Israel Will Withdraw Only Under Pressure
By Dr. Israel Shahak
There is a persistent delusion, shared by many supposedly well-informed
foreign observers of Israel, that Israeli occupation of any conquered
territories could be terminated without an irresistible pressure
on Israel from outside. The reality, by no means contradicted by
the abandonment of Sinai after the war of 1973 and of large chunks
of Lebanon after guerrilla war in 1985, does not justify such expectations.
The fact is that the overwhelming majority of the Jewish public,
and accordingly of its Knesset electees, has been determined since
1967 not to relinquish any territory except if forced to do so.
Thus, the war of 1973, and the Lebanese guerrilla war of 1983-85,
provided sufficient reasons for Israeli territorial concessions.
In all probability, the same will be the case if serious economic
pressure is applied to Israel. Such pressure could, in the opinion
of many commentators, myself included, overcome Israeli resistance
to making territorial concessions.
Moral Exhortations Won’t Do
Moral exhortations won’t do, however, nor will the acceptance by
an Arab or a Palestinian leadership of whatever conditions Israel
has raised, or may yet raise. The Hebrew-language satirists have
perceived this fact from time immemorial. Probably the best of them,
B. Michael, wrote in the 1970s (when Labor was still in power) that
even if Yasser Arafat converts to Judaism, announces recognition
of the exclusive right of the Jews to all the land of Israel, boards
a plane dressed in Orthodox Jewish garb, and disembarks in Israel
singing the Israeli national anthem, the Israeli government still
will concede him nothing. Other satirists earlier said the same
about Nasser, and about Sadat before the 1973 war.
The point at issue between Likud and the core of the Labor Party
is not over whether Israel should or should not withdraw from any
territories without being pressured. It is about two other matters:
whether Israel should avow its intentions to withdraw from the territories
in order to keep them, and how strong outside pressure must be in
order to necessitate some territorial concessions.
The first issue has an ideological dimension to it, but the second
is a matter of expediency, pure and simple. In the past, some Labontes
were more intransigent than Likud about the withdrawal from Sinai,
just as they are now, Peres and Rabin included, regarding the withdrawal
from the Golan Heights.
True, in 1974-75, a substantial change occurred. A Jewish “peace
camp” emerged. It gained representation in the Knesset beyond
parties elected by the Arab constituency, and the media became more
Yet this change, while having a noticeable impact upon the public,
did little to affect the existing configuration of political forces.
In the Knesset, the deputies who genuinely oppose the retention
of the territories amount to no more than 23 out of 120. Of those,
8 (or fewer) are Labor doves, 10 are from the Zionist left parties,
and 5 are from the parties elected by Arab voters.
Everything I say here could have been learned from publicly available
Israeli sources. Two past examples will suffice. The Israeli investments
in Sinai, beginning in late 1967, culminating in building a deep
water port at the city of Yamit and a network of roads and fortifications
in that peninsula, testified to the real Israeli intentions.
Likewise, the construction of water pipelines to the conquered
areas of Lebanon was more indicative of Israel’s real intentions
in early 1983 than the vast number of already forgotten diplomatic
In both cases, and in other examples, the real long-term plans
could have been learned from scattered notices in the press or from
information available from private sources.
The point is that such information is not kept secret, since the
US is presumed to share the Israeli point of view, except on ceremonial
occasions. For example, the plans concerning Yamit were, after the
summer of 1972, virtually trumpeted.
In the same manner, Israeli intentions in regard to the West Bank
and Gaza can be inferred from the long-term Israeli investments
in the area. The Hebrew press now contains abundant pertinent evidence.
A telling characteristic of the official Israeli plans is their
time range. In Haaretz of April 17, 1991, Yizhar Be’er provides
the first comprehensive summary of such plans. Be’er draws much
of his information from a research study carried out by Israeli
academic experts commissioned by the Civil Administration. The study,
whose findings were selectively leaked to Be’er, was entitled: “Judea
and Samaria in 2005.” Its title notwithstanding, the study
engages in some longitudinal planning until 2015.
But this particular study, although8221 leaked only recently under
the current right-wing government, was designed under the “national
unity” government when Rabin still was defense minister and
in this capacity the boss of the Civil Administration. It cannot
therefore be defined as a Likud plan. It is clearly a product of
Israel’s Basic Assumption
There can be little doubt that within the Israeli political establishment
consensus exists about its basic assumption: that Israel expects
to keep ruling the West Bank while refusing to share any of its
power. According to other sources quoted by Be’er, it appears that
the same applies to the Gaza Strip. There will be no autonomy.
Shamir and his cronies are on record as stipulating that negotiations
with Palestinians connected to the PLO may be allowed on condition
they consent “to discuss nothing more than the municipal tax
rates and garbage collection in their towns.” It turns out,
however, that the Civil Administration anticipates not even that
The territories are envisaged as remaining under Israel’s undivided
rule, exactly as they have been ruled thus far. Yet their formal
annexation is not envisaged at all.
Israel intends, in my opinion, to preserve the status quo, except
in the event of a major war. Satisfied with the present state of
affairs, Israel wants to continue it indefinitely.
The prospects for the next 24 years, as forecast in this study,
are not the worst of what can be expected. Perpetuation of the Israeli
occupation with all its apartheid laws can only encourage a part
of the Israeli Jewish populace to press even more resolutely for
Likud, as represented by Shamir, or any conceivable successor,
and the Labor party core, with Peres and Rabin at its head, do oppose
transfer, but only as long as they see that the US opposes it in
The US may yet change its attitude toward transfer. Hoping for
American tacit consent, Israel may even initiate a war, most likely
in the summer of 1992, before the American and the Israeli elections.
There is reason to consider the possibility of a transfer in the
course of such a war, and whether the US administration, as it functions
in election years, might not then be likely tacitly to approve it.
Dr. Israel Shahak, a Holocaust survivor and retired professor
of chemistry at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is chairman
of the Israeli League of Human and Civil Rights.
See also: Life Of Death: An Exchange - by Israel Shahak.