For the longest time, everyone from the Israel advocates on campus to the government apologists in the foreign service would repeat the same tired talking points to all who questioned Israel’s sincerity with regards to the peace process: “Netanyahu wants a Two State Solution and an end to the conflict, but the Palestinians are only interested in violence and President Abbas refuses to come to the negotiating table.” Looking at recent events undertaken by the Netanyahu Government, I can’t help but wonder if these people were dumb enough to genuinely believe Netanyahu’s hollow words or if they were simply malicious charlatans, buying time for Israel’s expansionist policies by paying lip service to a gullible public.
In any case, revelations of a whole slew of recent actions by the Israeli government and Netanyahu’s Likud Party should make it evidently clear that Netanyahu has no interest in pursuing a Two State Solution.
Let’s begin small and save the biggest bombshell for last. On January 2, the Israeli government passed a law requiring a supermajority (80/120 MKs) to divide Jerusalem in the event of a peace deal. This increase from a simple majority would make it nearly impossible to give even one neighbourhood in East Jerusalem to the Palestinians as the capital of their future state. Of course, if you never planned on giving them a state in the first place, I guess it doesn’t really matter all that much…
While settlement growth has always been on a steady rise under Bibi, he’s not even hiding his expansionist dreams anymore. On January 11, the Civil Administration, the military body that enforces Israeli policy on citizens in the West Bank, approved over 1000 new housing units in over 20 different settlements and announced that they’d be looking to approve 2,500 more in the coming days. The “temporary military occupation” has turned into a 50 year and counting civilian expansionist enterprise. Israel is putting down roots and continuing to create facts on the ground with no intention of ever withdrawing. The long-term construction and continued administration of civilian infrastructure throughout the West Bank indicates the eventual goal of annexation. Yes, annexation. While this knowledge has always been present in the back of our minds, it’s never been so overt. There was always that plausible deniability. Until now.
During the last days of 2017, over 1000 members of the Likud Party met to officially adopt into their party’s platform the goal of exercising Israeli sovereignty over Area C of the West Bank (this is over 60% of the West Bank and where all of the settlements are located). Israel’s Public Security Minister and Likud Party stalwart, Gilad Erdan, was there to tell the applauding crowd and the media exactly what this policy adoption meant: “We are telling the world that it doesn’t matter what the nations of the world say. The time has come to express our biblical right to the land.”
While many would argue that this is solely a symbolic gesture and is merely a statement of intent that the party buried in its platform to attract far-right voters away from the Jewish Home Party for the next election, the Israeli government has gone out of their way to prove the optimists wrong, with the Knesset’s Land of Israel Caucus stating that they plan on proposing a bill to implement full Israeli sovereignty over Area C in the near future. In other words, Israel plans on ANNEXING the majority of the West Bank, officially incorporating the territory into Israel Proper and leaving the remaining non-contiguous Areas A and B as disconnected cantons that will remain under the Palestinian Authority’s relative autonomy. If this scenario sounds extremely similar to the Bantustans under Apartheid South Africa, I’m afraid that that’s because it is. This is the exact reality that former Israeli prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert warned us about.
Now, before the apologists start typing up their excuses about the government being committed to a Two State Solution, let me just slip in this statement by Israel’s Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, on the goal of these new policies: “We’re here for 50 years already and we will be here for 5000 years. Our policy is clear: settlement in the entire land of Israel and normalization of life in Judea and Samaria.” I think it’s safe to say that the Justice Minister speaks for official government policy and while I’m at it, I appreciate Minister Shaked’s candor. At last, we can stop burying our heads in the sand and ignoring what we’ve known to be true for the last ten years: Netanyahu’s Government doesn’t want a Two State Solution, they want the creeping annexation of the West Bank (or at least a good portion of it).
As one would imagine, the Palestinian Authority is done playing ball. After all, if Israel has decided that they’re done pretending to want a Two State Solution and an end to the conflict, then the PA can finally put an end to the theatre as well. On January 14, President Mahmoud Abbas announced what everyone has always known, the Oslo Accords are dead, stating: “we are an authority without any authority and the occupation is without a cost. Trump threatens to cut funding to the Authority because negotiations have failed. When the hell did negotiations start?!”
