Analysis of Israeli Policies
Analysis of Israeli Policies: The Priority of the Ideological Factor
The late Israel Shahak spent his childhood in the Warsaw Ghetto and Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. He moved to Palestine in 1945. For many years he was the chairman of the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights.
In this 1995 essay, Shahak examines the ideology that drives the Israeli government. His criticism of the Palestinian leadership, in particular Arafat, illustrates his unswerving dedication to universal justice.
At the time of this writing the end of the “peace process” initiated in Madrid and Oslo is all too evident. It has failed primarily because the Israeli government did nothing to make the majority of the Palestinians in the Territories support it, at least temporarily, although it could have obtained their support without sacrificing any major imperial Israeli interests. Many commentators, including some well-intentioned ones, are wringing their hands imploring Rabin to refrain from taking another provocative step—e.g. the further confiscation of land in East Jerusalem as decided on April 30, 1995. Those commentators fail to take into account that Rabin’s policies have an internal logic and consistency based on the consensus of Labor Zionism as formed already in the 1920s. This report will describe those policies, to conclude that their analysis and prediction are very easy to make on the assumption that they constitute an application of the Zionist ideology which tends to override pragmatic considerations. The apparent exceptions to this rule, e.g. Israeli withdrawals from formerly conquered territories, are also explainable in terms of ideological factors, in this instance in terms of the loss of Jewish lives in unsuccessful or inconclusive wars and of the wish to avoid further losses of Jewish lives.
For instance, as pointed out by Tanya Reinhart (Yediot Ahronot, May 1, 1995) in all Rabin’s interviews to the Hebrew press published on the Passover Eve, April 14, he reiterated his ideological commitment to the principle that only the Jews “have the right over the entire Land of Israel”. Rabin didn’t bother to specify the exact borders of the Land in question: he only admitted that “it is also inhabited by 2 million Palestinians” who constitute “a problem” which only Labor knows how to solve. This is a standard formula of Labor and center Zionism which hasn’t changed for more than 75 years.
On the same day “a senior officer of the Central Command of the Israeli army”, which is in charge of the West Bank, was interviewed by Nahum Barnea (Yediot Ahronot, April 14). The officer defined “the official policy of the Israeli army as providing every Jew in every settlement, whether of the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, with exactly the same degree of security and well-being as Jews of Haifa and Tel Aviv have during all stages of the peace process and afterwards”. Needless to say, nothing was said about security of the Palestinians who, more than before Oslo, are harassed by the settlers backed by the army and by Arafat’s secret polices backed by the Shabak. The officer also singled out with pride the ever increasing number of Palestinian administrative detainees in the West Bank (3,600 according to him, more than 5,000 according to my sources), adding that “the detention orders which in the past have been issued for only half a year are now issued for an entire year”. He promised that the Israeli army will soon take many other steps such as “the confiscation of property” of individuals considered to be “Hamas supporters” and as “decisive measures against the mosques. Not every mosque is affiliated with Hamas, but a mosque which we will consider as so affiliated will be dealt with utmost firmness”.
The plan which the Israeli army already implements in the Territories (known as “Rainbow of Colors”) was published in the Hebrew press in November 1994, but its crucial feature, the “bypassing roads” on which only the Jewish settlers, their visitors and the Israeli army will be permitted to drive, was discussed by the press already in September. Reinhart (ibid.) notes that the plan had been “formulated already in the early 1980s” by the settlers, but under Likud and “national unity” governments nothing much was done to implement it. “It is ‘the peace government’ which opened new vistas for the plan’s implementation”. The annual cost of the plan is one billion shekel [$330 million], to be continued for 3 years. Most of the cost, as noted by Meir Shteglitz (Yediot Ahronot, April 9) Israel expects to covered by the U.S. Relying on an interview given by the commander of the Central Command, general Biran, to Haaretz (April 28), Reinhart described the plan as “envisaging maximal defense of all existing Jewish settlements and the partition of the West Bank into enclaves containing Arab localities. Each enclave is to be surrounded by bypassing roads, settlements and Israeli army fortresses. The situation will be then the same as in the Gaza Strip”. (I will deal with the Gaza Strip later.) “If Israel ever decides to withdraw its troops from any downtown area of an Arab city [of the West Bank], the plan is to guarantee that the Israeli army will continue to rule that city from outside”. Indeed, “control from outside” is a favorite term of Rabin and other Labor stalwarts, in use from before the June 1992 elections.
Actually the plan was formulated already in 1977 by Ariel Sharon and it was then described in the Hebrew press in detail. At that time Sharon was still “only” an Agriculture minister. Rabin and Peres, fresh from their defeat in the 1977 elections didn’t object to the plan, but Begin and Weizman, (Defense minister 1977-1980) did, since they assigned higher priority to making peace with Egypt. When Begin began to lose his sanity and Sharon became Defense minister, the highest priority was assigned to the invasion of Lebanon. To the best of my knowledge, the plan under current implementation has since remained the Israeli Security System’s “preferable solution” to “the problem” of Palestinians in the Territories. According to the information available in the Hebrew press, the plan began to be implemented in the Gaza Strip right after Oslo. Reinhart quotes press sources showing that in the West Bank the beginnings of its implementation date from July 1994, when in an amicable meeting Rabin agreed with the Gush Emunim leaders “who explained to him that construction of the bypassing roads lay in a common interest of the government and the Jewish settlers. And at the same time Rabin was told the same by [the then Chief of Staff] Barak”. The plan was welcomed by Gush Emunim leaders in their internal writings, but attacked whenever they addressed the general public. According to general Biran (ibid.) the plan “was intended to give the settlers the full opportunity to live a normal life. I take this occasion to stress that no Jewish settlement whatsoever will ever be removed from its place. In order to achieve this goal the Israeli army is now implementing a number of plans, such as the construction of the bypassing roads and of a separate electricity and water networks intended to guarantee that each Jewish settlement will have maximum security and welfare”.
