Get used to this refrain – it will be repeated over and over by countless world statesmen and in numerous diplomatic communiques the world over: The Gaza fighting shows why reaching a two-state solution is so critical, now more than ever.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said as much Tuesday at a press conference with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the EU wrote as much in a statement issued Tuesday night, and US Secretary of State John Kerry, if he hasn’t said it already, will certainly do so continuously in the coming days and weeks.
That, indeed, will be the world’s takeaway from Operation Protective Edge.
Israel’s takeaway, however, will likely be much different. Its takeaway, one that Netanyahu will surely say again and again, is that in any possible two-state solution there will need to be a long-term Israeli security presence throughout the West Bank. Not just along the Jordan River, but throughout the West Bank.
Reality in this country has a tendency to bite, and bite hard.
Events that wash over the population leave their mark and change ways of thinking.
The second intifada, along with the trauma that the mind-numbing suicide bombings had on the country, altered its course and shook it out of the vision of Oslo that if Israel would just give a bit more, peace would flow like a river.
Israel gave, but what flowed was not peace. What followed was Israeli blood.
And that fundamentally changed things; it altered the country’s mind-set. It wasn’t as if it stopped wanting pace, yearning for peace. It was just that Israel had been mugged by reality.
The Left, which dubs itself the “peace camp,” took a tremendous blow, with the two main left-wing Zionist parties – Labor and Meretz – falling from 56 Knesset seats in 1992 to 16 seats in 2009. The second intifada was a trauma that left a lasting impact.
Expect a similar effect from Operation Protective Edge, as two events – the rocket that on Tuesday fell in Yehud and effectively closed down Ben-Gurion Airport, and the burrowing of tunnels into Israel from territory controlled by the Palestinians – will leave an imprint on how the country views the future. Anyone who thinks that, following the recent round of fighting, Israel will return to negotiations with the Palestinians as if nothing had happened is deluding himself.
Netanyahu might continue to talk of a two-state solution, but the Palestinian state he will have in mind will not be a state in the classical sense of the world. Indeed, if prior to the current operation he said a future Palestinian state would have to be demilitarized, he now will repeat this more loudly and also have more domestic understanding and support for this.
Even before the current operation, Netanyahu made it clear to his interlocutors – and to the public during a speech at the Institute for National Security Studies on June 29 – that not only will Israel in any future agreement have to retain security control of the Jordan River, it will have to retain a security presence and oversight west of the river as well.
“Given what is happening around us, who will prevent infiltration into the Palestinian state and from the Palestinian state into Israel?” he said.
Some 10 days before the current military operation he declared: “Who will prevent the manufacturing of rockets and missiles inside Palestinian territory and their firing into Israel? This is what is happening right now in the Gaza Strip, which we completely evacuated.
Who will prevent the dispatching of suicide terrorists from Palestinian cities to Israeli cities? Who will prevent the digging of tunnels into our territory? Again, this is what is happening in the Gaza Strip, and by the way, not only in Gaza. Who will prevent that if not the IDF and the ISA [Israel Security Agency, or Shin Bet] – with or without cooperation from Palestinian forces?” How does this square with the possibility of Palestinian statehood? Netanyahu said that need not be a problem and that, just as neither German, Japanese nor South Korean sovereignty was “compromised by the presence of American forces” there, likewise Israeli troops in the West Bank need not necessarily diminish Palestinian sovereignty.
In this way of thinking the Palestinians will have sovereignty, but it will be a different type of sovereignty – not full military sovereignty, because Israel cannot afford to let the Palestinians do whatever they want inside, and from, their sovereign territory. Call it statehood, minus.
While these positions might have been looked upon as obstructionist by many Israelis before Protective Edge, they will appear more reasonable by much of the Israeli public today. More than two weeks into the operation, concern about rockets closing down Ben-Gurion Airport – Israel’s gateway to the world – or tunnels disgorging fully armed terrorists intent on mass murder no longer seems fanciful or an excuse by someone who really doesn’t want to make peace.
Such scenarios are frightfully real.
Territory, Netanyahu said during a news conference three days into the current military operation, does matter – despite the argument that in today’s super-technological world one can defend himself with bells and whistles. Bells and whistles do help – consider Iron Dome. But territory is also necessary – consider the tunnels.
“Today I think that Israel’s citizens understand why I say all the time that there cannot be a situation in any agreement that we will give up security control from the Jordan River westward,” he said. “Those who say that territory has no importance, look how much importance there is. In an adjacent territory, you can build tunnels.”
Israel and the Palestinian Authority, it is likely, will resume negotiations at some point after the fighting ends in Gaza. But when they do, Netanyahu’s demands will have changed significantly. And with this, the assumptions and expectations of much of the country.