|
Netanyahu refuses to accept that his reluctance to deal constructively, or even honestly, with the Palestinians is a major roadblock to regional peace. But does he really believe any Arab government can afford to engage closely with Israel while the Palestinian issue festers? He can’t be that tone deaf. The only possible external influence on Netanyahu is the United States. Relations between him and President Obama are frosty at best after his ill-disguised desire to defeat the president in the recent election. President Obama owes Netanyahu no favors, and it would be encouraging to see a timely, sharpish, reminder that a long-overdue equitable solution to the Palestinian issue is in everyone’s interest – even Israel’s.