Only One Thing Will Make Israel Change Course. Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority finally accepted a cease-fire agreement after a 50-day Israeli assault on Gaza that left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead and vast landscapes of destruction behind. The agreement calls for an end to military action by Israel and Hamas as well as an easing of the Israeli siege that has strangled Gaza for many years. This is, however, just the most recent of a series of cease-fire agreements reached after each of Israel’s periodic escalations of its unremitting assault on Gaza.
Since November 2005, the terms of these agreements have remained essentially the same. The regular pattern is for Israel to disregard whatever agreement is in place, while Hamas observes it until a sharp increase in Israeli violence elicits a Hamas response, followed by even fiercer brutality. These escalations are called â€œmowing the lawnâ€ in Israeli parlance. The most recent was more accurately described as â€œremoving the topsoilâ€.
The first of this series was the Agreement on Movement and Access between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in November 2005. It called for a crossing between Gaza and Egypt at Rafah for the export of goods and the transit of people; crossings between Israel and Gaza for goods and people; the reduction of obstacles to movement within the West Bank; bus and truck convoys between the West Bank and Gaza; the building of a seaport in Gaza; and the reopening of the airport in Gaza that Israeli bombing had demolished.
That agreement was reached shortly after Israel withdrew its settlers and military forces from Gaza. The motive for the disengagement was explained by Dov Weisglass, a confidant of then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was in charge of negotiating and implementing it.
â€œThe significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process. And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.â€
This pattern has continued to the present: through Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 to Pillar of Defense in 2012 to this summer’s Protective Edge, the most extreme exercise in mowing the lawnâ€”so far.
For more than 20 years, Israel has been committed to separating Gaza from the West Bank in violation of the Oslo Accords it signed in 1993, which declare Gaza and the West Bank to be an inseparable territorial unity.
A look at a map explains the rationale. Separated from Gaza, any West Bank enclaves left to Palestinians have no access to the outside world. They are contained by two hostile powers, Israel and Jordan, both close US allies.
Furthermore, Israel has been systematically taking over the Jordan Valley, driving out Palestinians, establishing settlements, sinking wells and otherwise ensuring that the regionâ€”about one-third of the West Bank, with much of its arable landâ€”will ultimately be integrated into Israel along with the other regions being taken over.
The remaining Palestinian cantons will be completely imprisoned. Unification with Gaza would interfere with these plans, which trace back to the early days of the occupation and have had steady support from the major Israeli political blocs.
Some knowledgeable Israeli commentators, notably columnist Danny Rubinstein, believe that Israel is poised to reverse course and relax its stranglehold on Gaza.
The record of these past years suggests otherwise and the first signs are not auspicious. As Operation Protective Edge ended, Israel announced its largest appropriation of West Bank land in 30 years â€” almost 1,000 acres. It is commonly claimed on all sides that, if the two-state settlement is dead as a result of Israel’s takeover of Palestinian lands, then the outcome will be one state west of the Jordan.
Some Palestinians welcome this outcome, anticipating that they can then engage in a fight for equal rights modelled on the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. Many Israeli commentators warn that the resulting â€œdemographic problemâ€ of more Arab than Jewish births and diminishing Jewish immigration will undermine their hope for a â€œdemocratic Jewish state.â€
But these widespread beliefs are dubious.
The realistic alternative to a two-state settlement is that Israel will continue to carry forward the plans it has been implementing for years: taking over whatever is of value to it in the West Bank, while avoiding Palestinian population concentrations and removing Palestinians from the areas that it is absorbing. That should avoid the dreaded â€œdemographic problem.â€
Gaza will likely remain under its usual harsh siege, separated from the West Bank. And the Syrian Golan Heights â€” like Jerusalem, annexed in violation of Security Council orders â€” will quietly become part of Greater Israel. In the meantime, West Bank Palestinians will be contained in unviable cantons, with special accommodation for elites in standard neo-colonial style.
For a century, the Zionist colonization of Palestine has proceeded primarily on the pragmatic principle of the quiet establishment of facts on the ground, which the world was to ultimately come to accept. It has been a highly successful policy. There is every reason to expect it to persist as long as the United States provides the necessary military, economic, diplomatic and ideological support.
For those concerned with the rights of the brutalized Palestinians, there can be no higher priority than working to change US policies, not an idle dream by any means.