It has become quite prevalent to hear from the critics of Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians, that all the incitement against Israel, all the violence and all the terror attacks on its civilians, has to do with Israel’s “refusal” to end its occupation over the West Bank. In their minds, the equation is simple: end of the occupation = end of violence between the two peoples. This argument is uttered abroad, as well as in Israel by extreme left winged organizations. Some even go further and blame Israel for all the atrocities in the Middle East; to their opinion, these stem directly from the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israeli occupation. If that was true, then the wars in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Lebanon etc, will be over once Israel withdraws from the West Bank. In such a scenario, peace in the Middle East would seem closer than ever! Well, sorry to disappoint you, but beliefs of this kind could not be more wrong.
Let’s stick to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for now. The proposed link between ending of Israeli occupation and bringing peace and quiet (as viewed in a very deterministic way by the circles mentioned above), would inevitably imply that Palestinians are basically a peace-seeking people; if freed from Jewish/Israeli occupation, they would readily live in peace with the Israeli neighbors. Now, let’s look at some historical facts:
Before the creation of the Jewish state, while under British (non-Jews of course), Palestinian-Arab violence against Jews in the early 20th century occurred regularly. For example, in 1921, 43 Jews were killed in Jaffa; in the 1929 Arab riots (also known as the 1929 massacres), 113 Jews were killed and 339 others were injured; between 1936 and 1939 (known as the Arab revolt) 400 Jews were killed and thousands were injured. Likewise, before 1967, while not under any Israeli dominance/influence, savage terroristic attacks were launched from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank by Palestinians against Jews within the green line, inflicting many hundreds of innocent victims. I think we get the point.
Maybe the Palestinians were all along disregarded and discriminated against by the international community vis-à-vis the expanding Jewish population in Palestine, and as a result, took up arms? Well, facts attest to the contrary: in 1937 the Peel Commission offered a fair partition-based solution, in favor of the Arab population. Guess what happened? David Ben-Gurion accepted and the Arab-Palestinians bluntly rejected it. The same thing happened in 1947 with the UN partition plan for Palestine (creation of two independent states living peacefully side by side), which was supported by the international community. Again, Ben-Gurion said YES, Palestinian-Arabs said NO! and took up arms, attacking savagely the Jewish population.
The crucial point here is that not only the Arabs refused to form their own sovereign state, but they were completely against the formation of a Jewish state. In 1948, a day after the first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, announced the independence of Israel, and only three years after the end of the holocaust, five Arab armies, supporting the local Palestinian militias, went on an all-out war in order to annihilate and wipe out all of the Jews in the new born state.
Well, maybe the Israeli “demon” came out only after the 1967 war, revealing a stubborn and cruel occupier? Let’s remember that the 1967 war and the occupation of territories was totally legitimate (based on the international law), as Israel was facing and warding off an existential threat by Egypt, Syria and Jordan. As it came out later, and disappointing its detractors, the occupied Sinai Peninsula was returned to Egypt following the peace treaty in 1979. The treaty has ensured the end of belligerency and the security of Israel, free from threats or acts of force. As for the Golan Heights, to whom it can be returned? to the crumbling illegitimate Syrian regime or maybe to insurgents such as ISIS? what kind of “peace” Israel can expect in return?
In 2005, following the Oslo accords, the Gaza Strip was fully returned unilaterally to the Palestinian Authority. This move, which involved dismantling of many settlements and transferring thousands of settlers without any tangible benefit, astonished even Israel’s best friends. From hopes of Gaza becoming the next Singapore, it has become a stronghold of terror, when Hamas, a brutal terrorist organization, won the elections in 2006. Ever since, more than 20,000 rockets were fired into Israel, terror tunnels are being dug under Israeli kibbutzim, child soldiers are being trained, and venomous incitement rules over children’s education and culture.
It is legitimate by international law to take halt of enemy’s territories till the threats he poses are removed (it proved out very nicely with the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt). Can anyone envisage Egypt, the biggest and strongest Arab state, come to terms with Israel without the latter insisting on holding Sinai till the agreement? Along the same line, and adding to that the bitter experience Israel has had after the disengagement from Gaza, can anyone dare state that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be reasonably solved without Israel insisting on holding the West Bank until a tangible solution is apparent?
Now, Israel’s “sympathizers” could claim that Israel “has fallen in love” with holding large areas, not exerting itself too much to get out of the stalemate. Disappointment again! Two Israeli Prime Ministers offered practically all of the West Bank in exchange for peace (in 2000 and 2007). Surprise, in both cases, the Palestinians said NO! Again and again, the Palestinian leaders refuse to make compromises in order to give their people, finally, their own state. By the way, over 90% of the Palestinians already live under their own sovereignty.
After going through this “short” summary, we can assume that unilateral actions, such as an immediate withdraw from the West Bank, will only make things worse. Any genuine action to end the violence must occur with the cooperation of both sides. Compromises can be made, trust should be built, but in order to end the violence, the party that incites their youth, that commemorates its terrorists and that celebrates the death of Jews, needs to change from its core. According to the Anti-Defamation League index of Anti-Semitism, 93% of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank harbor venomous Anti-Semitic attitudes. Violence can only end when there is a dramatic will to end the hate, and to teach about tolerance and peace. A withdraw from the West Bank can only happen when there is a genuine bilateral attempt to promote peace.