Reinhart provides a sophisticated but in my view insufficient explanation of why the apartheid-like “Rainbow of Colors” plan was welcomed by the “Peace Now” and by most of both Jewish and Palestinian “peace camp”. All too clearly, the plan favored the settlers and was intended to perpetuate the Israeli conquest of the Territories more effectually than before by “control from outside”. Yet “Peace Now” extolled this racist plan as “a positive sign of implementation of the peace process”, and its leaders rushed to convince Arafat in Gaza about its virtues. Noting that the settlers and all the right-wing censured the “Rainbow of Colors” plan as “selling out the Land to the Gentiles”, Reinhart observes that “the religious settlers and Likud had long ago discovered a panaceum for neutralizing the left. As soon as they attack the government, the doves of various persuasions stand to attention ready to help the government pursue the ‘peace process’. The result is that the supporters of a plan devised by the settlers can pass for ‘peace lovers’. The more one insists that the government speeds up carrying out this plan in the whole of the West Bank, the more reputation for ‘peace loving’ he acquires. And whoever dares to oppose this plan is instantly censured by the doves for ‘sabotaging the peace’ and branded as one of those ‘extremists from both sides’ who by virtue of opposing Rabin’s policies is ‘objectively against peace'”.
This explanation is correct on a tactical level. It clearly points out how the Oslo process in effect advanced the cause of the Israeli apartheid, by virtue of making it possible to brand every Jewish or Palestinian opponent of racism as “enemy of peace”. Yet in my view Reinhart, like many other Jewish leftists, misses the main point. I whole-heartedly agree with her prognosis of the effects of the “Rainbow of Colors” upon the Palestinians. She writes: “The meaning of the plan is that we will solve the problem of 2 million Palestinians in the Territories by imprisoning them in ghettoes, starving them and turning them into beggars. But instead of calling it ‘an occupation’, we will present it as a step toward a Palestinian state. We will pry Palestinian throats with our boots while smiling to them nicely”. [A clear allusion to Shimon Peres, I. Shahak.] But the point which Reinhart misses is that Labor’s version of Jewish racism has always been much more hypocritical and hence more dangerous than Likud’s, but also more noxious in terms of actual oppressing of its victims. I will return to this point below.
Meron Benvenisti’s presentation (Haaretz, April 27) is similar to Reinhart’s. He also derides the Zionist doves who support Israeli brutalities committed after Oslo in general and the “Rainbow of Colors” in particular, while reassuring the Palestinians that these are means conducive to the Palestinian state, “at first only in the Gaza Strip”. Benvenisti says that “far from promoting justice, peace or progress, a world-view reduced to establishing a state as its single goal cannot but be empty, deceitful and conforming to Israeli interests. Now, when the Palestinian Authority already has an autonomous authority in domestic affairs, its corruption and arbitrariness in the Gaza Strip cannot stand in greater contrast from the ideals of human freedom and dignity, and from the struggle against deprivation. Hence, even if Israel grants Arafat a semblance of a state, no relief can be expected in the conditions of oppression, control and exploitation. Such conditions were dictated by Israel to Arafat in the Oslo and Cairo Accords. This is why no conceivable change of labels may prompt the Palestinian population to ideologically identify with Arafat’s regime”. Benvenisti says that Israel may possibly agree to Arafat’s statehood, but only in order to present it as a “seeming concession enabling Israel to demand from the Palestinians in return ‘more flexibility’, in acquiescing to the perpetuation of the Israeli colonial rule over the Territories”. I don’t think the Labor government will ever agree to independent Palestinian state, even in the Gaza Strip alone. The talk about such a prospect was no more than a typical ploy by Shimon Peres, intended to extract from Arafat more compliance with Israeli demands. Had Labor intended to establish a Palestinian state, it would have exploited it in the fast approaching Israeli election campaign. Moreover, Rabin would have sought to justify it in his numerous Passover Eve interviews. Yet the Israeli government has done nothing in order to explain and justify such a policy change to the Israeli public.
To describe the aims of the “Rainbow of Colors” apartheid, Benvenisti speaks, in my view all too cogently, of “conceptual ethnic cleansing i.e. of erasing the others from one’s consciousness. It cannot be attributed to chance that the so-called ‘peace process with the Palestinians’ is in Jewish society accompanied by an unusually high incidence of ethnocentrism approaching racism, of tribal forms of morality and of the failure to distinguish between the moral right to exist and the moral obligation to behave decently”. Among Benvenisti’s examples of such “incidence”, a particularly outrageous (at least in my view) was the imposition of a round-the-clock curfew on Palestinians of Hebron so as to let the visitors of Jewish settlers “hold a picnic”, and roam around the city in perfect safety. For a single day during the Passover week the city was for this purpose filled up with troops: a circumstance which let the picnickers exult over Palestinians confined in their houses and throw stones at them, especially if their dared to look out from their windows. The whole thing was intended as a concession of Rabin to Gush Emunim. It nevertheless failed to prevent the latter to use the day for the grossest forms of abuse of what they call “the government of wickedness”, including public prayers to God to “abolish it quickly”.
