In Washington Post Debate on Israel, Both Sides Get It Wrong
Two left-of-center Jewish professors, writing in the Washington Post last month, called for a boycott of Israel. A former Bush administration official then wrote a counter op-ed to refute them. Unfortunately, both sides missed the most important point.
Professors Steven Levitsky of Harvard and Glen Weyl of the University of Chicago wrote in the Post on October 23 that Israel’s “occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the denial of basic rights to Palestinians living there” has become so similar to apartheid that they now support boycotting Israel, are urging their universities to divest from Israel, and want the US to end all aid to Israel.
In his rebuttal op-ed, former Bush administration official Elliott Abrams made some valid points.
He reminded readers that Israeli prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert offered broad concessions to the Palestinians, but were rebuffed. He pointed out that Palestinian terrorism (almost completely ignored by the two professors) is the real obstacle to peace. And he noted that Palestinian violence against Israel and Jews started long before the occupation in 1967, indicating that their real goal is to destroy Israel, not just end the occupation.
But Levitsky, Weyl and Abrams all missed the main point about “the occupation”: it ended 20 years ago.
In 1995, then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin withdrew Israel’s forces from the cities in Judea-Samaria (the West Bank) where 98% of the Palestinian Arabs reside. They pulled out of Nablus (Shechem), Jenin, Qalqilya, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Tulkarm, Jericho and almost all of Hebron. Later, they withdrew from 100% of Gaza.
The Palestinian Authority took over all those areas. For the past 20 years, the PA has policed the streets, collected the garbage, issued the building permits, and administered the elections — that is, when the PA deigned to have elections at all. In Gaza, the PA ruled at first; today, Hamas is in charge there.
The portion of Judea-Samaria that is completely ruled by the PA is called Area A. The PA also has civilian control over another portion of the territories, where Israel is still in charge of security. That’s called Area B. Altogether, the PA has full or partial control of 39% of the territories, and 98% of the Palestinian population, and Hamas rules 100% of the Gazans. There is no Israeli occupation of the Palestinians.
The only debate now is over issues such as whether the PA should be given additional portions of the Israeli-controlled section of Judea-Samaria, and whether the PA should become a sovereign, independent state that can import tanks, fighter jets, and Iranian “volunteers.”
Let’s have that debate. Let’s debate the pros and cons of letting the Palestinian Authority have tanks. But Israel’s critics and defenders alike need to stop debating about an “occupation” that no longer exists.
Mr. Korn, chairman of the Philadelphia Religious Zionists, is former executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent and the Miami Jewish Tribune.