Opinion |

The World May Have Given Up on Two States, but It Still Cares About the Occupation

Mickey Gitzin
Mickey Gitzin
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The West Bank settlement of Ma'on overlooking the Bedouin village of al-Mufagara, near Hebron.
The West Bank settlement of Ma'on overlooking the Bedouin village of al-Mufagara, near Hebron.Credit: Nasser Nasser / AP
Mickey Gitzin
Mickey Gitzin

The increase in violence in the territories against Palestinians is one of the effects of the current government. There is no other way to put it. It is a fact that should cause members of the coalition, or at least those identified with the center-left camp, to lose sleep. The raids on villages in the South Hebron Hills, the bystanding, and failure to intervene on the part of IDF forces, the establishment of new settlement outposts and the laundering of existing ones, and the recent announcement of the construction of thousands of homes beyond the Green Line – all of this is taking place on their watch.

When I directed this claim at some members of the coalition, the response was a shrug of the shoulders. We of course support a two-state solution, they say, but right now, given the existing political circumstances, there is no chance of that happening. There’s nothing we can do.

It is as if this reality is a natural phenomenon, or that it is unrelated to political decisions being reached in Jerusalem. I have also heard responses in the same spirit from high-ranking officials in responsible positions in “the change government.” They reflect certain attitudes that are characteristic of part of this camp. The gist of it is an assumption that their position expresses, or basically amounts to, support in principle for the diplomatic process. All the other aspects of the reality of the occupation – the violence, abuse, violation of human rights and systematic disruption of the lives of Palestinians – are "side effects" or natural phenomena, against which it is not possible – or not politically expedient – to take action.

This is a dual mistake. First, Israel is responsible for the fate of the Palestinians living under its occupation. The diplomatic freeze is not an excuse for the continued violation of human rights, violence and expulsion at the hands of the settlers, the state and the army. Preservation of the rule of law and human rights must be at the core of the activity of representatives of the left and center-left in the Knesset and coalition.

Second, the world is no longer impressed by the stage set of the diplomatic process. Assurances of a renewal of the negotiations, gala conferences and summit meetings can no longer serve as a pretext for continuation of the insufferable reality in the territories. What was true in the days of Oslo, Camp David and Annapolis is no longer true.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s cynical attitude toward the diplomatic process over the past 12 years led to its complete stasis, and made the international community more sober and less naïve. The right, which cheers the removal of the diplomatic issue from the agenda, has seized on a certain vindication: It seems that U.S. President Joe Biden is not entertaining any great expectations on the matter, the evidence of this being Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s declaration in August that a Palestinian state would not come to be during his term in office. The statement met with apathy from the administration.

Yet this is a Pyrrhic victory for the right: Taking the foot off the gas pedal regarding the diplomatic process does not mean taking the Palestinian issue off the agenda. What it does mean is that the issue of Palestinian independence has been supplanted by increased discussion of the abuses and human rights violations endured by Palestinians. To change this particular reality, no partner is needed; all it takes is an Israeli decision.

What we have here is a case of chronic blindness from the right. Stubborn opposition to holding a dialogue with the Palestinians has already caused governments of Israel to opt for Hamas over the Palestinian Authority, only to return to the arms of the PA when it became irrelevant and bereft of public support. Those now enjoying the relegation of the two-state solution are liable to find that in its place will come pressure to extend equal rights to all those residing between Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea.

The center-left has not yet figured out that the equation has been reversed: If in the past the world agreed to look the other way from some of the occupation’s uglier aspects, so long as there was a diplomatic horizon that meant the occupation’s end date (of some sort, at some time), today’s pragmatic, working assumption is that if Israel in effect behaves as if the occupation is not temporary, it will be more difficult to remain silent in the face of the systematic violations of human rights and expulsions that Israel employs against the Palestinians.

According to data amassed by the NGO Yesh Din, no fewer than 26 attacks on Palestinians by settlers took place in October, during the olive-picking season. Violent raids by residents of settlement outposts on villages in the southern Hebron Hills have become routine, and even 3-year-old children are not safe from them. Settlement outposts continue to be built and be laundered by the government. Residents of Sheikh Jarrah, Batn al-Hawa and Khan al-Ahmar continue to live daily with the threat of dispossession. Even if Bennett’s declaration caused a slight dent in the American administration’s fender, it is not possible to say the same about the declaration by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who labeled six Palestinian civil society NGOs as terror organizations.

These events are causing a lot more anger in the world than any statement by a member of the government regarding the diplomatic process. The impression is that the Israeli government – be it one of the left, right or of "change" – is making light of the human rights situation of the population under its control.

No less important is the response of the American Jewish community. There is no way to reconcile the liberal worldview of American Jews, who are becoming increasingly more progressive as time passes, with the actions taking place under the eyes of the state they support. The inevitable consequence is an exacerbation of the distancing and alienation.

It is impossible to disregard this any longer. Under cover of political considerations from all sides, the government is exhibiting unprecedented flaccidity, and is daring to cross red lines that even Netanyahu was cautious to avoid. These considerations – even if they stem from a desire to avoid internal disputes and maintain the government's stability until passage of the budget – cannot justify what is taking place on the ground. Eradication of the terror being committed by settler extremists and the protection of the human rights of all those living under Israeli control are primary, crucial tasks of the government. The diplomatic fig leaf can no longer cover the occupation's disgraces.

The writer is the executive director in Israel of the New Israel Fund.

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