The answer to the question of how to resolve the conflicting claims over Palestine has been to partition Palestine into two states. This assumes, however, that the parties only have a dispute over land, but this has never been the case. The conflict has always had political, religious, historical, geographical and psychological dimensions. The international community’s unwillingness to accept this reality has led to the continued fantasy that a two-state solution is possible. An honest appraisal of the historical record indicates it was never possible for one principal reason, the Palestinians have never been prepared to share any part of the land they claim as their own. This irredentism is based in large measure on the view that Jews have no place in the Islamic world – except as second-class citizens (dhimmis) under Muslim rule. No UN resolution or State Department formula will change this reality and therefore it is time acknowledge the two-state idea as presently conceived is dead.
Before readers pigeonhole me as a right-wing extremist, let me lay my cards on the table. In 1988, I wrote in Commentary that Israel should unilaterally withdraw from the territories. My logic was that Israel could not possibly negotiate more secure borders than it could draw for itself. At the time, the main alternative was the Jordan option; however, this wasn’t actually an alternative since King Hussein had given up his claim to the West Bank. Moreover, I argued that Israel would be better off if a small Palestinian state was established in the West Bank surrounded by two large countries that both had vested interests in preventing the Palestinians from becoming a threat.
Even after the disengagement from Gaza I believed this. It was a minority view, but one held by some serious people like Michael Oren. It is true the evacuation from Gaza did not bring peace, but Israel has proved it can address the threat posed by Hamas. Moreover, Gaza was never going to be annexed to Israel so I still believe Israel is better off without having responsibility for nearly two million Palestinians or the need to keep soldiers in constant danger to protect fewer than 9,000 settlers.
The Gaza experience clearly shifted Israeli public opinion to the right. Today, there is little enthusiasm for territorial concessions to the Palestinians. Even those who believe Israel should withdraw from the West Bank do not believe it can be done so long as there is no evidence the Palestinians are interested in peace and a great deal of evidence ceding the area would lead to the establishment of Hamastan.
For some time, I believed the Palestinian people wanted peace but were denied the opportunity by their leaders. Decades of incitement and educational brainwashing regarding the evils of Jews and Israel have had an impact, however, and now poll after poll has found opposition to peace among Palestinians. The joint poll conducted in June by the Israel Democracy Institute and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, for example, provides a devastating dose of reality to left-wing Jews, Arabists and other peace processors.
Here are the percentages of West Bank Palestinians opposed to various proposals for a permanent settlement:
- Mutual recognition of Palestine and Israel as the homelands of their respective peoples. The agreement will mark the end of conflict, Israel will fight terror against Palestinians, and no further claims will be made by either side – 58%.
- Demilitarized independent Palestinian state will be established in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – 82%.
- A multinational force will be established and deployed in the Palestinian state to ensure the security and safety of both sides — oppose 63%.
- The Palestinian state will have sovereignty over its air space, its land, and its water resources, but Israel will maintain two early warning stations in the West Bank for 15 years – 71%.
- The Palestinian state will be established in the entirety of West Bank and the Gaza Strip, except for several blocs of settlement which will be annexed to Israel in a territorial exchange. Israel will evacuate all other settlements – 69%.
- The territories Palestinians will receive in exchange will be similar to the size of the settlement blocs that will be annexed to Israel – 71%.
- East Jerusalem will be the capital of the Palestinian state and West Jerusalem the capital of the Israel. – 70%.
- In the Old City of Jerusalem, the Muslim and Christian quarters and al Haram al Sharif will come under Palestinian sovereignty and the Jewish quarter and the Wailing Wall will come under Israeli sovereignty – 73%.
- Palestinian refugees will have the right of return to their homeland whereby the Palestinian state will settle all refugees wishing to live in it. Israel will allow the return of about 100,000 Palestinians as part of a family unification program. All other refugees will be compensated – 54%.
Large majorities opposed a two-state solution even if, in addition to everything proposed in the prior questions, Israel also agreed to accept the Arab peace initiative; acknowledged its “responsibility” for the creation of the refugee problem; and if free movement throughout Jerusalem, West and East, was ensured.
