My New Year’s Eve (Political) Resolution for 2023
Not Much to Party This Year
Yesterday I was texting a good friend of mine from Israel. We were chatting about the new Israeli government and the assignment of responsibility of the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) to Bezalel Smotrich, a topic that did not get enough attention in the news. She brought to my attention how much of a big deal this is. Thanks to her, I sat down to read the agreement between the governing Likud party and Hatzionut Hadatit (uploaded it here for Hebrew readers, see points 6.4 and 21), and it struck me: Smotrich is the new sheriff of the occupied territories.
This position of a (2nd!) minister in the Ministry of Defense, controlling the ICA and COGAT, gives Smotrich the power to control not only the military activities the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) is taking in the West Bank (in practice since 2002 the IDF is raiding areas A, B, and C, besides the Mukataa in Ramallah), but also the civil administrative actions Israel is taking in the occupied territories. These include, amongst other things, issuing permits for Palestinians to enter Israel or travel in the West Bank, issuing work permits for Palestinians who wish to work in Israel or the West Bank, coordinating with the Palestinian Authority, and many more responsibilities that are going to affect the quotidian events of every Palestinian. Smotrich has the power (see here) to make miserable the lives of almost 3 million Palestinians, amongst them some of my good friends.
Besides controlling the everyday civil life of Palestinians Smotrich will have the power in his hands to decide on matters concerning the approval of new Jewish (illegal) settlements, expansion of existing settlements, and so on. For the sake of understanding this man’s agenda, it is worth quoting what he said in Nov 2015 in a session of the Knesset (translated by me, I uploaded the full transcript of the fifty-ninth session of the Twentieth Knesset here.):
“... The time has come for us to stop managing this conflict [with Palestinians] and aim to resolve it. And we said that resolving it means making it clear that a Palestinian state will not be established. Period. And in the same breath -- to invite all the Arabs of this land, who live together with us in this area, to live here together with us in peace under this government of the Jewish state, while neglecting their national ambitions and focusing on their private well-being …”
When Knesset member Stav Shaffir repeatedly asked him if he suggests offering citizenship to three million Palestinians who are living in the west bank, he kept ignoring the question.
Guess what? I don’t think this is what he means.
This is extremely bad news for Palestinians and those who care for their freedom and justice. We are very used to bad news, I know. The year 2022 was the deadliest year for Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank since 2006, according to the UN (read this), with Israeli forces killing at least 170 Palestinians, amongst them more than 30 children and injuring thousands. These people are being killed every day by Israeli soldiers serving in the West Bank (just like I did) and in the name of the entire Israeli society, our parents, brothers, and sisters.
Mistake not, 2022 was only an escalation of a pre-designed strategy executed by different Israeli governments for a few decades, backed by the great power of the USA (read Chomsky). But I honestly don’t think the strategy was very different from the one Smotrich is suggesting. The main difference is that previous Israeli governments were speaking about their willingness to engage in two-state solution negotiations. At least acting like they are open to such negotiations in front of the world, while in practice promoting (more or less) the future Smotrich is openly speaking about. Previous governments have also used this imagined two-state proposition to keep the status quo, while on the ground acting very differently.
Despite what I think, most Israelis still believe that the two-state solution will solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (see this recent study by Molad). They should stop. Holding onto this imagined solution means keeping the status quo, in which Palestinians are being killed every day. I argue that Israel never had the intention to accept a Palestinian state. At least not without extreme pre-conditions that prevent any power from this imagined Palestinian “state”.
When we speak of the territory of a Palestinian state, as part of the two-state solution negotiations, what is actually on the table is far from a proper state. It is an isolated territory in the West Bank connected to Gaza in an undefendable corridor, fully surrounded by hostile states: Israel, Jordan, and Egypt. Israelis, being racists and thinking that all Muslims in the world are the same and naturally support the Palestinian struggle, might raise their eyebrows right now. But the fact is that both Jordan and Egypt have agreements in place with Israel, and have been collaborators with the USA and its global policies, much more than they have been in favor of Palestinians and their struggle for equality, independence, and civil rights. In addition, the territory offered to Palestinians is spread with Jewish settlements inhabiting 175,000 settlers (living outside what is called the “settlement blocs”) that would need to be evacuated in order to provide even a small continuous piece of land for future Palestine (yeah right!).