Benvenisti concludes, rightly in my view, that “the Oslo process, the resultant ideology of segregation and the resultant security considerations are intended to vest [Israeli] ethnic cleansing with an aura of respectability. Sure, my use of that term may be viewed as a manifestation of extremism compared to its usual use as an elegant term for expulsions and mass murders. But in my view ethnic cleansing may also be more limited in time. A closure of the Territories or a curfew intended to cleanse the public space from the presence of “others” are perfect examples of such conceptual ethnic cleansing limited in time”.
Danny Rabinovitz (Haaretz, April 25), whom I am going to quote extensively, tries to capture the difference between the Israeli right-wing and Rabin and his supporters. “The right-wing would have liked that Israeli troops would have reentered Gaza [Strip] so as to let Israel itself deal with Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. In contrast, Rabin and his Jewish supporters are worshipping the Moloch of segregation and dream about creating a tough and sophisticated Palestinian Authority capable of eradicating terror and thus letting the Jews live in perfect security. On the surface, these may seem two very different approaches, not merely to the problem of terror but also to the solution of the Jewish-Palestinian conflict. On one side the nostalgic right-wing vision of ‘Greater Israel’ and on the other ‘Pax Israeliana’ of the humanistic and peace-loving left. On closer inspection, however, what may be called ‘Rabin’s vision’ may make one wonder whether the difference between the left and the right on those fateful issues is really that great. What will be the meaning of peace, if Arafat accepts the current Israeli proposals and becomes a guardian of security of the Jews by successfully trying to eradicate the extremists in the Gaza [Strip]? This was precisely the nightmare of the Palestinian opponents of Oslo, whether religious or secular. They feared that what went under the name of ‘the peace process’ was to be nothing more than a change in forms of the Israeli military conquest from a cruel but a temporary regime, into a durable form of political and economic enslavement, not only more oppressive but also more perpetual”. Let me omit Rabinovitz’s historical analysis of Arafat’s role as a linchpin in the long succession of the Ottoman, British, Jordanian and Israeli “mukhtars” [village headmen], granted the security of tenure together with opportunities for exploitation of others, in exchange for being responsible to “the authorities” for guaranteeing good behavior of people under their jurisdiction. Currently, says Rabinovitz,
“Rabin wants Arafat to become Israel’s ‘rais’ [headman or contractor in Arabic or Hebrew] for security of Jewish lives, threatening that in the event of his failure in this task, Israel will stop the negotiations, impose a perpetual closure of the Territories and stop the flow of money from the Western states. However, if Arafat performs his job as required, Rabin will reward him by granting him the security of tenure as a Mukhtar… It is true that Rabin has decisively opted against militaristic form of colonialism, but what the [Israeli] left proposes instead is nothing less than a neo-colonialist form of perpetual domination…
“It is still unclear whether Arafat wants to fight Hamas and whether he believes that he can defeat it. But Arafat can defeat Hamas only in a way which guarantees his stay in power as an Israeli puppet heading the crowds of his secret police agents, a sort of a Palestinian Antoine Lahad responsible for another ‘security zone’. In such a case it may be possible to maintain Arafat in power with the help of money from Western states and other means Israel would take to maintain him in power. But in such a case Arafat cannot be expected to deliver political benefits which only a legitimate leadership with a popular mandate could deliver. This is why the difference between the respective solutions of [Israeli] left and right do not seem to be so great. The right-wing solution is cruder, more violent and more short-sighted of the two, whereas the leftist solution is better adapted to current international fashions. But neither succeeds in protecting us from the cold wind entering through the tear and wear in the cloak, so hastily patched up in Oslo in order to keep us cozily warm”.
Those developments could have been predicted (and have in fact been predicted in my reports) by those who took the trouble to analyze the actual Zionist policies pursued since the 1920s, and after 1967 in the Territories. Let me begin with Israel itself. The laws of the State of Israel pertaining to the use of land are based on the principle of discrimination against all non-Jews. The State of Israel has turned most of the land in Israel (about 92%) into “state land”. After those lands are defined as owned by the State of Israel they can be leased for long periods only to Jews. The right to a long-term lease of such land is denied to all non-Jews without a single exception. This denial is enforced by placing all state lands under the administration by the Jewish National Fund, a branch of the World Zionist Organization, whose racist statutes forbid their long-term lease, or any other use, to non-Jews. Their lease to Jews, conditioned upon the prohibition of sublease to non-Jews, is granted for the period of 49 years with an automatic renewal for another 49 year period. Consequently, they are treated as property and are bought, sold and mortgaged, provided the party to the deal is Jewish. The small and decreasing number of cases of leasing state land to non-Jews for grazing is never for more than 11 months. A Jewish lease of state land is allowed, often subsidized or otherwise encouraged, to develop the land and especially to build a house for himself there, but non-Jewish leasee is strictly prohibited to do so. Leasing state land to a non-Jew is always accompanied by restrictive conditions, such as the prohibition of construction or any other development or subleasing it to somebody else. By the way, membership of all kibbutzim and moshavim (whose supposed “socialist” or “utopian” character is so stridently advertised outside Israel) is strictly limited to Jews by virtue of their being all located on state land. Non-Jews who desire to become members of a kibbutz, even a kibbutz whose Jewish members are atheists, must convert to Judaism. The kibbutz movements, in cooperation with the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, are keeping special training facilities for preparing “easy”, (i.e in most cases fake) conversions to Judaism for such people. As a consequence the Galilee can be described as the land of apartheid. Palestinian localities are bursting with population growth but are surrounded by state land which they cannot use it in order to expand. The town of Sakhnin in the Galilee, inhabited by about 25,000 Palestinians, is surrounded from three sides by state land allotted to three kibbutzim founded in 1970s for the express purpose to “guard state land” from “Arab encroachment”.
