Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past month you’ve probably heard of the vile attack launched by Hamas against innocent Jewish civilians in Israel, prompting the most intense reprisal yet from Israel against the terrorist organization and its de facto state that controls the entirety of the Gaza Strip.
Promises have been made that this time will be different, that Hamas’s control over the territory cannot be tolerated as part of some strategy of containment, but rather must be eliminated altogether, once and for all, in order to guarantee the security of the Jewish people. As I write this the Israeli military is currently engaged in a ground invasion of Gaza, aimed at doing just that; but one cannot help but ask the question: assuming Israel’s operation meets with success and the military successfully flush Hamas out of all Gaza, then what? What exactly is the endgame for the territory and its people?
Even a month after the attacks demonstrated the need for a new paradigm with regard to Israeli policy toward the territory and its people, it seems there is no ultimate vision for its fate from the Israeli side, just the desire to bombard and besiege the territory while conducting a ground incursion to the extent deemed necessary to degrade Hamas. Which, it should be pointed out, is exactly what’s been done in every flare-up since Hamas executed a coup and took the territory over all the way back in 2007. So much for a new approach.
This despite the population of Gaza being largely stateless, held as captives in what amounts to an open-air prison, bereft of their fundamental rights or anything even vaguely resembling prosperity, their only purpose in life being to serve as human shields for Hamas terrorists, who use the Gazans’ territory as a staging post for their campaign to exterminate the Jewish people, diverting even aid intended for purely humanitarian purposes away from even reaching their Arab subjects and toward the manufacturing of rockets and the digging of tunnels, with the express purpose of butchering a many Jewish babies as they can get away with. This is the sort of people we’re dealing with here, and that the people of Gaza have been forced to live under for decades.
Shall Israel occupy Gaza…again?
It should be clear that the entire situation is unconscionable. What is to be done? The most obvious course of action would be for Israel to occupy the Gaza Strip indefinitely and administer the area, taking whatever measures may be necessary to defend the Israeli people against terrorism while respecting the fundamental rights of the locals as much as feasible. However this is precisely the approach taken in Gaza from 1967 to 2005, and in the West Bank from 1967 through the present day…well, minus the “respect the fundamental rights of the locals” part; the atrocities committed by the Israeli military, not to mention the Jewish settlers, against the Arab population are as despicable as they are amply documented, and demonstrate a fundamental lack of seriousness on the part of the Israeli state at making any good-faith effort to be anything other than an oppressing power in these territories.
That said, let’s not draw some false moral equivalence between Israel and its enemies: for Gaza, a West-Bank-style occupation would represent an upgrade over being used as human shields by jihadist lunatics. Nevertheless, it should not be considered tolerable. On the dimensions of both liberty and prosperity, the condition of the West Bank’s Arab population is nothing short of appalling. Even on the dimension of peace, the West Bank has been flaring up in recent years so much that the recent wave of violence has been dubbed a “Third Intifada” by some observers; the (for Israel) relatively cozy status quo there might not be cozy for much longer.
A realistic Two-State Solution: Occupation by another Name?
That goes too for the Palestinian Authority, controlled by Fatah and led by Mahmoud Abbas, which not only exercises corruption and authoritarianism in its fledgling state, but is also seen by an ever-increasing number of Palestinian Arabs as traitorous quislings that are functioning as subcontractors of the Israeli occupation. Indeed, only Israeli support for Fatah in the West Bank has prevented all of the Palestinian territories from falling to Hamas. Even if the Palestinian Authority controlled the Gaza Strip as well (or, more precisely, functioned as a subcontractor for the Israeli occupation there a la the West Bank), as has been suggested be done after this war by some observers, the body simply lacks the credibility to negotiate on behalf of the so-called Palestinian people, rendering the “two-state solution” — the concept that there could be two states coexisting as equals side-by-side in what used to be the British Mandate of Palestine, one Jewish and the other Arab — dead.
A Palestinian state could be created unilaterally by Israel even in the absence of a negotiated settlement or a credible partner, but this option would lack buy-in from the local population and elites. Realistically, such a state would rely on Israeli military force to maintain itself — essentially rendering this option occupation by a different name — or it would be rapidly taken over by the likes of Hamas. Even if Israel withdrew from the West Bank completely, the realistic result would be the West Bank becoming Gaza writ large: a staging post for terrorists to prosecute their campaign of extermination against Jews while press-ganging their subjects into service as human shields, or worse. Naturally this would, at least eventually, as intolerable to Israel as the current situation in Gaza, and lead to a new occupation.
And no, the latest idea floated by certain elements in the Israeli government to bring in a multinational force to occupy Gaza really wouldn’t be different in principle. Even leaving aside my own suspicion that the real purpose of this plan is to embroil the United States into the conflict and then offload Israel’s dirty work (not to mention expenses) to the Americans once US soldiers are inevitably subjected to massive terrorist assaults, it’s still an occupation, and leaves Palestinians as a subject population deprived of political if not fundamental rights, even if a multinational force might be expected to act less prejudicially toward the local Arabs than the Jewish Israelis have.
Beyond the Two-State Solution, and into…a Dead End
So what is left, if occupation is intolerable yet the two-state solution is no longer an option? The one-state solution has been offered, in which Israel will directly annex the entirety of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, granting citizenship and equal rights to the resident Arabs, just like with Israel’s current Arab minority. Which sounds all well and good, until you realize that Israel would lose its Jewish majority, and thus effectively cease to be a Jewish state, which for obvious reasons is unacceptable to the current leadership and population; Arabs outnumber Jews in the former British Mandate of Palestine, which of course is the whole reason why Israel hasn’t just annexed all these territories already. Indeed, the demographic threat from Gaza’s people one day demanding integration with Israel a la blacks in white-ruled South Africa was what prompted Ariel Sharon to unilaterally disengage from Gaza in the first place. So that seems to be out as well.
