Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said that he’s willing to grant the Palestinians a state. Of course, his proposed state isn’t really a state at all; it certainly isn’t something that any reasonable person could expect the Palestinians to accept. Not only has he stated that Israel will retain large areas of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley), but he has made it clear that any future Palestinian state will not be allowed to have an army and that Israel will maintain complete control over the area’s borders and airspace. So, in other words, instead of offering the Palestinians an actual state, Netanyahu has offered them a second Gaza Strip, this one in the West Bank. Call it Gaza West.
Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations last week, Netanyahu defended his proposal, explaining why the Palestinians can’t be trusted with an actual state, why Gaza West is all they deserve. His explanation, in short: The Palestinians have shown that they don't want peace, that they won’t stop fighting until Israel has been completely destroyed. In support of this claim, he cited Israel’s 2005 disengagement from Gaza. “[W]e vacated every last inch of Gaza,” he said. “And that area was quickly taken over by Iran’s proxies. They poured missiles and rockets into them, and they were soon fired into Israel—12,000 rockets and missiles in total, in an area, I think, slightly smaller than New Jersey.” Consequently: All we’re going to give the Palestinians, all we trust them with, is Gaza West—so they can take it or leave it.
Now it’s absolutely true that in September 2005 Israel “vacated every last inch of Gaza.” It evacuated its settlements in Gaza and redeployed its soldiers to the Strip’s borders. There’s no argument there. But to suggest that, by taking these actions, Israel somehow extended an olive branch to the Palestinians, that it went so far as to liberate Gaza, is simply ludicrous. As a result of the disengagement, Palestinians enjoyed more freedom of movement within the Strip, but other than that, things remained essentially the same.
According to a B’Tselem-HaMoked report released six months before the disengagement, Israeli policies over the preceding four and a half years had turned Gaza into “one big prison.” The report describes how Israel had imposed a harsh closure on the Strip, preventing all but a handful of people from entering or leaving. We read about Israel denying travel permits to students trying to attend college in the West Bank, patients needing medical care in Egypt, parents hoping to reunite with their children and husbands with their wives. We read about Israel denying one man’s request to go to the West Bank to visit his dying mother and then later rejecting his second request to leave so he could attend her funeral.
The report also describes how the closure had devastated Gaza’s economy. By placing sharp restrictions on the number of Palestinians who could enter Israel to work, Israel caused many thousands of individuals to lose their jobs. Furthermore, by forcing all imports and exports to pass through just one crossing and by requiring these items to go through an inefficient and “patently unreasonable” inspection process, Israel had stunted many businesses and destroyed many others. Consequently, the Palestinian economy had fallen “into a deep recession, from which it [had] not recovered.” By the end of 2004, 35% of those in Gaza were unemployed and a full 77% were living in poverty.
So Gaza on the eve of the disengagement was much like it is today, the main differences being that Israel hadn’t yet completely destroyed Gaza’s economy, and it hadn’t yet launched those murderous, but oh-so-innocuous-sounding, military campaigns, Summer Rains, Autumn Clouds, and Cast Lead. Although Israel held true to its word and redeployed its troops to Gaza’s perimeters in September 2005, it maintained the closure and in so doing continued preventing Gazans from exercising many of their most fundamental human rights. It also reserved the right to freely enter Gaza for military purposes, even when those purposes involved taking “preventive measures.”
And while Israel kept its stranglehold on Gaza, it continued committing its crimes in the West Bank. From a September 13 UN report we learn that on September 12, the day the last Israeli soldiers left Gaza, the IDF “uprooted several olive trees on land belonging to Palestinians from Kafr al Labad for the construction of a fence around the Avnei Khefets settlement.” We also learn that the Israeli Archaeological Authority “levelled land and uprooted about 60 olive trees near Deir Ballut in search for archaeological artefacts in the area” and that in other parts of the West Bank the IDF continued leveling land for the construction of the Separation Wall.
Subsequent UN reports detail more Israeli crimes, all of which serve to confirm Dov Weisglass’ claim that the Sharon government initiated the disengagement in order to squelch the peace process and thus (we’re to assume) in order to give Israel more time to steal land in the West Bank. As Weisglass, who served as Ariel Sharon’s senior advisor, admitted to a Haaretz reporter in late 2004: “The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.” He further noted that the peace process—which he described as “the evacuation of settlements,” “the return of refugees,” and “the partition of Jerusalem”—had “now been frozen…what I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns. That is the significance of what we did.”
