Israel's persistence in occupying Palestine will be its undoing

Palestinian students celebrate the political unity deal between Hamas and rival party Fatah in Gaza City – a positive step the Israeli government seems bent on ignoring. (AFP)

Palestinian students celebrate the political unity deal between Hamas and rival party Fatah in Gaza City – a positive step the Israeli government seems bent on ignoring. (AFP)

The new Palestinian unity government, installed after the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, is good news for all who strive for a durable and comprehensive peace. Instead of resorting to hostile measures, the Israeli government should welcome this development, which is a precondition for realising the two-state solution.

But the Israeli government has once again taken an antagonistic and rather destructive approach, as it has done in past months during United States Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative.

On April 7, Kerry discussed the breakdown of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks with the foreign relations committee of the US Senate. His famous words – “and poof!” – describing the collapse of the talks after Israel’s unilateral actions, may go down in history as marking a turning point in the international community’s efforts to resolve the Middle East conflict.

According to Kerry, the Israeli government had violated its commitment to release a fourth group of Palestinian prisoners and announced 700 new houses in settlements, bringing the talks to an end.

By being frank, Kerry spoiled the blame game that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been preparing for since peace talks started nine months ago.
The blame game was, in fact, Netanyahu’s main concern throughout the talks. His willingness to enter into serious and sincere discussions on the final status issues that matter was nil.

Yet the answer to the question of why Kerry’s initiative failed is not to be found in the sequence of events described above. Something much more fundamental is at work.

The bigger picture is that for decades Israel has been implementing a military occupation in the Palestinian territories. Soon it will enter its 48th year. The Israeli government has the power to end it, but instead it entrenches the occupation incessantly with a massive investment of bureaucratic resources, finances and manpower. The Israeli government simply does not want to end the occupation and its rule over the Palestinian people – that’s why Kerry’s initiative was doomed to fail.

There is no doubt that the occupation is cruel and aggressive. Ruling another people by force automatically leads to serious violations of international law, human rights and basic moral principles. Administrative detention of Palestinians without trial, ever-expanding expropriation of land, and restricting Palestinian movement within the West Bank and between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are but a few examples of violations.

All of this is accompanied by the large-scale expansion of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank. In the nine months during which Kerry left no stone unturned to achieve a breakthrough in Israeli-Palestinian talks, the Netanyahu government approved nearly 14?000 new houses in settlements, many of which would be built deep in occupied territory.

It is reason for great concern that the willingness to end the control and occupation of the Palestinian people is woefully absent from our politics, from our discourse and from our hearts. After all, the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state depends on an end to the occupation.

Therefore, all peoples and states that care about the future of Israel and about peace between Israelis and Palestinians should dedicate themselves to one thing: inducing the Israeli government to end the occupation fully and swiftly.

If the international community won’t do so, we all know what will happen. “Poof” – Israeli democracy crumbles; “poof” – the Israel we know and love is gone for good.

Dr Alon Liel served as the director general of Israel’s ministry of foreign affairs and the Israeli ambassador to South Africa

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