There are two narratives frequently used to describe the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
The first narrative is that a two-state solution is essential to Israel’s survival as a Jewish state and that Israel must do everything to ensure that it happens, lest it find itself in a one-state situation where Arabs will have either a majority or a large-enough minority to destabilize Israel. This narrative points out that settlements, especially settlements deep into the West Bank, are counter-productive because they render a two-state solution increasingly difficult to achieve (the subtext of this narrative, usually left unsaid, is that Palestinians, like other Arabs, are incapable of accepting a minority of Jews in their midst). This is the narrative that soon-to-be-former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry used recently in a speech that he made in the dying days of his mandate, although as expected, he omitted the subtext.
The second narrative is that the concept of two-state solution has always been accepted by Israel, but that the Arabs never accepted it. Arabs still refuse it today. Palestinians rejected every proposal that Israel made for a two-state solution, and the Palestinian Authority refuses to negotiate further. Palestinians have stated clearly their view for a “two-state solution”, and it includes an unlimited right of return of Palestinian refugees into Israel – this means that the PA’s “two-state solution” is two Arab states. Palestinian society is governed with a single-minded creed and its people are raised with that same single-minded creed – to never, ever accept the concept of Jewish sovereignty over any land.
The two narratives are both true, and they are not contradictory. Each narrative taken alone is incomplete, but taken together they mean that Israel is at an impasse. Due to Arab obstructionism, a two-state solution is not possible, but without a two-state solution, Israel cannot survive as a Jewish state. It appears that there is no solution to the conflict.
Western politicians such as John Kerry repeat the first narrative while ignoring the second, even when the Palestinians themselves remind him of it (right after Kerry’s speech, PLO Executive Committee member Mustafa Barghouti reiterated the Palestinian rejectionist position). Zionists on the other hand, particularly on the right, are increasingly repeating the second narrative while ignoring the first. It is hard for them to accept that building Jewish homes on traditionally Jewish land is bad policy when there is absolutely no solution in sight, in the short term or in the long term.
Some politicians in Israel, such as Yair Lapid, insist on seeing both narratives. They have concluded that Israel must break the impasse by taking unilateral steps. Lapid said, “We need to build a high wall and get the Palestinians out of our sight”, and he wants Israel to decide “where Israel’s future borders with the Palestinians should lie”. But such a unilateral solution would not be accepted internationally – in fact, Kerry argued against unilateralism in his speech.
On January 20, however, Kerry will no longer be in charge of the U.S.’s Middle East policies, and Barack Obama will no longer be President. President-elect Donald Trump has created much ambiguity as to where the U.S. will stand on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, just as he did on most other issues, so I will offer my humble advice.
The Trump administration should do the only thing that will break the impasse, something that every U.S. administration has so far been afraid to do, and that is to support Israel in resolving the conflict unilaterally. Let Israel set the borders and the separation rules to suit its own demographic and security needs. Let Israel build the wall. Let Israel defend itself as it sees fit. Most importantly, oppose any UN Security Council resolution that might interfere with Israel’s plan.
Israel won the Israel-Arab war, and despite that, Palestinians have had seven decades to shape their own future rather than be dictated by the victor. But after 69 years of obstructionism, the Palestinian leadership no longer deserves a seat at the table. It is time for Israel to behave as the victor of the conflict, and to win the peace just as it won the war.