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End the delusion over settlements

The UN vote passed because the Israeli government has no credibility and is leading us to a binational state

Representatives of the Israeli government would have us believe that the UN resolution passed on 23 December was a conspiracy by an implacably hostile US administration backed by a world that is biased against Israel.

According to Avigdor Liberman, the forthcoming Paris conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is like the infamous Dreyfus Trial. The tidal wave of vitriol began overtaking John Kerry’s speech outlining proposals for a final status agreement, even before Kerry opened his mouth.

The primary audience for all this stuff is of course the Israeli public, and in particular the coalition’s right wing base. But it’s not clear who these voices think they are kidding. Are they so deep in delusion that they believe this stuff themselves, or are they trying to kid the Israeli public? Either way, it’s time to end the delusions.

The UN resolution passed because the Israeli government has no credibility.

If you tell the world on Monday that you want a two state solution, then you announce on Tuesday you are building in areas that you cannot hope to keep in a future agreement, then it doesn’t much matter what you say on Wednesday.

Imagine how this looks to a foreign diplomat, even from a broadly supportive country. From their consulates in East Jerusalem they can jump in their jeeps and see the West Bank settlements with their own eyes. This game has been going on a long, long time. We should not treat them as though they are stupid.

It is true that Palestinian inflexibility, dysfunctionality and violence, has prevented progress when Israeli leaders have shown readiness to compromise. But this argument has little force from an Israeli government which ranges from ambivalence to hostility towards a Palestinian state. Meanwhile, continued settlement building in areas Israel cannot hope to keep has made it extremely easy for the Palestinians to shift the blame back to Israel.

Nor does the argument that this will make a bilateral agreement harder have much impact, when nobody sees any prospect for a negotiated agreement in any case. In short, the Israeli government gave the US and others plenty of reasons to vote for the resolution, and few reasons to vote it down.

The responses of Israel’s representatives will sound, to much of the world, like the complaints of spoiled children that don’t like being told to tidy their bedroom. It is time to grow up.

Our leaders need to act, not for the sake of the Palestinians, nor for the sake of international opinion, but because the future of the Jewish state depends on separation from the Palestinians.

Netanyahu complains that the resolution turns the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem into illegally occupied territory. It is true the resolution lacks nuance and balance, and it would have been much smarter had it included some positions in Israel’s favour. But the ones who failed to make a clear enough distinction between the Jewish Quarter and Amona are the current Israeli government. Freezing construction beyond the settlement blocks has wide support. But the agenda is being set by the messianic right, for whom land trumps democracy, human rights, and even the imperative of ensuring the territory of the Jewish state has a clear Jewish majority.

The Zionist movement has been an incredible success. Israel has amassed military, economic and technological strength and a society with extraordinary human resources and social capital. Israel also won the case for its legitimacy as the nation state of the Jewish people. But Israel’s legitimacy, security and national cohesion are all being eroded with two and half million West Bank Palestinians living under Israeli occupation with no political rights, and no end to the situation in sight. A two-state reality need not imperil our security, a position that no less than 240 former IDF generals recently affirmed.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and his surrogates seek to reassure us that Israel’s international isolation on this matter is irrelevant because Trump is riding into office. Trump will back the hard line positions of the Israeli right – including entrenching Israel’s presence in the West Bank – because it riles Muslims, and confrontation with the Islamic world serves his domestic political interests.

Unfortunately, the arrival of Trump is also being cheered on by Jihadists everywhere, for whom he is a gift who will keep on giving, reinforcing their core message of an inevitable conflict between Islam and the West. What serves the interests of Trump, the messianic right, and ISIS, does not serve the interests of Israel.

Israel’s leaders must stop using the failures of the Palestinians as an excuse for their inaction. Netanyahu himself has repeatedly acknowledged the imperative to avoid a binational state. But what is he doing to prevent one emerging? Israel has alternatives, including proactive moves towards separation from the Palestinians, to ensure Israel’s future as a democratic state with a Jewish majority. It is time to end the delusions and act.

About the Author
Dr. Toby Greene is Senior Research Associate at Israeli and Middle East think tank BICOM and an Israel Institute Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations at Hebrew University.
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