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A state for the Jewish people

If peace talks fail yet again, Israel should plan to divorce itself from the Palestinians - with or without an agreement

The slogan, “two state solution,” or its literal equivalent in Hebrew “two states for two people,” coined by members of the extreme Israeli left only a few decades ago, has become the widely accepted norm here in Israel and the world over. On the basis of this approach, the current round of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians was launched. The declared hope was to reach a binding, final agreement within 9 months thereby ending the hundred-year conflict between us and our immediate neighbors.

In the last parliamentary elections, the left and center parties adopted this concept as THE way to implement the vision of a democratic Jewish state, living safely within its borders. Even Prime Minister Netanyahu in his famous Bar-Ilan speech embraced this mantra and is presumably working towards its implementation. The “two state solution” is a legitimate policy when one looks objectively at our region in Middle Eastern circles or those of Europe and the UN. It is undoubtedly a worthy long-term goal.

The call for “two states for two people” demands of our Palestinian counterparts a series of decisions and concrete action. They will have to give up the “right of return,” compromise on Jerusalem, come to terms with the fact that they will not receive sovereign power for all areas beyond the green line and mostly, they will have to recognize the end of the conflict – and declare so openly.

It is not at all clear if the Palestinians, neither the people nor their leaders, are ready for this transition. In my view, this does not bode well for the prospects to end the conflict in 6 months time. I fear that at the end of the current round of negotiations we will not be any closer to an agreement than we were at its inception.

Our main goal is to maintain the identity of Israel as a democratic state with a solid Jewish majority. Without a parting of ways, territorial and gubernatorial, between Israel and the Palestinians, we will find ourselves in an irreversible process that will result in the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea becoming a bi-national state. The time available to us to avoid this precarious eventuality is rather limited.

Has the moment not arrived that we look past the “two-state solution” and bilateral diplomacy and focus on our own national interests?

Shouldn’t we act unilaterally and move forward to achieve territorial separation that is necessary to secure a democratic state of Israel with a solid Jewish majority?

This is not a call to abandon negotiations or diplomacy. Of course, we must continue to explore any and all options, as we cannot afford to miss any opportunity to reach a peace agreement with our neighbors.

Nevertheless, the concept of a “democratic state for the Jewish people” is first and foremost a declaration of Israelis about their future. It does not depend on the goodwill of others and it defines a clear path of action towards its implementation.

As long as the Palestinians are not shooting at us, is it really a vital interest of Israel to make sure the Palestinians have a state? Do we really care if they are part of Egypt or Jordan? Do we really care what shape their internal government takes or whether theirs is democratic in essence? Naturally it is preferable to have peaceful, democratic Palestine as our neighbor, but if this paradigm is not possible, why should we let it decide our future? Is it not time to prioritize our own interests over notions of historical justice?

The call for a democratic Jewish state is so basic that its roots can be found in the dreams of the early Zionists and the sentiment expressed in the Israeli Declaration of Independence. That vision included aspirations for an equitable society and better life for all.

But these are goals for Israel’s next phase. We will never reach that stage unless we leave decisions over our future in our own hands and stifle the ability of the Palestinians to veto our future and that of our children.

It is high time for a paradigm change. Israel should declare publicly and without any delay that if the current round of negotiations does not lead to a peace agreement (as I am afraid it will not), Israel will act to implement an unilateral separation from the Palestinians. We should present a separation map and a detailed time-table for its execution. Passage of the proposed law of evacuation and compensation (Pinui Pizui) of inhabitants of isolated settlements should be the first step.

About the Author
Yehiam Prior was educated in Jerusalem, Berkeley and Harvard before joining the department of Chemical Physics at the Weizmann Institute of Science, where he has served as a department head, chair of the Scientific Council and most recently as Dean of the faculty of Chemistry. He founded (with others) the movement for unilateral separation (Hipardut Chad Zdadit, HACHETZ), has been a board member for the Council for Peace and Security and is a member of the executive board of Atid Cahol Lavan (Blue white future). Professionally, he studies nonlinear optics, laser physics and light matter interaction in general.
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