At the beginning of the first Palestinian intifada (1987 - 1993), Dr. Bregman left Israel for the United Kingdom because of his moral objection to the occupation of Palestinian territories. Since then, he has produced several publications and worked as an associate producer on two major BBC TV documentaries on the Arab-Israeli conflict, 'Elusive Peace' and 'Israel and the Arabs: The Fifty Years War'.
His latest publication, Cursed Victory: A History of Israel and the Occupied Territories, focuses on Israel's fifty year occupation of the Palestinian Territories since the Six Day War (1967) and utilises top secret documents and records from the Knesset giving readers unique insights into the military occupation and the Middle East peace process during the 1990s and early 2000s. In an interview with Dr. Bregman, he assesses the crisis approaching Israeli society in the occupied territories.
In 2015, you described the changing composition of the Israeli army and the increase in settlements as "a very dangerous situation" for the Israelis and Palestinians if a two state solution failed to materialise? What would the dangerous situation look like for the Israelis?
In the Israeli army, especially in infantry units, you can see a growing number of settlers. They are good soldiers – very dedicated, very able. Now, if the government decides to evacuate West Bank Jewish settlements, then someone will have to remove the settlers, as they are unlikely to walk away from their settlements just like that. It will have to be the army – the soldiers – whose task it will be to remove the settlers, probably by dragging them out of their homes, putting them on coaches and dispatching them to Israel. Can you imagine a situation where a settler soldier is asked to evacuate his father or mother from a house in which he grew up?
The settler soldiers – many of them in IDF units - will be torn between their loyalty to the military and to their families, an impossible situation for them. Now, the longer you wait, the more difficult the situation will become, as more and more settlers join combat units. Equally, time is short when it comes to the two-state solution idea: The longer you wait, the more settlements are built on the occupied territories and more difficult it becomes to create the physical separation between Jews and Arabs on the land, without which you can’t have two states living side by side.
If the two state solution becomes a so-called 'one state reality' what will happen to Israeli society if it tries to annex the remaining Palestinian territories?
You see, if – and it is a big if – Israel decides to annex the occupied territories then the Israelis will face two main options: They could either say, ‘well, we’re going to give all the people (mainly Muslims) living in the annexed territories the right to vote in general elections’, in which case (given the faster-growing Muslim population between the sea and the Jordan river) the Israeli government of the future will be Muslim and the Jewish state gone for good! The other option would be to say, ‘well, the non-Jews living in the annexed territories can’t vote in general elections’, in which case Israeli turns itself into a modern Apartheid South Africa.
The U.S ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has claimed that Israel would face serious internal conflict if it tried to disengage from the West Bank. Do you think this is exaggerated?
This has always been the mantra in right wing political circles in Israel, namely ‘if we try to evacuate the settlers there will be a civil war here’. Well, maybe. It is definitely a good line of argument to use as an excuse not to evacuate the illegal settlements built on the occupied lands.
A study in 2016 carried out by the Pew Research Centre found that around almost half of Jewish Israelis believe Arabs should be "expelled or transferred" from Israel (one in five adults questioned “strongly agreed” with the controversial statement) This amounts to ethnic cleansing under some definitions and Reuven Rivlin, the President of Israel, called the findings a “wake-up call for Israeli society”. What do you think of these findings? After the seizure of territories in 1948 & 1967, do you think this could happen again?
Israel can deal with Hezbollah, with Syria and with many other enemies, but the future war between Jews and non-Jews in Israel will be difficult for Israel to cope with. You see, in Israel proper, there is an Arab minority which is quite large, probably by now 21-22 percent of Israeli society. They regard themselves – rightly or wrongly - as second-class citizens and they are, generally speaking, unhappy. The problem, from an Israeli point of view, is that they are not evenly distributed across the land of Israel, but concentrated more or less half way between Tel Aviv and Haifa.
In my opinion, it’s just a matter of time before they revolt against Israel. The source of their revolt will be a combination of growing nationalism, economic and social difficulties (visit an Arab village in Israel and you’ll see sewage running in the streets) and growing resentment. When will this revolt happen? I don’t really know. It could take many years before it’s triggered and gets out of control. The Israeli prime minister who will have to deal with this problem is perhaps not even born yet. But he or she will have to find a solution to this inevitable not-yet-born, crisis and the solution will probably be to offer the non-Jewish communities autonomy.
Matthew C.K Williams
A British freelance journalist who is complimented by an MA degree in Conflict, Security and Development at King's College London, Matthew has written for various NGOs and papers including Amnesty International, Action Against Hunger, Strife, Aegis Trust, Stand Now, The Scottish Times and Osservatorio Mashrek. His current work for The Conflict Archives is focused on the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Iraq War, and insurgency across the Greater Middle East. He has also written work on Central America, Central Asia and Africa.