Put simply, the majority of Palestinians have no interest in peace with Israel under any circumstances. This view is reinforced daily by their leaders’ pronouncements, the incessant terror and incitement, and an education system that teaches intolerance, denies the Jewish connection to the land of Israel, and extols the virtue of martyrdom.
Just to give one example of the disconnect between fantasy and reality, the same week John Kerry was extolling the virtues of the two-state solution and skewering Israel for allegedly creating obstacles to peace by settlement construction, the ruling Fatah party celebrated the 20 most outstanding terrorist operations of all time. As Andrew Friedman wrote in The Jerusalem Report, “to most Israelis, a single glorification of a murder speaks louder than a thousand statements about peace.” Why Kerry or anyone else would expect Israelis to make concessions to people who commemorate the murder of Jews is a psychiatric rather than a political question.
It is truly bewildering how peace advocates can ignore the evidence of intransigence by Palestinians in both words and deeds. Kerry’s vituperative attack on Israel exemplified a reason for America’s consistent failure to facilitate a final peace agreement. The nefarious influence of the Arabists has led Kerry and others to pressure Israel to capitulate without exerting any pressure whatsoever on the Palestinians, and to maintain the fiction that peace can be achieved if Israel would only accede to Palestinian demands.
Given this reality, what should Israel do? Here are the principal options:
- Do nothing. Maintain the status quo.
- Continue to pursue negotiations for a two-state solution.
- Stop or suspend settlement construction.
- Withdraw from some or all of the West Bank.
- Agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state.
- Resurrect the Jordanian option.
- Militarily defeat the Palestinians.
- Annex some or all of the territories.
Let’s briefly look at each option in turn.
The Status Quo
An assumption often stated as fact is that Israel cannot maintain the status quo. Why not? Israel has administered the territories now for nearly 50 years and nothing has significantly changed during that time to indicate it could not continue to do so for another 50. Yes, the recent UNSC resolution is an example of the frustration of the international community over the persistence of a problem they see primarily as an irritant to their relations with the Arab states. Still, even this latest attempt to coerce Israel has no teeth and will not alter Israeli policy. Moreover, even as countries cast votes for bankrupt and ineffectual political statements, they continue to engage Israel as a member in good standing of the international community.
One problem is that the Palestinians will continue their delegitimization campaign aimed at turning Israel into a pariah and convincing the international community to dismantle the Jewish state. Another concern with the status quo is Palestinian terrorism fueled by hopelessness, incitement and radical Islam. I do not want to make light of this danger, but it is not an existential one and Israelis have proved capable of living with it for the last 50 years and, if necessary, can do so for another 50. Moreover, the idea that terrorism will cease if Israel were to yield to Palestinian demands or reach a peace agreement is wishful thinking; radical Muslims will not rest until the descendants of apes and pigs are driven from holy Islamic soil.
Some argue that “occupation” corrodes Israeli values and exacts a psychological toll on soldiers; however, polls indicate Israelis venerate the IDF, and remain healthy, happy and proud of their country — even after 50 years of administering the territories. This does not mean administering the territories is good for the Israeli soul and continuing to do so indefinitely is not supported by the left or the right.
The bigger problem with the status quo is that it is not static. The Palestinians have adopted the strategy of seeking an imposed solution while Israel continues to engage in “creeping annexation.” In many ways this is the worst of all possible worlds for Israel because the conflict does not end, the disposition of the territories remains in doubt and Israel bears the brunt of international opprobrium.
Continue to Pursue Negotiations for a Two-State Solution
For the last eight years, the Palestinians have refused to negotiate altogether and their positions have not changed in 80 years. Since 1937, the Jews have agreed to divide the land and share sovereignty and the Arabs have rejected the idea. Today’s Palestinians are no more interested in compromise than their predecessors. As the poll data above indicates, the only acceptable solution is to have one state called Palestine that encompasses the West Bank, Gaza and what is currently known as Israel. A wholesale change in attitudes and leadership will have to occur to have any prospect of negotiating a peace agreement. Even then, it is difficult to imagine a reversal of the Islamization of the conflict, and there can be no compromise with jihadists.
Stop Settlement Construction
Despite the ease with which it is possible to prove that settlements are not the obstacle to peace (e.g., did the Arabs agree to peace during the 19 years Jordan occupied the West Bank and Egypt occupied Gaza and not a single Jewish settlement existed?), President Obama never figured this out, but he is not alone. The obsession with settlements will not go away.
