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May 11, 2017 12:13 pm

Israel’s Political Disunity Enables Settlement Policy

avatar by Alon Ben-Meir

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An Israeli settlement in the West Bank. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Israel will soon reach the grim milestone of 50 years of occupation of the West Bank. Many Israelis have become complacent, and have succumbed to the government’s argument that the continuing occupation is necessary to safeguard Israel’s national security. Others view the occupation not only as a gross violation of Palestinian human rights, but as a real menace to Israel’s democratic nature and Jewish national character.

Whereas right-wing Israeli governments have maintained the occupation by any means available, including the use of force, the Israeli opposition parties from the left and center have failed miserably over many years to advance a unified political platform to end the occupation and resolve the Mideast conflict based on a two-state solution.

With every passing day, it is becoming increasingly difficult to establish a Palestinian state with a contiguous land mass, due to the government’s decision to legalize illegal settlements, build new ones and expand existing ones. Should this trend continue for another ten years, it is estimated that the number of Jews living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem will grow from the current 650,000 to one million, creating irreversible facts on the ground that will render the two-state solution inviolable.

Successive right-wing Israeli governments, especially the current one led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have never committed to a two-state solution. Instead, they have decided to manage the occupation by the use of force, and made the Palestinians live in self-governing cantons where they can manage their own internal affairs — as long as they don’t pose a security threat.

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This dangerous development was largely made possible by two factors: first, the Israeli political system, which encourages the proliferation of parties with various political orientations. On average, there are 12-15 political parties that garner the minimum threshold of 3.25 percent of the vote to serve in the Knesset. As a result, every Israeli government since the inception of the state has been a coalition government consisting of several parties. Thus, coalition politics are always paramount.

The second factor is the reality that past and current opposition parties from the center and left have been unwilling to form a coalition government with a united platform to end the occupation.

One of the main reasons for the discord between the center and left parties is not  ideological differences, but the blind personal ambition of party leaders — including Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union, Tzipi Livni and others.

Therefore, the political field was left open for Netanyahu and his cohorts to expand the settlements, forcefully claiming that the Jews have a historic and biblical right to the entire “Land of Israel” that God bequeathed to them. Although Netanyahu continues to assert that he supports a two-state solution, he has never provided a convincing argument as to how he would square the creation of a Palestinian state with Israel’s claims to the same land where the Palestinians are supposed to establish their own country.

To explain the “rationale” behind this contradiction, he argues that Israel’s concerns about security and the Palestinians’ long-term objective to destroy the state compels Israel to maintain its control over the entire territory. Moreover, several members of the Netanyahu government have openly called for the annexation of much of the West Bank; from their perspective, there must never be a Palestinian state.

The dire consequences of continuing the occupation are extremely damaging to Israel’s character and national security. Other than the intense and growing opposition of the international community, Israel’s loss of its moral compass will be to its detriment. Israel is increasingly becoming a pariah state, deprived of peace with the Arab world and gradually losing its very reason to exist as a Jewish state (despite the fact that Netanyahu and the extreme right-wing insist on characterizing it as such). Finally, the continuing occupation will inevitably intensify the conflict, as the Palestinians’ prospect of establishing a state of their own fades away.

Israel’s future as a democratic and Jewish state rests on the shoulders of the opposition parties. They must think of what will happen if the current or future right-of-center governments continue with the present policy.

They must remember that the fate of the country is in their hands. They must set their personal ambitions aside, and put the future security and well-being of the state first. They must produce a unified political program to end the occupation, and explain to the public the disastrous consequences that Israel will face unless the occupation comes to an end.

As a single party with unity of purpose, they would be able to successfully challenge the Netanyahu government in the next election. They should learn from 70 years of experience that no political party has been able to garner a majority of the Israeli electorate on its own, but that together they can mobilize the public behind the noble cause of unshackling Israel from the self-degrading occupation.

If they fail, they too will be blamed for having betrayed the nation and sacrificed a millennium-old dream of a Jewish state — a state recognized not only because of its unprecedented achievements, but for its high moral standing and the realization that its future as an independent, free and secure state depends on allowing the Palestinians to enjoy the same rights.

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