The Cost of the West Bank
This paper explains what the West Bank is, its current population, and geography. It introduces some information about what the major conflicts are and why they are happening. The present state of the Palestinians and the Israeli settlements in the West Bank are discussed. The main issue of whether Israel should annex the West Bank is explored more in depth.
Keywords: West Bank, Israeli settlements, Palestine
The Cost of the West Bank
Just east of the fertile coastal lands of modern Israel lies a region called the West Bank. It is desirable for military and religious reasons but has no globally recognized government. The region is dotted with Israeli civilian settlements much like the settlements that became Israel over time(Betsalem map18). There is also a large native population in the West Bank. These inhabitants are over 80% Sunni Arab. There are ancient Arab cities as well as refugee camps full of Arabs who hope to one day get their old homes back inside present day Israel. Some refugees living in the West Bank never lived within the borders of present day Israel, but are still moving around in order to avoid Israel’s military. There are also minorities like Bedouin, Palestinian Jews, and many kinds of Christians from all over the world, especially in and around Jerusalem(cia.gov, world fact book1). Israel has held and defended the western part of Jerusalem since 1967. Jerusalem is attractive for religious reasons, but is also important to the tourism business. Since 1989, the largest minority in the West Bank has been Israeli settlers. Their numbers are growing rapidly (procon.org history10). They were encouraged to settle in key areas by a government that does notreally own the land. These settlers are sometimes attacked and killed by Palestinians. Bethlehem, East Jerusalem, Hebron, Jericho, Ramallah, and much of the area that Biblical Hebrews inhabited lies within this dry mountainous zone between Israel and Jordan that is called the West Bank today(Betsalem map18). It is rocky which makes it a natural barrier to invasion. Most of the West Bank is at a higher altitude than Israel, which makes it advantageous land to own in any fight involving tanks and artillery. With Syria and Lebanon to the north of Israel, and Egypt to its south, the West Bank is the only land left that Israel can expand into without facing a large military defense(cia.gov,world fact book1).
The contentious border between Israel and the West Bank is called the Green Line. Most of the Green Line marks the limit where Israel halted eastward expansion after taking much of modern Israel and part of Jerusalem in 1967. In a few places, the Green Line is said to be wider, or doubles back on itself, forming a no man’s land defensive area(Betsalem map18). Some sections of the line are founded on the borders that the League of Nations established for Jewish immigration after World War 1(procon.org timeline2). The location and dimensions of this line are generally accepted internationally, even reluctantly accepted by many Palestinians, but changes in the line since the Six Day Warare the subjects of bitter argument and bloodshed (procon.org history10). In the famous Six Day War, Israel proved to be one of the world’s most formidable military powers. Through superior strategy, superior intelligence, great training, and quick deployment, Israel was able to prevail against the large modern armies of Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon at the same time(procon history19). The modern borders of what the world now calls Israel are mostly defined by what Israel thought they could defend and hold after the Six Day War. Though the Israeli military had penetrated into Syria and temporarily occupied most of the West Bank, the 1967 Green Line only runs far east of the Mediterranean as necessary for Israel to hold their part of Jerusalem(procon.org timeline2).
Most of Israel’s allies and enemies expect them to expand into the rest of the West Bank at some point. As recently as September of 2011, current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated bluntly to the press that Israel will expand settlements in the West Bank(May 2009, Jerusalem office,Telegraph UK3). Even if they never fully take it, it is not likely that they would allow hundreds of thousands of people who are resentful towards Israel to live so close. It is not an accident that strategically important territories in the West Bank are being settled by Israel. Its not a thoughtless act, that the economic and political development of Palestine has been intentionally curbed by Israeli strategy. Israel is clearly controlling and containing the rest of Palestine with their characteristically effective and brutal methods. This fact is evident even in Pro-Israel slanted press(Grossman, June 2010, in ynetnews.com5), as well as more un-biased sources(May 2009, Jerusalem office,Telegraph UK3).