Even when Israel agreed to Obama’s demand for a 10-month settlement freeze and the Palestinians responded by refusing to negotiate, he did not change his view. I’m not sure whether to call that naiveté or just stupidity. Still, his failure to learn anything in eight years was apparent in his last minute UN tantrum. If their statements are to be believed, the incoming Trump officials seem to understand reality and are prepared to act accordingly by rejecting the specious notion that settlements, rather than Palestinian implacability, is the obstacle to peace.
Withdraw from Some or All of the Disputed Territories
Been there, done that. Israel has evacuated approximately 94% of the territory it captured in 1967, which, it could be argued, has already satisfied UN Security Council Resolution 242’s expectation that Israel withdraw from territory. Most people, including all Arab leaders, ignore that 242 also required that the Arab states guarantee the peace and security of Israel in exchange. Israel is still waiting. Israel withdrew from roughly 40% of the West Bank and 100% of Gaza and this did not bring peace; it brought more terror and should have forever buried the myth that if Israel cedes land it will receive peace in return. Like other inconvenient facts, however, the left ignores this one.
Agree to the Establishment of a Palestinian State in Most of the West Bank
Israel already made this offer and the Palestinians turned it down. In light of recent events, however, the threat posed by a Palestinian state has grown. More than 20 years ago, Yitzhak Rabin recognized the danger and, in his final speech to the Knesset before his assassination, he reaffirmed his opposition to the establishment of such a state. Left-wing Israelis and Americans who lionize Rabin ignore his position. Rabin deserves to be praised because he was prepared to make compromises for peace but, as a military man, he understood the risks and rejected the idea of allowing a potential terrorist base to be established on Israel’s border.
Furthermore, as we have seen from the Arab spring, leadership in the Arab world is tenuous given the lack of democracy. If a Palestinian Zionist emerges tomorrow who will sign an agreement on Israel’s terms, it will still be risky for Israel to make a deal because 5, 10, 20 years down the road a radical Islamist or other hostile leader may emerge. Advocates of the two-state solution on the Israeli side talk about a demilitarized Palestinian state, but this is not acceptable to the Palestinians because it would be a significant limitation on their sovereignty. This is another reason why the “solution” is flawed.
Resurrect the Jordanian Option
John Bolton is among the advocates of this idea. He also has proposed that Egypt take over Gaza. Bolton is one of the more clear-eyed analysts of the region, but he is off base in this case. First, Jordan has no more interest under the present king in taking responsibility for the West Bank than his father did. Second, the majority of the population in Jordan is already Palestinian and the demographic imbalance would be worsened by the addition of more than two million Palestinians who have no loyalty to the Hashemites and would like to see Jordan become a Palestinian state. This would destabilize a country now at peace with Israel and threaten Jordan’s pro-Western orientation. As I argued in 1988, turning Jordan into Palestine would create a larger, more dangerous state on Israel’s border than a rump state of Palestine in the territories.
As for the idea of Egypt taking over Gaza, that is not going to happen. The last thing Egypt wants is to be responsible for nearly two million Palestinians when it cannot take care of its current population. Hamas is also allied with the Muslim Brotherhood and would strengthen the Islamist threat to the government, which would not be in Israel’s interest. The situation in Gaza is actually much like the one I advocated for the West Bank in 1988; that is, a small, weak entity that is surrounded by powerful neighbors with interests in ensuring it does not become a threat.
“Defeat” the Palestinians
This is the idea of another of the most astute observers of the region, Daniel Pipes. Once again, this is a rare case where I disagree with his assessment. He makes a good point when he argues that peace can only be made with enemies that have been defeated, but his prescription for victory will not succeed because it is not sufficiently ruthless. Pipes calls for “a policy of commensurate and graduated response.” Minor transgressions, he says, merit moderate reactions while more serious actions should trigger more severe consequences.
Though his examples are different, Israel already has a similar policy to what Pipes advocates. His suggestions, such as taking money from the PA to repair damage caused by “martyrs,” burying terrorists anonymously or seizing weapons from PA security forces used against Israelis are not going to coerce the Palestinians to accept Jews, Zionism, and Israel.