On top of these rage-filled outbursts, Abbas announced that he would be calling on international agencies and other countries to impose a solution and that he refuses to meet with US Ambassador David Friedman who is both a “settler and opposed to the term occupation” (which isn’t that far off) and that the PA would continue to pay convicted terrorists and their families compensation as well as continue their struggle against Israel until Palestine is internationally recognized. He then went on a bizarrely anti-Semitic rant that was filled with so many conspiracy theories I’m surprised he didn’t put on a tinfoil hat while delivering it, stating: “Israel is a colonial project that has nothing to do with the Jews. Europeans wanted to bring the Jews here to preserve their interests in the region. They asked Holland, which had the world’s largest fleet, to move the Jews!” This from the man whose university dissertation denied the Holocaust (that’s not a joke, look it up).
With both sides taking such harsh, unilateral steps and making such bombastic statements, it becomes clear that a Two State Solution is less likely to occur than ever before. So the question now becomes: what’s next? If Israel wants to officially reject the notion of the Two State Solution and move towards a one state reality, we face one of two scenarios; neither of which are particularly palatable – much less a “solution”.
The first scenario is a secular bi-national state, where Israel annexes all of the territory from the river to the sea and gives everyone citizenship. The population of Israel soars to approximately 13 million people, where the Jewish and Arab populations are roughly 50/50. Israel ceases being a Jewish State and within a few decades, due to birth rates, Jews become the minority. The end result is that you have two peoples, with very distinct and different visions for what the state should be, driving the state forward – and right off a cliff.
A bi-national Israstine would likely resemble Lebanon. During the best of times, you’d have dysfunctional unity governments comprised of so many different actors and competing ideologies that the state virtually shuts down from administrative neglect and political infighting. During the worst of times, you’d have full on civil wars, where the country would be plagued with bloodshed and sectarian strife. Two groups that have been officially at war since 1948 (and unofficially for a little bit before then) won’t suddenly embrace and forget the past. Palestinian terror groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad wouldn’t just disappear. After all, Palestine hasn’t been truly liberated until even the Jews that are hiding behind the “stones and trees” are killed, as Hamas’ 1988 Charter eloquently states. Additionally, the xenophobic Kahanist settlers that lived in illegal outposts deep in the West Bank who spent their days burning Palestinian olive trees and assaulting young children wouldn’t just magically evaporate either; they want an Arab-free Holy Land.
In a bi-national Israstine, the State of Israel would no longer be about Jewish survival, as there would be no meaning behind a law of return (if it doesn’t get repealed in the first place). Thus, the Jews who face persecution around the world will be left with nowhere to call home. Moreover, I question how truly secular the country would be, with political Islam likely to find its way as the official government or at the very least, with enough seats to give radical theocratic groups enough power to do some serious damage to the notion of secularism and equality. When this occurs, I fear for the safety of the Christian and Jewish minority. If you don’t think this could happen in Israstine, ask the Maronite Christians in Lebanon how they fared under Hezbollah, how the Copts in Egypt fared under the Muslim Brotherhood and how the Baha’i in Iran fared under the Ayatollahs.
While the idea of a secular bi-national state with equal rights for everyone is a beautiful concept in theory, it’s one that simply wouldn’t work in practice. While it’s obvious why this “solution” appeals to western progressives, it simply doesn’t address the wants and needs of the majority of Israelis and Palestinians. If the two groups could live together peacefully in a secular bi-national state that favoured neither group, then the British would have never recommended partition after the 1937 Peel Commission and such a concept certainly wouldn’t have been embraced by the United Nations in 1947. The same logic applies in 2018.
This brings us to the second scenario, the “Jewish Israstine” model, where Israel annexes the territory from the river to the sea (or at the very least the West Bank) and gives all of the Jews living beyond the Green Line citizenship and, in order to keep their Jewish majority, withholds it from the Arabs, essentially making them second-class residents of the same territory. In other words, Israstine would become a quasi-apartheid state, where the Arabs living in what was “Israel Proper” maintain their citizenship and all the rights that come with it, while the Arabs living in what was the West Bank would remain stateless (and likely so would their descendents). With citizenship comes basic rights, which the Palestinians would lack (which, if we’re being honest with ourselves, is the current reality for the approximately 300,000 Palestinians currently living in Area C of the West Bank).
