Whether from the administration of President Obama or from the pen of Peter Beinart, all one seems to hear is that ‘‘the settlements’’ are the problem. The administration believes that freezing the growth of these communities of Israelis in Judea and Samaria is a prerequisite for negotiations, an interpretation of the conflict that dovetails with Beinart’s and that concludes that their ultimate removal is the very route to peace.
In the meantime, and relatedly, these communities erode Israel’s democratic character, for, as far as Beinart and Peace Now are concerned, the Israel ‘‘beyond the Green Line’’ — the arbitrary armistice border of 1949 — is ‘‘nondemocratic,’’ and this cancer is preying on ‘‘democratic’’ Israel on the other side of the armistice line. As long as, for illustration, the city of Ariel, in Samaria, is considered ‘‘the heart of our country’’ by Prime Minister Netanyahu, Israeli democracy itself is imperilled and a lasting peace settlement is impossible.
However, an honest consideration of realities on the ground recommends a different conclusion. To begin with, all residents of Judea and Samaria, whether Jewish or Arab, have voting rights: the Jews for the Knesset and the Arabs for the Palestinian Authority. That the different leaderships afford them unequal freedoms is no more Israel’s fault than that Arabs across the Middle East seem to prefer electing illiberal governments.
Moreover, the concern with the territorial contiguity of a hypothetical Palestinian Arab state is misdirected: on the one hand, territorial contiguity is not necessarily pivotal for stable sovereignty (take France or Russia, for instance); and, on the other hand, connecting the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is not inconceivable. Hence it is unclear why it follows that a topographical solution for, say, Ariel, is deemed impossible.
So let us consider the possibility that some of those Jewish communities simply stay put, and be subsumed under Palestinian Arab sovereignty — after all, Arabs live in Israel, so why can’t Jews live in ‘‘Palestine?’’ Moreover, such a solution would obviate the need for evacuations, exhumations, and national trauma of the type we saw in the wake of the ‘‘disengagement’’ from Gaza. Indeed, this seems on the face of it to be the best solution. So what’s the problem?
In Jewish fashion, that question is best answered with another: What does it say about our expectations for a Palestinian Arab state that we always presume that we absolutely must evacuate every last Jew before handing over the keys?
The answer is obvious, but so seldom stated: nobody is under the illusion that ‘‘Palestine’’ will be a healthy, stable, liberal democracy that guarantees the protection and rights of minorities like Jews — as Israel does vis-à-vis its minorities, including the Arabs — or such as state will respect or seek peace with its neighbours — as Israel repeatedly tries to do. Hence we all reasonably presume that we must get the Jews entirely out of there beforehand.
Indeed, as things stand, with the Palestinian Authority and Hamas exercising de facto sovereignty in the West Bank and over Gaza, respectively, the signs confirm this pessimistic presumption. Mahmoud Abbas is eight years into his four-year term as PA president, presiding over an institution that prohibits land sales to Jews and refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state or negotiate any sort of agreement. In a forecast of what’s to come, Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount, is presently administrated by an Islamic authority and Jewish prayer is prohibited. All of this is consistent with Abbas’s explicit vision of a Palestine, rid of Jews.
That, however, is unlikely to end the conflict, if one takes into account either the Palestinian Arab refusal to incorporate an end-of-claims clause in a peace agreement, or the Hamas state in Gaza, as an illustration of what’s in the offing (which, in light of the Arab Spring, is not unreasonable). Gaza is, of course, already Judenrein, but that has not weakened Hamas’s insistence that ‘‘Israel, by virtue of it’s being Jewish and of having a Jewish population, defies Islam and the Muslims.’’ Hence Hamas’s ‘‘struggle against the Jews is extremely wide-ranging and grave,’’ and it has has made no secret of its agreement with the pan-Arab agenda of driving Israel into the sea.
This all means that the Obamas and Beinarts of the world are correct in insisting that the settlements are central to this conflict. But they are incorrect in their understanding as to why that is. It is not because they threaten the territorial contiguity of a hypothetical ‘‘Palestine,’’ but because they demand liberal democratic assurances and peaceful conduct from such a state. It is not ‘‘nondemocratic’’ Israel, then, that these activists should fear, but nondemocratic ‘‘Palestine.’’