This imagined Palestinian “State” will have no army nor a meaningful way to protect its citizens and will not enable its citizens to freely travel or trade with the rest of the globe. While it might have some type of cultural and internal governance freedom, it will be powerless and completely economically reliant on Israel. To me, this does not sound like a state. At least not according to my values, a point which I believe I share with most Palestinians.
Another issue I have with supporters of the two-state solution is that they have no idea what is the next step to take to promote this idea. Why? Because there is only one way to implement this solution: top-down. First, you need to get the majority of the Israeli government to support it, and then you might be able to make any progress toward this vision. Supporters of this idea have no means of achieving their political majority due to politicians' control of public opinion. Israel has created this magical-never-ending-cycle to seed fear and anger in its people. Its system is quite simple: make sure Palestinians suffer by killing them (see for example the history of Israeli raids on Gaza), and by controlling every aspect of their lives from financials to electricity and transportation. Then, allow only moderate Palestinian “terrorist” activity or missile attacks from Gaza, which are raising due to this dreadful situation, and as means to oppose the Israeli occupation. These Palestinian attacks need to be scary enough so that the Israeli politicians could stir public opinion and portray Palestinians as murderous devils, but not too much to shake the state’s stability. I don’t think there are many Israelis who believe that in the current political atmosphere, gaining such a majority is by any means possible. A brief look at the new extreme-right Israeli government is enough to believe this is not going to happen any time soon.
Israel Will Make the West Bank a New Gaza
I’ve heard claims that this new government will lead to a one-state apartheid solution, where Israel will officially annex the West Bank and will make Palestinian people unequal citizens with no or little rights. I don’t think this is what going to happen, due to the demographic and security risk this will entail on the Jewish Israeli State. And also, due to the pattern of action that all of the previous Israeli governments have taken. What I think is going to be implemented is probably much worse.
I am writing these words with a lot of pain. But my readings of the political developments make me think that the next thing Israel is going to do is to completely isolate Palestinians in the west bank around the main Palestinian cities: Hebron, Bethlehem, East Jerusalem, Ramallah, Nablus, and Jenin. With time and when the opportunity arises, it will probably officially annex Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley and the “settlement blocs”. By doing this Israel will secure its borders and citizens from any militant activity. Controlling the borders (with the Separation Wall now in place) will be quite an easy task, especially as Israel will control everything getting in and out of the West Bank, and the Israeli intelligence services monitor all means of communication to prevent “terror”.
Israel will probably act in a similar way it did in Gaza. It will leave the isolated Palestinian centers to themselves, with extreme poverty and no power to drive any change. It will go on military raids in the West Bank every once in a while to throw some damage and prevent uprisings. It will call it “the end of the occupation” and it will use any attempt of Palestinians to riot or resist to portray them as evil murderous demons. There will be no real solution. To a great extent, this is more or less what is happening already, and it will only get worse.
We Need to Find New Ways to Gain and Exercise Power
Palestinians and those who care about their struggle would have to find new ways to gain financial and political power. The Palestinian fight against Israel is now weaker than it ever was before. Despite the show the state of Israel is putting to the world, so far the only thing that brought Israel to the negotiation table was the Palestinian Intifadas. But with the Separation Wall, and with Israel surrounding the West Bank completely and with its incomparable intelligence forces -- Israel could easily control any meaningful attempt to organize.
Today is new year’s eve, and I have only one resolution for 2023: to get rid of the two-state fig leaf and start drafting an alternative solution for the sake of Palestinians and Israelis. I have a few ideas in mind, and I will be writing about them when the time comes. In the meantime, I encourage anyone to reach out to discuss more. If you think I am wrong, or if anything demands correction or more explanations, do let me know.
©️ Yair Dovrat -- I reserve all the right to be wrong, hopefully, this will be the case.