By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
“Despicable,” read the headline in Israel HaYom, an Israeli daily newspaper. It was reacting to the UN Resolution condemning Israel’s settlement activity. Across the social media world pro-Israel voices have been outraged. “Betrayal,” they shout. “Netanyahu’s policy of near-freezing building in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria to avoid international measures has failed. Time to try the opposite,” wrote Northwestern Professor of Constitutional and International Law Eugene Kontorovich. Dennis Ross wrote that the resolution could make peace with the Palestinians more difficult “if all settlements are deemed illegal.”
The avalanche of attacks on the UN, the resolution and the UN went beyond mere critique of its contents. It was compared to the Nazis and the pogroms, people shouted that it “prohibits renting property to Jews,” that while Jesus was born a Jew, “today a Jew in Bethlehem is considered an illegal settler.” A “message to Obama,” showed men at the Kotel giving the finger from the “indivisible capital of the Jewish people.” Others wondered where were the UN resolutions condemning Russia for “occupying” Chechnya, or Turkey in Northern Cyprus or Morocco in Western Sahara. The Wall Street Journal even claimed that Obama “no longer needing Jewish votes, Mr. Obama was free, finally, to punish the Jewish state in a way no previous President has done.”
So that’s all fascinating, it’s easy to bash Obama and the UN, and make up claims about how the resolution seeks to make the West Bank “judenrein” and that those who support it are “kapos.”
But beyond all the shouting, one has to ask “what is Israel’s policy in the West Bank.”
Let’s say that Obama, the UN and the whole world disappeared tomorrow and all that was left in the whole world was Israel and the West Bank. Even remove Gaza from the discussion. Nothing left in the world except Israel and the West Bank.
Now, having removed all the things in the world that can be blamed, and all the outside actors, lets ask Israel and the pro-Israel community, WHAT IS ISRAEL’S POLICY in the West Bank? Sorry, Judea and Samaria. Ok? So, WHAT is the policy in the united eternal capital of the Jewish people and Judea and Samaria, the beating heart of Jewish historical rights in the Land of Israel?
The policy is that there is no policy. For 49 years Israel has run the West Bank under military administration, controlling the lives of millions of Palestinians who never had a say in the matter. The pro-Israel crowd sometimes denies the existence of Palestinian people, so let’s stay with their narrative for a second and refer to those living in the West Bank as Arabs.
Even the pro-Israel crowd admits that there are millions of non-Israeli citizens, Arabs, in Judea and Samaria. How did they get there? Well according to some pro-Israel narratives they are mostly migrants who showed up a hundred years ago. Ok, fine. But they are there.
“Their country is Jordan,” say some.
Ok, but they are living in Ramallah, Jenin, Hebron and Nablus and hundreds of villages, and they are not going to Jordan.
So what is Israel’s policy? For 49 years millions of people lived without the right to decide their future under Israel’s military administration. We’ll call it “administration,” because “occupation” is political. And we won’t say there are Jewish “settlements,” we will say “Jewish communities” in “disputed territory” in Judea and Samaria.
Ok. So what is Israel’s policy? Israel expanded the municipal borders of Jerusalem in 1967 and annexed the city in 1980. Since in our discussion the issue of “international law,” doesn’t exist because the international community doesn’t exist, then for our purposes the annexation will be legal.
Ok, so Israel has 300,000 Arabs living in Jerusalem who were annexed without asking them if they wanted to be annexed. They don’t get to vote in Knesset elections, but they get a right to have Jerusalem IDs and be permanent residents. So they are half citizens. “But they can receive Israeli citizenship,” says the pro-Israel speaker. Actually that used to be the case, until thousands of them began applying every year and then the acceptance rate dropped to 2.9%. In the first half of 2016 only 4 Arabs in Jerusalem received citizenship. So the policy in Jerusalem is to run the lives of Arab lives in East Jerusalem without granting them citizenship and full rights. Meanwhile 300,000 Israeli Jews have built homes in East Jerusalem. The policy in East Jerusalem is also severe neglect of Arab neighborhoods. Only 1.5% of Arabs vote in municipal elections, a symbol of their rejection of Israeli rule. Some whole neighborhoods of Arabs in Jerusalem are walled off from the city they are supposed to be residents of. So they reside outside the “security fence,” and don’t receive city services but are residents of the city. That’s Israel’s policy. In Shuafat in Kafr Aqab and East Jerusalem.
