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Israel has only two choices: Eliminate the Palestinians or make peace
Managing the conflict has not brought security. It's time to give negotiations a real chance.
 
An Israeli tank near the border with Gaza.
An Israeli tank near the border with Gaza. (Getty/Andrew Burton)

Israeli lawmaker Moshe Feiglin is right.

Last week, Feiglin, a member of the Knesset on the extreme-right flank of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party, laid out in the ultranationalist media network Arutz Sheva his plan for "achieving quiet in Gaza," starting with:

One warning from the prime minister of Israel to the enemy population, in which he announces that Israel is about to attack military targets in their area and urges those who are not involved and do not wish to be harmed to leave immediately. Sinai is not far from Gaza and they can leave. This will be the limit of Israel's humanitarian efforts. Hamas may unconditionally surrender and prevent the attack. [Arutz Sheva]

Feiglin continues from there: "All the military and infrastructural targets will be attacked with no consideration for 'human shields'... Total siege on Gaza. Nothing will enter the area... Civilians may go to Sinai, fighters may surrender."

Bottom line:

Gaza is part of [the Jewish people's] Land and we will remain there forever... Subsequent to the elimination of terror from Gaza, it will become part of sovereign Israel and will be populated by Jews. [Arutz Sheva]

Though he urges annihilation, Feiglin stops just short of genocide, differentiating between Palestinians who cede their rights to self-determination and self-defense from those who respond to foreign occupation with violence. Other Israeli voices have not been so measured.

The last time Israel's military undertook to bomb Gaza into submission, in November 2012, the son of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wrote in The Jerusalem Post, "The residents of Gaza are not innocent, they elected Hamas. The Gazans aren't hostages; they chose this freely... We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza." More recently, Amos Regev, the editor of Israel's most widely distributed daily (the Sheldon Adelson–funded Israel Hayom) called for the destruction of Hamas' fighting capacity until all that's left "would be stones." Parliamentarian and fellow coalition member Ayelet Shaked quoted another writer favorably: "[The Palestinians] are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads... This also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons."

And they're right, these Israelis. If Israel's goal is to rid itself of Palestinian nationalism and resistance permanently, forever and aye, a plan like Feiglin's is the only one that might work.

Clearly Palestinians still dream of statehood, and "managing" the conflict has failed. This is the fourth time in eight years that Israel has attacked Gaza to eliminate the threat of Hamas, an intent Israel has been declaring for two decades. The military occupation of the West Bank also continues to be met with resistance, both violent and non-, and however much Economy Minister Naftali Bennett may want to impose "stability" via "partial annexation" of the West Bank, annexation is what Israel did to East Jerusalem, and one could hardly describe that situation as "stable." Nope, if Israel really wants to get rid of all possible Palestinian opposition, annihilation is the only way.

If Israel's goal is somewhat more moderate, focusing instead on peace and security, Feiglin's plan could still work. Of course, the operation couldn't be limited to the Gaza Strip, and permanently cleansing the West Bank of all potential Palestinian resistors would be complicated by the presence of hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers — perhaps they could temporarily relocate to friends and family within the Green Line? We'll have to ask MK Feiglin. With enough dedication, Israel could eventually rid itself of any Palestinian threat to its control of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

One presumes, however, that if Israel takes this approach, the U.S., EU, and Arab states might stop sitting quite so idly by. I'm particularly curious as to how Egypt might respond to Gaza's 1.7 million Palestinians decamping to Sinai. I suppose it's possible that rather than achieving Israeli security from Palestinian threats, Feiglin's plan would achieve the destruction of the state. It's really hard to control massive violence once it starts.

If the ultimate goal is peace and security, though, there is of course that one other option: Negotiations.

In the effort to put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, these are the only choices Israel has ever really had: Annihilation or peace. All conflict management has ever done is draw out the pain. The recent kidnappings and murder of four teenagers, three Israeli and one Palestinian, were the natural outcome of conflict management and should be recognized as such.

It's hard to know what the outcome of real rapprochement might be. The mutual recognition of Palestinian needs and claims alongside Israeli claims and needs has never really been tried. Every earlier effort has been far more about managing the conflict than about allowing some measure of dignity and justice to all sides. As for a one-state solution — take a look at the people killing each other today, and think about whether they might be ready to share a national anthem tomorrow. Hamas rockets and "Operation Protective Edge" are what the road to a single state looks like.

Netanyahu has spent the last several years saying the words the U.S. insisted he say — "two-state peace" — while doing everything within his power to make such a peace impossible. On July 11, he finally pulled the veil away, saying, "There cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan."

In that regard, as morally repugnant as Feiglin and Shaked's positions may be, they have one important quality missing from most other statements that have emerged from their government as regards the region's future: Honesty.

 
Emily L. Hauser is an American-Israeli freelance writer currently living outside Chicago. She has reported on and written about the contemporary Middle East since the 1990s, and is a regular contributor to Haaretz and The Forward.

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