Those kibbutzim are in every respect failures. The original members had long ago left them and so did their successors, but new Jewish volunteers (mostly from the “peace camp”) are being sent there all the time. Those kibbutzim receive huge subsidies, both from the Israeli government and from the Jewish Agency i.e. ultimately from tax-free contributions of Jews all around of world. No one proposes, even for the sake of efficiency or winning support of the Palestinians for the peace process, that even the tiniest part of state land around Sakhnin be allotted to non-Jews of that town. Obviously, an ideological consideration overrides all political considerations, like in religion the sacred always overrides the profane.
There are many states which in the past were systematically engaged in land robbery. The USA, for example, robbed the Indians of their land, transforming most of it into state land. Nevertheless, this land is now available for use by any USA citizen. If a Jew were in the USA prohibited to lease land belonging to the state only because he were Jewish, this would be rightly interpreted as anti-Semitism. But anti-Semitism is already considered in the USA disreputable, whereas in Israel “Zionism” is the official state-ideology and is indoctrinated as a goal of public education. Of course, the land issue is no more that a single (but crucial) example of official racism and discrimination against the non-Jews. But racism pervades all walks of life in Israel, victimizing mainly the Palestinians. Some Zionists recently want to alleviate its effects, but no Zionist party nor Zionist politician has ever proposed to abolish it or had second thoughts about its underlying ideology. The whole discriminatory system is obviously intended to be practiced in the foreseeable future.
It is easy to see that by the rigorous enforcement of such laws, also against most loyal supporters of the state, Israel is undermining its own imperial and military power. Let me give two instances of this. The first concerns the Druzes who, as discussed in report 153, are serving in the Israeli army, police and intelligence, often reaching high ranks in those services. They are nevertheless legally barred from use of the state land and as non-Jews they suffer from other discriminatory laws as well. The same can be said about other Palestinians who either serve in the above mentioned security services or reach high ranks in various branches of civil service, for example as judges. Israel had appointed Palestinians to be its consuls and other diplomatic representatives. It is now contemplating an appointment of the first Palestinian ambassador. But a Palestinian general, ambassador or judge is still subject to the discussed discriminatory laws. He still does not have the right to lease even a small plot of state land, whereas any released Jewish murderer has this right as matter of course.
Right now, Palestinians may or may not perceive themselves as victims of Israeli discrimination. Many of them are too mystified by their feudal mindset to perceive it clearly. If anything, that mindset dictates to them an almost exclusive concern with the loss of ancestral property. But their eventual modernization is inevitable. It is anticipated even by the Israeli “Arabist experts” who are no fools. As soon as it comes, the Palestinians are bound to perceive themselves first and foremost as victims of Israeli legal discrimination, applied against them by virtue of their being non-Jews. When this occurs, Israel’s domestic and international position can be expected to become highly unstable. Some Israeli decision-makers can be presumed to be aware of it.
It can even be presumed that a major reason of the Oslo process was the hope (common for Israel and Arafat) to arrest the process of Palestinian society’s change by using force to refeudalize it. But the Israeli experts must know that the probability of arresting social change is very low, at least within Israel. In other words, Israel as an imperial power is not even contemplating to adapt itself to changing circumstances in a way other imperial powers did with success. To return to the Druze case: even if brigadier-general (reserves) Muhammad Kana’an who performed to perfection the duties of military commander of the Gaza Strip during the Intifada and who yet, as a non-Jew is as discriminated against by Israel as any other non-Jew, is not aware of this fact, his sons and sons of other Druze are sure to be aware of it in a not so distant a future.
The second example concerns the two Arab villages in Galilee, Bir’am and Ikrit. The inhabitants of both are Christians who didn’t resist Israeli forces in 1948, and who surrendered as soon as the Israeli army was approaching. Their inhabitants were evacuated “for two weeks only”, as was solemnly promised in the capitulation accord signed by the Israeli army. After two weeks, however, the army reneged on its promise. In 1951 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the villagers’ return, but its verdict was soon overruled on the basis of the “Defense Regulations 1945”. These regulations had originally been passed by the British to be used against the Jews. Before the creation of the State of Israel they were described by some most respected Jewish legal authorities in Palestine as “Nazilike laws”, or as “even worse than the Nazi laws”, because they provided the government with an almost unlimited powers on the condition of exercising them through the army. Begin’s Deputy Prime Minister, Simha Erlich, quipped that “these Regulations let a general commanding the Jerusalem district or a Defense minister surround the Knesset by tanks and arrest its members with perfect legality”. The State of Israel nevertheless kept them in force, applying them, however, almost exclusively against non-Jews. In the case of Bir’am and Ikrit Ben Gurion’s was able to respond to the Supreme Court’s verdict by using the “Defense Regulations 1945” to confiscate land belonging to the two villages and by ordering the Airforce to bomb both villages on Christmas Eve of 1951, with the adult male villagers rounded up and forced to watch from the nearby hill how their houses were being demolished. Only the churches were spared from destruction: they serve to this day as destinations for pilgrimage for the former villagers who retain their Israeli citizenship. The remainder of the land was allocated to kibbutzim and moshavim, with a “left-wing” kibbutz (which even adopted Bir’am’s name) receiving a lion’s share. The Supreme Court ruled that those confiscations and demolition orders had been perfectly legal.
