The Right Can’t Keep its Promises on Palestine

Prime Minister Netanyahu was very clear today: “If I’m elected there will be no Palestinian state”. This bold claim should be seen in context of the last few days: trailing to Isaac Herzog in the polls for tomorrow’s election, a panicking Netanyahu has been making statements that appeal to his base while trying to take votes from other right-wing parties. Jewish Home-leader Bennett has, after all, been claiming that he will prevent a Palestinian state for months.

These claims by Netanyahu and Bennett are mirrored by their statements that Herzog would actively harm Israel’s security through his “passion for retreating” in the face of Iran, the Palestinians and the United States, and that all he wants is a pat on the back. They would keep Israel safe by refusing to cede even a millimeter of land.

While sad, it’s understandable that these are tricks that work. The Israeli public is jaded and doesn’t believe that there is a partner for peace. After seeing the Oslo-process lead to suicide bombings and terror attacks from land it ceded and the Disengagement leading to missile-barrages from land it withdrew from, one can hardly blame the Israeli public for being distrustful.

But the problem with this rhetoric is that it’s misleading. These are promises that the right can’t keep. In order for their claims to stand we must believe that there exists a viable, preferable option for the right to take. So come with me on a merry train of logic as we deconstruct this option.

When the right wing says it won’t give away land, there are two options: either they actually intend to follow through on this promise or they do not. Well-meaning deception is an option: The great Likud PM Begin campaigned in 1977 against ceding Sinai and evacuating its settlements only to initiate a process to do precisely that mere months after entering office. Lying is also an option. After all, Netanyahu claims all the time that he strongly opposed the 2005 Gaza Disengagement despite the fact that he voted in favor of it in all 3 readings.

So let’s assume they’re sincere. Again, there are two options: either they’ll succumb to international pressure or they won’t. This pressure is strong and is constantly increasing in force. Last December US Secretary of State Kerry said he only vetoed a resolution calling for Israeli withdrawal in the Security Council because former president Peres and MK Livni asked him to. It wouldn’t be the first time a right-wing PM crumbled to pressure: Netanyahu himself campaigned strongly against Oslo in 1996 before giving away land in the Hebron Protocol and the Wye River Memorandum. Ariel Sharon, the father of the settlement movement, was pressured into the Gaza Disengagement by US President Bush.

But let’s assume that Netanyahu and Bennett will actually stand by their principles, what happens then? There’s no chance the Palestinians will suddenly forget about their desire for a homeland and why would they? As time goes by global popular opinion turns more and more in their favor, which leads to more countries recognizing Palestine and more domestic and economic pressure being levied against Israel. Once the West truly believes that a negotiated peace agreement for a two-state solution will never happen because of Israeli intransigence, the Palestinians have several options open to them.

First of all, the Palestinians could unilaterally declare Palestine in all the land beyond the Green Line. Accepting that is a far worse deal for Israel as it would lose the major settlement blocs (where over 95% of the settlers live on 4% of West Bank territory) that are accepted as Israel’s in any negotiated agreement. Israel would also lose security presence in the Jordan Valley, a somewhat demilitarized Palestine and international guarantees to its security.

On the other hand, the Palestinians could campaign for civil rights in Israel. Accepting this bi-national state would mean the end of the Zionist dream since there is no Jewish majority between the Jordan River and the sea. As such, Israel would have to give up its Jewish symbols and would cease to be a Jewish state.

Israel could, of course, suppress these moves by force. Unlike during the Al-Aqsa Intifada of 2000, which came right after Yasser Arafat rejected a peace offer by PM Ehud Barak, Israel would not be able to count on any international support or diplomatic leniency if it did so. If the world is certain that Israel is the roadblock for peace, military action would lead to unanimous condemnation, followed by boycotts and sanctions until it gives in. When it does so, it obviously has no leverage in negotiations whatsoever.

What you need to take away from all this is: there is no scenario where the status quo is kept indefinitely. Israeli leaders tend to take US financial and military aid, as well as its veto in Security Council resolutions for granted, but when Israel is far more of a liability to US interests than it is an asset, when Israeli governments embarrass and ignore American administrations, this support can be taken away at a moment’s notice. How well will we be able to defend ourselves when our funding is cut off and we’re truly an international pariah?

The European Union is Israel’s main import partner. European populations have grown sick and tired of the occupation. The only reason they are still trading with Israel is because they believe doing so is more likely to lead to a more peaceful Middle East – once it’s clear that it’s not, there’s no reason for that to continue. We need them a lot more than they need us.

This is also why the above is still relevant even if there truly is no partner for peace. I happen to believe that there very much is, but that’s just my extreme leftism talking I suppose. Even if I we assume that the Palestinians, all the Palestinians, don’t want peace, we still needs to be the ones “extending our hands in peace”, as the Declaration of Independence promises. Only if we keep offering and they keep refusing will the world keep supporting us. This is necessary for every aspect of our security and every aspect of our economy.

A Palestinian state will happen, whether we like it or not. If we negotiate we’ll just get a far better deal than if we don’t.

About the Author
Alon van Dam is a Dutch-Israeli political analyst and journalist featured in Haaretz, Metro, NRC and other leading newspapers. A seasoned political campaigner, Alon was Head of Online Strategy for Kadima during the 2009 national elections.
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