You can’t turn back the clock

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The Israeli reoccupation of the West Bank and Gaza is a “luxury” reoccupation, wherein Israel has renewed military control but shuns civilian control. As a consequence, the day to day suffering and deprivation inflicted on the Palestinian population by the reoccupation are extreme. Israel is ostensibly maintaining a functional division: allowing Palestinian ministries and municipalities to run their education systems and sanitation services, provide security, put people back to work and administer welfare programs. Yet it simultaneously imposes military restrictions that prevent movement of people and goods and generally render a functional division impossible.

If reoccupation with functional divisions does not work due to security reasons, then perhaps the humanitarian thing to do is renew Israeli military government (which in the years leading up to its cancellation under Oslo, Israel euphemistically termed “civil administration”). Because Israel would be responsible for all services, schools would be open and some roadblocks removed; Palestinian freedom of movement could be to some degree restored and the Palestinian economy would benefit. Thus goes the reasoning of some Palestinians and Israelis who argue that we currently have no alternative.

Some of the Palestinian advocates of this position genuinely hope that a renewed military government would be a temporary measure, prior to a return to a negotiated peace process. But a growing number now totally despair of a two state solution. They simply prefer to bide their time under Israeli rule while Israeli settlements spread throughout the West Bank and the total Palestinian population comes to outnumber Israelis, before they begin a campaign against Israeli “apartheid” and simply demand “one man, one vote.”

Some of the Israeli advocates of renewed military rule, backed by neo-conservatives in the Pentagon, argue that Israel should welcome the chance for an Israeli “MacArthur” to cultivate a genuinely democratic Palestinian political culture under Israeli tutelage, just as the United States did in occupied Japan and Germany after WWII, and soon may do in Iraq.

In even contemplating the idea of a renewed military government, there are a number of logistics issues to be noted. First, not all West Bank cities are under occupation: would an Israeli military government not include Jericho and Bethlehem, as well as the Gaza Strip cities–all currently administered, at least to some extent, by the Palestinian Authority? Then too, the restoration of military government is estimated to cost over $200 million a month–money which Israel, currently in its worst recession in 54 years, does not have.

At the political level, restoration of military government would severely damage Israel’s already tarnished image on the international scene. The United Nations, the European Union, the moderate Arab countries, all of which have exercised restraint in criticizing Israeli anti-terrorism measures thus far, would see this new move, justifiably or not, as a total departure from an anti-terrorism war, a return to naked military conquest, and the deliberate dismantling of the “reform” process they have instituted and encouraged. The US administration, which is fully aware that most of the reforms remain stillborn, would nevertheless probably concur with its “Quartet” partners’ criticism in response to Arab protests.

Perhaps most tellingly, at the Israeli-Palestinian bilateral level the new/old Israeli military governors would quickly learn that you can’t turn back the clock. What worked relatively smoothly for some 20 years, from the conquest of the West Bank in 1967 to the outbreak of the first Intifada in 1987, will not work now. Two intifadas later, the Palestinian right to self-determination has become an integral element in the thinking of the international community, the Arab world, and indeed of most Israelis. Thus Palestinians would continue to oppose Israeli rule, with sweeping international support. And if most serious observers are skeptical about the American capacity to turn Iraq into a western democracy, yet muffle their criticism in deference to US megapower status, they will not hesitate to bring to bear the entire weight of the international community against a similar and outrageous Israeli attempt, if indeed it is undertaken under cover of military government, to cult! ivate a friendly Palestinian “democracy” in a truncated rump state whose borders are drawn by Sharon and the settlers.

If the present situation of reoccupation is untenable, a renewed peace process is impossible, and Israel has to choose between expanding occupation into military government and something else–then it should opt for something else: unilateral withdrawal, accompanied by the dismantling of outlying settlements and the building (which has begun) of security fences on or near the 1967 border with the West Bank. This would be a far healthier strategy for renewing the peace process and avoiding the “one man, one vote” trap.

Yossi Alpher is the author of the forthcoming book “And the Wolf Shall Dwell with the Wolf: The Settlers and the Palestinians.”

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