What is Israel’s policy outside of Jerusalem? The policy there is to allow 300,000 Israeli Jewish residents to live in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. They vote in Israeli elections. They receive Israeli services. They live in gated communities where Arabs cannot reside. They have their own school system. In affect they are 100% part of Israel. However the people around them, the 2 million or so Arabs living in Judea in Samara do not have Israeli citizenship, cannot obtain Israeli citizenship, nor do they have any say in the military administration that runs their lives.
But what is Israeli policy in the West Bank? Well the policy is the status quo. For 49 years Israel has ruled over Judea and Samaria, expanding the number of Jewish residents living there. In the time before the Oslo Accords the Arab residents had some minor role in their own municipal affairs, but beyond that had no rights. No right to vote. No right to travel. No right to a passport. They were almost non-people from the point of view of the state. They weren’t like Northern Cyprus or Western Sahara, or Chechnya, whose people enjoy a much higher status of rights. They were more like Kurds in Syria before 2011 when the Assad regime viewed them as non-citizens.
But what is Israel’s policy in Judea and Samaria? Well, there is no policy. It isn’t annexation, and it isn’t independence for Arabs who want a Palestinian State. There is no self-determination for them. No citizenship in Israel, no citizenship in Palestine.
The pro-Israel voices say that the Palestinian Authority is to blame. It “suppresses them” or it “denies them rights.” And the talking point says that the PA is to blame for not “making peace with Israel” and “rejecting Israel’s terms.” And what terms are those. Under what terms does Israel’s policy foresee a Palestinian state? How does that state ever come into existence? It has no control over its borders, no right to print money or passports, or even control who accesses it. It’s a non-state populated by non-citizens, of, in the pro-Israel view, a non-people.
The Israeli policy in the first 25 years of ruling over millions of Arabs in Judea and Samaria and Gaza was to ignore them. They didn’t fight for their rights, so they received nothing. Then in 1993 Israel decided that the continued uprising of Arabs necessitated a peace agreement that would result in a Palestinian state. But since that agreement was signed the actual borders of that state were eroded and it never came into being. In 2005 Israel decided to jettison Gaza because, like Ramallah and others areas before 1993, it had become a burden. So Gaza was withdrawn from but became a non-entity. Not a state, just a place on a map. No control of its borders, no airport, no port that people could travel from. Palestinians call it a prison, but for Israel it just doesn’t exist.
What was left was Judea and Samaria, with a patchwork of PA control (Area A) and Israeli army control (Area B) and Israeli civilian control (Area C). And what is Israel’s policy in those areas. Well in Area A it is to treat it like Gaza sort of, a non-place. Not independent, but semi-autonomous. Less autonomy though than other areas such as Somaliland or the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq enjoy.
In Area B and C Israel runs the affairs of hundreds of thousands of Arabs. But what is the Israeli policy there? There is no policy. Area C is for all intents and purposes part of Israel, except it’s not officially part of Israel. Arabs who live there receive no rights to Israel. An Arab born there in 1967 is now 49 years old and cannot travel to Jerusalem without a permit, cannot vote or receive a passport. She has no future. No rights. Her cousins in Area B enjoy only slightly more rights over their daily affairs, but also a circumscribed life. The normal things all the Israeli immigrants to Judea and Samaria enjoy are not hers. No passport, no freedom to travel. If and when she might commit some crime, there is often no police to call, but if that crime is against an Israeli citizen then there is a military court.
What is Israel’s policy? Freedom from any international community, international law, and all discussions of outside actors, the Israeli policy is still to have no policy. No Palestinian state, no annexation. No Palestinian rights to citizenship in Israel or in a state of their own. No self-determination. No asking them, after 49 years, what they want. Because they have no say in the matter.
That’s Israel’s policy. Permanent non-policy. Because Israel thinks time is on her side and the repercussions of continued rule in Judea and Samaria do not harm Israel. So why take responsibility for the millions of people there? Israel gets the cake and eats it to. Judea and Samaria allow for the export of hundreds of thousands of Israelis while the housing market in Israel is unaffordable. So it reduces social and economic pressure inside the Green Line. Annexation would only bring Israel more headaches, why not have all the benefits of it without the burdens. The burdens from Israel’s view are the Arabs. Nothing would be worse than taking full responsibility. Why buy a house when one can just live in part of it? Why pay for a pizza when one can eat it?