So what, pray tell, is in? Any Palestinian state would rapidly devolve into a jihadist hellhole, which is not only unacceptable for anyone concerned about the welfare of the Palestinian people but is also unacceptable to Jewish Israelis for security reasons, as the recent attacks from Gaza have proved. If the Palestinian Arabs and their territories could be integrated into some other state that would be a permanent solution. Conveniently, there are several Arab states that border these territories; Egypt borders the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank borders Jordan. Not so conveniently, neither country wants to take responsibility for either of these territories. Egypt treated the Gaza Strip’s residents like garbage during their occupation prior to 1967, and while Jordan did successfully integrate the West Bank before Israel occupied it, it no longer has the slightest interest in resuming responsibility over the area. So much for Arab solidarity. Most importantly, the upshot is that Israel is stuck with these territories and their peoples.
There are worse Things than Apartheid…
Israel could always do a full annexation of both of these territories, end the occupation, and let the Palestinians be resident in Israel, but without political rights like the right to vote. That would preserve the Israeli state’s Jewish political base, but would necessarily make it less democratic, to the point that the modern-day international community would remove it from the club of democracies altogether and denounce it as an apartheid state. Which it essentially would be! Even though this would represent a great improvement on the status quo, Israel understandably has no desire to instantly become a pariah on the world stage while harboring a large disenfranchised Arab population within its borders, a situation that could fairly be described as a ticking time bomb as far as civil unrest is concerned, leading ultimately, as was the case in South Africa, to the one-state solution with an Arab majority and the effective destruction of Israel.
It might be worth noting that the occupation is already leading to Israel becoming increasingly isolated on the world stage and denounced as an apartheid state anyway, but annexing the territories and integrating a large Arab population without enfranchising them would be akin to ripping off the band-aid while doing nothing about the underlying wound.
What if the Palestinians just…went away?
There might be another way, however. If these territories contained much smaller Arab populations than they actually do, they could, as quite a few pockets in Israel proper were, be annexed into and directly integrated with Israel, its few Arab locals given full Israeli citizenship, the state being democratic with a large Jewish majority. We’re talking, of course, about “ethnic cleansing”. While vile, and a war crime, the solution does have the appeal of ripping off the band-aid in one swift stroke, and removing both the demographic and terrorist threat once and for all. There would be far more outrage against Israel in the near term than under the status quo, but without the issue being a constant and ongoing topic the outrage would soon subside, and Israel’s control over these areas and their population being comprised mainly of Jewish settlers would become a fact of life.
How could this be accomplished? Well, one way is to put the Arabs into mass graves, but more realistically the Palestinians could be effectively expelled from these territories, as many ethnic groups were from many places over the course of the 20th century…and even the 21st century, as in the conquest of Artsakh by Azerbaijan and the ethnic cleansing of Armenians from there that we saw just a few weeks ago!
There would, of course, need to be somewhere for the Palestinians to go. Exactly this topic has been broached by some elements within the Israeli government; already the evacuation of civilians from northern Gaza that was ordered a few weeks ago has been decried as “ethnic cleansing”, and in recent days an official paper leaked that envisaged the war’s toll forcing Palestinians out of Gaza and into the northern Sinai en masse, from whence they’d never be allowed to come back by Israel. The problem with this plan is that, once again, Egypt has no interest in taking Palestinian refugees from Gaza, in part because Egypt knows full well Israel intends for any “temporary” influx of Palestinians into an Arab country to become permanent.
Let’s build a New Gaza!
My own concept would envisage a geographically distant power taking in the Palestinians, one that has a very large population where the refugees would be just a drop in the bucket and where said refugees could enjoy their fundamental rights and political equality in their new home. I’m talking, of course, about the United States. Imagine the Arabs of Gaza being relocated to futuristic purpose-built cities in southern California, a New Gaza, linked by world-class infrastructure to some of the best economic opportunities that exist on the face of the earth, their fundamental rights respected, their political equality assured as newly-minted American citizens, with no Israeli military bases within seven thousand miles of them. Best part of all is that they’d get to live among their own people, in an area with similar climate and terrain as Gaza itself no less.
There are worse Things than ethnic Cleansing…
Heck, if you built out all this stuff and gave the Palestinians an escape hatch where they’re free to leave the Israeli occupation for the United States no questions asked an awful lot of them might just move of their own accord. Add financial incentives and you’ve got yourself a good recipe for expulsion of the Arabs from the Palestinian territories without conducting the mass-murder sort of genocide or even using much direct force.
Again, is it a war crime? Yes. But lest we forget, the current occupation is itself criminal, and for a variety of reasons neither the two-state solution nor integrating these populations into Israel or even a neighboring state are realistic options. Ethnic cleansing, therefore, and the replacement of an Arab majority in these territories with a Jewish majority, is the only alternative.
I would argue relocation is a better alternative to the status quo, considering that, after the one swift stroke of expulsion, no further and ongoing crimes would be committed against the Palestinian people, arguably making it less criminal than maintaining the status quo permanently; it also has the upside of removing the threat of terrorism against Israeli Jews, also in stark contrast to the status quo, where this threat can only be expected to persist indefinitely into the future. And needless to say the Palestinians would have much fuller and richer lives in America than they ever would in any realistic state of Palestine. Considering integration into Israel or another Arab state isn’t an option, this alternative is the only path forward.
My take, therefore? Rip off the band-aid now and resolve the issue once and for all, to the benefit of the Palestinians, before it gets even worse, and perhaps too late for Arabs and Jews alike to avoid an even worse outcome.