Israel has not officially annexed the West Bank yet, but they have been building the occupation since 1980. Their tactic since the 1980s, has been to encourage Israelis to settle and build east of the Green Line. These civilians are indirectly and directly offered financial incentives to monopolize water and fertile land beyond the internationally recognized sovereignty of Israel(Shabi -September, 2010 guardian.co.uk4). Many of the Palestinians living in these areas are there because they were forced out of Israel previously. The Israeli settlers become victims of snipers, bombs, and water theft(Grossman, in ynetnews.com5). These attacks are repeatedly used as a pretext for greater military presence in the region. If an internationally mediated peace proposal asks Israel to retreat back inside the Green Line, those civilian settlements are in a good position to support Israel’s inevitable arguments against such a compromise and withdrawal.
Israel has many good reasons to occupy and annex the West Bank. Many have even attempted to justify it as morally and legally sound. Given the history of unconditional U.S. support, they have reasons to believe that expansion into the West Bank would be tolerated by the international community. It is strategically important for preventing possible attacks from Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. It is also likely that small scale attacks on Israel could come from within the West Bank. The real estate, while less desirable than the pricier homes within Israel, will still be important to Israel as its population expands(Shabi -September, 2010 guardian.co.uk4). Zionists have argued that since there never was a historic, social, or ethnic group called Palestinians and Palestine still has little it could call government or economy, that Palestine is an empty land waiting to be colonized and civilized by whatever world power gets there first(masada2000.org, July 20106). Without the forceful emptying of homes and lands, modern Israel would be full of the native Sunnis who lived there before Israel(procon.org timeline2). This would make Israel difficult to defend from its mostly Arab enemies. The tactics currently used in the West Bank have worked well before. Expansion from a few small settlements, with good propaganda control, and careful acquisition of international support, is the tactic by which the current State of Israel came to be(procon.org timeline2). Ground rules for Israel’s expansion have been written, re-written, and agreed to by Israel, Palestine, and other governments concerned with this conflict. In September of 2011, U.S. Congressman Joe Walsh of Illinois argued that Israel should immediately annex the West Bank (U.S. House of Representatives Resolution 3948) regardless of previous agreements. In a plea to the Knesset (an Israeli representative government body), Israel’s Minister of Infrastructure Uzi Landau, echoed the claims of U.S. Congressman Walsh and many Israeli hawks when he said “We’ll have to take [sic] protect ourselves. If such a thing happens [in reference to Palestine achieving statehood], I’m going to suggest to my government to extend out sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and over the highly-populated blocs(blocks) we have in Judea and Samaria (Old names for the West Bank), just to start with.” (Twersky April,2011 Jerusalem Post9) All these arguments for annexing the West Bank cite the threat of Palestinian statehood as an affront to Israel and international negotiations. Minister Landau and many Zionists cast doubt on the longevity and legitimacy of whatever representative government-like body currently negotiates on behalf of the Palestinian people(Bend Bulletin news desk, August 20117). Many writers in Israel have voiced fears that if Palestine declares itself a sovereign state without the consent of Israel and it’s supporters that it would send a message to the world that U.N. recognition is not a legal requirement for statehood. This would de-legitimize Israel, because U.N. recognition is its main basis for claiming legal statehood(procon.org timeline2).
