An increasing number of people seem to have a very simple – perhaps simplistic is a better word – prescription for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
It is not the negotiated two-state peace deal favoured by both sides of Australian politics, almost all Western governments, and both the Israeli public and successive Israeli governments over the last 15 years.
Instead, the demand is that implied in the Canberra Declaration on Gaza signed by a few dozen state and federal members of parliament in July and August (almost all of them Greens or Labor) namely, an immediate “end to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.”
This is also the demand in the Australian Greens’ official policy on “Israel/Palestine”, which calls for the “immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the Israeli military from all Palestinian cities, towns, refugee camps, surrounding areas and transport routes,” the “repatriation” of all Israeli “settlers” and “the immediate dismantling of the separation wall.” While the policy broadly supports the rights of both peoples to self-determination and calls for peace negotiations, it is clear in context that what is being demanded is that Israel has to withdraw immediately and unconditionally regardless of what the Palestinians do.
Such pronouncements are clearly the result of the wholesale adoption of the Palestinian narrative, which denies there is any Israeli-Palestinian conflict at all. Instead, it says, there is “occupation and oppression” by one side, Israel, against the completely innocent victims, Palestinians, so peace means simply demanding the immediate end of the occupation and oppression. I have often heard Palestinian advocates allege it is like a thief and the person he has stolen from – the thief must simply give the stolen property back, he does not get to make demands of his victim in return.
I won’t go into all the various historical, practical and factual reasons why this narrative and the course it recommends is utterly destructive to hopes for a genuine two-state peace which meets the needs of both Israelis and Palestinians and can be sustained without ongoing bloodshed.
I would however point out that what the Greens and the Canberra Declaration signatories are advocating is exactly what happened in Gaza in 2005, when Israel withdrew lock, stock and barrel from the strip with only limited coordination with the Palestinian Authority.
It is no secret that the outcome has been disastrous for Israel from a security point of view – with more than 14,000 rockets fired from Gaza into Israel since that time, not to mention other threats like the terror tunnels recently uncovered. However, those who demand immediate, unconditional withdrawal and adopt the Palestinian narrative largely either don’t care about Israel’s security or find excuses why Israel had it coming. (The blockade is a favourite – even though this puts the cart before the horse. The rockets started coming long before Israel responded with its partial blockade in 2007.)
However, what these people should take note of is that Israel’s unilateral and unconditional withdrawal from Gaza has also been a disaster for the Palestinian residents of Gaza. Not only have they found themselves under the rule of a totalitarian Islamist movement that stifles their basic freedoms and violates their human rights; that movement has done almost nothing to develop Gaza’s infrastructure and economy, instead preferring to focus on rockets and other forms of supposed “resistance” against Israel, even diverting aid to promote this goal. Not only has this group’s bellicosity led to blockades by both Israel and Egypt which have damaged Gaza’s economy and limited the freedom of movement for Gazans, it has provoked no less than three serious wars with Israel (in 2007-2008, 2012 and 2014), leading to around 3,500 Gazans being killed, many more wounded, and large-scale destruction of houses and buildings providing essential services. Furthermore, the evidence is overwhelming that in these conflicts, Hamas deliberately deployed its military assets in a way designed to force Israel to destroy as much civilian infrastructure and kill as many civilians as possible to serve Hamas’ political ends.
While the situation in Gaza prior to 2005 was certainly no picnic – though it is worth recalling that almost all Gazans then lived under the direct rule of the Palestinian Authority with little day-to-day Israeli interference – it would be virtually impossible to argue that, in terms of economic welfare, human rights or personal security, Gazans have been better off since 2005.
Yet if Israel were to repeat its unilateral 2005 Gaza withdrawal in the West Bank, as the Greens and others advocate, there is absolutely no reason to think the result would be very different.
It’s worth recalling that there were significant political forces in Israel which advocated repeating the Gaza experiment in most of the West Bank – until the experience following the 2005 disengagement destroyed this idea. Today, Israeli security agencies agree that, without help from Israeli security forces, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party would be in serious danger of being overthrown by Hamas in the West Bank – thus repeating the Gaza story on a larger and much more dangerous scale.
Doubtless some naively assume that with the unconditional end of the “occupation” in the West Bank, all reasons for conflict would end and peace prevail. Anyone who thinks this is frankly either grossly ignorant of the history of the conflict, or so ideologically committed to an ostensibly “pro-Palestinian” view that they’re unwilling to let reality into their calculations.
But this view is not pro-Palestinian at all. No one who really cares about the welfare, rights and well-being of Palestinians would want to doom the residents of the West Bank to repeat the experience of Gazans over the last nine years – which is what advocates of “unconditional” withdrawal are effectively calling for.