That’s Israel’s policy when it comes to dealing with Palestinians. Two people buy a pizza. Then one person eats it bit by bit and tells the other person to negotiate over the remainder. The other person says he wants half. But the first person just keeps eating and then says that the other person doesn’t accept their conditions. “But I want half the pizza.” Well I’m very sorry but we’ve eaten 66% of it. “But the agreement said we would discuss the final status of six slices and now there are only 4 left to me. “Well, it’s clear you reject peace.”
You can accept all of the pro-Israel talking points and the overall problem remains the same.
So we are left with the elephant in the room that some pro-Israel voices refuse to accept, consider a conversation:
There are no Palestinians.
But there are 2.5 million Arabs in the West Bank
There is no West Bank, it’s the Jewish homeland of Judea and Samaria
But there are 2.5 million Arabs living there.
They are Jordanians
But they aren’t moving to Jordan
They reject peace
But they are living there.
They have the Palestinian Authority which suppresses them, that’s their problem
But they want a state and they are living there.
Even without international law and without the pro-Palestinian activists, without the UN and NGOs, with just Israel and the Arabs who it rules over, the reality is that at some point, after 100 years maybe, Israel has to have some policy in the areas its military has controlled for 49 years.
But, Israel’s actions are similar to other countries?
People try to compare Israel’s actions to other countries such as Morocco, Northern Ireland, Turkish Cyprus, Crimea and others. But in every other case the controlling country had a policy. Morocco wants Western Sahara, it doesn’t keep it in limbo, it says “this is ours.” Turkey invaded Northern Cyprus and recognized it as a country. That’s not a foreign military occupation, that’s invading and creating a country whose people want you there. That would be like if Israel invaded the West Bank and liberated 2 million Jews there from Jordanian control in 1967. But that’s not what Israel “liberated,” it “liberated” a place that never wanted to be liberated, whose people had no choice in the matter.
In Crimea, similarly, the people wanted to be part of Russia, for the most part. In Northern Ireland the people may have hated British domination, but they had rights to vote for parliament. There simply are few, if any, examples of a country taking over another territory and then administering it forever without annexing it, without having a policy in mind for it. Yes, America has overseas territories, but those territories for the most part want to be part of America and often don’t want to be states. They like their status.
Where is the example of another country that conquered something and then decided to keep it in limbo forever. It is true many other countries have conquered areas or brutally expressed their own people, far beyond anything Israel has ever done. But those countries, for all their evils and faults, had a policy. That had an end-goal, a vision.
Israel has never had a vision or a concept behind it’s actions. It took over territory. It allowed 600,000 of its people to move there. And then…nothing. It keeps millions in a form of non-citizenship without any clear vision for what will become of them, not self-determination or annexation.
The international community’s reliance on colonial 1947 borders drawn by the UN or reliance on cease-fire lines in 1967 may be living in the past.But Israel is not living in the future. It’s true that the Golan is an example of what would happen had Israel annexed the West bank, in the sense no one would recognize Israel’s actions.Pro-Israel voices say that Palestinians want “ethnic-cleansing” of Jews from the West Bank. But Israel had 49 years to decide what to do. People say “the UN wants to make it judenrein.” But where is the responsibility of Israel? Israel didn’t have to send 600,000 people into the West Bank and invest hugely in their communities and then claim that removing them is “ethnic cleansing.” How about taking responsibility. The country choose to allow these 600,000 to move there but refuses to choose what to do about it. Whose fault is that? The Palestinians, who had no say in the issue, or Israel’s government.
*And one more thing, there is a narrative that goes around claiming Palestinians are not a people and therefore have no right to a country. “They are invented, they never had a country of their own.” This is a catch-22, if in order to be a “people,” you have to have a country then how did the Dutch become Dutch or Bulgarians become Bulgarians. Every nationality is to some extent invented. There is no such thing as primordial nations. There are ancient nations, such as Basques, and there are modern states such as France. France was once numerous identities. Spain, Italy, emerged from struggles at unifications that took decades or centuries. Why are Algerians or Libyans a people, but not Palestinians? Why Jordanians, but not Palestinians? Or Lebanese or Syrians. Are Turks from Turkey? Are Kurds not a people because they have no Kurdish state? How can Americans have an American identity or Afrikaners or Canadians or Australians or kiwis?
Somehow the Palestinians are one of the few peoples not allowed to self-identify. “They are Arabs.” Yes, and Sicilians are Italians, but they are also Sicilians.