A message to Israelis, Palestinians, Germans about Palestinian statehood - opinion

If Germany is serious about the two-state solution, then the least it could do is recognize the State of Palestine.

 PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett and German Chancellor Angela Merkel hold a joint news conference at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on Sunday. (photo credit: Yoav Dudkevitch/Pool)
PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett and German Chancellor Angela Merkel hold a joint news conference at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on Sunday.
(photo credit: Yoav Dudkevitch/Pool)

During her final visit to Israel as German chancellor, Angela Merkel told a panel at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv: “We must not lose sight of the right of the Palestinians to have a chance to live, therefore one should under no circumstances, even as it becomes more and more difficult because of the settlements, lose sight of the issue of a two-state solution.”

At a joint news conference with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Merkel went on to say: “I think that on this point, even if at this stage it seems almost hopeless, the idea of a two-state solution should not be taken off the table, it should not be buried… and that the Palestinians should be able to live securely in a state.” She also said that Israeli settlement construction on occupied territories sought by the Palestinians was unhelpful.

In response, Bennett said: “Based on our experience, the meaning of a Palestinian state means that very likely there will be a terror state established, roughly seven minutes from my house and from almost any point in Israel.”

Calling himself a “pragmatic man,” he instead said he was prepared to take steps on the ground to improve living conditions for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior Palestinian official who oversees relations with Israel, responded angrily. “The worst form of terrorism is the occupation, not the establishment of a Palestinian state,” he wrote on Twitter.

To Chancellor Merkel and to the German people I would respond: If you are serious about the two-state solution, and you are not just paying lip service to an idea that has been on the table for at least two decades, then the least that you can do is to recognize the State of Palestine. Merkel repeated at every possible opportunity the commitment of the German state and the German people to Israel’s security. German history provides continued reminders of the debt that the German people owe to the Jewish people, and the German-Israeli relationship is crucial to Israel’s security.

 Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Jerusalem, October 10, 2021. (credit: YOAV DAVIDKOVITZ / POOL)
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Jerusalem, October 10, 2021. (credit: YOAV DAVIDKOVITZ / POOL)

But the German leader and the people of Germany also have to understand that the birth of Israel following the Holocaust led to the Nakba, and Palestinian collective memory cannot be detached from Jewish memory and German responsibility. If Germany would take the step in recognizing the State of Palestine, much of Europe would follow and perhaps even the United States could be convinced to take that step. If these countries are serious about not taking the idea of a Palestinian state off the table, then it is time to provide the recognition of that state that would then push the two states, Israel and Palestine, to get back to the table and deal with the need for state-to-state negotiations.

To the Palestinian people, I would suggest listening very carefully to the words of Prime Minister Bennett.

The point that Bennett raised regarding the possibility of the West Bank becoming the launching pad for terrorism and rocket fire against Israel is a sentiment probably held by the majority of Israeli Jews. It is based on reality. It is based on the terrorism that was launched against Israel during the Second Intifada, and supported (according to polls in Palestine) by the majority of Palestinians. It is based on the reality of Gaza being taken over by Hamas with violence, following the unilateral Israeli withdrawal and disengagement from Gaza and the Hamas victory in free and fair democratic elections.

Israeli fears are real, they are not detached from real possibilities of future developments. To the Palestinian people I ask: How can you guarantee that the creation of an independent sovereign Palestinian state will not lead to it becoming a bastion of terrorism against Israelis and Israel?

How can you ensure Israel that Ben-Gurion Airport will not be rocketed from the hills of Ramallah or even closer? How can Israelis be made to feel more at ease that a radical Islamic fundamentalist group like Hamas or Islamic Jihad will not win elections in Palestine or conduct a military coup d’état ousting a democratically elected government that makes peace with Israel? If you really want to achieve political independence and self-determination in a state next to Israel and not in place of Israel, then I believe it would be wise to find convincing answers to the people of Israel. They are the most important group of people in the world who need to be convinced of the validity and importance of your political aspirations.

To the leaders and the people of Israel, I say that it is time to come to terms with the immorality of occupation. The ways that Israel treats the Palestinian people is unjust and immoral. There is no justification for the violence of the occupation, in all of its forms, the usurping of privately owned lands and resources, the limitations of freedoms, movement, access, water, and the constant limitations on the ability of millions of people to develop as a modern free nation.

Whatever rights in the West Bank and east Jerusalem that Israeli Jews believe that they have, they must be met with morality and the appreciation of the existence of the same aspirations for freedom and liberation that the Palestinian people hold for themselves. More than 50 years of occupation is not temporary, and even if the current government of Israel believes that it is unable to confront permanent solutions, there is no way to avoid the urgent need to come back to the table where solutions can be discussed with leaders from both sides engaging with each other.

To Israelis and Palestinians together, I say that any future solution will not be possible if tens of thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands of people will have to vacate their homes. The Israeli settlement enterprise is in clear violation of international law. Nonetheless, it is completely unrealistic to expect that any government of Israel will be capable of turning the clock back or moving the settlers out of their homes in Palestine. If there will be a Palestinian state in the future, it will have to include a Jewish minority. The Jews living in a Palestinian state will have to live there securely, and so we will need to find ways to protect them and guarantee their security.

The settlers will also have to prove that they are willing to live in peace with their Palestinian neighbors, and I would suggest that they begin doing that now by removing from their midst the violent settlers who attack innocent Palestinian farmers and shepherds in the Jordan Valley and the South Hebron Hills, and catch and punish those violent settlers who in these very days are destroying Palestinian olive trees and attacking Palestinians who are trying to pick their olives.

The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. He now directs The Holy Land Investment Bond.