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There's nothing static about the West Bank 'status quo'

Israel is already carrying out Bennett’s annexation plan, only without the formal annexation part. The West Bank is a very different place than it was 10 years ago. It will be even more different five or 10 years from now.

The indispensable Amira Hass reported this morning about an Israeli plan to push thousands of Palestinian-Bedouin into a new town it plans to build in the Jordan Valley. The Jordan Valley is one of three areas in which Israel is trying to relocate Bedouin into designated areas or towns; the others are south of Hebron and east of Jerusalem.

Netanyahu’s government treats all “state land” in the West Bank as if it already belongs to Israel, as opposed to land under dispute. For Israel it’s actually better than annexed land: projects that would take an arduously long time to plan and execute under the civilian planning system in Israel proper can materialize in a matter of months under the IDF military regime in the West Bank.

The government has also been transferring Palestinian municipal — and even private — land into its own possession and control. Despite commitments to several American administrations not to build new settlements, the Israeli government has been legalizing outposts for several years now. It even started construction on the first “official” new settlement since the Oslo accords. Most recently, the government appropriated 1,000 acres near Bethlehem for a new settlement. Altogether, 2013 was a record-setting year in settlement construction.

There will be no Palestinian state in the foreseeable future. Israel will not allow it, and the political circumstances that would otherwise force it to reconsider its position simply don’t exist. Instead, Israel is maintaining the status quo of occupation in the Palestinian territories. But the term is misleading. There is nothing static about the status quo. Israel constantly strengthens its control over the West Bank — and while doing so, it creates a new reality on the ground.

A Palestinian Bedouin family after their Jordan Valley home was demolished by Israeli army forces. (File photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian Bedouin family after their Jordan Valley home was demolished by Israeli army forces. (File photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

The effort in the Jordan Valley is especially telling. Netanyahu’s government made the Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley a key demand in its negotiations with Secretary of State Kerry earlier this year. In fact, it was one of the key hurdles that prevented the American administration from presenting a framework for a final status agreement.

Since the Gaza war and the shift of international attention to radical Islamic militias in Syria and Iraq, Israel’s desire to hold onto the Jordan Valley has only grown. The effort to create a contiguous Jewish population in the area and to clear the land of Palestinians can only be understood as part of a long-term project that would isolate the rest of the West Bank from Jordan and as consequence – from the rest of the world.

The logic in the government’s other measures isn’t hard to find, either. Its land appropriation near Bethlehem and measures against Palestinian rural communities are aimed at pushing the Palestinian population into several disconnected urban areas, while maintaining a contiguous Israeli presence around and across the West Bank.

Settler leader Naftali Bennett long ago proposed that Israel annex Area C – roughly 60 percent of the West Bank that is under full Israeli administrative and military control – giving full civil rights to the roughly 100,000 Palestinians living there. The other millions would live under some form of “enhanced autonomy” in the remaining 40 percent of the land, which would be so fragmented and non-contiguous that it looks like an archipelago.

I don’t think Israel will annex Area C. The international fallout would be too great. More importantly, forced relocation, advancing zoning plans and creating new settlements is actually much easier when the land is under military sovereignty — especially in comparison to the bureaucratic difficulties of civil control west of the Green Line, not to mention the greater degree of transparency.

Israel is already carrying out Bennett’s plan, only without the formal annexation part. The West Bank is a very different place than it was 10 years ago. It will be even more different five or 10 years from now.

In the past 20 years or so the international community’s strategy toward the occupation was to try and slow down Israeli measures in the hope that the establishment of a Palestinian state would actually reverse them. This school of thought has failed miserably.

Israel’s ability to find — and use — creative legal and political tools that allow it to pursue its territorial ambitions is constantly improving; efforts to contain those ambitions, meanwhile, have completely disintegrated. Every few years, Israel demands that new “facts on the ground” be recognized as a starting point for any negotiation; the international community then has no option but to discuss these demands, and at times, even accept them as the new norm.

It is now clear that the current road will not lead to the creation of a viable Palestinian state. A new approach is required if the Palestinian population is ever going to gain its rights, freedoms and at least some of its assets.

Related:
Replacing the peace process with a civil rights struggle
Jordan Valley fence would finalize the West Bank’s complete enclosure
PHOTOS: A week in a demolished Jordan Valley village
How Israel uses the pretext of peace talks to build more settlements

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    COMMENTS

    1. bor

      Wow, not a single word about the Palestinians as agents here.

      Apparently, they’re just little babies who have no agency and need leftists to speak on their behalf, describing them as victims and the Israelis as perpetrators of whatever the latest accusation might be.

      Noam, you have to address Gaza. What happened there is very likely to happen in Judea and Samaria if Israel leaves. What is your solution?

