By Dr. Alon Ben-Meir*
For decades, Israeli leaders have been engaged in a deliberate and persistent false public narrative to justify the occupation on the grounds that it is central to Israel’s national security and that the creation of a Palestinian state will pose an existential danger to Israel. While many top Israeli military officers and national security experts disagree with this assessment, no Israeli prime minister or defense minister in office has yet convincingly argued how a demilitarized Palestinian state is more dangerous than maintaining the occupation. In fact, a Palestinian state immersed in nation-building and fully collaborating with Israel on all security matters (which will be a precondition to the creation of a Palestinian state) enhances rather that threatens Israel’s national security.
It is about time for the Israelis to wake up and stop swallowing the falsity of this narrative that makes Israel’s national security synonymous with the occupation, which has been regularly dished out by self-serving leaders like Netanyahu, current Israeli Prime Minister Bennett, and their ilk. They portray the Palestinians as perpetual enemies who pose an existential threat and must therefore be forcefully controlled. Their real agenda, however, is to annex yet more Palestinian land, populate the West Bank by at least a million Jews, and make the establishment of a Palestinian state with a contiguous land mass virtually impossible.
To be sure, the occupation continues to galvanize the Palestinians’ resistance in and outside the territories, deepens their resentment and hatred of Israel, and poisons the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians alike, who view each other, like the past three generations, as sworn perpetual enemies. They are preparing for the next war rather than for a peaceful, neighborly, and prosperous relationship.
There are three arguments that clearly demonstrate how the occupation is actually inviting violence, undermining Israel’s national security, and shattering its moral solvency.
Instigating continued resistance
To begin with, how can Israel claim that it is the most powerful country in the region and yet be more fearful of small groups of renegade Palestinian extremists than a unified Palestinian state that is committed to protect its independence and willing to cooperate with Israel on all security matters? Yes, the occupation allows Israel to roam unrestricted in most of the occupied territories in pursuit of militants and conduct night raids, evictions, home demolitions, and incarceration at will as a means by which to subjugate the Palestinians. However, these brutal measures taken in the name of national security in fact make Israel less secure and far more vulnerable.
No Palestinian who had a child killed, or a home demolished, or was forcefully evicted can ever forget what has befallen him by Israeli forces. Basically, Israel is sowing the seeds of the next Palestinian generation which will grow even more militant and far more determined to end the occupation by any means necessary—even if they must sacrifice themselves to that end. When they have nothing else to lose, they would rather die as martyrs than remain perpetual slaves living in indignity and despair. It is only a question of time when they will rise up again—and rise they will, which will be far more violent than ever before.
Emboldening Israel’s enemies
The occupation further emboldens Israel’s enemies, who use it as a pretext to further their own regional agenda. If Israel is so concerned about Iran’s threats, it should know that Iran does not have any ideological bent to destroy Israel. In 2003, Iran offered a secret peace proposal in which Iran would accept peace with Israel, end material assistance to Palestinian militant groups, and pressure such groups to stop terror attacks within Israel. The proposal, which was obtained by Inter Press Service (IPS), was conveyed to the US in late April or early May 2003. There is no reason to assume that a future Iranian proposal would materially change in any significant way once Israel and the Palestinians reach a peace agreement.
Ending the occupation with or without such a proposal would have neutralized Tehran’s opposition to Israel’s existence and pulled the rug from underneath its proxies—Hezbollah, Hamas, and other jihadist groups—which use the occupation to justify their violent resistance against Israel. So, one might ask, in which way does the occupation counterbalance extremism? In fact, it only exponentially intensifies violent reactions.
Nurturing a fifth column
The occupation is further alienating the nearly two million Israeli Arabs who have deep affinity to their brethren in the West Bank and Gaza. They are infuriated by Israel’s lawless conduct in the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza. They are put in the untenable situation where they must choose between their loyalty to the county they live in, or their kinship to their larger Palestinian family. Their violent confrontation a couple of months ago with the Israeli police and ordinary Israeli Jews in the wake of the incident at the al-Aqsa Mosque in May and the subsequent eruption of violence between Hamas and Israel, speaks volumes about where they stand if they must choose.
By virtue of its determination to maintain the occupation, Israel is in fact nurturing a fifth column within Israel which makes it increasingly more vulnerable from within. One cannot rule out the possibility that any grave incident, be that a forced eviction or the callous shooting death of Palestinians, could ignite an uprising of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians in the West Bank. It is a given that Hamas would enter the fray and potentially be joined by Hezbollah and elements of Iranian-backed militias in Syria. Together they are in possession of 200,000 rockets, and thousands of them have precision targeting mechanisms that can reach anywhere in Israel.
Nevertheless, successive Israeli leaders feel confident that the occupation can be sustained indefinitely, believing that over time the Palestinians will accept their stateless lot as a way of life. The Bennett/Lapid government further trusts that if Israel provides the Palestinians with more crumbs in the form of economic development, job opportunities in Israel, some building permits, and less intrusive security measures, the Palestinians will just forget about statehood and live happily subjugated to Israel’s whims.
By taking these measures, the current Israeli government is seeking to “shrink the occupation” and ease the blockade over Gaza by also offering Hamas an extensive economic development program à la the Lapid proposal. The Palestinians, the argument goes, will be happy to run their affairs as they see fit as long as they cease and desist any violent activity against Israel. While these measures are necessary for a process of reconciliation, they will never be a substitute for an independent Palestinian state.
This may well be the greatest illusion that has gripped the Israelis. The occupation remains an occupation no matter how well masked it is and no matter how massive Israel’s military presence in the West Bank is. The occupation remains the most significant threat to Israel’s national security and the Israeli public must wake up to this bitter reality.
*Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of TransConflict.