Mac Deford: Palestinians and the Occupation; Everyone's Backburner Problem
Thursday, February 23, 2017 10:58 AM
Visiting Washington in the first weeks of Donald Trump’s reign, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was not going to be denied what he considered his proper place in the line of foreign leaders paying their obeisance to our erratic new president, he of the yellow hair and small vocabulary.
Even someone like Trump, who knows virtually nothing about foreign policy, will occasionally hit the right note on an issue — a variation perhaps of the stopped-clock phenomenon. Thus it was that at one point during the Trump-Netanyahu press conference, Trump found himself, while referring to the two-state answer to the half-century-long Israeli occupation of the West Bank, casually throwing in something about a one-state solution. “I’m looking at two states and one, and I like the one both parties like. I can live with either one.” Neither side has of course opted for the one-state approach.
Foreign policy analysts were quick to mock the poor guy for his obvious lack of knowledge: “One state — an impossibility. Hasn’t Trump read any of his briefing papers?”
I’m another one who hasn’t read any recent briefing papers, but if all they talk about is the two-state solution, they are as practical as using electric fans to combat global warming.
For much of the last half of the half century of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, negotiations aimed at the creation of a separate Palestinian state were ongoing. With the US taking the leadership role, there were indeed brief moments when it seemed as if a deal might be in the making. But in recent years, even those fleeting moments of optimism have disappeared. John Kerry devoted a serious percentage of his early days as Secretary of State trying to get things moving again — and then gave up.
Today’s problem is not that peace efforts have repeatedly failed over the last quarter century; it’s that the situation on the ground has evolved in such a way as to make what was difficult to achieve in the 1990s and 2000s impossible to achieve now.
There is no possibility of a two-state solution under current — or any foreseeable future — circumstances.
Israel’s coalition government is considerably more right wing and pro-settler than any of its past governments. Netanyahu may or may not want a two-state solution, but it is clear he’s more interested in staying in power than in compromising with the Palestinians. The settler problem, politically, is essentially insurmountable for any Israeli leader.
There are now close to 600,000 Israelis occupying Palestinian lands in the West Bank. Those who still pretend a two-state solution is possible point out that approximately two-thirds of those settlers are near the pre-’67 border of the West Bank and could stay put, the land they are occupying being granted to Israel as part of a swap that would award a future Palestinian state an equal amount of Israeli land in the Negev desert.
That of course has long been the key element of any perceived deal, but when Israeli Prime Minister Rabin was proposing it more than 20 years ago, the number of settlers who were not within the proposed extended borders of Israel was well under half of today’s 200,000.
In his comments last week in Washington regarding any future deal with the Palestinians, Netanyahu specified that, once a separate Palestinian entity had been created, the Israeli army would patrol the Palestinian border along the Jordan River while providing internal security for the Palestinian state, removing indefinitely Palestinian sovereignty over its own territory. One could reasonably argue that it was only an opening negotiating tactic by Netanyahu, one aimed at appeasing the right-wing members of his coalition. But for the Palestinian leadership, today or in the future, it is a non-starter.
Of course, regardless of the negotiating tactics of either side, the real elephant in the room are those 200,000 or so Israeli settlers spread out across the West Bank who would have to be physically relocated to Israel. It took the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), guns often drawn, to move about 8,000 Israelis out of the Gaza Strip when that deal was signed in 2005. And many of today’s West Bank settlers are religious fanatics who believe they are living in the land of Judea and Samaria given by God to the Jewish people nearly 3,000 years ago.
It is impossible to conceive of any Israeli government making a deal that would require it to remove, forcibly if necessary, some 200,000 of its own citizens, the combined populations of Portland, Bangor and Augusta — and Camden and Rockland as well.
So Trump’s casual reference to a one-state solution is, by chance not design, not so totally off the wall — or at least no more off the wall than creating two separate states.
Today, most Palestinians are against the concept of a single Palestinian-Jewish state, because they know that any Israeli government taking over the West Bank would relegate its Arab citizens to the second-class stature of their Arab cousins living inside Israel today.
Nor is a bi-national state, long-term, perceived to be in Israel’s interest: as the Palestinian birthrate outpaces that of Jewish Israelis, a single state would, in say 20 or 30 years, have a Palestinian majority.
So a one-state solution satisfies neither side. And a two-state one is impossible. But, at some point down the road, as the Israeli occupation lurches into its 7th and then 8th decade, Israel will no longer be seen by the US — as it barely is these days by most European states — as a democracy. Support, financial and political, will gradually dry up.
With the Arab World in disarray, there is little pressure today on Israel to resolve its West Bank occupation. Ironically, because the Arab World is in such turmoil, it could be an ideal time for the key Sunni Arab states — Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan — to agree to the outlines of a two-state solution, even if full-fledged sovereignty for the Palestinian entity is postponed for a generation. Of course, even that solution would depend on getting those 200,000 Israelis out of the future Palestinian state.
Just as South Africa’s apartheid regime eventually had to come to terms with reality, so too will Israel, eventually, have to resolve its West Bank dilemma.
But when and how? Who knows.