Members of Israel’s current government have not served Israel’s global reputation well in recent weeks. Some have gone so far as to openly challenge its closest allies. Minister of Defense Ya’alon and his partner in the Bayit Yehudi, Naftali Bennett (who stand out in this regard) have been backed by a growing number of coalition members (including deputy ministers Danny Danon, Ophir Akounis and Tzipi Hotobeli). The damage wrought to Israel’s international standing by their repeated statements pale, however, in comparison to the ideas they advocate. In essence, they unabashedly advocate a one-state solution which threatens to undermine not only the democratic character of the state of Israel and its Jewish majority but also its legal foundations and very legitimacy. Their activities, both within the country and abroad, can no longer be ignored.
The plan proposed by these self-styled defenders of Zionism and the Jewish state (best encapsulated in “The Israel Initiative: The Right Road to Peace”) claims to represent the opinions of the majority (although in all probability it reflects the mindset of most of the elected representatives of the Likud and the Jewish Home party, but not — as surveys consistently show — of the totality of Israeli citizens). It rests on several basic assumptions. The first is that the two-state solution — and with it the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel — is unacceptable for historical, religious and practical reasons. The second, it follows, is that the West Bank (or, as they prefer, Judea and Samaria) is not occupied but “disputed” territory whose status can be altered at will. And third, that the destiny of the Palestinians now under Israeli control can be adjusted if UNRWA were dismantled, their refugee status changed, and Palestinian residents offered other alternatives.
The plan itself calls for the immediate annexation of Area C (which incorporates almost all Jewish settlements and settlers) and the granting of Israeli citizenship to the approximately 50,000-70,000 Palestinians currently residing in what amounts to 60% of the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority would be disbanded forthwith and residents of Areas A and B would either become citizens of Jordan and placed under its protection or, possibly, ultimately be granted Israeli citizenship (there appears to be quite a debate within the ranks of the right on this question, as the latter option might lead to a Palestinian majority in the region between the Mediterranean and the Jordan).
In the written and oral arguments of the proponents of this initiative, its implementation would achieve Jewish sovereignty over Greater Israel. It would also be — so they maintain — democratic, since it would grant citizenship (either in Israel or in Jordan) to all Palestinians. It could lay the foundation for more egalitarian relations and coexistence down the road between Arabs and Jews and, therefore, muster widespread international support. Any intimation that these proposals would indelibly stamp Israel as an ethnocratic colonialist entity insensitive to the rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people is deflected out of hand; so, too, is the assertion that they will undoubtedly lead to the complete ostracism of Israel in the international community.
The debate within Israel between the resurgent ultra-nationalists with their recast one-state vision and a growing number of citizens who accept the left’s call for a two-state arrangement continues apace. The key, domestically, to the resolution of this most fundamental of confrontations lies in the hands of those who consider themselves to be centrists: people who identify ideologically with the two-state scenario but are still not prone to do much to make it happen.
In the meantime, however, the proponents of the new Right’s initiative continue to peddle their wares in capitals throughout the democratic world. Their appearances in the United States and Europe have succeeded in alienating many Jews and, significantly, in coalescing a solid two-state majority in Jewish communities throughout North America and Europe. Recent surveys show that Jews abroad overwhelmingly support an equitable resolution of the conflict and the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Official reactions, once the initial shock at hearing some of these notions is overcome, range from disbelief (suggesting that these ideas are either hallucinatory or simply a bad joke) to distaste (amazement that anybody would conjure up such ideas in the second decade of the twenty-first century) and even visible disgust (unfortunately not only with specific Israeli spokespeople but with Israel in its entirety). Here lies the problem in a nutshell: multiple audiences exposed to the annexationist position emerge skeptical of Israel’s official claim that it is conducting negotiations with Palestinians in good faith; those who do not trust the Netanyahu government find their suspicions confirmed.
It is difficult to exaggerate the adverse consequences for Israel of the efforts carried out by those who consider themselves the staunchest supporters of Israeli nationalism. Their words — often meant to avert further isolation of Israel, have the opposite effect. By rejecting outright the Palestinian right to self-determination they both foreclose the possibility of a negotiated settlement and lay the groundwork for the effective construction of Bantustans under Israeli control. Ironically, by erasing the Green Line and calling for full Israeli sovereignty over the entire area, they provide fodder to Israel’s worst critics, some of whom use the global BDS movement to question Israel’s right to exist. And every time they present their positions they cause untold harm not only to the prospects for a lasting accommodation in this land, but also to the legal basis for Israeli statehood.
The discontent emanating from Washington and from Brussels with the words of various Israeli officials is not merely a matter of diplomatic bickering. It goes much deeper than that: it reflects a true sense of unease with the ideas that they convey and with their implications. Within this context, the willingness to back Israeli policies is fast eroding.
The real majority in Israel can no longer afford to remain indifferent. Extremist elements in this government are trying the patience of Israel’s closest allies and sacrificing the future of most Israelis. The time has come to stop worrying and start acting.