Ronald Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, wrote an op-ed entitled “Israel’s Self-Inflicted Wounds” for last Sunday’s (18Mar2018) New York Times. As the title indicates, he worries that Israel is on a path that ultimately will lead to damage to itself.
Specifically, he identifies “two grave threats that…could endanger [Israel’s] very existence.” One threat is the “possible demise of the two-state solution,” and the second is the growing disaffection the Jewish diaspora feels for Israel. In this piece, I want to focus on what Mr. Lauder says about that first threat.
Mr. Lauder deplores the lack of any progress toward a two-state solution and grimly predicts that, without such a solution, “Israel will face a stark choice: Grant Palestinians full rights and cease being a Jewish state or rescind their rights and cease being a democracy.” He attributes the lack of progress to “Palestinian incitement and intransigence” and, on the Israeli side, to “annexation plans…and extensive Jewish settlement-building beyond the separation line.” He does not say which if any is a greater impediment.
He reports that unnamed senior Palestinian leaders have personally told him that, notwithstanding contrary news stories, they are ready to begin direct negotiations immediately. (His op-ed appeared before Mahmoud Abbas was quoted as referring to the U.S. ambassador to Israel as “the son of a dog.”) Presumably, those are negotiations that could culminate in a two-state solution.
What I find astounding about Mr. Lauder’s piece is that he never once uses the words “Hamas,” or “terrorism,” or any cognate term. He does write of unspecified Palestinian “incitement” and “intransigence,” but that is as far as he goes; he never says what the incitement or intransigence consists of, or who among the Palestinians are the perpetrators.
Reading Mr. Lauder’s op-ed, one would never learn that, in Gaza, the governing power is a terrorist group that sincerely believes all pious Muslims have a religious duty to use whatever force is necessary against all Jews, whether soldiers or civilians, to erase any trace of Jewish sovereignty from the “Islamic” lands between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. Nor would one ever learn that a substantial number of Palestinians—perhaps not a majority, but a substantial number nevertheless—agree with Hamas.
Does Mahmoud Abbas, who is currently in the thirteenth year of his four-year term as “president” of the Palestinian Authority, have the power or the inclination to force Hamas to lay down its arms and cease its terrorist attacks against Israel? Of course he does not. Hamas violently expelled the PA from Gaza in 2007, and Abbas has not set foot there since then. He knows (even if Mr. Lauder does not) that Hamas would be only too happy to welcome Abbas back to Gaza with a bullet in his head.
So in urging Israel to reach a two-state solution with a PA headed by Abbas, Mr. Lauder is urging Israel to agree to peace with a PA that lacks the necessary power to keep the peace. Remember the Zen question: what is the sound of one hand clapping? Well, there is a corresponding diplomatic question: what is a peace agreement between two parties, if only one of them is able to keep the peace? The answer is easy: such a peace agreement is a nullity, and is most likely to result in even greater violence.
Abbas’ PA is impotent, flabby and superannuated. Its function is to skim a certain percentage of international donations into the pockets of Abbas and his cronies, but that is its only function. The PA cannot control Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups. Thus, if a Palestinian state is created, it will probably be easier for the terrorists to acquire more deadly and sophisticated weapons, which makes it probable that violence will increase rather than decrease. (Did the “senior Palestinian leaders” with whom Mr. Lauder conferred include members of Hamas? Surely the answer is “no,” but it is Hamas and its brother terrorists groups who are pledged to destroy Israel.)
Mr. Lauder asserts that, without a two-state solution, Israel must choose between its democratic character and its Jewish identity, because it will not be able to continue to have both. Is that correct? I think not.
There is, I believe, a third possibility: if there is no two-state solution, the situation that has existed since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 can continue indefinitely into the future. That is, the Palestinians can continue to have a large degree of autonomous self-government in the disputed territories, while Israel retains the right to operate in those territories to protect itself against Palestinian terrorism.
A continuation of the status quo is, no doubt, a very unsatisfactory result for both sides. A large majority of Israelis would wish their country to be able to disengage from the Palestinians, and the Palestinians, who desire their own independent state, certainly feel the same way about Israelis. Those wishes cannot be realized under a continuation of the status quo. And a continuation of the status quo means that there will inevitably be more bloodshed on both sides.
Still, since 1993, Palestinians and Israelis have been uneasily co-existing in the imperfect, unhappy arrangement ushered in by the Oslo Accords. During those twenty-five years, despite the disputes and the violence that have periodically flared, Israel has not, I would argue, lost either its democratic character or its Jewish identity. That arrangement can continue, I think, indefinitely into the future. To be more precise, it can continue for as long as it takes for the Palestinians to develop a leadership that would be able not only to sign a peace agreement, but also to enforce it.