The reasons for Israel to annex the West Bank into Israel are baseless justifications. The international community is uncomfortable with the idea of a large population being denied water, government, homes, and free travel. Israel’s claim that any action which threatens Israel’s security nullifies all treaties and agreements is transparently incorrect. The idea that Palestine can’t be allowed to have a country because it will strengthen Israel’s enemies fails to consider the wide range of roles that exist for Israel between that of oppressor and victim. In September of 2011, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestine’s current elected President, told the press that the Palestinian leadership means to argue against illegal occupation, and not the existence of Israel. This assertion, along with similar ones from other Palestinian leaders, signifies a willingness to compromise with Israel and recognize the borders established in 1967. President Abbas went on to say “It is our legitimate right to demand the full membership of the state of Palestine in the U.N.(…)to put an end to a historical injustice by attaining liberty and independence, like the other peoples of the earth, in a Palestinian state on the borders of June 4, 1967-(Naharnet Newsdesk, September 201111).” U.S. President Barack Obama appeared to support Palestinian statehood in 2010, but later took the side of Israel by saying that Palestinian leadership declared statehood unilaterally, therefore negating previous agreements. One of those agreements was that Israel halt expansion into the West Bank, and another was that Palestine wait for international permission before declaring statehood. Neither of those agreements were kept in 2011(Toensing, September 2011 in Middle Eastern Research Project13).
Palestinians have argued that the intentional dislocation, impoverishment, and even killing of civilian populations has been carried out by Israel to ensure that Israel can continue to expand unhindered, at the expense of native populations. This expansion and military domination is made possible by assistance from the U.S., the U.N., private investors, and European countries(Howie,November 201116). The suspicions over funding are sound. Even Israeli newspapers say that the occupation is funded by the U.S.(Eldar, November 2010 in HaAretz14). Palestinian resentment and bitterness toward Israel and the U.S. are logically connected. Every group representing Palestine since 1970 has listed the liberation of Palestine from Israel as a primary goal. The current Palestinian leadership however, in a historic vote involving representative groups from all over Palestine (their votes count on a percentage of population basis, like our electoral college.) accepted the 1967 Green Line as being won by Israel in a fair battle(Palestinian Appeal to International Court20). However, many Palestinians have argued that ever since the Six Day War, western powers have slanted the conflict against Palestine by unfairly supporting Israel in their illegal actions, so the Palestinians have no chance for an evenly matched fight or fair treatment from the pro-Israeli western powers, should they wish to reclaim their lands by force.
Regardless of what has been promised to Israel by Western powers, further expansion into the West Bank by Israel would be a terrible idea. A full scale annexation or military attack on the West Bank would cause unnecessary loss and bloodshed to both Israel and Palestine. When Israel is seen as an oppressive force on disadvantaged people, the international support that the State of Israel is sustained by could wane. If Arab civilians are prevented from having a country and they can not or will not emigrate to neighboring countries, the very scenario Israel wishes to avoid, of being surrounded by angry enemies, would be created by Israeli policy. It’s also important to note Israel’s original reasons for its aggressive stance: Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq all have easy immediate access to Israel’s borders. These countries are not friendly towards Israel(procon.org timeline2). It is one of the few points nearly all Arab and Mid East powers agree on. If it weren’t for Israel’s military superiority and outside financial support, it couldn’t exist in the form it currently does(procon.org timeline2). Israel must walk a fine line politically if they are to keep the financial support of western powers while still frightening their neighbors militarily. Considering this, it is evident that committing blatant human rights violations in the Middle East is politically and militarily unwise for Israel(Palestinian Appeal to International Court20). If Israel goes ahead with the complete take-over of the West Bank, increased violence, tension from neighboring countries, and growing global resentment towards Israel will inevitably result.
The best chance for longevity and prosperity of Israel lies in moving all settlements and military bases west of the Green Line. From this position, Israel could strengthen the international support that makes the State possible. They could even look altruistic to Arab powers and the international community. The new State of Palestine would be too busy and poor to become a huge threat to Israel right away. If the State of Israel could form good relations with one of its neighbors, the old Arab rivalries that were common in the region before Israel existed could even take precedence in the military planning of Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon(procon.org history10). The most likely results of Israel withdrawing from the West Bank are a stronger Israel and weakening of Anti-Israel positions in the Arab world(procon.org history10). They have the means, motive, and opportunity to pull back to the 1967 Green Line before Palestine makes another push for internationally recognized statehood. The alternative would be bad for everyone. The price of further expansion into the West Bank by Israel will inevitably be more unnecessary civilian deaths.