In Jewish Israstine, the demographic situation would be the same as it was in the bi-national state scenario, except unlike in that scenario where each person had the right to vote regardless of whether or not they were Jewish, most of the Palestinian population wouldn’t be able to vote for the people who control their lives, simply because they had the misfortune of being born in Hebron or Nablus instead of Haifa or Jerusalem. All the while the entire Jewish population of Israstine would be allowed to vote regardless of where in particular they were born.
While Israstine would remain a Jewish state, and thus, the security of the Jewish people would be preserved, it would come at a cost that few Israelis (and even fewer Palestinians) would be willing to tolerate, much less the international community.
If you value democracy above all else, you’ll pick the first scenario and if you value Jewish security above all else, you’ll pick the second. However, one without the other defeats the purpose of the State of Israel. The phrase “pick your poison” has never rung so true. No matter which option you pick, the Zionist dream is dead and with it, the aspirations of generations.
Perhaps the most tragic aspect of all of this is just how needless it is. There was no reason that this had to play out the way it did. It brings me no pleasure in saying this, but if the Two State Solution truly is dead, it won’t be because of the Palestinians, it will be because of the Israelis.
While the lack of a current Palestinian State should be blamed on the Arab leadership in 1937, 1947 and 1967, who rejected two partition plans and a land for peace deal respectively, as well as Arafat and Abbas who rejected reasonable peace deals under the Barak and Olmert administrations in 2000 and 2008 respectively, the death of the Two State Solution itself falls squarely on Israel’s shoulders. While Palestinian violence and rejectionism are tragic and inexcusable, they don’t alter anything beyond the surface and are thus temporary in nature. Changing the facts on the ground by building settlements that further entrench the occupation and taking unilateral steps to annex the very land that was supposed to be negotiated is permanent.
There was no reason to build settlements in the first place and there was certainly no reason to subsidize them at the rates that the Netanyahu government has done. Moving a civilian population into territory occupied after a defensive war is not only illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention but it complicates the situation tremendously and makes the lives of those being occupied even more unnecessarily miserable than they had to be. If you don’t think that settlements affect Palestinian quality of life, I encourage you to look at H2 of Hebron or Nabi Saleh in Area C and compare it to Ramallah or Jericho in Area A. The quality of life is astronomically different when you don’t have two different groups of people living in the same place under different sets of law with soldiers deployed in large numbers specifically to protect the settlers, even though as the occupying power, they’re supposed to protect both inhabitants. These settlements were built sporadically throughout the West Bank for the clear purpose of making it more difficult to divide the land, and when you have a government that has gone out of their way to retroactively legalize one third of all illegal outposts while simultaneously demolishing Palestinian villages, it becomes clear that the rule of law could not be more one-sided.
This could not have been more foreseeable and it could not have been more avoidable. Perhaps the most depressing part of this situation is that all that had to be done to prevent this from occurring was “nothing.” Literally inaction would have been the most responsible form of action. All they had to do was militarily occupy the land and secure the Israeli border until a peace deal could inevitably be reached through making necessary compromises, recognizing past grievances and addressing future concerns with the help of dynamic and peace-seeking leadership. I don’t believe that this would have taken longer than fifty years to achieve but even if it did and the occupation still persisted, if Israel was acting in good faith throughout this process, their hands would be clean and time would be just a number. After all, Israel would never be obligated to withdraw from territory at the expense of their security.
Unfortunately, what could have been is not what is and now we all must live with the consequences: the end of the Zionist dream of a Jewish and democratic state. A place of Jewish refuge and self-determination. A place to call home.
While I naively refuse to give up hope on the Two State Solution (as I continue to believe that it’s the only solution that will provide both sides with the ability to fulfill their aspirations), I can’t help but feel that this is the beginning of the end. Despite my dreams of a better tomorrow and a proper end to the conflict, if the momentum keeps swinging at its current rate, it’s only a matter of time before either the international community imposes a solution that will largely put Israel at a disadvantage or Israel bites the bullet and embraces “Israstine.” Either way, this is not the beginning to 2018 that virtually anyone was hoping for.
If anyone needs me, I’ll be sitting in the corner, awaiting an end to end this sordid, drawn-out ordeal. Swing low, sweet chariot…