Nevertheless, the inhabitants of the two villages, have been campaigning till this very day: particularly those of Bir’am who are all of Maronite religion and many quite right-wing politically. Rationally speaking, their campaign could have good chances to succeed, especially after they solemnly and repeatedly declared that they didn’t demand their farmlands, but only the church, the neighboring cemetery and a tiny plot nearby to be used as a museum. All pragmatic considerations would be in favor of accepting their modest request. After all, many of them serve in the Israeli police. They have close connections with Maronites in Lebanon which Israel had exploited before and during its invasion of Lebanon. Their case is supported by the Catholic Church and other important international bodies. Yet there is no chance that their request may be accepted, least so by the current “peace government”.
For the analysis of Israeli policies in the era of the “peace process” it is even more important to recall that by the time Oslo Accord was signed Israel had already turned about 70% of the West Bank land into “state land” which, like in Israel, could be leased only to Jews. (By further confiscations this percentage has after Oslo risen to 72% or 73% but for the purpose of this report I will use the round figure 70%.) All the West Bank settlements, being built on this land, are intended only for the Jews, who don’t even need to be Israeli. The Jews from the entire world are entitled to settle on this land. Hence the Western media are wrong (possibly even deliberately) in their persistent use of the term “Israeli settlements”. The fact is that a non-Jewish Israeli citizen, like brigadier-general (reserves) Muhammad Kana’an, is denied the legal right to settle in these settlements; and so are Christians who fervently support the cause of “Greater Israel”. If we suppose that one day the Spirit will command reverend Falwell or reverend Robertson to leave their holy work in the U.S. in order to settle in Kiryat Arba, they won’t be allowed to as non-Jews. But if we suppose that the Spirit will command them to convert to Judaism, they will become legally eligible to settle in any Jewish settlement right from the moment their conversion is finalized. This is not just a theoretical possibility, as groups of converts to Judaism from some obscure tribes in Peru and India have actually been brought and settled in the Territories.
On the other hand, there have been several attempts of Druze veterans (some of whom profess very hawkish views) to apply for an allotment of West Bank state land in order to establish a Druze settlement there. All such requests were firmly denied, against best Israeli interest. Moreover, especially since the inception of the Intifada, Palestinian collaborators living in fear of death have persistently requested the Israeli authorities to let them settle in Jewish settlements of the West Bank, even temporarily. As some of them argued, this would be highly advantageous to Israeli intelligence since they could live close to their former homes and be able to maintain to some extent their former contacts. Yet again, all such requests were firmly denied. After Oslo Israel had to remove some collaborators from the West Bank and settle them in Israel. But even then, instead of allotting them any state land, it rented private land or private housing for the purpose.
Let me return to the West Bank land issue. Of 70% of its land which became state land, only 16% has actually been allocated to Jewish settlements. The remaining 54% stand empty. It needs to be acknowledged that removing Jewish settlements, or perhaps even a single one of them, may well give rise to grave political problems, including the risk of armed clashes which may even escalate into a civil war. (Such dangers have been repeatedly discussed in my reports.) But the prospect of returning some or even the whole of the 54% of the not yet settled state land back to the Palestinian peasants carries only minimal risks. It could have been done easily during the first 6-8 months after Oslo. Since the attachment of the Palestinians, (not only the peasants but of the entire nation) to the land is profound, and the well-justified fear of being driven away from it palpable, one can easily imagine the effect of an even partial restitution of the empty 54% of the West Bank land on the Palestinian masses. A better way of binding Palestinian public opinion to Israeli interests served by the Oslo and Cairo Accords could hardly be imagined.
The same is true for the Gaza Strip. If anything, its case is more glaring because the number of Jewish settlers there, 5,000 when the Oslo Accord was signed, increased since to about 8,000, is incommensurably smaller than the number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank, 130,000 when the Oslo Accord was signed, increased since to about 160,000, East Jerusalem excluded. Also, the proportion of Jewish settlers to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip (officially 800,000, in reality about million) is completely different in scale than the proportion of the West Bank Jewish settlers to West Bank Palestinians (officially about 1.200,000, in reality about 1.300,000 excluding East Jerusalem.) Yet about 28% of the Strip’s area duly converted to state land, was allotted to Jewish settlers long before Oslo and after Oslo withheld from the autonomy’s jurisdiction. Also in the Strip no empty state land was restored to Palestinian ownership. In the case of the Gaza Strip I don’t know the proportion of the empty to the settled state lands, but I do know that the former exist. In the single case of settlement of Netzarim (whose residents, far from doing any farming, are for the most part engaged in studying Talmud), detailed maps have been published in the Hebrew press (for example, Haaretz, April 10). The maps show a large land area attached to that settlement, necessarily empty but of course denied to the Palestinians.
Nevertheless, Rabin hasn’t even contemplated giving back to Palestinian peasants, or even to the Palestinian Authority, a few symbolic dunums of the state land around Netzarim. True, some Zionist “peaceniks” are advocating the removal of the whole settlement of Netzarim as causing loss of too many Jewish lives. As mentioned above, this is regarded as a factor which may temporarily override ideological considerations. But no Zionist “peace lover” has as yet advocated the return of an empty state land for the sake of a mere political advantage. This can be generalized. The peace process was “sold” to Israeli Jews public not only as an effectual means of guaranteeing their security, but also as a potential for profits from trade with Arab states expected in its wake to expand. Nevertheless, just as in the case discussed above, no Zionist has ever dared to propose that the ideology of discriminating against non-Jews be for once sacrificed for the sake of advancing the Oslo process and thus enhancing Israel’s power and wealth. To the best of my recollection, Israel (or Zionist Movement before Israel’s inception) has never sacrificed its ideology on the altar of merely political considerations or economic interests.