No, to defeat the Palestinians Israel would have to apply the Powell Doctrine, which says that “every resource and tool should be used to achieve decisive force against the enemy…and ending the conflict quickly by forcing the weaker force to capitulate.”
Israel would have to be prepared to kill every terrorist with little regard for collateral damage; the Air Force would have to bomb refugee camps and other targets that would result in thousands of casualties rather than hundreds. The United States did not flinch from killing tens of thousands of Iraqis to defeat Saddam Hussein and is unapologetic when bystanders are killed in drone strikes (never mind examples such as the Allied bombing of Dresden or the US use of the atomic bomb). Israel would have to be equally callous to “defeat” the Palestinians.
Israel has been unwilling to follow Powell’s guidance because the public would see the action as disproportionate and immoral, the international community would condemn Israel and the United States would force Israel to cease military operations before total victory out of moral indignation and fear of Arab/Muslim reaction. Israel has learned the hard way in battles with the Palestinians and Hezbollah that it does not have the same freedom as a superpower to use decisive force and therefore cannot militarily defeat the Palestinians.
Israel could have annexed the West Bank at any time in the last 50 years but has not done so. “Right-wing” prime ministers who supposedly believed in “Greater Israel,” such as Begin, Shamir and Sharon never did it. Netanyahu is vilified and accused of being an extremist; yet he is the one who agreed to withdraw from parts of the West Bank in the 1990s and has gone farther than Rabin ever did in stating a willingness to accept a Palestinian state.
The reason none of these men annexed the West Bank is well known: Israel cannot remain a democratic, Jewish state if it assimilates 2.7 million Palestinians (2013 CIA estimate). Some argue the demographic argument is bogus, that the Palestinian population is much smaller, their birthrate has declined and many have or will emigrate. Meanwhile, the Jewish birthrate has increased, Aliyah will accelerate as global anti-Semitism worsens and the Palestinians will not become a majority in Greater Israel. It’s a straw man, however, as the Palestinians need only become a sizeable minority to change Israel’s character. Today, the third largest party in the Knesset is the Arab Joint List. Imagine what would happen if that number doubled or tripled – Israeli Arabs could hold the most seats.
For these reasons, I do not believe Israel should annex the entire West Bank, but it should begin a gradual, strategic absorption of parts of Judea and Samaria. The idea is not as radical as it might sound. In fact, the respected Institute for National Security Studies in Israel recently released a similar plan.
The Way Forward
While the international community insists the settlements are an obstacle to peace, they actually can serve as a catalyst for peace. I believe this is the reason the Palestinians entered the Oslo talks. “The Palestinians now realize,” Bethlehem Mayor Elias Freij said in 1991, “that time is now on the side of Israel, which can build settlements and create facts, and that the only way out of this dilemma is face-to-face negotiations.”
The Palestinians continued to talk until President Obama took office and gave them the false impression that he would force Israel to stop building settlements without their having to make any concessions in return. When Mahmoud Abbas concluded that Obama was too weak to coerce Israel, evident to him by the president’s inability to convince Netanyahu to freeze settlement construction in Jerusalem, he decided to seek international support to impose Palestinian terms on Israel. Obama’s refusal to veto the latest Security Council Resolution calling settlements illegal and labeling Judaism’s holiest places in Jerusalem “occupied territory” kept Abbas’s strategy in play, but the election of Donald Trump should derail this approach for at least the next four years.
This creates an opening for Israel to use annexation as a lever to pressure the Palestinians to negotiate before the area for a potential state shrinks further. It’s unlikely to succeed because, as I argued at the outset, the Palestinians will not accept any compromise that involves coexisting with a Jewish state. The current leadership will remain obstinate and continue to seek international help in destroying Israel. Still, the opportunity for independence will be available should they undergo a radical transformation.
President Trump can make an important contribution to disabusing the Palestinians of the idea that Israel can be forced to capitulate to their demands by fulfilling the promise to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the U.S. embassy. This would send a clear message that the Palestinians have no legitimate claim to the city and will never have a capital in Eastern Jerusalem.
