Respect their philosophy of survival

When the Israel Defense Forces won the 1967 War, there were two important consequences for Palestinian history. One was the conquest of the Palestinians’ lands in the West Bank and Gaza Strip–without which it is doubtful whether those lands would ever be returned to them–and the beginning of a process of establishing a Palestinian state. The other was the destruction of patterns of government, in the sense of the system of reciprocal relations between the regime and the population. This system of relations has existed since time immemorial in the Arab countries; it explains the coexistence of despised regimes with the populations that despise them

This article seeks to discuss primarily the second consequence: the reforms that Israel decided to institute in the ruling systems in the territories it occupied. The conquest of the territories itself opened the way to the establishment of a Palestinian state. The changes in the patterns of governing the population of the territories and the establishment of settlements, while not diverting this trend, have turned the process into a cycle of blood and fire.

What are the essence and the significance of ruling practices in the political culture of Arab society? They are a function of the absence of a democratic tradition in which the people are sovereign and choose their representatives for defined periods of time, and there is a mechanism for replacing the government. Since such mechanisms do not exist in Arab society, the modus vivendi between the ruler and the population rests on several elements:

1. The regime is supported by the army, whose main task is loyalty to and defense of that regime;

2. maximum dependency of the citizenry on the regime–usually by means of a system of mukhtars and local authorities who represent the regime in the eyes of the population, and vice versa;

3. a disparity between the dogmatic and the pragmatic, i.e., between principles and actual behavior;

4. limitations on freedom of expression; in a society lacking in democratic tradition, words easily turn into violence;

5. in view of the unique situation in the two territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel found in place in 1967 additional restrictions that were embodied in a system of laws and directives that had been imposed upon the residents.

Before Moshe Dayan, minister of defense in 1967, had time to learn what was already in place in the territories–what in fact ensured the equilibrium between rulers and the citizenry there–he decided to dismantle the system of laws and directives that had existed prior to 1967. This involved elimination of the curfew in Gaza; erasing the Green Line between Israel and the territories; canceling the ban on newspapers (shortly after the occupation some 30 newspapers began to appear, representing the various factions of the Palestine Liberation Organization); removing government units from populated areas to prevent friction; appointing to positions in the military government army officers who neither knew Arab society nor spoke the language, in order to ensure the success of the famous “non-interference policy”; and additional instances of mistaken policymaking.

The attitude toward the future of the territories was also confused: it sought, on the one hand, to maintain the West Bankers’ link to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, while on the other, in the course of superfluous elections that Dayan forced upon the West Bank in 1972 and 1976, to bring about the removal of mayors who supported Jordan; it sought to encourage integration of the population with Israel while at the same time opening the bridges on the Jordan River, thereby better enabling the PLO to take control over the population and recruit it for acts of violence against Israel; and it projected yet another idea, a “functional arrangement” in which residents of the West Bank would vote for the parliament in Amman while their lands were ruled by Israel. Add to this Israel’s reaction to the idea of federation between the two banks of the Jordan, which King Hussein proposed in his speech of March 15, 1972. This was perhaps the best idea proposed until then, and Israel rejected it.

In retrospect, what were Israel’s alternatives after it occupied the territories?

First, it could have followed in the footsteps of the regimes that preceded 1967 and ruled the population in accordance with modes that existed prior to the occupation, thereby generating coexistence between the population and our rule along the lines of relationships that exist between regime and citizenry in Arab countries. Secondly, it could have accepted an arrangement with Jordan that would have left none of the territories in our hands but would have provided peace along the 1967 borders. And third, it could have anticipated the potential of the PLO, whose strength grew through a process of liberating itself from the guardianship of the Arab countries, and tried to reach an agreement with it.

What is the alternative today?

Throughout the history of modern Israel we have found ourselves in control of Arab territories five times. By the by, for 18 years we maintained a military government over the Israeli Arabs of the Galilee, the Triangle and the Negev. This was the longest and most successful rule of them all, not because we were once wiser, but rather because we allowed their philosophy of survival to work. This happened during three other periods as well: in Gaza after the 1956 Sinai Operation; at Faid (Egypt) after the 1973 War; and in Lebanon, in the beginning, in 1982. In 1967 we did not know how to benefit from the Arabs’ philosophy of survival. Meanwhile our world here has changed so much.

Today we cannot reverse this process. We must pursue the goal of a state for the Palestinians–and separate them and us. In return it is in our interest to relinquish the settlements and to be generous with regard to the 22.5 percent of historic Palestine that remains for them.

Colonel (res.) Dr. Zvi Elpeleg was a military governor in the Triangle in the mid-50s, in Gaza in 1956-57, in the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, in Faid (Egypt) in 1973, and in southern Lebanon in 1982. In 1995-1997 he served as Israel’s ambassador to Turkey. Since 1972 he has been a senior researcher at the Dayan Center, Tel Aviv University.

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