Smart Israelis/Smart Palestinians

There is no doubt that both historically and legally Jews have every right to live in and to call home every inch of the territory from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.  As Yossi Klein Halevi explained in his latest book, Letters to my Palestinian Neighbor, Jews have ancient and deep roots in all of the Land of Israel.

In modern times our rights to a state were recognized by both powers that controlled the region and relevant international bodies.  A decent argument can even be made that Jews have the right to have had included in the state of Israel land east of the Jordan River that  a younger Winston Churchill and his colonial colleagues lopped off from what was then called Southern Syria or Palestine and handed to the current King Abdullah’s great-grandfather, Abdullah I. 

Abdullah’s family, the Hashemites, ruled Mecca for 700 years and, as the Saudis were taking over Mecca, the Brits apparently thought, “hey, why not,” the Hashemites can have part of Palestine or, as it was re-named, trans-Jordan.  King Abdullah and the Hashemites have about as much right being there as I have performing neurosurgery.  

But, for a myriad of strategic, political, military, demographic, and moral reasons, most Zionists have not pressed the Jewish people’s legitimate claims to trans-Jordan for about 100 years.  It was not in our interest. We used our heads.

There is also no doubt that of all the peoples in the world aspiring to nationhood, the Palestinian people, under some of the most inept, corrupt leadership imaginable, have not earned their way to the top of the list.  Given opportunity after opportunity, with unprecedented financial and political support, they have opted not to develop the institutions and norms for success as a modern nation.

Among other things, they have not developed an independent judiciary.  Their press is far from free. Journalists are attacked and jailed for not towing the party line.

They have not established a free and fair electoral system.  The most blatant illustration of that is 85-year-old President Abbas, who was elected to his four-year term 15 years ago.  Virtually no one expects a peaceful transfer of power when he dies.

The competing Palestinian governing entities, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, have not resolved the national divisions between their two major ideological camps, and they do not seem able to do so peacefully.  In a bloody coup in 2007, Hamas took over Gaza.  It controls it today, and it priorities terrorizing Israel and maintaining power over improving the lives of the inhabitants.  Every attempt at peacefully reconciling and uniting Hamas and the Palestinian Authority has gone nowhere.

The Palestinian leadership has never built the economic institutions and the culture to create a functioning country. Abbas fired the one Prime Minister who wanted to. He was getting in the way of Abbas’ corrupt cronies and ministers.  There is a reason Abbas’ sons have made millions, and it’s not because they are clones of Warren Buffett.

Despite a few fits and starts, the Palestinians have never abandoned their trademark operating methodology: maximal demands over practical compromise leading to gains.  The definition of insanity commonly attributed to Einstein, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result,” and Abba Eban’s “The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” have been cited so often that they border on trite and timeworn.  But, unfortunately, they pretty much define the Palestinian approach to the idea of a Jewish nation.

As Daniel Chertoff, author of the outstanding book Palestine Posts: An Eyewitness Account of the Birth of Israel, has written, the Palestinians rejected every pre-1948 international effort to accommodate both peoples’ aspirations. They continued to reject compromises that would have either established or provided the basis for establishing a Palestinian state in 1968, 1980, 2000, 2001, and 2007.

Even President Trump, knowingly or not, has provided opportunities the Palestinians refused to take advantage of.  The much-criticized Trump recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital presented an opportunity for a Palestinian leadership seeking a state with Jerusalem as its capital.

While President Trump and many who applauded the recognition might not have realized it, the proclamation and accompanying statement made clear that there was an opening for Jerusalem also being the capital of a future Palestinian state, as well as for negotiations over the boundaries and governance of Jerusalem.  Instead of seizing the opportunity, the Palestinian leadership, true to form, rejected it and broke off relations with the U.S.

The much-maligned Trump “Deal of the Century,” as unrealistic as it is in many respects, offered an opportunity that a people truly desiring a nation would have jumped at.  A right-wing President proposed a Palestinian state on 70% of the territories, with a toehold on the outskirts of Jerusalem and unimaginable economic support.

While the Trump proposal was far from an ideal offer, the fact that a “right wing” Israeli government was willing to accept a Palestinian state in principle was something a Palestinian leadership that truly wanted a state should have jumped at.

Leadership that wanted a state would have countered and come to the table with a “Yes, but without the 17 isolated settlements and with a further slice of Jerusalem, and without a good number of the conditions and required milestones.”  Given the Palestinian rejection of the much more generous offers of Barak/Clinton and Olmert, the chance of the Palestinian leadership changing its modus operandi and using the Trump proposal as a starting point was next-to-nothing.

If proof is needed that this was a significant step toward a Palestinian state, it has been provided by a most unlikely source:  some leading members of the Israeli right and the settlement movement. They have expressed outrage because, in their view, the proposal constitutes acceptance in principle of a Palestinian state.

In a blazing illustration of just how detached from reality some people can become, some Israelis on the right suggest that Israel can accept part of the deal–extending Israeli sovereignty–while rejecting another part–negotiations and an eventual Palestinian state.  They seriously think it would be acceptable to tell Trump that we’ll take the quid but no thanks on the quo.  Sorry folks, it’s doubtful that that is how business law is taught even at Trump University.

The Palestinian leadership and their educational system continue to deny a Jewish connection to the land of Israel and to Jerusalem.  The only people for whom the definition of “refugee” applies to children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, they continue to demand a “right of return” for people who never lived in Israel and whose “return” spell the end of Israel.

A cynic might conclude that the Palestinians are more interested in denying the Jewish people a nation than in establishing one of their own.

Despite Jewish rights to the territories and the Palestinians’ dismal record of rejection of compromise, the latest Israel Democracy Institute poll shows that half of the Israeli public does not support annexation, and 75% does not support it without U.S. support. Few Israelis put annexation high on their list of priorities. Why?

