Two weeks ago you were told that there is no occupation and that settlements are legal; now you can sleep well at night – there is no Palestinian problem either.
I am struggling to make sense of the policies being implemented by our prime minister. Binyamin Netanyahu is an intelligent man. In keeping his coalition together and staying in power longer than most past prime ministers, he has proven that he is also a masterful politician. However, I can’t accept that his political strategy is only a game of survival. I believe Netanyahu cares deeply about the country and its people; he adheres to a defined worldview and does not only make difficult decisions under pressure, as many claim.
I assume that he has a coherent political strategy that he can articulate. I also assume that it goes beyond protecting Israel from a potential Iranian bomb. I am mainly referring to his strategy vis-à-vis the Palestinians and the future of the West Bank. The bottom line on his strategy is the following: there is no occupation and there is no Palestinian problem. Binyamin Netanyahu has eliminated the Palestinian problem. This is how I think he did it: Shortly after he was elected he surprised everyone with his famous Bar-Ilan speech endorsing the two-state solution. That removed international and internal pressure on his new government. Then he implemented his “economic peace plan,” removing checkpoints and enabling the Palestinian economy to expand. The Palestinians cooperated by issuing the “Fayyad Plan” to build the institutions of the state. That kept them and the international community busy thinking that they were actually planning for statehood.
The policy of separating Gaza from the West Bank, launched by Sharon, followed up by Olmert and completed by Netanyahu is now paying off after the elections of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Hamas, feeling empowered, is planning to make permanent the separation from the West Bank. At the same time, Egypt will slowly but surely integrate Gaza into the Egyptian fabric.
The Egyptians want to retake control of Sinai. They need to end smuggling in the area and that includes the tunnels into Gaza.
The Gazan economy will move above ground, which will require a cargo transport border in Rafah. The Rafah border will shortly be open 24/7 for movement of people in and out. Gaza will import more from and through Egypt, maybe El-Arish will become a semi-official Gaza sea port. Soon we will begin to hear about the use of the Egyptian lira as the primary currency in Gaza instead of the Israeli shekel. Bye bye, Gaza. We can say farewell to its 1.6 million people.
East Jerusalem Palestinians, some 300,000 in number, are lining up asking for Israeli passports. Israel has succeeded in detaching them from the West Bank as well. They lived under Jordanian rule for 19 years and under Israeli rule for 45 years.
Israeli policies threaten their residency status.
They no longer have hopes of seeing a Palestinian state. They don’t wish to live under the restrictions of life in the West Bank. They enjoy free movement, national insurance and health services. Why not take an Israeli passport? Maybe they will vote in the Jerusalem municipal elections, maybe they won’t.
Maybe they will vote for the Knesset, maybe they won’t. There is a sharp decline in the political participation of Palestinian citizens of Israel, why should the Jerusalemites be different? We can say goodbye to the thorny issue of Jerusalem and the 300,000 additional Israeli citizens are already counted in our official statistics, so this won’t change anything.
Ninety-five percent of Palestinians in the West Bank are living under the Palestinian Authority. The PA is on the verge of financial collapse, but fear not, the United States, the Europeans and Israel will not allow them to fall. The PA is too important for stability.
They provide services to the Palestinians in education, health, welfare. They provide work for more than 150,000. They have a security force with official uniforms and a chain of command. They run an economy with a tax system. They have banks and even a stock market. They have a pseudonational status with Palestinian Authority passports. They have a flag and a national anthem. As long as there continues to be economic growth, which is largely dependent on Israel, relative calm is not too difficult to ensure.
There is the problem of some of the more extreme settlers who provoke with violence, mainly in the relatively unpopulated areas, and their actions all too often wind up on YouTube causing some concern. But all in all, it is manageable. In those few areas where there is unrest, the IDF knows how to deal with it. When was the last time we heard about Israeli casualties in Nebi Salah or Bil’in? We just have to keep those damn internationals and anarchists out and it will be fine.
If the Palestinians decide to once again rise up, a little disproportionate response does wonders, e.g. Defensive Shield, the Second Lebanon War and Cast Lead. Those operations bought years of deterrence.
ON TOP of all of this, Netanyahu’s demographers claim that the Palestinian census figure of 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank is off by about one million.
So let’s recap – Gaza, with its 1.6 million, is out of the picture. East Jerusalem’s 300,000 Palestinians become citizens, but like their one-million-strong brothers and sisters who are already citizens; their political participation is increasingly insignificant.
The West Bank is really only 1.5 million strong. Many young people are leaving for better opportunities elsewhere and for most people, at least those not living right next to a settlement or those who have to work in Israel, life isn’t so bad. In fact, it is probably better than Spain.
The demography problem played up so high by the left is a chimera. And we all know the haredim (ultra-Orthodox) produce even more babies than the Arabs (maybe this explains Netanyahu’s passionate relationship with them – even if they don’t serve in the army – they serve in the maternity ward).
The world still believes Netanyahu intends to one day create a Palestinian state, but there is not much they can do as long as he keeps on declaring his willingness to negotiate and the Palestinian leaders keep staying away from negotiations.
So listen up, People of Israel: two weeks ago you were told that there is no occupation and that settlements are legal. Now you can sleep well at night – there is no Palestinian problem either.
Photo: An evacuated Jewish settlement in Gaza
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.