I usually don’t publicly predict very pessimistic scenarios.
When my assessments on developing realities are severely negative I usually send them to senior officials in private, and am then often invited to meetings to discuss them in private. The current situation is so bad, not just the violence that we are witnessing, because we have seen far worse than this, but rather what is boiling beneath the surface, that alarm bells need to ring from every corner and every hilltop.
Over the past several weeks Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly stated that he does not want to see the development of a binational state in Israel.
He says that he remains committed to the “two states for two peoples” solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Members of his government, including Education Minister Naftali Bennett, have stated that Netanyahu’s position on the two-state solution is his own opinion and not the policy of the government. No Israeli government until today has ever formally adopted the two-state formula.
Is it a wonder that the Palestinians, the Arab world and most of the international community no longer believe that Israel is serious about genuinely being on the path to peace? The inability of Netanyahu to make the strategic decision for Israel on the Palestinian issue that would prevent the inevitable deterioration into a binational state is today the gravest threat to Israel’s existence as the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people. This is apparently why Netanyahu has stated that Israel will have to continue to live by the sword for many years to come. This is not fate, it is the result of the inability of Netanyahu to make the most important strategic decision Israel needs to make. Living by the sword will not protect Israel’s identity any more than it will protect human lives.
The current round of violence that we are experiencing centers around the Temple Mount/al Aksa but it is not really a religious issue. What we are facing is the latest struggle over issues of sovereignty and control between the Palestinian national movement and the State of Israel.
There is no more explosive physical location in this struggle than the al-Aksa compound. Because of its transcendent religious importance to all Muslims and its centrality to Palestinian identity, it is easy for Palestinians to enlist it in their struggle in a way that inspires individuals to engage in murderous attacks that almost always guarantee their own death. But this is only the beginning.
The Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, has been able to significantly limit attacks in areas which are under its direct control, but is rapidly losing its ability to enforce Abbas’s determination not to allow another militarized intifada to emerge. Abbas is losing power even within his own security forces, and when that happens the days of the PA’s ability to govern are numbered.
Hamas, while keeping to the cease-fire understandings in Gaza, mainly because of its own weakness and lack of financial ability to govern, is very active in encouraging “armed resistance” in the West Bank where it enjoys much greater popularity than in Gaza. Paradoxically Hamas has the infrastructure, institutions, military apparatus and personnel to govern in Gaza without public support, while in the West Bank it lacks the infrastructure, institutions, military apparatus and personnel to govern – but it has the popularity.
Hamas’s popularity in the West Bank is of course at the expense of the waning popularity of Abbas and the PA.
The continued lack of ability of the PA to deliver political achievements together with its perceived continued serving of Israel’s interests in preserving the political status quo of the nearly 50-year occupation is not only leading to the demise of the PA, it is also leading to the final demise of the two-state solution. The demise of the twostate solution is catalyzed by the continued growth of settlements and Israel’s deepening control over Palestinians lives, but the real determining factor is the loss of hearts and minds in Palestine (and in Israel) for that solution.
There is no other solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because no other solution provides each national movement with the territorial expression of its identity which they have been fighting, dying and killing for.
The new discourse on both sides of the conflict regarding a “one-state solution” is based on myths and false pretenses – because supporters of this solution on both sides neither want a single state with a mixed identity nor really envision a state that will reflect the identity of the other side in any way.
Jewish supporters of the so-called one-state solution, such as President Reuven Rivlin, are really talking about a Jewish state with a large Palestinian minority – but what if the Palestinians are not a minority? The Palestinian supporters of the so-called one state solution are really envisioning a Palestinian state with a large Jewish minority, but the state’s identity will most definitely be Palestinian. The binational reality that is taking firm hold around us today is a reflection of the continued unresolved struggle between the two national movements that refuse to find the accord between them to end one side’s control and domination over the other.
If it was Israel that was controlled and dominated, the use of violence and force would be probably more significant than that used by the Palestinians today. There isn’t a force in existence in the world that would prevent the Jewish people today from fully applying their territorial expression of their identity. Why would anyone expect the Palestinians to be different? Israel’s response to the current round of violence, including increased house demolitions, massive arrests in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and threats of removing Jerusalem residency rights from some 70,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem will backfire and will not lead to greater security.
After nearly 50 years of occupation the formula should be known well enough to the decision makers – the harder Israel hits the Palestinians, the more powerful become the extremists who are willing and committed to using even more violence against Israel than previously. The most assured means to guarantee more extreme leadership in the West Bank is to use more force against the Palestinian people. The fastest way to bring about the end of the twostate solution is to do what Israel continues to do – nothing in terms of making the courageous political decisions that must be made.
The nearly 50-year binational reality will soon become permanent and the round of violence of the past few weeks is only the first course being served up in what will become a very long and bloody fulfillment of Netanyahu’s own prediction that we will live by the sword for years to come.
It is not too late to turn it all around, even though it seems very unlikely to happen. Turning around Israel’s demise into a binational state would require Prime Minister Netanyahu to make the strategic determination that he is willing to serious reach an agreement with the PLO based on the model of a Palestinian state next to Israel based on the June 1967 lines with agreed territorial swaps, two capitals in Jerusalem, including Palestinian control over the al-Aksa compound and an agreed formula for the refugee issue (according to the Arab Peace Initiative).
This, my dear readers, is probably the only way to reset the clock on the two-state solution and the possibility of not living by the sword forever.
The author is co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and in English as The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas by The Toby Press.