Cross-posted from Dimi’s Notes.
Noam Sheizaf reports on his blog the police and army recently concluded an extensive drill, practicing response to riots that would follow the signing of a peace agreement covering “population exchange”. Here is a verbatim translation of the very careful phrasing used by Carmela Menashe, the IBA’s veteran military correspondent, from whose report Noam fished the info:
“The security forces completed yesterday (Thursday) a large-scale military drill simulating coping with Hamas attacks and riots by the Arabs of Israel following the signing of a peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority.
“Our correspondent reports that among other [eventualities], the forces practiced radical scenarios of violent demonstrations in the Arab sector following an agreement on population swap with the Authority. A detention camp for the Arabs of Israel [sic] will be set up at the Golani Junction to absorb the detainees. The large scale drill managed and led by the Prison Service was attended by the Home Front Command, the Israel Police, the Military Police, firefighting forces and others.”
Menashe’s report also notes the Prison Service is prepared [sic] to release 1,500 illegal aliens from Israeli prisons to absorb new Palestinian detainees within 24 hours, although it’s unclear whether this refers to “the population swap” scenarion or the one described further on, that of a Hamas Gaza-style takeover attempt of the West Bank. If it’s the former, it’s enough to make one wonder just how many people the authorities are planning to detain, if they’ll need all normally available space in our detention system, 1,500 places more, and an entire new detention camp.
I think we should not turn this into a conspiracy item. The fact that the security forces are training doesn’t mean that Israeli leaders have such a plan…
I beg to differ. First, a drill involving so many forces is by definition following a plan hatched Israeli public servants and/or leaders. Second, bringing all those crowds costs enormous amounts of money in equipment, fuel, ammunition, and most importantly, important peoples’ time. Third, it’s worth noting that the other scenario practiced in the drill is that of a Hamas takeover of the West Bank – Israel’s number one conflict scenario in that region, one which the army and the politicians have been speaking about and preparing for to no end, ever since Hamas pulled off the Gaza coup.
Much of our policy in grooming the Bonsai
kitten President, Mahmoud Abbas, and much of our ever-tighter cooperation with the PA’s security forces, are all centered precisely around preventing this threat from materializing. It would be good to have a full list of the scenarios in the drill, to see if only highly probable or also implausible but highly dangerous scenarios are practiced. But if the top brass are taking the possibility of preparing for transfer as seriously as they take the risk of a Hamas takeover in the West Bank, it means that what Israelis call רוח המפקד must be blowing in that direction very hard indeed; hard enough, as we see, to materialize into fairly detailed plans about who does what when they get the go-ahead.
The drill is also disconcerting for other reasons. As described by Menashe, it seems to assume that there will be a strong violent response from the Arab population, which means the expulsion-and-denial of citizenship “population exchange” will be forced, rather than agreed on (through, say, referendum.) The plan’s apparent concentration on population, rather than territory swaps, evokes the possibility of not only fencing out entire Israeli communities in a “redrawing of borders”, but of actual physical expulsion and removal.
The report on the drill comes hot on the heels of other disconcerting developments. The ludicrous “loyalty statement” resolution due to be passed by cabinet on Sunday is one; another is the prime minister’s feeble response to Lieberman’s calls for population swap. More ominous still were commentaries by the omnipresent “sources in the Prime Minister’s circle”, who told Haaretz the day after the speech that “Liberman’s position has come up in internal discussions of the diplomatic process, but there is no official decision by the government of Israel on this position.” Read that again: No decision on ethnic cleansing also means not rejecting ethnic cleansing out of hand.
A natural outcome
But rather than seeing this drill as a conspiracy or a monstrous aberration, I propose seeing it as a natural outcome. When the Israeli Right took up the two-state solution it did so with every intention of living up to what this solution promises to the Israeli Jews: A secure and exclusive, ethnocratic nation-state for at least a few more generations. The presence of a large, rapidly politicizing Palestinian minority is a much bigger threat to this vision than either the West Bank or Gaza. The current developments are perfectly reasonable outcomes of a marriage between ultra-nationalist values and the two-state idea: The important thing about the two-state, the symbiosis goes, is to secure Israel’s Jewishness; how sovereign the Palestinian state is open to creative interpretation, but the important thing is that as many Palestinians are excluded from any influence and contact with Israel as possible.
Hence the frenetic anti-Arab legislation, aiming to limit the role Arabs play in Israeli politics and culture. Hence Netanyahu’s insistence on Abu Mazen, a foreign diplomat, recognizing Israel’s Jewish character; and hence the determination to resolve Israel’s relations with its Palestinian minority through the most exclusivist and segregationist interpretation of the two state solution; most importantly, hence the exceptionally broad acceptance of this interpretation from right to “center Left,” from Lieberman to Tzipi Livni. The beast of ethnic cleansing is well on its way to Bethlehem, and it’s rapidly becoming normalized and legitimized – by prettier names – to the general Israeli public. We’ll be seeing more and more of this careful, calculated slouch as the year goes on.
Update: So far, the only public official to take notice of the drill is MK Dov Khenin. Khenin, a member for Jewish-Arab party Hadash, has established himself the reputation of a diligent MK keen to work across our parliaments’ multilple aisles to forward green, social and human rights agendas. He also ran two years ago for mayor of Tel Aviv, spearheading a coalition of Hadash, Likud and student and community activists, coming in second with third of the vote. The esteemed Yossi Gurvitz writes on his Friends of George blog that Khenin takes an urgent view of the matter:
MK Dov Khenin has requested an urgent discussion in the Knesset. Speaking to this blog, he said it would be a mistake to focus on the fact that Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch [in charge of the police, DR], is a Lieberman man; it seems, he said, much bigger than Lieberman and may involve Defence Minister Ehud Barak himself. Considering the fact the Home Front Command took part in the drill, this is a more than likely supposition. Khenin said he intends to demand explanations of Barak, but admitted that considering the latter’s consistent avoidance of accountability to parliament (he strives for perpetual reticence, said Khenin), this will not be easy.
Gurvitz also notes that such drills were carried out ahead of the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, with the target of the forces being, obviously, settlers. If I recall, these drills were widely publicised and used in psychological war against the settler community, hoping to persuade them not to resist. Here it seems the state is keen to keep whatever it’s preparing under wraps.