There are those, even at the helm of our government, who see the creation of a viable Palestinian state as an existential threat to the Jewish state.
The opposite is true. Without a Palestinian state, Israel ceases to be a Jewish state. Already today, without a two-state separation, close to 50 percent of the population from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River is Arab. That was not the dream of our forefathers, nor the intent of our Declaration of Independence.
We tend to say that we are at a crossroad, a decision time, for or against a two-state solution. Yet in reality, the government has taken a clear turn at this crossroad to the Right, in the direction of a binational state at the expense of a Jewish state.
A Palestinian state cannot be established with the occupation and rule over the daily lives and movements of more than two million Palestinians, with close to 400,000 settlers in the West Bank, with the IDF controlling the movement on all intercity roads, passages and checkpoints in the West Bank. The Right has won, so has Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett, so has Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin Yigal Amir.
Israel is in control of all the land from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. This is a demographic and democratic disaster. In a few years, Jews will be a minority in their homeland, while freedom and democracy will exist only for Jews, which is leading us to be branded as an apartheid state. This is a betrayal of the values of Israel’s founding fathers and the equality promised in our Declaration of Independence.
We have ceased being a peace-seeking country, and are traumatized by our enemies and more so by our own demons.
In the family of nations, we have turned from an admired success story to an isolated, criticized and soon-to-be boycotted outcast.
The reasons for this dangerous deterioration are of a psychological and political nature. The majority of Israelis reject a binational state. Yet the same majority is seeking a Palestinian state that is an illusion. A state that could be democratic like Switzerland, pro-Israel like America, prosperous like Canada. We would like to have a European peace in the heart of the Middle East.
In other words, we want to have peace with a friendly country. The bad luck is that peace is made with enemies. It is imperfect and takes a long time to realize, but produces long-term strategic benefits, as it did with Egypt. Luckily it was Menachem Begin who was prime minister at the time and not Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu would still today be negotiating security arrangements and would never evacuate the Israeli settlements from Sinai. Thanks to the peace with Egypt, thousands of lives of young Israelis and Egyptians were spared.
Also, Israel’s political structure has changed. The messianic radicals of Gush Emunim, in the past merely an effective lobby, are today at the center of decision-making. It is not security concerns that move them, those are excuses. They are motivated by an ideology that is based on a biblical promise to be a chosen people in a promised land where others simply don’t count. This has led them, and their partners, to a syndrome of superiority and an attitude of outright racism toward Arabs. The only Arabs who may live in Greater Israel are those who are subordinated to Israeli rule.
In the last round of peace talks led by Secretary of State John Kerry, it was the settlement policies inspired by Naftali Bennett that made the difference. The peace effort was buried underneath 14,000 housing units in the West Bank.
In parallel, the world has changed. The right of self-determination is universal today, colonialism is part of history and the occupation of another people taboo. With the continuation of today’s policies, we risk becoming a pariah state.
The gravest motive for this historical turning point is the moral deterioration of the country. While Israelis treat one another with relative respect, we treat our neighbors as human beings of lesser stature and with fewer rights. There is a dangerous confusion between legitimate security concerns and the need to control the lives of the Palestinians, between security and occupation. Security can be enhanced by special security arrangements in certain areas, and by security cooperation with our neighbors. But the daily harassment, humiliation and subordination of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians is shortsighted for security reasons, and morally despicable.
The moral crisis is at the root of the political shortsightedness.
When one does not treat others as equals, one is bound to follow self-defeating policies. It can be different. Indeed it was. Until November 4, 19 years ago.
The underlying premise of the Rabin-Peres government was that Israel, for its own interests, could not remain an occupying power and rule over the lives of another people; that peace, leading ultimately to the sharing of the land, would be a long process with tremendous obstacles. Yet the leadership at the time believed that Israel’s long-term national security depended on the resolution of the Palestinian conflict, in order to lead to a fundamental change of relations with Egypt, Jordan and most of the Arab world. This in return would lead to a strengthening of our relations with the United States, the EU and the rest of the world.
No one was under the illusion that the gradual agreements signed with the PLO would lead to an immediate end of terror. It was clear that the enemies of peace would use violence to stop it. The Oslo Accords indeed led to a fundamental change in Israel’s regional and international stature.
Relations with Egypt normalized, King Hussein of Jordan signed a peace treaty with us. As director-general of the Foreign Ministry at the time, I oversaw the opening of six Israeli delegations in the Arab world, and a dramatic improvement of political and economic relations with countries like China, Japan, India and Brazil.
Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres enjoyed a very close relationship with then-US president Bill Clinton. His administration was an enthusiastic supporter of the peace process and of Israel. All policies were coordinated and strategized in the most intimate manner with the leader of the free world.
Israel’s day-to-day security did not improve, but its long-term national security was dramatically bolstered.
Also, domestically, there was a pivotal change: less money to settlements; more to education, technological development, the periphery and the Arab sector.
Israel had become, domestically, regionally and internationally, a stronger a more respected state, which increased our strategic deterrence. Above all, the Rabin-Peres policies made sure that we would maintain our identity as a Jewish democracy on the moral high ground.
With Netanyahu and Bennett strongly moving in the opposite direction, not only Israel’s security is at risk, but also its very identity.
It is not that their policy is leading us by mistake or coincidence in the direction of an apartheid state; that is actually the intended policy of the government.
Expanding and planning settlement housing is intended to prevent a two-state solution. Without a border, we are faced with the question of equal rights for Palestinian Arabs, including the right to vote. Equality is the furthest away from those people who treat Arabs not only as second-class citizens, but also as second-class human beings.
The attempt to create a Greater Israel is today the biggest threat facing the country. It risks our identity and security, as the alternative to a two-state solution is a no (Jewish) state solution.Uri Savir is co-founder of the Peres Center for Peace and founder of the YaLa Young Leaders Peace Movement. He was Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.
Barbara Hurwitz edited this column
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