In other words, empirical evidence (valid as anything in politics can be valid) shows that Israeli policies are primarily ideologically motivated and that the ideology by which they are motivated is totalitarian in nature. This ideology can be easily known since it is enshrined in the writings of the founders of Labor Zionism, and it can be easily inferred from Israeli laws, regulations and pursued policies. Those who, like Arafat, his henchmen and most Palestinian intellectuals, have through all these years failed to make an intellectual effort to seriously study this ideology, have only themselves to blame for being stunned by all the developments of the 20 months after Oslo. Whoever after Oslo stopped denouncing Israeli “imperialism” for the sake of a meaningless “peace of the brave” slogan, only showed that he learned nothing and forgot nothing. Their blunder is all the greater since Israel has by no means been unique in pursuing ideologically determined policies. Strict ideological considerations determine policies in plenty of other past and present states. In other cases an ideology underlying a given policy, however, is not only openly admitted by a state concerned, but also well-known and discussed beyond its borders. Israel is indeed unique in that the discriminatory Jewish ideology dictating its policies is hardly ever discussed beyond its borders, due to the fear of offending the Jews of the diaspora and of being labeled by their powerful organizations as an “anti-Semite” or “Jewish self-hater”. At the same time in Israel the ideology of discriminating against all non-Jews is not only openly admitted but also advocated as guaranteeing the character of Israel as a “Jewish state” mandated to preserve its “Jewish character”. The Jewish supporters of Israeli discriminatory practices freely admit that they thus want to preserve the “Jewish character” of Israel, conceived of by them and by the majority of Israeli Jews, as legacy of historical Judaism. Indeed, if we overlook the modern times, there is sufficient truth in this claim. Until the advent of modern times all Jews firmly believed that non-Jews should be discriminated against whenever possible. It now turns out that the Jewish Enlightenment failed to change the attitudes of all, or perhaps even of most, Jews in this respect. Many completely irreligious Jews still believe that for the sake of the Jewish religious law and tradition which commanded to discriminate the non-Jews the latter should be discriminated in the “Jewish state” forever.
This is professed in spite, or perhaps even because of the undeniable fact that this discrimination has the same character as that which the anti-Semites want to apply against the Jews. In the light of the impact of the ideology upon the actual Israeli policies the critiques of the latter by Reinhart, Benvenisti and Rabinovitz discussed at the beginning of this report are valid, yet in one crucial respect inadequate. For all their superiority to the “experts in Israeli affairs” from the Western press, the named authors seem always puzzled by the policies Israel is pursuing. They never cease offering the Israeli government “good advice” of how it can gain in its relations with the Arabs by “being moderate”. Analysis and experience show that offering such an advice amounts to an exercise in futility. Numerous historical analogies, including the recent collapse of Communist regimes in Europe, show conclusively that a real change is impossible as long as a party representing no matter how flexibly a state ideology stays in power. In Israel power is firmly in the hand of the Security System and of the Zionist parties whose deep commitment to the Zionist ideology has not been challenged. On the other hand, the mentioned analogies show that once the power of a state ideology is challenged in public, it means that a real change is on its way. Eventually, such a change may materialize by a sudden disintegration of the state ideology and the state apparatus supporting it. This is what happened since the late 1970s in Poland. KOR and Solidarity which challenged the ideological basis of the state were the true harbingers of the fall of the entire European communism; whereas the plethora of reforms imposed by the Polish Communist party from above amounted to no more than palliatives which changed nothing. The Israeli ideology which has been only slightly undermined in the period of 1974-1993, has been again revitalized in the aftermath of Oslo. Due to its social cohesiveness, military and particularly nuclear power and the increasing support of the U.S. Israel feels at present too strong to offer even palliative concessions to Palestinians. Under those conditions ideological considerations can remain to be predominant, except when Jewish lives are lost.
From high abstraction let me again pass to concretes. Omitting facts already presented in report 151, let me now show how the actual Israeli policies in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank draw from the ideology of continuous discrimination by means more effectual than beforehand. Let me first deal with the Gaza Strip. Detailed maps of the Strip often published by the Hebrew press (but never by the Palestinian press!) show how it is criss-crossed by “military roads” which according to Cairo Accords remain under Israeli jurisdiction. Those roads are constantly patrolled by the Israeli army, either separately or jointly with the Palestinian police. The Israeli army has the right to close any section of any such road to all Palestinian traffic, even if it runs deep within the autonomy, and it actually uses this right after any Palestinian assault. For example, Haaretz (April 11) reported that the Israeli army closed “until further notice” two road sections deep inside the autonomy “to all Palestinian vehicles” after two assaults which occurred two days earlier. Appended to the report was a map showing the Strip’s roads. One of them, called “Gaza city bypassing road”, traverses the entire length of the Strip, carefully bypassing the cities and refugee camps. A military road and a narrow strip of land not included in the autonomy cuts it off from Egypt. A number of parallel roads traverse the Strip’s autonomous area from the Israeli border on its east side to the sea or a Jewish settlement block on the west. All authorized entry points to the autonomy are located at the beginning of military roads.
