Israel Will Withdraw Only Under Pressure

By Dr. Israel Shahak
July 1991

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 open.

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 exchanges.

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 bipartisan thinking.

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 much autonomy.

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 a “transfer.”

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 earnest.

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.


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