The recent statements by Israel’s deputy defense minister, Danny Danon and Economics Minister Naftali Bennett opposing the concept of a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are troubling on several levels.
First, it is the stated policy of the prime minister, in whose government both Danon and Bennet serve, that he supports the creation of an independent Palestinian state as a necessary development to create peace and security in Israel. The comments by the two ministers raise questions about who is in charge and whether the government is able to show strength in being able to implement its own policies.
Second, the statements serve to obscure the true reason why progress has not been made toward restarting a peace process: the rejection by the Palestinian Authority of negotiations with Israel for almost five years. As much as it is conventional wisdom to talk about Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as a potential peace partner for Israel (and surely, compared to terrorist Hamas, which controls Gaza, he is), he has done everything imaginable to avoid doing the only thing that could bring about peace and a Palestinian state – sitting and negotiating with Israel.
Whether it is his insistence on Israel stopping all settlement construction, or bringing a unilateral action for Palestinian statehood to the United Nations, or his diatribes at the U.N. and elsewhere questioning the very connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, Abbas has been the main obstacle to progress. Now attention from that reality is easily diverted as two senior members of the Israeli government coalition speak so bluntly against a Palestinian state. Even though the prime minister and others have made clear that Danon and Bennett do not speak on this matter for the government, for those who have questioned Netanyahu’s commitment to a two-state solution, this is a golden opportunity.
Third, this approach is an effort to close off any future chance that a Palestinian state could emerge. As has been noted by so many, Israel needs a Palestinian state as much as the Palestinians. As Shimon Peres has long said, Israel surely has a historic claim to Judea and Samaria. But the decision-making of a nation must not simply be the product of one’s rights, but also of what is one’s interest. Separation from the Palestinians and maintaining a strong Jewish majority in Israel are the most important elements necessary for Israel’s future well-being.
Rejection of a Palestinian state – and with it advocating for the expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank – will assure a bi-national state, one which will either be democratic but without a strong Jewish majority or one which will be undemocratic in not giving Palestinians equal rights. Either solution (as well as thoughts by some of transferring Palestinians out of Israel) would be a disaster for the country.
The truth is that most Israelis currently believe two things about the peace process: Israel for now does not have a partner for peace but, at the same time, it must not close off the possibility that such a partner, whether in the person of Abu Mazen or someone else, can emerge in the future. Danon and Bennett would like to close off that possibility.
Finally, at a time when anti-Israel de-legitimization and boycott campaigns are growing around the world, the Danon and Bennett statements add fuel to the fire. Let’s be clear; Israel should never make policy simply to avoid criticism around the world. And indeed some of the critics would condemn Israel no matter what it did. Here, however, the Danon and Bennett approach is doubly smitten: It’s bad for Israel and its future internally and, if adopted, it would have destructive effects internationally even among those who were not inclined to criticize the Jewish State.
It is good that the prime minister has distanced himself from the Danon-Bennett comments. It would be good for Mr. Netanyahu to find as many occasions as possible to reinstate his commitment to a two-state solution, and make clear once again that it is he that wants to move forward through negotiations, while it is Mahmoud Abbas who is injecting rejections and is the true obstacle to peace.