Why Israel Cannot Simply “End The Occupation”
“End the Occupation!” There are some people whose opposition to Israeli “occupation” over what they see as Palestinian territory is but one part of a wider agenda seeking to see the end of Israel within any borders. But there are some others who somewhat naively call for an end to “occupation” that is driven by a genuine belief that this is the best way to bring about a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
However, simply calling for Israel to withdraw from territory ignores not only Israel’s legitimate legal, historical and territorial rights but also the reality on the ground. As it currently stands, Israel has no choice but to continue its “occupation” of Palestinians even if it wished to relinquish territory. Any withdrawal from Judea and Samaria would leave the door open for terrorists to take over and create a terrorist state from which to launch devastating attacks on Israel.
Related reading: What are Jewish Ties to the West Bank?
The Security Threat
Though much of the discourse surrounding Israel’s military control of Judea and Samaria focuses on settlements, barely any of it touches on the security threat Israel faces. Gaza stands as a stark example of the dangers posed to Israel by a withdrawal from Palestinian territory. Since withdrawing from Gaza and southern Lebanon, Israelis have lived under constant threat of, if not actual, rocket bombardment and terrorist attack.
Related reading: Did Arab Violence Really Start With the ‘Occupation’?
As the IDF withdrew from southern Lebanon, Hezbollah moved forward to occupy positions ever closer to Israel and are now able to threaten the country from right virtually the border fence despite UN Security Council Resolution 1701 that was meant to prevent this. The Iranian sponsored terror group has used the freedom to operate that the Israeli withdrawal gave it to stock up on weaponry that can hit any part of Israel.
Related reading: Hezbollah and the UN’s Toothless Resolution 1701
The same is largely true of Hamas that took over the Gaza Strip after a bloody confrontation with Palestinian Authority (PA) forces in 2007. Hamas now has rockets that have hit Israeli civilian targets as far north as Haifa and beyond. Both Hamas and Hezbollah have built advanced terror infrastructure including weapons manufacturing centers, underground bunkers and tunnels. In many cases these tunnels extend into Israel allowing terrorists to covertly leave Gaza and Lebanon and emerge unseen in Israel where they can, and have, murdered Israelis.
Related reading: Israelis Near Gaza Cope With Rocket Threat
The prospect of the same situation emerging in the wake of an Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria is enough to ensure that the Israeli electorate aren’t likely to endorse such a situation. An Israeli Peace Index poll taken in November 2019 found that less than half of respondents were in favor of an independent Palestinian state:
“When asked whether they support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel, a majority was opposed – 48.7% versus 43.8%. The other 7.4% answered that they don’t know.”
Hamas Popularity in the West Bank
Israelis have known for some time that the PA is an ailing administration, lacking in legitimacy among the Palestinians in the West Bank that it ostensibly serves. Polling conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) has consistently shown that the majority of Palestinians have unfavorable views towards the PA administration and President Mahmoud Abbas personally. Polling conducted in June 2018 found “more than 60% of the [Palestinian] public want president Abbas to resign and that the public disagrees with some of the most important domestic policies of the Palestinian president.”
Results of the poll also showed:
A majority of the public supports Hamas’ efforts to reach an agreement with Israel on a long term Tahdia [ceasefire] even in the absence of reconciliation. A larger percentage places the blame for the worsening conditions in the Gaza Strip on the president and the reconciliation government rather than on Hamas. Indeed, about half of the public believes that the PA has become a burden on the Palestinian people rather than an asset.
The Palestinian public doesn’t even think that the PA is the body that should have responsibility for making peace with an Israeli government. Its reliance on Hamas to negotiate with Israel calls into question the PA’s raison d’etre. They even blame the PA for the situation in Gaza when the PA doesn’t control the territory.
In the same poll, 63% of Palestinians stated their desire for Abbas to resign. In the wake of an Israeli withdrawal the PA would be faced with the job of ruling over a populace that sees it as a “burden” paving the way for a Hamas takeover in exactly the same way as it took over Gaza.
According to polling conducted by PCPSR in September 2019 if there were a presidential election between PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, Abbas would win by 2% but the margin of error in the polling was 3%: “If new presidential elections were held today and only two were nominated, Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh, the former would receive 48% and the latter 46% of the vote.”
Hamas may not have to go to the effort of ousting the PA at all they may well be popular enough with the Palestinian electorate to win an election.
In 2019, just two months after the above poll was taken, over 200 rockets were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip in a single day.
Israel Received Little Global Acknowledgment for the Gaza Withdrawal
Anyone hoping an Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria may at least gain Israel goodwill from the other countries of the world and various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) should note that Israel is still pilloried in the UN over Gaza. In 2018 Amnesty International wrote: “Israel’s illegal air, land and sea blockade of the Gaza Strip entered its 11th year.” The UN itself stated in 2012 that it still considers Gaza to be under occupation:
Asked about the status of Gaza, the Spokesperson said that under resolutions adopted by both the Security Council and the General Assembly on the Middle East Peace Process, the Gaza Strip continues to be regarded as part of the occupied Palestinian Territory. He said the United Nations would accordingly continue to refer to the Gaza Strip as part of the occupied Palestinian Territory until such time as either the General Assembly or the Security Council take a different view.
There has been no change in the diplomatic attacks on Israel around the world in response to removing 9,000 settlers from Gaza and the soldiers who were protecting them. On the contrary, the IDF has simply been attacked over the measures it has been required to take to keep Israel safe from terror attacks. Ironically the only reason it has been forced to take these measures is because of Israeli withdrawal. Even when Israel “ends the occupation,” it does not lead to an improvement in the situation of either side.
Related reading: Israel’s Great Risk for Peace: The 2005 Gaza Disengagement
Nothing could hammer home to Israelis the implications of a Hamas-run West Bank more than running to the bomb shelters. Hamas control over the territories of Judea and Samaria would bring Israeli civilians well within range of even the most rudimentary Hamas artillery.
The freedom of action IDF withdrawal has given Hamas and Hezbollah has led to both terror organizations making effective preparations for war in terms of stockpiling arms, constructing terror infrastructure and firing projectiles at Israel. In return for withdrawal Israel has faced continued conflict and international opprobrium.
As the situation currently stands, “occupation” is not an option for Israel. It is a continued necessity.