How to End the Occupation

Change for peace will only come from outside Israeli society

The center is closer to Likud than the left, so the Paris conference is an important step if the United States and European Union treat it with the necessary gravitas.

By Zeev Sternhell | Jun. 3, 2016 | 12:33 AM

It’s hard to understand what all the commotion was about. After all, the new government is exactly what most voters wanted to see when they left the polling booths at the last election.

To most of the public, Avigdor Lieberman, Naftali Bennett and Benjamin Netanyahu were meant for each other. All three believe that liberal democracy – with its moral and intellectual values, respect for individual rights without regard to religion or nationality, and system of checks and balances – is nothing but an infantile invention or a mere deception.

All three are united in their belief that the system has to undergo a thorough change and that in the nation-state of the Jewish people, Jews must enjoy absolute priority. To achieve this, the “judicial revolution” of previous years must be erased, with the justice system subordinated to the executive branch.

If the majority wishes to expel elected Knesset members whose loyalties it feels are unsatisfactory, or if the majority decides that leftist NGOs or human rights groups are foreign agents, the Supreme Court has no right to intervene. Justices weren’t elected and their guiding principles were never ratified by voters. This is what democracy means to these three.

They also share the view that relinquishing control of the West Bank in order to end the conflict with the Palestinians is absurd. What sane country would volunteer to give up such assets? Israel is stronger than ever, so there is no need to change the status quo. The occupation and apartheid regime in the territories are legitimate and have become a permanent fixture via the settlement enterprise.

All this leads to the conclusion that a profound change will not come from within Israeli society, only from without. This is so for the simple reason that most of the center’s leaders hold views similar to the right’s. The style is different and most centrist MKs don’t resemble Likud’s Miri Regev or Oren Hazan, but ultimately Moshe Kahlon, Yair Lapid and Isaac Herzog are closer to Likud than to Meretz.

This is why the international conference in Paris is an important step forward if the United States and European Union treat it with the necessary gravitas. Recruiting international public opinion in the media and at universities is also important, but this effort will take several years to bear fruit.

Indeed, if striving for a two-state solution becomes important enough to the Americans and Europeans, they have all the tools to take action. All the Israelis need to realize that the occupation has a price is for the Americans to whisper in the prime minister’s ear that if one more housing unit goes up in the West Bank beyond the 1967 borders or if one new outpost is established, American military aid will stop greasing the wheels of Israel’s arms makers.

Let the Israeli taxpayer try paying for research and development and sustaining thousands of jobs. In addition, diplomatic assistance at the UN Security Council could be predicated on significant progress on the Palestinian front. No more free lunch. When the automatic American veto is lifted, Israel will be held responsible for its actions. Everyone knows that it takes one harsh Security Council resolution to shock us more than years of polite talk.

The Europeans can do their part by deciding that the settlements are not part of Israel. They can support Israel’s economic and cultural prosperity while boycotting the settlements. This is the only way to help us extricate ourselves from the morass we’re mired in.

How to End the Occupation

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