      Noam, you mentioned the Jordan Valley and Israel’s demand that it continue to control this land for security reasons. Do you have a reasonable alternative? Haven’t all the previous arguments of those claiming that Israel didn’t need this land been quashed by the expansion of ISIS?

      Noam, what about the peace offers? They included 100% of Gaza and 95% of Judea and Samaria (and the 20% of “settlers” would have had to evacuate) plus eastern parts of Jerusalem and control of Arab holy sites. Where are the Palestinians who refuses these deals in your description?

      What about Hamas’s attempt to take over the PA recently? How do you deal with the fallout from that? After all, they don’t talk to Israel, they murder opponents in broad daylight (to silence from Palestinian supporters such as 972mag), they want Israel destroyed, they are not shy about living off their people and sacrificing them for the movement’s benefit, they attack civilians randomly, and Judea and Samaria presents a much more serious strategic threat to Israel than Gaza. What about Hamas?

      It seems as if despite your attempt to analyze with some basis in reality, you actually seek to avoid the real hard problems. To overcome this, stop treating the Palestinians as if they are just entities there to be sympathized and start addressing their real choices and desires. Once you begin to do that, like dominoes, your other suppositions and prescriptions will fall apart.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Danny

      There is no future for Israel if it does not end the occupation. Ariel Sharon understood that. Ehud Olmert understood it as well. Even Yuval Diskin and Meir Dagan understand that.

      Netanyahu doesn’t seem to understand that. He is perhaps the most unpragmatic prime minister Israel has ever had, and he seems to be unable to learn new things and form new opinions. He is as unbending as an old oak tree; the only trouble is that a storm is brewing and the winds are picking up.

      Netanyahu has to go. It has become crystal clear that Israel needs a pragmatic man or woman who will have the courage to end the occupation in exchange for a lasting agreement with the Palestinians. Even a right-wing personality, one who has shown flashes of pragmatism in the past, may be that person to lead Israel towards change.

      After all, wasn’t it Begin who made peace while the so-called left made war?

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn8

        I just came back from walking around Tel Aviv. It is startup open day here. The ‘war’ ended a couple of weeks ago. The cafes and bars are packed. There is a startup, and a good one, on practically every corner. This place oozes with creativity and creation.

        For 20+ years people on the left have been repeating the slogan that there is no future if Israel doesn’t end the occupation. Every year is the last and the sky is falling.

        One day walking around Tel Aviv on a day like today and anyone who isn’t deeply obsessed with the stale mantras of the 1990s would realize not only that Israel has a future, but that it is a bright one. And that is true regardless of what happens with the ‘occupation’. When the Palestinians realize that there is nothing they can do to change that and accept responsibility and their own state living in peace next to a secure Jewish Israel they can join us in this bright future.

        Reply to Comment
        • Danny

          Glad you’re enjoying a nice walk on a bright sunny day in Tel Aviv. Personally, when I lived in Israel I stayed out of that city for the simple reason that I couldn’t find parking space for love or money.

          Going back to your arguments that everything must be hunky dory in Israel since Tel Aviv is booming: This is exactly Netanyahu’s thinking as well. Why mess with a good thing, right?

          Well, yes, things are booming in Tel Aviv right now. How are things going in the rest of the country? Have you ever paid a visit to Otef Aza? It’s fucking depressing there even WITHOUT the rockets and the mortars.

          Do you frequently visit northern communities like Kiryat Shmona or Nahariya? No? I don’t blame you. They are all neglected and ignored.

          Even cities like Acco or Ashdod are places I wouldn’t like to take sunny walks in for fear of becoming depressed enough that I would have to go drinking to get my mind off all the dilapidation around me.

          Other than Tel Aviv and its immediate satellites, there is widespread depression in the land, except for one region that has been booming since the 1970’s: The West Bank settlements. Just to think of all the countless billions of dollars that has been squandered over the years on these communities instead of all the communities in Israel that today stand so bare, boils one’s blood.

          The occupation has literally made most Israelis poor, and I think the first order of business for an alternative leadership is to make that clear to Israeli citizens.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn8

            Ok, so, we agree that metropolitan Tel Aviv, Israel’s only major metropolitan area with about 30% of the population of the country, is booming. It is even harder to find parking now than it was when you lived in Israel, housing prices are insane, and there are towers going up everywhere. If one can afford it, it is a wonderful place to live.

