Getting Ready to Occupy the West Bank All Over Again

Minister Zeev Elkin’s warning that the Palestinian Authority will collapse is useless; it’s not like the government would ever dream of negotiating with the PA.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Israeli soldiers stand guard at a bus stop in the West Bank, near the Palestinian town of Nablus, November 8, 2015.
Israeli soldiers stand guard at a bus stop in the West Bank, near the Palestinian town of Nablus, November 8, 2015.Credit: AP
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

If Immigrant Absorption Minister Zeev Elkin’s prophesy is accurate and the Palestinian Authority implodes within a year or two, and if his warning that Israel isn’t ready for this eventuality is solid, he’s right that Israel will have to administer the entire West Bank. Not only will it have to worry about security aspects, which it does almost in full now, it will have to run education, health, welfare, municipal services and all the other foundations of everyday life.

In other words, Israel will have to reoccupy the territories, appoint military governors and establish a tax collection system, because no Arab or Western state will fund Israel’s direct occupation. Israel will have to censor the schoolbooks and newspapers, erase anti-Israel slogans and maybe even revive the disbanded Village Leagues.

Worse than that, this direct occupation would probably impel Western countries to send an intervention or defense force to the territories and bring Israel into direct confrontation with people who still define themselves as its friends. There’s no other scenario because Elkin has determined that no elected Palestinian leaders could replace the current leaders, and the only possible leader, Marwan Barghouti, is in prison.

A bitter end is expected – bitter not only for the PA and the Palestinian people, but mainly for Israel. Indeed, the Palestinians, if Elkin hasn’t noticed, are already under occupation, and the PA, despite President Mahmoud Abbas’ calling it a Palestinian national achievement, is nothing more than an administrative arm of the occupation.

But this is a strange albeit fashionable working assumption. It rests on the perception that the PA is really just an administrative body, that when it disappears a bloody war of succession will begin in the territories and spill into Israel. It assumes there are no ambitious leaders who can wave the Palestinian flag after Abbas leaves.

Similar things were heard after Yasser Arafat died in 2004, but wonder of wonders, Abbas arose to take the reins. And even he, who Elkin sees as the last straw of hope, isn’t a one-time phenomenon.

Elkin, one of the wisest and sharpest cabinet members, has actually tripped over his warnings, for what solution does he offer – negotiating with the Palestinians? What’s the point? Even if by some miracle Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embraced Abbas as a partner, Abbas is about to disappear, as Elkin puts it.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Does he propose training cadres of Israeli bureaucrats and setting a budget suited for administering the territories? Does he propose a unilateral withdrawal a moment before the PA collapses and letting the Palestinians kill one another? Or maybe he suggests negotiating with Hamas, which in Elkin’s mind has the best chances of winning an election or a power struggle.

The absorption minister has no set doctrine on this. There couldn’t be one because any logical outline to extract Israel from the PA’s collapse would require at least an agreement on drawing borders, and Elkin and his coalition colleagues wouldn’t dream about that.

Even if Abbas were 20 years younger, or a different legitimate Palestinian leadership arose, no minister sitting with Elkin in the government would dare suggest drawing borders, let alone dividing Jerusalem or halting settlement construction. Elkin’s prescription: Prepare to return to 1967.

It looks like this will be his way of celebrating 50 years of occupation. After all, we already know how to occupy them, so what could go wrong?

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