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Is the West Bank next?

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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu expects the US to protect Israel from a Palestinian rebellion, writer says  [EPA]by MJ Rosenberg

If Binyamin Netanyahu's govenment, and its lobby in Washington, were rational they would be rushing to plan Israel's evacuation from the occupied territories, and encouraging the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

That is because they would understand that the Arab revolution will not stop at the gates of the West Bank, especially when it is the occupation that unites virtually all Arabs and Muslims in common fury.

As for the Palestinians themselves, they are watching the revolutions with a combination of joy and humiliation.  Other Arabs are freeing themselves from local tyrants while they remain under a foreign occupation that grows more onerous every day -particularly in East Jerusalem. While other Arabs revel in what they have accomplished, the Palestinians remain, and are regarded as, victims.

It is not going to last. The Palestinians will revolt, just as the other Arabs have, and the occupation will end.

But it is up to the Israelis to help decide how it will end (just as it was up to the Mubarak government and Egyptian army to decide whether the regime would go down in blood and flames or accept the inevitable).

Gaza mistakes

For Israel, that means accepting the terms of the Arab League Initiative (incorporating United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338) and trade the occupied lands for full peace and normalisation of relations with the entire Arab world. Or it can hang on to an unsustainable status quo.

They can wait for the eruption, thinking they can contain it and ignoring the fact that the weaponry they can use against any foreign invaders cannot be used against an occupied civilian population. That is especially true in the age of Al Jazeera and of Twitter, Facebook, and the rest.

Right-wing Israelis and their lobby in Washington invariably respond to this argument by saying that it is impossible to leave the West Bank, pointing to the experience in Gaza. They withdrew only to have their own land beyond the border shelled by militants who seized control as Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) troops left for home.

That is true and it might indeed happen again if the Israeli occupation is ended as a result of a popular uprising.

But Gaza is only an applicable precedent if Israel leaves without negotiating the terms of its departure. Israel left Gaza when Palestinians made the price of staying too high. But, rather than negotiating its way out, Israel just left.

Colonial mentality

In an act of colossal and typical arrogance Ariel Sharon, the former prime minister, withdrew unilaterally. Not only did he refuse to negotiate the terms of the withdrawal with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, Sharon refused even to give the Palestinian Authority (PA) advance notice of the day and time of their departure.

Had they done so, the PA would have been in place to prevent the havoc that ensued. But they weren't. Sharon, utterly contemptuous of Palestinians, behaved as if Israel was 19th century Belgium and Palestine was the Congo. No consultations with the natives were even contemplated.

The Israeli government would have to be absolutely out of its mind to allow a repeat of that experience. But that would likely happen if Israel is forced out rather than negotiating its way out.

Fortunately, both the Israelis and the Palestinians already have worked out detailed plans to ensure mutual security following an Israeli withdrawal. In fact, the Palestinian Authority already utilizes those plans to maintain West Bank security and, with Israeli help, prevents attacks on Israel from territories its control.

The same modalities would have to be worked out with the Hamas authorities in Gaza. Hamas has repeatedly said that it would accept the terms of any agreement with Israel worked out by the Palestinian Authority and approved by the Palestinian people in a referendum.

What is Israel waiting for?

Can it honestly look at the way the Middle East has evolved in 2011 and believe that the occupation can last forever? Can it have so little respect for Palestinians that it believes them incapable of doing what Egyptians, Libyans, and Tunisians have done?

Or is it that Netanyahu simply counts on the United States to come to its assistance when the inevitable happens. That would be a big mistake. It is one thing for the United States to get pressured by the Israeli lobby into vetoing a resolution on settlements. It is quite another to think that anything the United States does can preserve the occupation.

US protection

In fact, after last week’s votes, it is doubtful that the Palestinian people (other than a few big shots) even care what the United States thinks anymore.

No, it is up to Israel to defend Israel. And that means ending the occupation, on terms worked out with the Palestinians, rather than allowing it to end in violence that could cross the border and threaten the survival of Israel itself.

Why can’t Israel see that? Have the fanatics in the Israeli government (the settlers and the religious parties) decided that it better to have no Israel at all than an Israel without the West Bank and its settlements?

Because that is how Israel is behaving: as if Ariel, Hebron, and Maale Adumim are worth more than Tel Aviv, Haifa, and the Jewish parts of Jerusalem.

It’s a kind of insanity.

MJ Rosenberg is a senior foreign policy fellow at Media Matters Action Network. The above article first appeared in Foreign Policy Matters, a part of the Media Matters Action Network. Follow MJ's work on Facebook or on Twitter.


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