One such road is the Netzarim road. It begins at an authorized entry point to the autonomy at Nahal Oz. From there it runs westward, skirting all Palestinian localities. After crossing the “Gaza city bypassing road” it reaches Netzarim. It does not end there, however, but continues to a military fortress on the sea shore. It thus cuts the Gaza Strip into two parts. A sector of that road which approaches Netzarim is closed to all Palestinian traffic. The obvious effect of that closure is to encourage Hamas’ assaults, as there is no risk that a Palestinian vehicle may be hit there by mistake. This case is the best illustration of the extent to which an ideological consideration can override even elementary security precautions!
The overall effect is that the autonomous part of the Gaza Strip is sliced into enclaves controlled by the bypassing roads. The role of the Jewish settlements is not only to guard state land, but also to serve as pivots of the road grid devised to ensure a perpetual Israeli control of the Strip under a new and more effectual form. This new form of control, referred to by Rabin and other Labor politicians as “control from outside” allows the army to dominate the Strip (and to reconquer it with a minimum effort if need be) without having to commit large manpower for constant patrolling and pacifying the Strip’s towns and refugee camps “from inside”. The latter task is now being undertaken on Israel’s behalf by various uniformed and secret polices under Arafat’s command.
Let me proceed to discussing the West Bank. The task of the “Rainbow of Colors” is to eventually produce results similar to those already existing in the Gaza Strip. The conditions may there even turn out worse, due to a much larger number of settlers and to the extensive construction of the separate networks of roads, electricity and water supplies for the settlers which cannot but pass near or through the Palestinian enclaves. (In the Gaza Strip, with few exceptions electricity and water for the settlers are supplied either from Israel or from the sites close to settlements.) Moreover, the West Bank includes the “Greater Jerusalem” area in which the apartheid is practiced more strictly than elsewhere. “Greater Jerusalem” officially extends from Ramallah to the south of Bethlehem, but in the future it can be assumed to grow. To make the matters worse, as mentioned in report 151, the Palestinians from the Territories are to be forever barred from crossing to Israel. Their labor force is instead to be employed in “industrial parks” exporting mostly to the U.S. Even at its worst South African apartheid was not as all-inclusive as what is planned for the West Bank and what already exists in the Gaza Strip.
How come the experts of the Israeli government expect acquiescence to this situation on the part of the Palestinians (including the Israeli citizens among them, whose influence in Knesset can be considerable) and on the part of international public opinion? The two questions seem to have a single answer. Israeli experts and the government apparently anticipate to make those realities palatable for both as long as Israel confines itself only to “control from outside”, while leaving “control from inside”, (i.e. the job of actually enforcing order) in the hands of Israel’s Palestinian proxies who will be granted a semblance of an independent authority. (I am not going to discuss international public opinion separately, because Latin American and African precedents make me convinced that the response of the world at large to the “control from inside” will be as tame and as acquiescent as in Palestine.) Much as I abhor the Israeli government’s plans on moral grounds, this anticipation strikes me as well-grounded. After all, a large majority of Palestinians have tamely acquiesced to the numerous violations of human rights committed directly by Arafat’s regime in the Gaza Strip and by his secret polices in the West Bank. (The potentially violent dispute between Arafat and Hamas is about power rather than about human or any other rights.)
The utmost the Palestinian opposition to Arafat is capable of doing, is to send loyal petitions to “His Excellency, the President”, in which he is humbly requested to reconsider such and such a decision of his. While a death of a Palestinian under interrogation carried out by Israeli Shabak continues to be fiercely resented, a death of a Palestinian under interrogation carried out by Palestinian Shabak elicits only polite requests for “an investigation”. If “His Excellency” agrees to open an investigation, he is complimented by everybody concerned: even if the promised “investigation” does not materialize for months. Quite numerous instances of killing the Palestinians by Arafat’s forces, let alone the routine beatings and humiliations pass with hardly a notice. Even a sentence of death recently imposed by Arafat’s military court failed to provoke an outrage, and nothing indicated a prospect of an outrageous response if it is actually carried out.
Let me give a concrete example. When John Major visited Arafat in Gaza, a Palestinian policeman killed a child aged 11. The killing was, of course, officially described as an “accident”; an “investigation” (which hasn’t yet materialized) was promised, exactly as had been customary when Israel had controlled the Gaza Strip “from inside”. But in terms of the impact of the child’s death on the Palestinian public in general and on the Gazan one in particular the contrast couldn’t be greater. Under Arafat’s rule, John Major’s visit continued undisturbed. The official explanation of “accidental death” was accepted by everyone, except for the child’s family. In the end even the family, when firmly ordered “to shut its mouth” by Palestinian secret police, did so, whereas since the inception of the Intifada similar Israeli orders had been ignored. There were none of the usual protests which had used to occur in the Strip when a child had been killed by an Israeli soldier.
This is the place to recall that the standard of life in the Strip has decreased by about 60% since Arafat arrived there. Of course, the main responsibility for this state of affairs is Israel’s, although Arafat’s contribution to it through his corruption and inefficiency shouldn’t be overlooked. But the point I am trying to make is not at all economic. To keep the Palestinians as poor as possible has always been an aim of Israeli policy, in my view also in order to arrest social change in their society. With Arafat’s complicity Israel now can achieve this aim without eliciting any strong protests, and without spending much of its manpower on suppressing such protests. In other words, it can impoverish the Palestinians cheaply and effectually. Bureaucracies tend to believe that their successes can be stretched indefinitely, and the Israeli Security System is no exception. No wonder it believes that if a solution tested in the Gaza Strip has worked well there, it would also work well when “Rainbow of Colors” is implemented in the West Bank. Likewise, the Security System probably believes that if the Palestinian uniformed and secret polices obey Arafat’s orders so faithfully, they will continue to do so when commanded by somebody else.
