Jane Eisner, editor of The Forward, recently challenged readers to argue why the status quo between Israel and the Palestinians was a viable option.
This was my response.
The status quo is not the ideal solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But it’s better than any of the alternatives. And sometimes that’s the best that can be done in an imperfect world.
Secretary of State John Kerry argued in his recent speech that Israel can be either democratic or Jewish, but not both. What he meant was that the only two plausible solutions to the conflict are for Israel to either (1) be “democratic,” by annexing the territories and giving the Palestinians citizenship—in which case, they would vote the Jewish State out of existence; or (2) be “Jewish,” by withdrawing from the territories, so that what remains of Israel would have a Jewish majority.
Neither of these solutions makes sense.
Adding millions of Palestinians to Israel’s voter rolls would be national suicide. So, that one is out.
But Kerry’s other option would also gravely endanger Israel. It would leave Israel just nine miles wide in its middle. I suppose if Israel’s next door neighbor was going to be Luxembourg or Switzerland, it might be an acceptable risk. But can anybody plausibly claim the Palestinian leadership can be trusted to live in peace with a Jewish state? That’s what they told us when the Oslo accords were signed, yet eight years later, the Palestinian leaders were caught trying to bring in a ship with 50 tons of weapons. Are we supposed to simply ignore the game-changing significance of the Karine A weapons ship?
A Palestinian state along the pre-1967 lines would mean that a Palestinian terrorist with a shoulder-fired missile, standing inside the sovereign borders of “Palestine,” would be able to shoot down a plane landing or taking off from Ben-Gurion Airport. No sane country would accept such a nightmare existence.
So if those two options—citizenship and statehood—are unsafe for Israel, why not leave things the way they are right now—the status quo? Kerry’s arguments were based on his premise that the status quo is not “sustainable.” He offered two reasons. Neither of them is persuasive.
His first reason was that Israel would become an apartheid regime, ruling over millions of Palestinians but depriving of them their rights. The problem with this argument is that Israel stopped ruling nearly all of those Palestinians more than twenty years ago. Back in 1995, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin withdrew from the cities in Judea-Samaria where 98% of the Palestinians reside (and Ariel Sharon later withdrew from 100% of Gaza).
Thus the “apartheid” warning falls flat. It is the Palestinian Authority, not Israel, which rules 98% of the Palestinians. The streets are policed by the Palestinian security forces. The schools are run by Palestinian principals and teachers. The courts have Palestinian judges. When elections are held, the candidates and the voters are all Palestinians.
Recently, the PA’s Central Bureau of Statistics predicted that the number of Palestinians living in Israel and the territories will be equal to the number of Jews living there by the end of this year. But why does that matter? Even if the number of Palestinians in the territories were ten times what it is today, they would pose no demographic threat to Israel.
The Palestinians will never vote in Israeli elections, because Israel will not give them citizenship. And they will never be deprived of the right to vote by Israel, because it is the Palestinian Authority which decides whether or not they will have elections. In short, the Palestinian demographic “time bomb” that we heard about for so long turned out to be nothing of the sort—because Yitzhak Rabin defused it in 1995.
The other main argument against the status quo is that the Palestinians will revolt. Yet the past half-century has shown that each time there has been a wave of “intifada” violence, the Israeli security authorities devised effective strategies to stamp it out. And the last century has shown that even when there were no settlements and no disputed territories—and even when there was no Israel at all—some Palestinians bombed and shot and stabbed Jews. There always have been, and probably always will be, Palestinians who are committed to destroying Israel, and Israel’s best and brightest will continue to find ways to protect their country against the terrorists.
It’s not as if average Israelis are under siege daily. Israelis are able to go about their day to day lives despite the possibility of terrorism. The nation’s continuous technological advances, economic growth, and flourishing culture all testify to the fact that Israel, with the status quo, is not merely surviving but is thriving.
Thanks to Rabin’s withdrawal, today’s status quo ensures Israel’s Jewish majority, retains Israel’s defensible borders, and guarantees all faiths free access to their religious sites. At the same time, it allows nearly all of the Palestinians to live under their own government. There are no Israeli soldiers patrolling Palestinian cities. There is no Israeli military governor running their lives. They live in an entity that is close to statehood in every respect except those few aspects that would endanger Israel’s existence.
The Palestinians do not have 100% of what they want. But then again, neither do the Israelis. The status quo does, however, give both sides much of what they want—which is better than what the alternatives offer. That’s why the status quo has lasted more than twenty years already. It’s not ideal and it doesn’t solve every problem, but it’s the best and most realistic choice in a difficult situation.
This column originally appeared in The Forward