West Bank settlement isn’t irreversible
Israeli settlement of the West Bank is untenable, and framing it as inevitable just makes matters worse.
In honor of the Ninth of Av, my friend Yossi Sarid wrote a lamentation for the State of Israel. He included excerpts of the writings of another intellectual, Meron Benvenisti, who preceded Sarid in making gloomy predictions about Israel’s future. Indeed, Israel of 2012 should be the subject of regret, as in “Weep sore for him who goes away” (Jeremiah 22:10). In this case, the ones going away are the passengers aboard the modern-day Titanic, better known as Israel, whose captains do not see the iceberg ahead if they stay on course. While the gloomy mood and sorrow in Sarid’s essay are fully justified, his lamentation is based on two mistaken theories.
The first is the groundless belief that some situations or processes in the world are irreversible, and that Israel’s occupation and settlement of the territories is one of them. By all the known laws of physics, any process in the universe can be reversed – except death, the irreversibility of which is indeed an enigma. Another possible exception is the expansion of the universe. It's mistaken to see the shattering of a glass that has fallen from a table to the floor as irreversible.
The process can be reversed and the glass replaced, intact. What human beings see as irreversible is really just a process that would be costly to reverse. In physics, that price is called “free energy.” In sociology, processes that seem irreversible are divided into two groups. The easy cases are those that require a great deal of money to reverse. The difficult cases, the ones that are supposedly irreversible, are those for which the price of reversal is measured in human lives.
Jewish settlement in the West Bank is certainly a reversible process. During its 64 years of existence, the State of Israel has uprooted communities and civilians more than once, even when they numbered in the hundreds of thousands. A million human beings left their homes in the former Soviet Union and immigrated to Israel, all within a few years. Such a process cost inestimably more than moving Jewish settlers from their communities in the West Bank to places inside the Green Line. And the wallets of Israel’s citizens were only lightened a little by the Russian relocation.
Jewish settlement in the West Bank not only can be reversed – it must be. Israel can announce the establishment of a university in the West Bank city of Ariel. If it wishes, it can move the buildings of the Knesset and the government there as well. All these demonstrative, childish actions strengthen Ariel’s status as a Jewish Israeli city in the world’s eyes in the same way that a child walking in the dark is protected from the terrors of the night by singing. Any sociological, psychological, historical, demographic, political or military analysis that does not suffer from self-deception will show that Ariel’s existence in the heart of an Arab territory, densely populated with millions of Palestinians, is fundamentally unstable and ultimately doomed.
Believing that settlement is an irreversible process does not change the fact that it only looks irreversible. Nor does it change the fact that it will be reversed one of these days. It only postpones the inevitable and makes it more difficult. By doing so, it raises the terrible price, day by day, that the citizens of Israel will have to pay when the time comes.
The second mistake is seeing the idea of a binational state, which is where the so-called “irreversible” occupation is leading, as stable – as repulsive or sad as that may be – or as a solution to something. It is not at all clear which of Israel’s existential problems this idea is supposed to solve, and at this point it is just an empty slogan.
The idea of a binational state in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reminds me of a quote by author Sally Poplin: “My fiancé and I are having a little disagreement. What I want is a big church wedding with bridesmaids and flowers and a no-expense-spared reception; what he wants is to break off our engagement.”
Even those who fail to see the similarity must explain how the “binational state” slogan can be transformed into a viable social and political plan, and which problems it will really solve for Israel’s citizens.