The West Bank in year 2010
Armed with his maps and tables, Israeli city planner Meron Benvenisti is bracing for a grim year 2010. His maps, some of which project Israeli settlement patterns into the next century, dramatize an unmistakable pattern of control by one people over another.
But Dr. Benvenisti does not need to look to the year 2010. As far as he is concerned, a turning point has already been reached. This specialist on Arab affairs sees an Israel, as of this very moment, locked into permanent domination over more than a million Palestinian Arabs.
''In other words,'' Benvenisti says, ''the Israeli hawks have won.''
A former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Benvenisti heads the West Bank Data Base Project, a research institute that monitors developments on the Israeli-occupied West Bank. His research has shown him that despite the existence of longstanding and internationally endorsed peace plans calling for an exchange of occupied territory for peace, Israeli control over the West Bank and Gaza districts has now reached a state of ''quasi-permanence.''
In Benvenisti's view, there is little left to negotiate.
''There are strong indications that the critical point has passed and that therefore the whole political discussion, which is based on the premise that things are reversible, is irrelevant and has been overtaken by events,'' writes Benvenisti in the preface to a new 69-page survey of Israel's West Bank policies.
The survey is being published here this week by the American Enterprise Institute. The Ford and Rockefeller Foundations provided grants for the project.
Benvenisti says that he has come to his conclusions only reluctantly. He is a Zionist, committed to a strong state of Israel. He shares the concerns of the dovish ''Peace Now'' movement in Israel, but believes that many of the movement's members are living in a world of illusion, clinging to the idea that negotiations can still be conducted over the future of the West Bank and Gaza.
Should the current Israeli government be replaced, Benvenisti doubts that a new Labor government would be in a position to make any significant change in the status of the West Bank - despite the Labor Party's proclaimed willingness to negotiate a territorial compromise.
''I've been attacked more by the doves in Israel than by the hawks,'' Benvenisti said in an interview here, ''because what I tell the doves is that the hawks have won. They have won the land.''
''Now we have to answer the other part of the equation: what to do with the people?'' Benvenisti said. ''And the doves don't want to admit that they have lost the land. . . . If this is the case, then they have to come up with a policy. And the policy cannot be that all options remain open.''
Benvenisti, a dynamic, bespectacled, and white-haired man who holds a doctoral degree in public administration from Harvard University, on Tuesday explained his new study on the West Bank to a group here which included academics, American Jewish leaders, former diplomats, congressional aides, and US State Department officials.
He says his fellow Israeli ''doves'' have unrealistically pinned their hopes on the outside world, primarily the United States, to exert pressure and halt what amounts, in his view, to West Bank annexation.
Benvenisti considers the US to be capable only of ''short bursts of energy'' in any given situation in the Mideast. In his study, he describes Americans as ''sick and tired'' of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Benvenisti argues that the US has failed to resolve the Palestinian problem because of its special relations with Israel and because of ''unforeseen changes in the Middle East, lack of leadership, sloppy thinking, and especially the inability to exert effective pressure on the ruling powers within Israel and with its Arab rivals.''
What can be done now?
Benvenisti argues for a battle against the development of a ''dual system'' of Israeli superiors and Palestinian inferiors.
''For example, if you have new laws that extend the Israeli welfare system to Jewish settlers, you should immediately extend it to the Palestinians, knowing that some critics will say that this adds to the process of annexation,'' Benvenisti says.
The dispute over the future of the West Bank conducted by Israeli politicians and in the press has obscured a ''broad national consensus'' in Israel supporting the day-to-day transformation of the occupied territories, says Benvenisti.
''The morally troubling questions that have arisen since the Israeli occupation, the reports of violence, of arbitrary administrative actions, and of the dual system of law and personal status are, for the most part, swallowed up in a sea of indifference,'' he writes in the new study.
According to Benvenisti, there was an initial attempt after the 1967 six-day war to treat the territorial occupation as temporary. But it was the Labor Party that went on to establish the legal basis and facilities for settlements that were indispensable to the current ''suburbanization'' of the West Bank.
Benvenisti describes the new Jewish settler as an urban person benefiting from subsidized West Bank apartments that are 15 to 25 percent cheaper than comparable units in Israel proper.
''The Palestinians, attaching the same macronational and symbolic value to the land, resist Israeli land-acquisition efforts with whatever means they can muster,'' Benvenisti writes.
''The unequal strength of the conflicting parties, however, dictates the results. The Israelis, backed by the full coercive power of a sovereign state and by vast material resources, succeed through a variety of methods in attaining their objectives. . . .''
The Israelis, he says, are in the process of gaining direct control over 40 percent of the West Bank landmass and 31 percent of the Gaza Strip area.