Independence Day

I had promised some more thoughts on the Fatah-Hamas unity agreement, but it seems there have been few substantive developments since––except a Yair Lapid sort-of-but-not-quite 180 that shouldn’t surprise anyone. I still maintain the unity agreement was a terrible error in judgement on Abbas’ part and will alienate liberal Israelis for many years to come.

The erudite Hussein Ibish has a great piece on the Sisyphean challenges of Palestinian unity. It’s becoming harder and harder to believe that Abbas was motivated by anything other than short-term domestic political gain. His legacy may have also played a role. We can only hope that it will not be one of renewed conflict.

Enough on that unity agreement for now. Today’s bombshell story on this website that Shimon Peres had negotiated an understanding with Abbas only to be turned down by Netanyahu is surprisingly unremarkable. I urge caution among my fellow two-staters; the phrase “almost all issues” in relation to Israeli-Palestinian peace has an infinite number of definitions.

I say unremarkable because it would only be a shocking revelation if we were still being duped by Netanyahu, a man with clear reservations, whether right or wrong–––I believe tragically wrong––– about the two-state solution. Netanyahu is both a political and ideological animal; he understands the diplomatic value of the talks, but retains his genetic commitment to his father’s Revisionism, of which he has been the post-Oslo leader.

Recent statements by US envoy Martin Indyk and other officials indicate the US is no longer duped, if it ever had been. I and many others certainly were duped, but there is no shame in hoping that a conflict––actually an anachronism of a conflict––will come to a negotiated end.

What should come next is unclear. I’m mildly supportive of presenting “Kerry Parameters,” essentially a framework for the sides to take or leave. But anxiety that the latter could be picked by both sides may well prevent this.

Which brings me to Israel’s 66th birthday. If Israel were a person, it would have only completed its first year on Medicare. Therefore the challenges she faced in 1948, 1967, and 1973 are still in the consciousnesses of many Israelis and American supporters of Israel. But the field has changed. It’s no longer David vs. Goliath, and to insist this is still the case is at the very least an insult to those who dedicated their lives to strengthening the Jewish state. Israel is a regional hegemon that can respond to threats rather quickly and efficiently.

The occupation of the West Bank is no longer a security priority. The facts shouldn’t be sugarcoated: yes, there may be rocket attacks every once in awhile. Those who lament the Gaza disengagement have forgotten about the second intifada and the carnage it dealt. The rockets, while deadly and criminal, have been a manageable reality. Weekly suicide bombings were not.

I don’t think a return to violence in the West Bank is likely within the next ten years. Nor will the United States reduce or threaten to withhold military aid to Israel. Israel, even with the occupation, is an American ally and the freest society in the Middle East. But this is a question of values more than anything: Can Israel justify occupying another people, denying them self-determination, and placing the Zionist dream at unseemly existential risk?

Netanyahu isn’t impolitic enough to believe that the disengagement of Gaza was a mistake. His opposition to it was and is widely regarded as purely political. I’ll surmise that he thinks that the Gaza occupation was a particularly taxing task given its density, and that its lessons don’t apply to the West Bank.

This is a dangerous way of thinking. Over half the population in the West  Bank is under 24. As they watch the world around them grow and prosper, it’s unlikely they will accept Israeli occupation and privileged settlements as reality, something to just live with. This creates an opportunity for peacemakers: historical issues such as refugees may no longer have the salience they once did among a younger generation of Palestinians. But if settlements continue to grow, and Israel continues to inextricably connect itself to the West Bank, the Jewish and Democratic state will only be the former. The occupation must end. If talks continue to fail this goal, a survival-minded Israeli government must do it herself. If not, then the dream may end sooner than we think.

Happy Independence Day.

About the Author
Abe Silberstein writes on Israeli politics, Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and American foreign policy in the Middle East. He can be reached at