So although Israel gave the occupation a minor facelift, the occupation, with all its ugly, evil manifestations, raged on. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, then, when Hamas fired more than 30 Qassam rockets into Israel on September 25. Hamas said it was responding to a September 23 incident in which a Hamas truck “carrying rockets exploded, killing 15 Palestinians and wounding more than 80.” Hamas claimed that Israel was responsible for the explosion. “The Palestinian Authority and Israel said the blast was caused by Hamas explosives that went off accidentally.”
Even if Israel didn’t cause the explosion, it’s not difficult to see why so many Palestinians believed otherwise and why some felt the need to respond with violence. For most of these men have lived their entire lives under the violence, humiliation, and injustice of the occupation. Every day they and their loved ones, in both Gaza and the West Bank, are victims of Israeli aggression. So when that truck exploded, killing 15 bystanders, these men reasoned that Israel was to blame, a conclusion which, given the context, hardly seems farfetched.
Although Netanyahu won’t admit that “the continued enmity toward Israel” is a response to the occupation, the facts plainly suggest that it is. And until Israel admits this, and until its grants the Palestinians justice, real justice, there will not be peace in the Middle East.
 “PM’s Speech at the Begin-Sadat Center at Bar-Ilan University,” Prime Minister’s Office, 14 June 2009; Barak Ravid and Agencies, “Netanyahu: Israel will never share Jerusalem with Palestinians,” Haaretz, 12 January 2010; Jonathan Lis, “Netanyahu: Israel will never cede Jordan Valley,” Haaretz, 3 February 2010; “Netanyahu: Israel must have West Bank presence after peace deal,” Associated Press, 20 January 2010.
 “A Conversation with Benjamin Netanyahu,” Council on Foreign Relations, 8 July 2010.
 Gaza Access and Infrastructure Situation Report, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Occupied Palestinian Territory, 15 September 2005.
 One Big Prison: Freedom of Movement to and from the Gaza Strip on the Eve of the Disengagement Plan, B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, March 2005.
 Two more points to make about the travel bans. First, the report claims that, far from undertaking such actions for “security reasons,” Israel had in most cases arbitrarily prevented people from leaving Gaza. As proof for this, the report notes that Israel usually reversed its decisions when someone denied a travel permit was fortunate enough to have a lawyer or human rights organization intervene for them. “These reversals result from the state’s decision not to engage in an expensive, and at times embarrassing, legal challenge before the High Court of Justice.” Moreover, Israel had generally refused to provide any evidence that those banned from traveling were in fact security risks, further suggesting the arbitrary nature of its policies.
Second, Israel’s actions here clearly violated the 1995 Interim Agreement. For instance, the Interim Agreement mandated a “safe passage” route between Gaza and the West Bank, which the Agreement considered “a single territorial unit.” Although Israel opened a road connecting the two territories in October 1999, “[w]ith the outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada in September 2000, Israel closed the safe-passage route, and it has remained closed ever since.” The Interim Agreement also provided “three [and only three] situations in which Israel is entitled to prevent a Palestinian resident from leaving the Occupied Territories to travel abroad. The three situations are: (1) for reasons specifically set forth in the agreement; (2) when a traveler does not have the required documents—in this regard, it was established that a passport or analogous document issued by the Palestinian Authority is sufficient to enable a Palestinian resident to leave the Occupied Territories; (3) where a warrant against the individual has been issued by the Palestinian Authority and forwarded to the Israeli authorities.”
 The report disputes Israel’s claim that it imposed these restrictions for security purposes: “The timing of the comprehensive closures and the reduction in quotas—which generally take place after attacks—together with the defense establishment’s characterization of these actions ‘as a response’ to attacks, are more consistent with a claim that these measures constitute collective punishment than that they are preventive actions. Since the outbreak of the intifada, Erez Crossing has been a target of several attacks that caused many casualties, including suicide attacks. However, Israel justifies its quota and closure policy on the fear of attacks inside Israel. This claim appears baseless. As far as B’Tselem and HaMoked know, except for one case that occurred at the beginning of the intifada, no workers from the Gaza Strip who entered Israel to work have been involved in attacks.”
 “If Israel had set up a reasonable alternative to Karni Crossing [the crossing which Israel required all goods to pass through] for moving goods when Karni was closed, some of the damage to the Palestinian economy would have been averted. One possibility was for Israel to enable goods to pass through Erez Crossing. Another possibility was increasing the capability of Sufa checkpoint to handle the crossing of goods. Israel also could have established a new land-crossing point, or permitted the construction of a seaport…
“Even if we accept Israel’s claim that it is necessary to prohibit the movement of trucks from one side to the other, existing technologies make it unreasonable to demand a container be unloaded to check its contents: a scanner could be used to carry out a thorough check of the contents. These devices are in use in many locations around the world, including Ashdod Port. In October 2004, Israel purchased one scanner for Karni Crossing, but it is only used to check empty containers.