            But, Tel Aviv is not alone. It is certainly the strongest performer, but Haifa is also booming, Beer Sheva is growing, and even Jerusalem is rapidly turning around. Otef Aza is depressing, primarily because of the rockets, but even Sderot has a new shopping area under construction next to the new train station on a line that runs to Tel Aviv and will soon run through Netivot and Ofakim to Beer Sheva. I have relatives that live in a small town in the area of Netivot and I visit them regularly. Netivot (!!) is booming. There are new neighborhoods being built in all the moshavim in the area. There are new trains, and highways being constructed. There are new and modern malls all over southern Israel. Additionally, arguing that Otef Aza is depressing is somewhat problematic since the most obvious cause of its situation is the presence of Islamic terrorists in areas the IDF evacuated in 2005. It is hardly a ringing endorsement of a policy of doing the same thing next to the Tel Aviv metropolitan area.

            There are depressing places and issues. Akko is depressing. Ramle is depressing. There are even parts of Tel Aviv that are depressing. There is massive inequality and a lot of where you end up economically is due to where you start. Start in a well to do family and you will more likely live in a good area, go to a good school, wind up in a good army unit, go to university, live in Tel Aviv or Haifa and work in something associated with high tech. Start in a poor place and a lot of doors are not going to be open. Nonetheless the average Israeli is vastly better off today than they were 20 years ago and this is in spite of the absence of peace, the occasional wars, and the continuation of the “occupation”.

            Were we to go back 20 years and were we to have this argument and were I to tell you that in 20 years Israel economically will be what it is today while there are no negotiations, the “occupation” is ongoing, and a right-wing government on hostile terms with the White House is in power, would you have believed me? Probably not. Yet, this is precisely why the left-wing argument about gloom and doom fails to resonate. It has simply been proven to not be true. The correlation is just not there. Israel is stronger on absolutely every indicator than it was 30 years ago, 20 years ago, and 10 years ago. Israel would certainly be richer were peace to be achieved, and that is certainly a strong pragmatic argument to make for peace, but those that focus on persistent prophecies of doom to make their case do their cause no favors.

            Reply to Comment
          • Hilary

            It’s easy to boom when you’re building on stolen land, as the American experience attests.

            So go ahead, steal and boom, but don’t take the ethical high ground.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn8

            And its easy to sound like an ass when you have no idea what you are talking about.

            Reply to Comment
          • David T.

            And self criticism is always a good thing.

            Reply to Comment
          • ***It’s easy to boom when you’re building on stolen land, as the American experience attests.
            So go ahead, steal and boom, but don’t take the ethical high ground.***

            ***And its easy to sound like an ass when you have no idea what you are talking about.***

            She’s not far wrong. Colonisers always benefit MATERIALLY from their land theft. ALWAYS. Israel is no exception.

            As regards Israel’s long term future, the Occupation is of course detrimental to it, no question about that. If BDS succeeds it will make the cost of the Occupation much, much higher too.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Richard

      An actual (not rhetorical) question here: In 10 years, what percentage of the WB population will be Palestinian, as compared to now?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Gustav

      “As regards Israel’s long term future, the Occupation is of course detrimental to it,”

      You mean the occupation which Palestinian Arabs prefer in preference to making peace because that would force them to accept the existence of the Jewish state permanently?

      “no question about that. If BDS succeeds it will make the cost of the Occupation much, much higher too.”

      IF … IF …. and more IFs. Keep on dreaming on Gertie. You will die a bitter old man. Sigh …

      Reply to Comment
    5. ***You mean the occupation which Palestinian Arabs prefer in preference to making peace because that would force them to accept the existence of the Jewish state permanently?***

      You really haven’t got the foggiest idea about human psychology or what makes people tick at all, do you?

      I assume that when Israel conquered the WB, ‘Palestinian Arabs preferred occupation in preference to making peace’, huh?

      You are so dull and dumb it’s a miracle you’ve managed to navigate the rocks of ordinary life so far. Whenever I need confirmation that Zionism isn’t really good for Jews either, I only need to come here and see you run around like a headless chicken.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Gustav

      “I assume that when Israel conquered the WB, ‘Palestinian Arabs preferred occupation in preference to making peace’, huh?”

      Those were not the choices they considered at all.

      You haven’t got the foggiest about the hate driven, honor/shame psychology of the Palestinian Arabs as a people, Gertie.

      Their choice was to make peace or to be steadfast and resist till victory with the help of Allah. Even if it meant martyrdom.

      At that time, as a people, they made the second choice. And today, they still do. Will they always? Of course not. But not thanks to people like you who encourage them.

      They will eventually give up and accept our existence because they will realize that we are more stubborn and steadfast than they are and they will accept the fact that we have returned for good.

      At that stage, they will realize that they may as well do something about the occupation by demonstrating in concrete steps that they accept our existence here because occupation or not, either way we will still be here.

      Of course, that situation is more likely to come about with the gaining of maturity and insight into their real situation rather than thinking about past days of glory based on fairy tales such as the “1001 Arabian Nights”. Or by listening to the misinformation dispensed by guys such as yourself, Gertie.

      Reply to Comment