It’s hard not to be impressed by the IDF chief of staff’s forthrightness. Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot had harsh things to say to the cabinet. He presented the nuclear agreement with Iran as having “many risks but also opportunities.” He said imposing closures would be a “bitter mistake” and one that “would work against Israeli interests.” He especially stressed that “it is important to preserve hope in the eyes of the Palestinian people” and “distinguish between terrorists and the population.”
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The key point of his illuminating speech at the Institute for National Security Studies includes two inseparably intertwined ideas: hope for the Palestinians and a sense of security for Israelis. Eisenkot’s job description does not include responsibility for Palestinian hopes, but he is certainly responsible for Israelis’ sense of security. And here is the dilemma: How can a chief of staff provide a sense of security when he is deprived of responsibility for one of its central components, that same hope that must be given to the Palestinians? How can he obtain specific warnings about knife attacks when he cannot offer a solution to the warning that is obvious to everyone – the occupation that creates a hopeless reality for the Palestinians?
Eisenkot, as opposed to some of his predecessors, is not waiting until the moment he retires to call the political world to a reckoning, and does not offer solutions to future failures. He ostensibly presents a necessary policy in a place where statesmen – or better to call them political wheeler-dealers – at best cannot formulate a policy, or whose policy actually endangers Israel. But someone who presents so eloquently the connection between “Palestinian hopes” and the terror industry cannot make do just with a speech and wait until someone in Jerusalem sees the light. The chief of staff has enormous powers and broad authority, which enable him to give his principles practical interpretation on the ground without waiting for a nod from the politicians.
Eisenkot is not responsible for achieving peace, but because he is the sovereign on the ground he can see to it that military courts conduct themselves according to worthy humanitarian principles, for example, and that Palestinian farmers are accompanied by security guards when they go out to work their fields, just like the children of settlers are. He can stop construction in illegal outposts in time, halt the expulsion of the Bedouin from the Jordan Valley or the demolishing of the inhabited caves of the southern Hebron Hills. He is authorized to increase the variety of goods that reach Gaza and the number of work permits issued to West Bank residents.
But that is the easy and misleading part, because the creation of a “pleasant” occupation does not generate hope or stop knife attacks. An “enlightened occupation” was already tried, and failed utterly, in the first decade after the Six-Day War. The occupation cannot be enlightened or tolerable. It very quickly deteriorates and becomes brutal, vengeful and violent. As such, it once again creates the illusion that if it were a little more humane, if the occupied people were given a few more rights, if the occupier would apply the laws of the land of the occupied, the latter would be satisfied.
That is the reality-distorting mistake of those who confuse occupation with apartheid. It is not the nature and character of the occupation that generates opposition, but rather its very existence. The concern is that Eisenkot, too, is caught up in the illusion that jobs and a flourishing economy are the essence of Palestinian hope. If that is so, he should be reminded that economic growth in the West Bank before the outbreak of the second intifada was 9 percent.
If the chief of staff has indeed become a supporter of “economic peace” – that devious solution intended to evade diplomatic negotiations – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett can be pleased. If that is not what he meant by the expression “hope for the Palestinians,” but rather their aspiration to establish an independent state – he should say so straight out.