Because, like those early Zionists who did not pursue a legitimate claim to what became trans-Jordan, Israelis are not dumb.  In fact, a lot of them are quite smart.  They recognize that the negatives of unilateral annexation far outweigh the benefits of formally annexing territory Israel already controls in any event.  Unilateral annexation might provide ethereal, philosophical benefits, but it involves concrete costs.

Daniel Pipes is a die-in-the-wool conservative.  He just endorsed Trump for re-election.  Through his Middle East Forum, Middle East Quarterly, and Campus Watch, he has devoted much of his career to attacking Islamic terrorism and its roots and the entrenched anti-Israel sentiment in academia.  He is a leader in the “You must convince the Palestinians they are completely beaten and then they will negotiate a solution” school of thought.

And, yet, Pipes is against annexation. Labeling it a symbolic self-indulgence, Pipes provides six concrete reasons why it is a bad idea.  All of the reasons are highly credible. The sixth is the most persuasive.  Pipes understates it:

“(A)nnexation would be likely to make more Palestinians eligible to become citizens of Israel. That would be a profound mistake, since its Arab citizens constitute what I believe is the ultimate enemy of Israel’s status as a Jewish state, the one that will still be standing after the threats posed by Iran and Gaza have been dealt with. Citizens of Israel, unlike external enemies, cannot be defeated. Their allegiance must be won over, and the larger their number, the harder that becomes.”

Put more explicitly, annexation as proposed in the Trump plan could eventually mean the end of the Jewish state.  No one really knows how many Palestinians would come under Israeli sovereignty within the lines of sovereignty drawn by Jared Kushner and his fellow experts.  Estimates range from ten thousand to over one hundred thousand.

Do they become citizens?  What about the 250,00 to 300,000 Palestinians of eastern Jerusalem who currently have non-citizen resident status?

But those lines don’t tell the whole story.  Because Kushner, et.al. wanted to be able to say that their proposal uproots no residents, they have 17 Israeli enclaves scattered throughout the would-be Palestinian state.  Then they have roads going from each of those enclaves out to what often is the nearest pre-1967 Israeli territory.

Many pro-settlement folks are already arguing that those roads make it too hard to get from Point A to Point B, whether it be enclave-to-enclave or enclave-to-Jerusalem, and, therefore, they need more roads.  Each enclave and each road will require more Israeli control.  The point being that you cannot properly control and protect all of this without also effectively controlling a lot more territory and a lot more Palestinians.

Say things continue along this path. There is much dispute over exactly how many Palestinians are in Judea and Samaria, or the West Bank.  Figures range from two to three million.  No matter.  Say Israel ends up controlling a million.  Add that to the 1.9 million current Israeli Arab citizens, for a total of 2.9 million.  You’ve just gone from about 21% of  Israel’s population of 9.2 million to 31 percent.  Add another million for a total of 3.9 million and you’re at 42%.  Add another million for a total of 4.9 million and you are at 53%.

Some pro-annexation advocates charge that the number of Palestinians is greatly exaggerated.  Even if you reduce all the numbers by 40%,  you are significantly undercutting the demographic foundation of a Jewish nation.  Prime Minister Netanyahu recognizes concerns about this potential threat even given the initial steps he intends to take.  In answer to objections, he stated Israel would not give any Palestinian citizenship, thereby avoiding giving Palestinians the vote.

With that, Netanyahu enters new territory, no pun intended.  If we are not engaging in the A-word, we are certainly opening ourselves up to the charge.  A long-time stalwart defender against the charge, former South African and Nelson Mandela ally Benjamin Pogrund, who made Aliyah in the 1990’s, asserts that we will have crossed the line.

The Palestinians also have some smart people, particularly among the young.  They have given up or say they will give up on a state.  They intend to be part of Israel and to demand the vote.

Eventually, we would have to give them the vote. The world would demand it. We would require it of ourselves. We cannot rule over another people and not allow them an equal voice.

Even without the Palestinians having a vote,  it would be next to impossible to maintain the religious, national, and cultural characteristics unique to a Jewish state once the non-Jewish population reaches a critical mass.  Do I know the exact number or percentage where the buses no longer run a banner wishing me a happy Jewish holiday? No.

Is there a line where people are no longer comfortable walking into a bank or a restaurant in Purim costumes?  Where Jewish law and ethics are no longer an integral part of policy discussions, both on the street and in the institutions of government? Where overtly Jewish national songs are no longer played on the streets and at State ceremonies?

No one knows.  But we will know it just after it happens.

Smart Palestinians know this. That is why an increasing number are opting to wait us out. Smart Israelis also know it. That is why so many Israelis do not support annexation, or at least the unilateral annexation that is currently on the table.

A bi-national state does not work for both ideological and practical reasons. Israel’s unique Jewish cultural and religious attributes would be undermined.  And the chances of political, cultural and religious differences being resolved civilly and peacefully?  Well, just look around our neighborhood.  Or, sadly, look at the current state of the “greatest democracy on earth.”

As  Klein Halevi explains in his Letters to my Palestinian Neighbor, one can have legitimate claims and for very good reason choose not to exercise them.  The most compelling reason not to exercise our right to annex the territory as proposed in the Trump plan is obvious:  our self-interest as a Jewish nation.

About the Author
Alan Edelstein was a lawyer and lobbyist in California for 30 years. He currently lives in Jerusalem and Sacramento, California and consults on governmental affairs, communications, politics, and business development. He blogs at www.edelsteinrandomthoughts.com. Inquiries regarding speaking engagements: ae@edelsteinstrategies.com
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