Imagine a world without Palestine
Palestine today exists only in the eyes of the willing or the hopeful, but the future existence of Palestine is in more danger than it has ever been.
The world needs to come to terms with what will happen when, and not if, Palestine does not exist
At a moment in history when the Israeli government most needs rebuke, they are gifted with Donald Trump, who thinks the capital of Israel should be Jerusalem, and a new ambassador, David M Friedman, who has questioned the need for a two-state solution, and has no objection to Israel annexing the West Bank.
When Steve Bannon, the new White House chief-of-staff and editor-in-chief of the fervently pro-Israel Breitbart, was accused of being anti-Semitic, he reportedly solicited a letter of support from Yossi Dagan, chairman of the Samaria Regional Council, and a prominent settler activist.
Breitbart quickly and proudly published the letter. Dagan lives with nearly 900 others in a settlement called Shavei Shomron. In Hebrew, that translates as "Returnees of Samaria". The justification for the settlement was not as part of a future "land for peace" deal, as some pro-Israel commentators often generalise but because, in 1976, theocratic fundamental activists called Gush Emunim settled there. They believed that, if they did so, it would hasten the arrival of a Messianic age.
After half a dozen attempts to remove them, the Israeli Defence Force compromised and families were allowed to stay. The so-called Sebastia agreement, named after the abandoned railway station they initially took over, opened up the northern West Bank to settlement.
Shortly afterwards, Gush Emunim, invigorated by their desire to witness the end of times, founded a settlement organisation called Amana. Its stated goal is "developing communities in Judea, Samaria, the Golan Heights, the Galilee, the Negev and Gush Katif". It is still very active today. They are willing to do anything to achieve this religiously inspired vision.
Earlier this year, Israeli police investigated the group and found that of fifteen land deals conducted by a subsidiary of the group, fourteen were fraudulent.
Land for peace
To say the Palestinians are dealing with land-grabbing criminals both in local and international law, inspired not by peace, but by religious fundamentalism, isn't hyperbole. Yet those who gush about a two-state solution in the West seem willfully blind to the fact they are dealing with religious fundamentalists just as motivated as their Muslim counterparts.
"Israeli settlements are not the real barrier to peace," argued the notable commentator Tim Montgomerie earlier this month.
Rated as one of the most influential British conservatives outside of the Tory high command, and with a CV including speech-writing for two former Tory leaders, Montgomerie's pontifications, however fatuous, are still worth considering.
"Israel is in the front line against radical Islam," Montgomerie dramatically claimed, before citing the atheist supremacist Sam Harris: “We are all living in Israel, it’s just some of us haven’t realised it yet.”
Perhaps the same could be said for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Montgomerie has made the tired claim usually argued by those who have never been to Gaza: "Israelis can’t be blamed for not rushing to repeat what happened after their 2005 withdrawal from Gaza. Vacated settlements became launchpads for missile attacks."
What Montgomerie failed to mention is that the blockade is at least as punitive as a direct occupation and giving something back what you've stolen hardly makes a thief less of a thief.
'Sea of Israeli domination'
The thieving of the West Bank is even more direct. In a powerful speech before the UN in October 2016, Hagai el-Ad of the Israeli human rights organisation BT'Selem laid out the statistics:
The Israeli government has declared 20 percent of the West Bank as “state land”; “generously” allows Palestinians to build on one-half of one percent of Area C, the 60 percent of the West Bank placed “temporarily” under Israeli control a generation ago. Over the past decade, Israel has demolished some 1,200 Palestinian homes in the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem, thereby rendering homeless over 5,500 people, half of them minors. East Jerusalem figures would raise these by roughly another 50 percent.
El-Ad described the deteriorating future state of Palestine glibly, sucked into non-existence by a suffocating network of new settlements, buffer zones around each one, separate transport grids for settlers and Palestinians, leading to the "fragmentation of Palestine into hundreds of isolated communities, floating – or rather I should say, slowly sinking – in a sea of Israeli domination".
One of Montgomerie's earlier claims to fame was producing a provocative conservative video polemic, called "A World Without America," which sought to exaggerate the importance and benevolence of the US. Chief amongst the video's imaginative conclusions was that a world without America "would be a world without Israel".
A full apartheid
What about if we imagine a world without Palestine? If you think the years since Israel's foundation have been bad, imagine unending aggression across the Middle East and wider Muslim world towards Israel and Jews (the former justifiable, the other not - but it will happen nonetheless), predicated on the fact the Israelis have completed stealing a state, not that they might.
Internally, Israel - the expanded edition - might become a full apartheid in which a Muslim majority would necessarily be denied certain rights in order to maintain the states Jewish nature. As an alternative, mass expulsions of Palestinians are not outside the realms of possibility.
In March 2016, Reuven Rivlin called a poll showing that as many as half of Israelis wanted Palestinians to be "expelled or transferred" out of Israel proper "a wake up call for Israeli society". As the de facto borders of Israel expand further West, through settlements spreading like well-nourished bacteria, the number of Palestinians that would be affected by this only increases. If there is anything the Levant and Europe needs fewer of now - it is refugees.
Meanwhile, anti-Western sentiment, already rapidly rising, would reach a fever pitch – with the threat of terrorism in European and North American capitals increasing to unmanageable levels. Israel-Palestine is no longer a conflict; it’s a crisis.
The world needs to come to terms with what will happen when, and not if, Palestine does not exist. The results could be dire for the Palestinians alone, but those Western countries (not to mention the Arab states) that stood by and watched it happen - could pay a very dear price indeed.
- Alastair Sloan focuses on injustice and oppression in the West, Russia and the Middle East. He contributes regularly to The Guardian, Al Jazeera and Middle East Eye. Follow Alastair's work at www.unequalmeasures.com
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: A Palestinian national flag is een flying past Israeli soldiers during a march marking Palestinian national day of independence, at the entrance of the Old City of Hebron in the occupied West Bank, 15 November 2016 (AFP)
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.