Meron Benvenisti, The West Bank Data Base Project: A Survey of Israel’s Policies (Washington: American Enterprise Institute, 1984).
This book, by the former Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, is the first major commercial publication of the small but industrious West Bank Data Base Project (WBDBP). The project constitutes an attempt to collect and collate an accurate and comprehensive data base which will enable “[us] to focus on fast changing conditions in the territories and, in so doing, prevent the political discussion and decision-making process from being overtaken by events.” (p. ix) This meritorious claim has received the imprimatur of no lesser figures than former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and Special Envoy Philip Habib.
But Benvenisti’s claim is disingenuous, since successive Labor and Likud governments have tried precisely to make the “establishment of facts” overtake reasoned political discussion. The incongruity between political reality and Benvenisti’s stated intentions, and the absence of any explicitly anlaytical framework makes the job of reviewing this book difficult. This task is further exacerbated by Benvenisti’s deep-rooted but understandable pessimism, which functions as a surrogate for the presentation of policy alternatives which would satisfy liberal administrators and those radical political activists who are engaged in these questions.
The book is best on the surface level, where it provides significant empirical information, statistical data and a novel set of extremely interesting maps. Chapters 1 and 2 give brief resumes of demographic issues and the West Bank economy, drawing on a number of substantial reports commissioned by the project. Chapter 3 considers the impact of land use and control, and traces the military government’s move from the strategically conceived Allon Plan to the Likud policy, in which “Arab areas are encircled in the first stage and then penetrated and fragmented.” (p.27) Chapter 4 summarizes the land ownership position from the “legal” point of view and outlines the sectarian methods of land appropriation and expropriation. Chapter 5 very briefly reviews the international legal status of the occupation, the Jewish municipal councils in the West Bank and Gaza, and the ambiguously named Civil Administration.
The most substantive and certainly most interesting chapter, six, furnishes a well-documented account of the transformation of colonization policy. According to Benvenisti, we can identify three phases. In the Allon Plan, administered by the Labor government after 1968, security issues dominated settlement policy. The second phase is the post-October War period, 1975- 77, which saw Labor acquiesce to the intensely religio-ideologically motivated Gush Emunim expansionist movement. The third and most “successful” phase is an urban planning legitimation of a maximalist colonial project. “Urban planners” expect another 80,000 new settler-residents on the West Bank by 1986. These new settlers will be housed in the suburban settlement of metropolitan (“greater”) Jerusalem and the Tel Aviv conurbation in the West Bank. The last phase of settlement has been singularly successful because it does not attempt to limit the appeal of settlement to “pioneering zealots.” Rather, its essential attraction is to the economic self-interest and financial advancement of young middle class and affluent working class families. These families are drawn to West Bank settlement because of the availability of low cost, cheap mortgage and high amenity housing being made available at rates of subsidy inconceivable in Israel. While not motivated by the ideology of “greater Israel,” this group will likely develop a possessive zealotry of its own.
Perhaps the book’s most significant contribution is the 13 maps charting various aspects of Israel’s colonization of the West Bank. These maps detail in a readily understandable manner: the Arab/Jewish distribution of built-up areas, the road network plans, the 1982 Master Plan for metropolitan Jerusalem, Jewish land use, Jewish settlement policy (1986), the Israeli land requisition plan, Arab land use (agriculture), administrative boundaries, Jewish settlements (1983-2010), phases of Israeli settlement, Jewish demographic patterns and Arab demographic patterns. These maps, on their own, constitute a significant augmentation of the available data base on the West Bank.
There is one exception, though. I must question the accuracy of Map 8: “Arab Land Use; Agriculture.” Two significant areas with “field crops under permanent cultivation” are uncharted here — the villages of Bardala and ‘Ain al-Beda in the northernmost sector of the Jordan Valley on the border of the “Green Line.” These two cultivated regions, although absent from Map 8, are clearly outlined in Maps 7, 9 and 13. This leaves the impression that they are not engaged in agricultural activity. In fact, there are 102 farming families in ‘Ain al-Beda and 73 farming families in Bardala. The farmers in both villages farm land adjacent to their villages.* Errors of this kind, in a work which purports to be a guide to policy-making, cannot be left unchallenged, since in the Orwellian world of Israeli politics a cartographical error might well assume the force of an “established fact.”
Benvenisti argues in the final chapter that the “political, military, socio-economic and psychological processes working toward total annexation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip outweigh those that are working against it.” (p.64) The point of no return has been reached and “the Zionist movement has achieved its maximum territorial goal: control over the entire area of Mandatory Palestine.” (p.64).
It is hardly surprising that the loudest heralds of the book in Israel have been Likud activists, who perceive in it a vindication of their policies. Benvenisti is loath to draw strategic implications from his own analysis, and he stops short of following the logic of the analytical process through to conclusions. Instead, he cries in the anguished hope that moribund Zionism can undergo a cultural and political reformation in which “the institutional, party, educational and symbolic systems of Israel must all be reevaluated. A new equilibrium between nationalistic objectives and humanistic values must be found.” (p.69)
His failure to carry the logic of his analysis through to the programmatic level means that the work will find its place on bookshelves among government reports, statistics and other musty sources. We will turn to it for information but not for solutions.
* This information can be found in an unpublished Survey of the North Jordan Valley, conducted by the Arab Thought Forum, Jerusalem.