What's the End Game in the West Bank?

By Megan McArdle

My colleague Jeff Goldberg despairs for the future of Israel if it doesn't leave the West Bank:

I think we're only a few years away, at most, from a total South-Africanization of this issue. And if Israelis believe that the vast majority of American Jews -- their most important supporters in the entire world -- are going to sit idly by and watch Israel permanently disenfranchise a permanently-occupied minority population, they're deluding themselves. A non-democratic Israel will not survive in this world. It's an impossibility. So Israel has a choice -- find a way to reverse the settlement process and bring about the conditions necessary to see the birth of a Palestinian state (I'm for unilateral closure of settlements but the military occupation's end will have to be negotiated with the Palestinians) or simply grant the Palestinians on the West Bank the right to vote in Israeli elections. Gaza is an entirely separate problem, but one not solvable so long as Hamas is in charge, but even without Gaza's Arabs, Israel would cease to be a Jewish state if West Bank Arabs became citizens.

It will be extremely difficult for any number of reasons for Israel to leave the West Bank, but it will be impossible for Israel to survive over the long-term if it remains an occupier of a group of people who don't want to be occupied. I understand the security consequences of an Israeli departure from most of the West Bank, but I also understand that there is ultimately no choice.

My feeling in talking to Israelis and Israel-supporters about this is that there's too much attention to the past, and not enough attention to the end game.  Any discussion of leaving the West Bank evokes a litany of past wrongs and security worries.  I certainly think many of these are legitimate.  And yet . . . I still don't understand the vision for the future.  The Palestinians have a very clear end game: make life miserable for the Israelis they can get at on the off chance that this will end the occupation, while waiting for international institutions to force Israel to give them citizenship in a viable state--either their own, or in Israel.  But as the expansion of the settlements makes it harder and harder for Israel to leave, I don't understand what possible good outcome Israel sees happening in decades hence.

Israel has now occupied the West Bank for 44 years.  At some point--and we are approaching that point, if we have not already passed it--you are not a temporarily occupying power; you are the government.  And the corollary of you are the government is that those people are citizens.  In a democracy, that means that those people can vote--and for Israel, that is the end of its identity as a Jewish state.  Or that you don't let those people vote--and for Israel, that is the end of its identity as a democracy, and the beginning of its identity as an ethnic autocracy in which a minority runs things for the benefit of their group.

Or, as Jimmy Carter put it, apartheid.  I think this was rather incendiary and premature--but twenty years from now?  When virtually every Israeli and Palestinian alive will have been born while Israel controlled the West Bank?  If Israel doesn't give the territory back,or allow the Palestinians to vote, in the near future it will be forced to admit (tacitly or otherwise) that it plans a separate but unequal state in which a minority, and eventually a majority, of the people living within the territory are economically and politically marginalized.

The question to which I have never gotten a satisfactory answer is, "In what way does this end well?" As near as I can figure out, the only way is that the Palestinians just somehow . . . disappear.  This seems very unlikely.  And if they do stubbornly continue to live where they're living, at some point, it doesn't matter if Palestinians are the worst, most untrustworthy adversaries in history, if the hills of the West Bank pose a security risk, if the land should rightfully have been yours in the first place--you are going to have to figure out what to do with them, one way or another, and that will be worse than giving them land which they don't deserve and might use to threaten you.

To which supporters of current policy may rejoinder that there are no very good choices.  Too true.  But some sort of two state solution at least has a potential upside (as well as potential downside).   The current strategy is, to my mind, all downside: it ultimately leaves Israel as a total international pariah, quite possibly without the American military aid that has helped them fight off their hostile neighbors.  Economic sanctions for tiny, resource poor Israel would be far more crippling than they were for South Africa; if America really abandons them, Israel would have to negotiate a final disposition with little leverage.

To an outsider, it looks as if Israel is continuing and deepening the occupation because 1) it can 2) it feels justified by a whole lot of past history 3) it's working right now.  These things may all be true, but that still doesn't mean it's a good idea.  That exact reasoning is how an awful lot of companies and marriages drive themselves into the ditch.  And like Mr. Goldberg, I'm afraid that this is what Israel is doing.  If there's no way that this can end well, then the wise thing to do is to change course, no matter how risky that may be.

Note:  I'm leaving comments open, but if people misbehave, I will shut them down and ban any commenters who piss me off.

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