There is still a compromise that would allow the Palestinians to claim “Jerusalem” as their capital, one that Abbas acceded to in negotiations with Yossi Beilin in 1995. Abbas agreed to establish the Palestinian capital in Abu Dis, a stone’s throw from Jerusalem and, in fact, the Palestinians constructed a building for a future parliament there. This is not ideal for either side since it places the Palestinian capital so close to Israel that terrorists could pose a threat to Israel’s capital, and the compromise doesn’t fulfill the Palestinian dream of controlling East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. Nevertheless, the Palestinians should be told this is their best option. To further hammer home the point that Jerusalem will not be divided, Israel should complete the long-delayed E1 project to connect Ma’ale Adumim with the capital.
Israel should also immediately annex the so-called “consensus” settlement blocs of Ariel, Ma’ale Adumim, Gush Etzion, Modiin Elite and Givat Zeev, which constitute approximately 4% of the West Bank and are home to two-thirds of the settlers. Given their size, no Israeli government would ever agree to dismantle these communities. During this transition period no new settlements should be constructed and new building should be restricted to natural growth.
The Palestinians will scream, but in prior negotiations they acknowledged these blocs would ultimately be incorporated into Israel so this would not prejudge the outcome of any future talks. Such a move is also consistent with the 2004 Bush letter to Sharon recognizing that facts on the ground needed to be taken into account in any discussion of territorial concessions. The aim of this step would be to force the world to accept the reality that Israel will never relinquish these areas and to increase pressure on the Palestinians to negotiate.
If the Palestinians refuse to talk or recognize the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in their homeland, Israel should formally annex the Jordan Valley. This area, 75 miles long and 9 miles wide, extends from the northern Dead Sea in the south to the Green Line south of Beit Shean in the north, and is viewed across the political spectrum as essential to Israeli security. Approximately 60,000 Palestinians live in the area — most in greater Jericho – and they could be offered citizenship without jeopardizing Israel’s Jewish, democratic character.
Another pause should follow to give the Palestinians yet another chance to open negotiations. If they remain obdurate, Israel’s leaders should consider annexing additional areas in Area C where they exercise full control under the Oslo Accords.
Yes, this is creeping annexation, but it can be stopped at any time by a negotiated agreement. The world may blame Israel for the growth of settlements, but the real culprits are Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas. If Arafat, for example, had accepted Begin’s autonomy offer in 1979, a state would inevitably have evolved and the number of Jews in the West Bank would have been frozen at 10,000. Similarly, construction would have ceased if the Palestinians had agreed to subsequent Israeli peace offers. Settlements have grown because of Palestinian rejectionism — and the situation will only get worse for them.
What will be left for a Palestinian state?
It depends on negotiations. Israel could reverse or modify some of the steps outlined here if it receives the security guarantees it needs. If talks never take place or result in an agreement, the Palestinian Authority, which currently controls roughly 40% of the West Bank, and is home to at least 98% of the Palestinian population, can declare independence. It will not be fully independent, however, because Israel (and Jordan) will continue to take whatever steps are required to ensure its security, including preventing the importation of sophisticated weapons and conducting cross border counterterror operations as needed. Similarly, Gaza could declare independence with similar restrictions imposed by both Egypt and Israel.
Ironically, the Palestinians could have two states instead of the one foreseen by proponents of the two-state solution. In the unlikely event of Palestinian reconciliation, a corridor could be created between Gaza and the West Bank as envisioned in the Clinton parameters.
Meanwhile, Israel should also take measures to improve the lives of Palestinians. A certain number of Palestinians, 100,000 in previous negotiations, could be allowed to immigrate and become Israeli citizens. More entry permits to work in Israel should be issued and other incentives proposed by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, such as building a seaport for Gaza, could be offered as carrots for Palestinian cooperation.
Unless Palestinians radically change their attitudes they will reject any proposal that requires coexisting with Israel. This will leave them with a shrunken Palestinian state with limited power and the possibility for a larger state permanently closed off. This will not satisfy the Palestinians or the international community, but it will become a fait accompli. It may be difficult to accomplish in the next four years, but Israel’s best chance of achieving this “solution” is to take advantage of having a friend in the White House.
Dr. Mitchell Bard is the author/editor of 24 books including the 2017 edition of Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict; The Arab Lobby, and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.