“Not only has Israel not used existing technology to shorten the time it takes for containers to cross Karni, most of the goods intended for the Gaza Strip or which originate in Gaza are checked more than once before they reach their final destination. For example, goods from Europe intended for Gaza are checked first at Ashdod Port and again at Karni; goods made in Nablus in the West Bank that are intended for Gaza are liable to be checked three times: when leaving Nablus, at the checkpoint into Israel, and at Karni. Israel claims that the duplication is needed to catch weapons that are placed in the container after the first check. This problem, too, could be solved by modern technology, such as hermetic sealing of the checked containers, and instruments that can readily determine whether the seal has been broken.142 In most cases, these technologies would eliminate the need for duplicate checks and shorten the time needed to get the goods to the customer…
“Despite the heavy traffic at the crossing and the severe harm to the Palestinian economy resulting from the long lines, the crossing is not operated to its full potential.
“First, the crossing is open only about eight hours a day, during the daylight hours, and less on Fridays and Saturdays.143 From time to time, the crossing remains open for a longer time, sometimes until midnight, to facilitate the export of farm produce, clearly indicting that it is feasible to operate the crossing more hours of the day.
“Second, even when the crossing is open, it is not operated at full capacity. The more trucks being unloaded at a given time, the shorter the wait. The number of trucks being unloaded is reduced when there are insufficient examiners and guards. The State Comptroller’s Office conducted random checks a Karni Crossing over several months in 2001 and 2002, and each time, many of the crossing’s staff were absent. For example, ‘in December 2002, thirty-eight of the security staff and twenty-nine of the administrative staff, a total of sixty-seven personnel, were missing.’”
 Protection of Civilians, Weekly Briefing Notes, 7-13 September 2005, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Occupied Palestinian Territory, 13 September 2005.
 For example, a September 20 reports details the following crimes, among others:
- 14-20 September: Teachers coming from the Palestinian towns of Yatta and Samu’ were unable to reach Imneizil elementary school as IDF soldiers managing Beit Yatir checkpoint denied them access and detained them for several hours. The teachers had previously been denied entry at this checkpoint on 7 and 8 September 2005 for not holding the correct permits and the school was closed for these two days.
- 15 September: 31 fruit trees belonging to a Palestinian farmer from Khallet Zakariya were cut down adjacent to Alon Shvut settlement
- 15 September: The IDF issued requisition order, T/157/05, for 21 dunums (2.1 hectares) of agricultural land belonging to Palestinian farmers from the towns of Al Khadr and Beit Jala. The land is to be used to expand the Tunnel checkpoint on Road No. 60.
- 16 September: The IDF fired tear gas and rubber-coated metal bullets at Palestinian, Israeli and Internationals activists demonstrating against the Barrier construction in Bil’in, Ramallah. Five Palestinians and four IDF soldiers were injured.
- 18 September: IDF bulldozers supported by IDF armored vehicles entered approximately 200 metres into the Palestinian area east of Beit Hanoun near the border fence with Israel. The bulldozers started to establish what is believed to be a new buffer zone along the security fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel.
- 20 September: After their home was demolished in Beit Hanina (Jerusalem) in April 2005 for being built with a permit, a family of seven have been living in a caravan on the same location of the demolished house. On 20 September the Israeli Jerusalem municipality confiscated the caravan.
- 20 September: The IDF paved and surrounded with barbed wire an area of approximately 30 dunums (3.0 hectares) west of the Barrier near Dhaher al Malih village. [Protection of Civilians, Weekly Briefing Notes, 14-20 September 2005, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Occupied Palestinian Territory]
 Ari Shavit, “Top PM aide: Gaza plan aims to freeze the peace process,” Haaretz, 6 October 2004.
 As John Dugard has noted: “The jurisprudence of post-war Germany shows that the test for occupation is that of continued control. In the Hostages Trial (United States of America v. Wilhelm List et al., 1949) a military tribunal stated that it was not necessary for the occupying Power to occupy the whole territory so long as it ‘could at any time (it) desired assume physical control of any part of the country’” [Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem: Note by the Secretary-General, United Nations General Assembly, 18 August 2005].
 Greg Myre, “Israel Strikes in Gaza After Hamas Rocket Fire,” New York Times, 25 September 2005.
 “PM’s Speech at the Begin-Sadat Center at Bar-Ilan University,” Prime Minister’s Office, 14 June 2009.