The duty of the Israeli government today is to come up with new ideas.
Will today be remembered as a dramatic turning point in US policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when Donald Trump enters the White House? So much depends on the meeting between the new president and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that is scheduled to take place next month.
Many Israelis have high hopes for the Trump era. But the main question is whether the Israeli government is ready to dissociate from the “two states” paradigm, and reject the dangerous idea of establishing a Palestinian state in the heart of Israel? Theoretically, the conditions are ripe for such a move.
In statements he made during and after the campaign, President-elect Trump expressed a deep commitment to Israel and strong reservations over the way the Obama administration treated America’s closest ally. Just prior to the election, the Republican Party revised its platform and canceled its support of a “two-state solution,” i.e. the establishment of a Palestinian state. Trump has also publicly denounced the actions taken by the Obama administration in the last weeks of his tenure, especially the US’s underhanded support of UN Resolution 2334. In addition, a right-wing government is currently in power in Israel, and most of its cabinet ministers oppose the creation of a Palestinian state. And lastly, Netanyahu has a personal friendship with Trump.
There have already been a number of clear and serious voices on the American Right to “forge a new path.” Former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton, who reportedly had been a candidate for deputy secretary of state, published a poignant article in The Wall Street Journal last month in which he dubbed the two-state solution a deadend vision. Bolton claims that such an imaginary state with zero economic viability will harm not only Israel, but also the Palestinians themselves.
Instead, he suggests examining alternative solutions.
Netanyahu survived President Barack Obama’s eight years in office by figuring out how to maneuver his way through a complex political arena. More than once, Israel was forced to take dramatic steps. There was the Bar-Ilan speech in 2009, freezing settlements in 2010, and releasing imprisoned terrorists in 2013. I was very close to Netanyahu when he returned to power in 2009. Had it not been for Obama, I doubt he would have expressed support at the time for a two-state solution, considering that he had spent most of his political career opposing the idea.
But even those who thought that Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan speech and his conditions for support of a demilitarized Palestinian state were justified at the time, most recognize the changes that have occurred since then.
Firstly, the regional upheaval – commonly referred to at its beginning as the “Arab Spring” – broke out, which has yet to subside. Radical Islam – in all its various forms – has become the dominant factor throughout the region.
The Sunni-Shia war has exacerbated; many states have collapsed; huge territories are no longer controlled by any government; and the culture of terrorism has become extremely prevalent. As a result, Israel must reduce the risks it undertakes, especially not enabling the creation of another non-functioning Arab state so close to Israeli population centers.
Secondly, the Palestinians’ strategy in recent years of delegitimization of Israel and its efforts to isolate Israel have exposed the true intentions of our so-called “moderate” Palestinian partner. The Palestinian Authority has continued to award huge monetary payments to terrorists and their families, and to glorify them and educate younger generations to hate instead of striving for peace.
At the same time, Mahmoud Abbas has avoided committing to direct negotiations with Israel by demanding various and sundry preconditions. Even the recent 2013 negotiations, during which the US administration was eager to reach a two-state solution, failed.
Israeli governments have made a number of overtures and offered far-reaching concessions in their desire to reach a peace agreement, but these efforts have time and again ended in a deadlock and additional Palestinian terrorism.
From these experiences we have learned that the Palestinian side has neither the desire for nor the ability to commit to compromise in an effort to find a solution to the historical conflict between the two peoples.
Thirdly, the schism between Gaza and the West Bank has proven to be permanent, and is unlikely to be repaired any time soon. It’s clear that regardless of how many concessions Israeli makes, the Palestinians will not succeed in garnering a majority of its population to support a historic compromise, and so the conflict will continue with the Palestinians in a better position as a state.
In the meantime, the Palestinians have added a new type of weapon to their arsenal: tunnels. These tunnels pose a great threat to Jewish communities in the Gaza envelope region, and if we were to retreat to borders based on the 1967 lines, these tunnels (which would not even need to be very long) could easily reach the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem.
Fourthly, with the upcoming administration change in the White House – as well as a supportive House and Senate – Israel may get some leeway and be able to successfully challenge the two-state paradigm.
To be certain, more and more Israelis and Palestinians alike are beginning to understand that this slogan has become meaningless. A tiny Palestinian state within the West Bank is not viable, and its only purpose would be the perpetuation of war against Israel. Such a state would not have a real economy, and Israel would not be secure.
Expelling so many Israeli citizens from their homes would be immoral and impossible to execute. Not only would it not lead to peace with the Palestinians, it could be a catalyst for an Israeli civil war.
The duty of the Israeli government today is to come up with new ideas.
A Jordanian-Palestinian federative solution would offer the Palestinians space in addition to their autonomy. We could also consider adopting a joint Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian economic framework. And there are many other ideas that could be constructed as a result of quiet, serious work with the backing of a supportive US administration.
For its part, Israel must clarify its claim of sovereignty over Area C. One thing is clear: We must present an alternative to the current paradigm that is supposedly like no other.
If we continue to let the creation of a Palestinian state be the only available option open to us, not only will we have missed a golden opportunity, but we will be perpetuating the external pressure on Israel to act against its own interests. Netanyahu deserves credit for curbing the deteriorating Oslo process.
Next month he will have the opportunity to take a historic step and extricate Israel from this quagmire.
The author served as a minister in two Israeli governments, and was a member of the security cabinet.
First published in The Jerusalem Post January 20, 2017
Article courtesy of Yehudit Katsover and Nadia Matar
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