The Nightmare after 50 Years of Failed Military Policies
At the eve of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, I toured West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as the Golan Heights and interviewed both the colonizers and the colonized. What I found most ominous was the gap of perceptions between the two. The Israelis saw a bright future and thought they were paving the way to a lasting peace. The Palestinians saw no future and dreamed of a land of their own.
After half a century of misguided policies, the situation is far, far worse.
The post-1974 rise of the Jewish settlements
After the Yom Kippur War, Israelâs Labor coalition began to intensify the expansion of the boundaries of Jerusalem eastward. This encouraged a group of Messianic settlers to create a foothold in the West Bank, including Maâale Adumim by the group Gush Emunim. These religious far-right Jews were met with protests by the peace activists.
Among the peace movementâs leaders was the author Yael Dayan, the daughter of general Moshe Dayan and future Labor politician and feminist. Like in 1973, Dayan said in 2020 that âthere is not and there cannot be a real and lasting peace that can be reconciled with the massive colonization of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.â
After discussions with her, I joined the movement and the protests. I saw the settlements as a time-bomb that could subvert Israeli democracy, endanger Israelâs Jewish and Arab citizens and Palestinians, morph into apartheid, and cause a cycle of âforever warsâ with its Arab neighbors.
One of the founders of the âPeace Nowâ movement was the late novelist Amos Oz, a dear friend whose book on the settler-induced divisions In the Land of Israel (1983) I would later translate. He was among the first Israelis to advocate a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Oz warned of the dangers of the occupation already back in 1967 and called the radicalized settlers neo-Nazis (Figure 1).
Figure 1 âCorrupting Occupationâ
âEven unavoidable occupation is a corrupting occupation; an enlightened and humane and liberal occupation is occupation.â
Amos Oz, 1967
West Bank settlements, apartheid regime
The Jewish settlements have fostered a de facto one-state reality in Israel, wherein Israelis have rights and Palestinians donÂ´t. Meanwhile, talks for a two-state solution have been stalling since 2014. Rhetoric aside, Netanyahuâs government has âengaged in actions that annex the West Bank and threaten the prospects for a just and lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.â
In the past, periods of heightened security tension and military operations have ensured an opportunity for settlers to establish facts on the ground. After the brutal attack by Hamas, the alarming trend of increased settler violence has rapidly escalated.
Hereâs a reality check: Nothing has halted the settlersâ steady expansion since the late 1960s and the Israelisâ expansion in East Jerusalem (Figure 2).
|Figure 2 Expansion of Jewish settlers in the West Bank, 1967-2021|
In South Africa, the system of apartheid, based on white supremacy and racial segregation, was in place from 1948 until 1994. In April 2021, the Human Rights Watch warned that Israel had crossed the apartheid threshold. In early September this year, the ex-chief of Mossad, Tamir Pardo, said that Israelâs mechanisms for controlling the Palestinians matched the old South Africa. âThere is an apartheid state here,â since âtwo people are judged under two legal systems.â
Even amid the peace talks in Oslo in the early â90s, Palestinian per capita income was just 15% relative to the Israeli level. But hopes for peace died with the Jewish far-right assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Despite all the hoopla by the Trump and Biden administrations that the Middle East is at the cusp of peace and prosperity, Palestinian per capita income has fallen and is now only 12.9% relative to the Israeli level; lower than decades ago.
As bad as these aggregate figures are, they reflect Palestinian averages, not Gazaâs hell. Years of isolation and recurrent conflicts have left the local economy far behind the West Bankâs, due to the Israeli-imposed blockade, four wars, and domestic divisions.
Gazan per capita income is now less than a third of that in the West Bank. Half of the labor is unemployed; over half of the population lives below the national poverty line.
Long before the Hamas offensive, Palestinian stagnation reflected economic ruin that was excessive even relative to apartheid South Africa.
During the apartheid (1948-94), the blacksâ per capita income relative to the whites climbed from 8.6% to 13.5%. In relative terms, the Palestiniansâ starting point relative to Israelis was almost twice as high after the Oslo Accords. But today it’s behind that of the blacks at the end of the apartheid. The reversal occurred under the watch of the Trump and Biden administrations (Figure 3).
Figure 3 From apartheid South Africa to West Bank/Gaza
Source: Author, data from IMF
Farsighted Israeli leaders no longer deny the reality of apartheid. Last year, former attorney general Michael Ben-Yair called Israel âan apartheid regime.â Recently, the parliament’s former speaker Avraham Burg and renowned historian Benny Morris were among more than 2,000 Israeli and American public figures who signed a public statement that âPalestinians live under a regime of apartheid.â
In retrospect, the peace efforts in Israel have been vital and inspiring, but no match to the settlement policies that have been legitimized in terms of national security interests and fueled by massive arms trade and the U.S. Big Defense. Like the peace movement, international community considers the settlements a violation of international law. Yet, hawkish advocates of national security favored their expansion.
For all practical purposes, they have won. In the early 1970s, there were barely 2,000 settlers in the West Bank. Today, that figure exceeds 500,000.
Their problem is that they will never win the peace.
Dr. Dan Steinbock is the founder of Difference Group and has served at the India, China and America Institute (US), Shanghai Institute for International Studies (China) and the EU Center (Singapore). For more, see https://www.differencegroup.net
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