One state, one person, one vote

THE POWER of the weak is always to say no. And they will continue to say no, which is also why two states is not available any time soon.

September 12, 2019 21:57
4 minute read.
One state, one person, one vote

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on the fateful night of May 29, when the Knesset dissolved itself and set September 17 as the date for new elections. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

A two-state outcome between Israelis and Palestinians is not possible any time soon. That is a fact, not an argument. Even if a left-wing government were leading Israel, no peace agreement producing two states would happen. Palestinians are simply too divided between Fatah and Hamas, between the West Bank and Gaza, and between those who are prepared to accept it and those who simply reject it.

For the right-wing parties in Israel, this is seen as a good thing. But they should be careful about what they wish for. When two states is no longer part of the political discourse, when one state is the only outcome that is discussed, it will not be long before the Palestinians – even if they cannot agree on anything else – will create a new mantra: “One person, one vote.” And, no one should kid themselves. That will strike a chord in America. Who here will say that is wrong?

If Israelis think that BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or Ilhan Omar or Rashida Tlaib are problems, they should understand they are child’s play by comparison. When the slogan becomes “one state and one person, one vote,” it will be a political freight train hitting Israel.

At a minimum, that argues for not giving up on two states as an outcome somewhere down the road. But it is not that simple. If Israel keeps building to the east of the security barrier, it will soon lose the ability to separate from the Palestinians. Already 104,000 settlers live outside of the barrier, with more than 334,000 Israelis living in what might be described as the bloc areas of the West Bank/Judea and Samaria. Building within the bloc areas makes separation of populations possible. Continuing to build outside the areas will soon create a tipping point, and once passed, the ability to separate Israeli and Palestinian populations will be lost. One state then will be the only answer and Palestinians will have their mantra of equal rights.

Some will, no doubt, argue that Palestinians can be given autonomy and local self-government and need not be given the vote or equal rights. That would be fine if the Palestinians and the rest of the world would accept such an outcome. They won’t. Defiance has been the central unifying theme of the Palestinian national movement, and even though it has been and remains self-destructive to Palestinian national aspirations, it is unlikely to disappear any time soon.

THE POWER of the weak is always to say no. And they will continue to say no, which is also why two states is not available any time soon.

Preserving separation as an option does not require or depend on Palestinian agreement. It does not require the IDF to redeploy. It simply requires no longer adding to the Israeli population to the east of the security barrier. It means building in the settlement blocs, not outside them.

Admittedly, that is a difficult political decision. The settler constituency in Israel is an important one with real political heft. Challenging them requires political courage; it requires leadership which recognizes the consequences of staying on the current path; it requires leaders who understand that this is not a decision that can be avoided. Indeed, choosing not to decide is a choice – a strategic choice – that will lead to Israel becoming one state for two peoples.

Having just written a book in partnership with David Makovsky that profiles four Israeli prime ministers – David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, and Ariel Sharon – it is noteworthy that they were ideologically different but shared the same view of leadership. The responsibilities were on their shoulders to decide and would not be deferred for their successors. They all saw the costs of acting, but also the costs and consequences of not acting. True, one can agree or disagree with some of the choices they made, but the reality is they made them.

Today, with Iran continuing to embed itself and Shia militias in Syria; Hezbollah, with Iran’s help, trying to put precision guidance on tens of thousands of its rockets in Lebanon; ISIS in the Sinai; Hamas threatening a new round out of Gaza and trying to stoke terror from the West Bank; it is natural for Israelis as they vote on September 17 to focus on these dangers. They are real and they require responsible leadership. 

But so does safeguarding Israel’s future identity. So does preserving separation as an option so that the Palestinians can’t simply adopt a slogan of one person, one vote that will resonate and do far more for the de-legitimization movement against Israel than BDS ever could.

With that in mind, two simple questions might be asked of the candidates in advance of September 17: What is your policy for preventing Israel from becoming one state for two peoples, and how will you implement it?

The writer, a former American envoy to the Middle East, is the Davidson Distinguished Fellow at the Washington Institute. He is also the co-chair of the Jewish People Policy Institute in Jerusalem. His new book, Be Strong and of Good Courage, was written with David Makovsky.

Related Content

AN IDF soldier patrols the border area between Israel and Jordan at Naharayim, as seen from the Isra
September 16, 2019
Jordan and Israel ties: a need for common understanding among peoples