After the right-wing bloc’s surprisingly convincing victory in the recent Israeli election, much of the American Jewish community is reverberating with warnings, forebodings, and worries.
Nine major Jewish-American organizations sent an unprecedented open letter to President Trump urging him to restrain Prime Minister Netanyahu from acting on his campaign pledge to annex settlements in the West Bank. Four Democratic members of the House of Representatives—Eliot Engel, Nita Lowey, Ted Deutch, and Brad Schneider—joined in a statement warning against the annexation of any West Bank territory. And the left-leaning J Street issued a press release with the blaring heading: “US Officials and Jewish Leaders Must Unequivocally Denounce Netanyahu’s Promise To Annex The West Bank.” (In reality, Netanyahu made reference to extending Israeli sovereignty only to certain settlements in the West Bank and not to all of it.)
Why are so many Jewish-Americans exercised and upset by the Israeli election results? Put in its broadest terms, the question amounts to: who knows what is best for Israel, Israelis or Americans?
Common sense tells us that Israelis are in a better position to judge what is best for Israel. After all, who has a clearer understanding of the dangers of the neighborhood in which Israel resides, Israelis (who live every day in that very neighborhood), or Jewish-Americans (who live thousands of miles away)? But in America that commonsense conclusion is very controversial.
Many Americans who sincerely wish for Israel’s continued success fervently believe that Israel’s future will be dim if it does not reach a “two-state solution” with the Palestinians, and that such a solution will be much more difficult or even impossible if Israel acts on Netanyahu’s campaign pledge to annex some settlements in the West Bank. But the election results indicate that a substantial majority of Israeli voters do not view Netanyahu’s campaign rhetoric as troublesome. Are Israeli voters less intelligent or perceptive than their Jewish-American brothers and sisters, or do they have good reason to think that Israeli sovereignty over some West Bank settlements would not be such a consequential development?
My own opinion is that Israeli voters probably know what they are doing. Since the passage of U.N. Security Council Res. 242 after the 1967 war, the ever-repeated mantra has been “land for peace,” which soon morphed into the formulaic “two-state solution.” But even the most enthusiastic proponents of the two-state solution have conceded that it would include mutually-agreed land swaps. Thus, major Israeli settlements, particularly those close to Jerusalem, would remain part of Israel, with the Palestinians being compensated by comparable territory in Israel.
If Israel were to unilaterally annex certain settlements, the “mutually-agreed” part of the hypothetical two-state solution would have been, at least temporarily (it is possible that the Palestinians would agree retroactively to the prior settlement annexation), circumvented. But, why is it of such concern that the two-state solution be, at every step, mutually agreed?
Despite the yearnings of the so-called international community, the two-state solution can be achieved, if at all, only in the far distant future. The current Palestinian leadership is entirely incapable of delivering what would be its necessary contribution to the two-state solution, because there is in fact no current Palestinian leadership. The Palestinian “leaders” might as well be cardboard figures: from afar they look like leaders, but, up close, their insubstantiality is obvious.
Mahmoud Abbas, who is in the fourteenth year of his four-year term as president of the Palestinian National Authority, is supposed to be the leader of the Palestinians. But it is not only his term of office that expired long ago. At least since 2007, he has not been the leader of the Palestinians, because a very significant segment of Palestinians choose not to follow him. They follow the Islamist terrorist group, Hamas.
Hamas violently seized control of Gaza, which is supposed to be a part of the future Palestinian state, in 2007—expelling the forces loyal to Abbas. Since that bloody putsch, Abbas has never even set foot in Gaza. Under Hamas’ rule, Gaza has become a terrorist haven, where rockets and incendiary devices are launched against Israel, attack tunnels are dug under the border with Israel, and weekly riots are orchestrated at the border.
True peace between Israel and the Palestinians requires that the terrorist activities of Hamas cease forever. But Abbas is completely impotent with regard to Hamas; he has no power to halt or even reign in terrorism from Gaza. The members of Hamas and the other Gaza terrorist groups sincerely believe that Islam obligates them to erase every remnant of Jewish sovereignty in the Middle East, and they see Abbas as a traitor to their righteous cause. A “peace treaty” signed by Abbas would not be worth the paper it is written on, because he has no influence whatsoever on the Islamist terrorist groups.
In summary, the problem is not that, with Abbas, the Palestinians have a leader who is not sincerely committed to peace with Israel. (Who knows, or cares, what his sincere subjective desires are?) The problem is that, with Abbas, the Palestinians have no leader at all.