Searching for an Israeli-Palestinian endgame
Israel has a new government. On the domestic front, there is much reason for optimism. On the Israeli-Palestinian front, however, the chances of movement of any kind are slim indeed. The coalition agreements signed with all parties—other than the small Hatnuah party of Tzippi Livni—do not even mention Israeli-Palestinian issues except in passing. President Obama is arriving this week, and the Americans will push both Israelis and Palestinians to take steps that will not only lead to renewed negotiations but to substantive progress in those talks. But, again with the exception of Livni, the Israelis with major responsibility in this area—Netanyahu, Yaalon, Lieberman, Uri Ariel, Bennett—are politicians of the right who have shown little enthusiasm for aggressive steps by Israel to push the process forward.
As an American Jew long involved in Zionist affairs, I find myself asking at moments such as this: What exactly is the vision of Israel’s rightwing political leaders? Voices on the left and in the center want a two-state solution; details aside, they want some version of the Barak/Olmert proposals of 2000 and 2008. But what do leaders on the right want? Thoughtful politicians, after all, do not only think about tomorrow; they think about 10 years from now and about their children’s future. That being so, given the stalemate on the diplomatic front, how does the right think all of this will end?
In reviewing the statements and writings of the “no action needed now” camp, it seems to me that there are 4 basic schools of thought.
The first school of thought asserts that things can stay as they are indefinitely. Articulated by settler leader Dani Dayan in a famous article in the New York Times last year, this school finds the status quo to be acceptable. Since it sees a two-state solution as undesirable and finds no feasible alternative on the horizon, it argues for more of the same—meaning more Jewish settlement, together with whatever steps might be taken to improve Palestinian life under Israeli control.
The second school of thought, represented by Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party, calls for the formal rejection of a two-state solution and the annexation of 60% of Judea and Samaria. For Bennett, ambiguity is not an option; Israel should explicitly say that there will be no Palestinian state. It should also incorporate into Israel those areas of the West Bank where most settlers are to be found, giving full citizenship to the approximately 50,000 Palestinians residing there. The remaining 2.3 million Palestinians will be granted local autonomy, with Israel remaining responsible for security.
The third school of thought advocates a version of the “Jordanian option.” It cannot be attributed to a specific public figure because few leaders want to be publicly associated with it, but it is widely if quietly discussed in settler circles. The premise is that during a future military conflict—most likely the next intifada—Palestinians will flee Israel and take up residence in Jordan. Champions of this view point out that they are not calling for expulsion; rather, they are simply saying that an explosion is sure to come, and when it does, the resulting violence will lead to West Bank Palestinians resettling in the Palestinian state that already exists—Jordan. Such an outcome, they say, will not be coerced, but it will be a just one.
The fourth school of thought supports the establishment of a Palestinian state when conditions for it are right while also supporting continued settlement throughout Judea and Samaria. This is the view of Prime Minister Netanyahu, and it has an apparent contradiction at its heart: Increased settlement arguably makes a Palestinian state impossible; after all, the settlement population outside of the major settlement blocks has tripled to 120,000 in less than 2 decades. Still, while many say that Israel can never evacuate that number of people, Netanyahu remains committed both to two states and to settlement building. His American supporters tend to take this view as well; Elliott Abrams, for example, brushes aside these contradictions without explaining how exactly they are to be overcome. “The two-state solution to the conflict,” he says, “is not about to become impossible because there is no better idea.”
I do not find a great deal of comfort in this summary. Standing pat is dangerous, particularly if it is not done in the name of an endgame that is clear and compelling. And that endgame is hard to see in these approaches. To be sure, Israel needs to work out its own political program; but if Zionist principles are to be upheld and Western support assured, the result must be a State of Israel that is both Jewish and democratic—and none of the scenarios above offers an assurance, or even a likelihood, of such an outcome.
Israel’s new government could, of course, surprise us with another, more promising scenario. Let us hope that it will.