Daniel Gordis’ latest article, provocatively titled “Occupation Über Alles,” quite correctly explains one of the main issues dividing Israel from progressive American Jews: the Americans’ obsessive preoccupation (so to speak) with “The Occupation.” But although he is skilled at dissecting the problem, he draws back from the inescapable conclusion.
First, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is humiliating for the Palestinians and it is callousing of Israel’s soul. No matter what one’s theological viewpoint — God gave us the land, God did not give us the land, God is not part of this equation — there can be no doubt: the current situation demeans the Palestinians and challenges our morality. Just ask lots of the soldiers who have served there, even those who did not witness anything particularly terrible: you can smell the humiliation everywhere. Not a single one of Zionism’s great thinkers ever envisioned or sought anything like the situation in which we find ourselves. We should end this, and separate from the Palestinians, as soon as we can.
He goes on to argue that Israelis understand that the security consequences of withdrawing from Judea and Samaria – I wish nobody would use the expression “West Bank,” which the Jordanians invented in 1950 after their illegal annexation of the area – would be disastrous, another Gaza next-door to Tel Aviv. Even most left-of-center Israelis realize that the best they can do is to try to mitigate the security, moral, psychological, and economic problems that come from “The Occupation” until at some unspecified time in the far future the situation will change so that there can be a “separation” from the Palestinians. “End The Occupation” was not a slogan of the main opposition in recent Israeli elections, because only an extreme fringe think it’s a practical choice.
Progressive Americans, especially Jewish ones, don’t agree for a complex of political, psychological, and ideological reasons. In particular, they do not deeply feel the force of the security problem, the way Israelis who were putting their children to sleep in bomb shelters a few days ago do. For the folks in J Street, for example, it’s all about the occupation. And this is one of the reasons, Gordis thinks, that the dialogue between American and Israeli Jews is difficult.
But he misses the most important implication of the dilemma posed by the territories. He continues,
Second, we’re asking the wrong question about the occupation. “When will Israel end the occupation,” or more commonly among many American Jewish progressives, “What can we do to pressure Israel to end the occupation?” are the wrong questions. The right question lies emblazoned on the other side of that same coin: “When will the Palestinians declare an end to their desire to destroy Israel, so Israelis might be more willing to consider making territorial and security concessions?”
Well, we can try to answer that question, and probably the answer is “never.” But even if there were a chance that the Palestinians would give up what has become the central piece of their national identity and become more concerned with developing a Palestinian state than with getting their hands on ours, there is no guarantee that they would stay that way. And that illustrates the fundamental flaw in the idea that “separation,” conceived as withdrawal, can be consistent with security.
It’s not a question of whether today’s inhabitants of the territories can stop being enemies. Rather, it is a brute fact of topography. As Maj. Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan explains in detail here, if Israel were to give up control of the strategic highlands of Judea and Samaria and the western slope of the Jordan Valley, then she would be at the mercy of whoever did control that territory, as well as being open to invasion from the east (similar things can be said about the Golan Heights). Unless it can be established that someday Israel will have no more regional enemies, she cannot withdraw.
And therefore the argument for separation from the Palestinians does not imply that Israel must be “willing to consider making territorial and security concessions.” On the contrary, it implies that since Israel cannot make such concessions, there is only one way to “separate:” the Palestinians, or at least most of them, must leave!
The Left, and even centrists like Daniel Gordis, really ought to think more carefully about their insistence that separation is essential. If they are convinced that “The Occupation” is so bad that it must be ended posthaste, then they either need to give up the idea of a defensible Jewish state (in truth, the extreme Left does hate the state, so it might take that position) or consider the ideas presented (here and here) by Martin Sherman about incentivized emigration of the Arab population of Gaza, Judea, and Samaria.
Questions immediately arise about where they would go, where the money will come from, etc. Martin Sherman deals with these questions at length in his numerous articles about incentivized emigration, two of which are linked above. He calls it “The Humanitarian Paradigm” (a two-part article is here and here) to emphasize that he is not advocating forced ethnic cleansing, but rather providing the resources to permit Palestinians to leave the dysfunctional societies of Gaza and the Palestinian Authority, and to live independently, off the international dole. This would not only be a great benefit to the Palestinians themselves and to Israel, but would take an exponentially increasing financial burden off donor nations, allowing them to help the large and growing number of real refugees in the world.
Alternatively one might think that “The Occupation” could be turned into a benign coexistence of two peoples, such as has been achieved with the 20% of the citizens of the State of Israel that are Arabs. But that relationship is also somewhat fraught, and it is hard to tell if it is moving in the direction of better relations or a severe fracture. Time will tell, but the Arabs of Judea and Samaria – who have lived for more than a generation under the vicious “educational” system of Yasser Arafat which teaches children that murdering Jews is an honorable and praiseworthy act – are far less likely to want to coexist. When multi-ethnic states have been tried in the Middle East, they have not worked out well, and often have been mired in vicious conflicts. The sectarian wars in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq are examples.
The traditional “solutions” to the conflict with the Palestinians have almost always assumed that Jews would move to make way for Palestinian autonomy or sovereignty. But this ignores the geographic realities of the region. Instead of searching for ways to force Israel to tie the noose to hang herself with, or even, as Gordis seems to suggest, to wait for midnight when the Palestinians will turn into harmless pumpkins, an effort should be made now to begin developing a humane and effective program of financial incentives to encourage Palestinians to leave Judea, Samaria, and Gaza.
Gordis would do much toward improving Israel’s relationship with American Jews if he could convince them that a two-state solution isn’t in the cards in the near future. He would be doing even more if he could get them to understand that it will never be.