Those hypotheses about the Israeli Security System’s modes of thinking can be confirmed by facts. For example, while much land is now being confiscated in the West Bank for the purpose of constructing the bypassing roads, there have been few if any popular protests against those confiscations. The protests of the Palestinian Authority against the recent confiscations of land in East Jerusalem stand in glaring contrast to its silence in cases of the much more massive land confiscations currently going on elsewhere in the West Bank. Danny Rubinstein (Haaretz, May 12) explains that in case of Jerusalem Arafat is constrained to protest by the leaders of Arab and Muslim states, for whose publics Jerusalem is a particularly sensitive religious issue. The same leaders, however, couldn’t care less about the West Bank. Rubinstein reports that “many delegations from West Bank localities came recently to Arafat. Their grievances were many, but they particularly emphasized that their lands were being confiscated. Arafat did his best to mollify those delegations. For example, a delegation of inhabitants of [the town of] Al-Birah, located near Ramallah, who received land confiscation orders from Israeli authorities intending to build a road bypassing their town to serve the needs of the settlement of Psagot, recently requested Arafat to intervene to make these orders annulled. One delegate told me how stunned he was by Arafat’s response. Arafat told them: ‘Forget this matter. This is only a minor confiscation. It is preferable to have this land confiscated than Psagot settlers driving through your town and causing trouble. Owing to this confiscation, the settlers will at least be able to bypass your town'”. Rubinstein says that Arafat is giving such “advice whenever he fears that his opposition to an Israeli measure may result in cancellation of his negotiations with Israel”. I can confirm Rubinstein’s view by information from my own sources, both Israeli and Palestinian. Moreover, Arafat’s “advice” works, because it is backed by the people’s fright of his thugs. This is why most attempts to organize popular protests against the confiscation of land have been stifled. Israel cannot expect a support for its apartheid policies more effectual than Arafat’s.
Yet in two factual points I differ from the Israeli Security System’s assessments of Arafat’s role. First, they ignore the impact of Arafat’s behavior on Jewish public in Israel. In order to let Arafat serve Israeli interests effectually Israel must salvage his dwindling prestige among the Palestinians, and for that purpose leaves him a considerable freedom of expression, never granted Palestinian collaborators before. Arafat takes advantage of this privilege to indulge in the most outrageous lies and to make the most provocative attacks on Israel. As an example of the former one can give his oft-repeated assertion that Israel (or Israeli army officers, or Shabak’s agents) conspired with Hamas to carry out the Beit-Lid terror assault. As an example of the latter one can give his frequent assertion that the entire Jerusalem (not only its Eastern part) belongs to the Arabs or to the Muslims. While neither Rabin nor Peres dare to expose Arafat as a liar or to denounce his position on Jerusalem as incompatible with that of all Zionist parties (even Meretz supports the so-called “unification of Jerusalem”), the Hebrew press often does so, and so do the opposition’s politicians. Rabin’s dwindling credibility and popularity can be attributed to Jewish public’s outrage at his condonement of Arafat’s lies and antics. To a much greater degree the same is the case of Peres and the entire Israeli “peace camp” which seem to be losing whatever political clout they once had. In other words, the advantages of the “control from outside” are being neutralized by domestic drawbacks of using Arafat. As the 1996 elections are approaching, the latter factor can be assumed to increasingly outweigh the former in importance.
The second point where I differ from the Israeli Security System’s assessments concerns the “Rainbow of Colors”. The Israeli experts assume it can last forever, whereas I think it is bound to be rather short-lived. Even if Arafat commits indescribable atrocities in smashing all opposition to his rule, I doubt if he can keep the Palestinian population inside their enclaves under his effective control. After all, the facts on the ground will be all too tangible for the Palestinians, and the arguments of the opposition particularly of Hamas, (unless destroyed by Arafat’s victory in a civil war) will be bound to undermine Arafat’s standing in a relatively short period of time. So far his attempts to suppress the opposition, half-hearted at best, have alternated with attempts to make a compromise with it. His oppression can be said to have intimidated individuals and small groups like the PDFL, but it has made Hamas stronger, more influential and more outraged than before. It is impossible to say whether Arafat will decide to accede to Israel’s demands to smash the opposition, or continue to play the same game of serving Israel covertly and to opposing it in words. In any event, however, the Palestinian masses see with increasing clarity that their situation is rapidly deteriorating. At present it is only Arafat’s vestigial prestige which prevents them from beginning to organize a popular resistance movement. Once all his credibility is gone, which may occur quite soon, the only Israeli alternative for still exercising “control from outside” would be through a naked Palestinian dictatorship, whether Arafat’s or somebody else’s. Oppression then unleashed is bound to surpass anything experienced in the period of “control from inside”.
I am fully conscious of the immense human suffering which such an oppression is bound to cause. Yet I do not attribute much political importance to the question whether it can succeed and for how long. In any event, it will mark the failure of the “control from outside” scheme as an easy and cheap method of domination, which can be “sold”, Peres-style, to the international public. In the last analysis the failure of the “control from outside” cannot but mark the end of Israeli policies based on the absolute priority of Zionist ideology.