So Benjamin Netanyahu shamelessly and successfully pandered to Israeli right-wing voters in Tuesday’s election. A politician playing to base emotions and lying to get elected, then changing positions again. How unusual. The hard Right is pleased by his victory and so is the hard Left. And so, too, Israelis and Palestinians who don’t believe the so-called peace process, indefinitely in limbo, is likely to achieve anything of value.
Bibi’s for a two-state solution. He’s against a two-state solution. He’s for it again. He insists his position is unchanged, but circumstances have changed. The Obama Administration is angry. The Israelis are disdainful. The bipartisan special American-Israeli relationship is seriously damaged. Hamas and Fatah are at each other’s throats. The UN may get more involved. It’s time for threats. It’s time for face-saving moves. So what? At this point, it all seems to be rhetorical gamesmanship and manipulation of symbols.
The dirty little secret is that, for the foreseeable future and maybe forever, there is no viable two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine problem. It’s a zero sum game. Both believe that God has given the same sacred land to their peoples, and the perceived risks are too great for either side to make painful compromises. Both can say with justification there’s no serious partner for peace on the other side.
For two decades, political leaders and people of good will have paid at least lip service to the vision of two entities, living side by side in peace. Some have even worked hard to bring about such an objective. But, if it had been possible, is it not reasonable to think that it would have been achieved by now?
Oslo, Madrid, Wye River didn’t lead to peace agreements. And the unilateral disengagement from Gaza led to terrorism and more violence. The neighborhood now is much more volatile than 20 plus years ago.
Put aside questions of final borders, water access, rights of return, status of Jerusalem, and the lack of a common Palestinian voice able to bind decisions authoritatively. A single Palestinian state, split in two between Gaza and the West Bank, like West and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) once were, would likely have difficulty flourishing economically without massive and sustained outside support. It could find itself far more dependent on Israel for trade and jobs than it (or the Israelis) would like. And how would the two Palestinian entities be linked physically (with what security)? Would Palestinian independence, after all the safeguards are imposed, be a hollow fiction?
Obviously, such a Palestinian state would need to be demilitarized, but for how long? Forever? Even if demilitarized, how could such a state enforce a peace agreement? Many Palestinians would still have long-term irredentist claims to all of Israel. Rockets could easily reach airports and population centers. Terrorist tunnels could be dug with impunity. And now, with Iran and its surrogates, and ISIS and its allies spreading their violence throughout the region, it’s doubtful any security deal would be acceptable to the Israelis. And, given the long-term power of demographics and the growth of a free Arab population within a democratic Israel, even an alternative one-state solution would be unacceptable long term to advocates of a “Jewish state.”
The current unilateral expansion of Israeli settlements continues to make even more remote a negotiated resolution, and the emergence of a safe and prosperous Palestine stillborn. But the indefinite continuation of the status quo with no hope for better circumstances is untenable. It will lead to increased international isolation of Israel and more painful second-class conditions for Palestinians.
Given the failure of the parties to negotiate successfully between themselves, it’s natural to consider looking to others for help. But efforts to impose a solution from the UN or outside groups could make matters worse. If the United States were to cease its role as Israel’s bulwark and sacrifice it diplomatically, the US could theoretically open up strategic opportunities for itself regionally. But that would risk of ending the founding vision of Israel and would roil domestic American politics for years to come.
Politicians, academicians, pundits and bloviators all pretend there is a viable solution. Some even claim to have answers. But I, for one, am less certain than I’ve ever been.
I welcome your comments in the section below.