The Right was right all along. Israel’s “peace rejectionists” had their own, varied reasons for opposing a land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians since the first official left-wing embrace more than 20 years ago. Hardline security hawks allied with territorial maximalists from both the secular Revisionist movement (manifested in today’s Likud party) and the religious messianists who dominate the settlement movement.
For this 20-year period, a majority of Israelis has supported the principle of a two-state solution, but increasingly, since the relentless suicide bombings of the second intifada, the majority has also signaled its skepticism that such a solution will actually bring peace. The writer Yossi Klein Halevi speaks of a centrist Israeli majority that views the creation of a Palestinian state as both an existential necessity for Israel, (“saving us from the impossible choice between Israel as a Jewish and a democratic state, or the moral burden of occupying another people, from growing pariah status”); and an existential threat to Israel, (“risking rocket attacks from the Samarian highlands on the coastal plain, where most Israelis live”).
Israel’s friends and allies in the international community have meanwhile remained firmly committed to the two-state model, none more so than the United States. And, lest we allow Secretary of State John Kerry’s boundless enthusiasm for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to portray this commitment as the preserve of Democratic administrations, it’s worth recalling that the first president to publicly call for the establishment of a Palestinian state was George W. Bush.
Secretary Kerry’s superhuman efforts notwithstanding however, the Israeli Right was right. A negotiated two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians will not happen in the foreseeable future.
There is no Palestinian leader on the horizon more moderate than Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and he has made it clear that he will not sign a deal which recognizes the right of the Jewish people to sovereignty in their historical homeland, (Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s “Jewish state” demand) neither will he renounce a “right of return” of Palestinian refugees – and no Israeli prime minister, no matter how far to the Left, will agree to the influx of several million Palestinians, the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who were expelled or fled in 1948. (Incidentally, a multi-generational definition of “refugee” that applies to no people other than the Palestinians.)
There may well be a future Israeli prime minister more willing to confront the West Bank settlers’ expansionist plans than Netanyahu – and that would be both a practical and a moral step forward – but Israel’s current prime minister did freeze settlement building for 10 months in 2009/10, and Abbas waited until the tenth month to restart negotiations then ended them when that month was over. Yes, settlements are a problem, but – contrary to popular assertion – they are not the problem. That remains a Palestinian unwillingness – or, perhaps, a psychological inability – to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state.
The Right is right. But the Right is also wrong.
The alternative to a two-state deal cannot be anything from the unappetizing menu currently offered by the Likud, Bayit Yehudi or their media cheerleaders.
The status quo of occupation is morally corrupting, compromises Israel’s status as a democracy and will lead to growing – and potentially paralyzing – diplomatic isolation. Meanwhile the annexation of the West Bank and the bestowing of citizenship on its Palestinian population will lead us to the position that Israel’s founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion warned of in 1949: an Arab majority that would wipe out Israel’s Jewish character.
Even if the more optimistic demographic projections of some are correct, we would still be looking at an Arab minority comprising some 40 percent of the population. No serious analyst of democracy can think Israel could continue as a Jewish nation-state (in terms of national symbols, public holidays and the like) with such a large non-Jewish minority.
No, Israel must separate from the Palestinians, and end the occupation that began in 1967 – for the sake of both peoples.
An Israeli withdrawal from part of the West Bank in the absence of a peace agreement need not be entirely unilateral. A number of public figures and writers have proposed thoughtful options, most recently former Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren. Prominent think tanks such as the Reut Institute and the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv have produced papers suggesting strategies for such a move.
Ehud Ya’ari, Israel’s most prominent Arab-affairs journalist, has proposed an “armistice agreement” with the Palestinians, whereby Israel would evacuate settlers and soldiers from the vast majority of the West Bank, keeping enough territory to “thicken” Israel at its most vulnerable points, but leaving contiguous territory for the Palestinians to establish a state with provisional borders. The question of final borders, as well as the thorny issues of the refugees and Jerusalem, would be left until the Palestinians were ready and willing to negotiate.
The successful implementation of these ideas will, however, require the buy-in and support of the international community. That means Washington and Brussels will have to abandon the long-cherished “peace process.” They will have to use their status as the bankrollers of the Palestinian Authority to pressure the leadership in Ramallah to agree to these efforts, simultaneously offering generous support in building up the economy and infrastructure of the Palestinian state that would emerge.
Most Israelis now accept – however grudgingly – that the Palestinians have a right to national self-determination.
The Palestinians are simply not yet there.
The ostensibly moderate leadership claims to support “two states for two peoples,” but insists on a “right of return” that will wipe out Israel’s Jewish majority while repeatedly denying any historical Jewish connection to the land.
It’s high time this reality was acknowledged by those countries that purport to back the two-state agenda.
Let there be no more illusions or false comforts.
There will be no handshakes on the White House Lawn, no Nobel Peace Prizes. Instead of focusing on peace, Israel, the Palestinians, the US and any other would-be interlocutors must simply look for the best way to end the occupation and establish secure borders for Israel. That is now the only game in town.
The author is director of the Israel Government Fellows program, an international leadership and educational program for Jewish graduates. He previously worked at the Embassy of Israel in London where he served in the public affairs department and as the ambassador’s speechwriter.