The Middle East

In your own language

Eduardo del Buey
Photo: Reuters
La Jornada Maya

Tuesday October 15, 2019

On March 25, 2019, Israeli journalist Dina Kraft reported in the Ha'aretz newspaper that "... only a third (34 percent) of Israelis said they still back the two-state solution".

The implications for both Israelis and Palestinians are more serious than ever, and the chances for any meaningful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian dilemma are as far away as ever.

This in a year in which Israel has had two general elections with no discernable outcome, and with a possibility of a third election if a workable coalition cannot be formed – something that seems remote at time of writing.

Indeed, both the currently ruling Likud and the opposition Blue and White Party appear to oppose a two-state solution. Both have almost equal support in the Knesset, but neither has a workable majority. But, given their respective positions on Palestine, they speak to a majority of Israelis who oppose a two-state solution.

And the Palestinians continue to have a fractured leadership incapable of forging the kinds of consensus and vision required to address this shift in Israeli thinking. So, let’s analyze the positions of both sides, and see if there is any way out of the current conundrum.

To begin with, I would like to pose a number of questions: what kind of Israel do Israelis want, is Israel moving away from democratic liberalism, is opposition to the current or a future Israeli government tantamount to antisemitism, and, is a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict still possible?

With respect to question one, I believe that Israeli’s can consider three options.

The first is a two-state solution, one in which Palestinians and Jews are the majority in each of their respective states, with no danger of demographic changes creating a different reality.

The second option is a one-state solution in which Palestinians and Jews have equal rights. This would lead to a massive tectonic change in the ethnic and religious composition of Israel as demographic developments create an Arab majority and Israel ceases to be a Jewish state. This is anathema to Jewish Israelis and goes against the fundamental reason for which Israel was created – a Jewish homeland in which Jews from anywhere could feel at home in their own culture, religion, and ethnicity.

The third option is a single Jewish state in which Palestinian Arabs have no or limited rights, thus keeping the Jewish majority in and Jewish character of Israel. The downside would be the creation of a state in which different ethnic and religious groups would have different political, social, and legal rights, and where political and social inequality would be the order of the day. Global opprobrium would likely be Israel´s fate, and ongoing domestic violence would be the order of the day.

With respect to question two, I ask if Israel can survive as a liberal democratic state.
Israel was founded as a liberal Jewish democracy. Indeed, Arab parties currently have some 13 members of the Knesset (parliament), and Israeli Arabs have always enjoyed equal rights and parliamentary representation through Israel’s proportional representation system. However, the same cannot be said for Palestinian Arabs in the occupied territories, and therein lies the challenge for a one state solution.

But both the Likud party and its main opposition Blue and White party have been emboldened by President Trump´s foreign policy towards the Israel-Palestine question and are advocating simply annexing large parts of the occupied West Bank but without giving the Palestinians living in this area full citizenship and political rights.

Furthermore, embattled as he is by his own legal problems, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has constantly attacked the Israeli media and judiciary as well as his political opposition in ways hitherto unseen in Israeli politics.

This leads me to question the Israeli right’s commitment to liberal democracy, where the independence of governance institutions (including the media) is sacrosanct that Israel’s founders envisaged. One of his main objectives in becoming Prime Minister once again is to pass a law exempting him from prosecution for the alleged crimes that he may have committed while in office –not terribly respectful of the rule of law.

With respect to my third question, is it right for Prime Minister Netanyahu to accuse anyone -Jew or Gentile- opposed to his government or to Israeli government policy as being anti-Semitic. Recently, in the New York review of Books, Mairav Zonszein wrote that “Over the last decade, Netanyahu has mastered the art of instrumentalizing accusations of anti-Semitism for political currency, overseeing a government that pulls the anti-Semitism card whenever it is convenient, and then makes it disappear when anti-Semitism comes from its political allies. He has used it in his own war against billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who funds human rights and anti-occupation work in Israel; in currying favor with authoritarian European countries that espouse anti-Semitism; and in the effort to discredit and marginalize the Palestinians in general and the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement specifically”.

Anti-Semitism is an evil condition that has been present since the dawn of time and has led to tremendous suffering for Jews all over the world and great shame for all of humanity. For a Jewish leader or political party to trivialize it by using it for political purposes is shameful, in my view, and harms global movements to obliterate this form of hatred.

And, finally, is a two-state solution still possible given today’s realities?
Israel and Palestine are at an existential crossroads – one that will define Israel´s ability to survive as a viable Jewish democracy in a region of the world beset by violence and conflict and Palestine´s ability to carve out a viable homeland for Palestinians.

Israelis face real challenges given demographic realities as well as the fact that Palestinians will not simply fade into an Israeli state that denies them equal rights and opportunities.

And the Palestinians have their work cut out for them as well.

The Palestinian population is divided between those who seek a two-state solution and others who continue to seek a single Palestinian state with or without a Jewish presence. Continuing terrorist attacks on Israel by Hamas and Hezbollah have severely eroded whatever confidence the Israelis may have had in the Palestinian´s willingness to be serious partners for peace.

What’s more, the Palestinians have twice rejected Israeli proposals to give them a state comprising of approximately 97 percent of the occupied Palestinian territories with East Jerusalem as its capital and a land bridge linking the West Bank with Gaza. When the Israelis withdrew from Gaza in 2005, Gazans rejected an opportunity to develop their homeland democratically, economically, and socially, preferring to elect a Hamas government that has spent its time in office and its resources arming the territory and raining down missiles on Israeli citizens.
There is no single Palestinian authority that commands a majority or that has a consensus for a peaceful two-state solution. Indeed, the Palestinian Authority has no presence or authority in Gaza, leading Israelis to ask who speaks for the Palestinians and whose word can be accepted as binding?

The Palestinian leadership has claimed to seek peace, but is afraid of its own people, many of whom continue to aspire to a one state solution under Palestinian leadership at best, and the disappearance of the Jewish presence from the Middle East at worst.

This leads me ask: where is the Israeli leader capable of developing a solution to this dilemma acceptable to the electorate? Equally, where is the Palestinian leadership that can look reality in the eye and realize that there is no solution to their quandary that doesn’t have a free and secure Jewish state in the equation?

While Donald Trump appears to support a one-state solution, there are still many in the United States (including many U.S. Jews) who do not share this option. As well, President Trump’s decision to abandon his Kurdish allies in Syria to their fate at Turkish hands seems to be leading some Israelis to question their faith in this leader.

Consequently, and absent strong U.S. leadership in the region, is there hope for peace in our time?

Can Israel survive as a Jewish liberal democracy?

Can Palestine ever be a free, democratic, and viable state?

It all depends on whether moderate leaders on both sides can emerge from this philosophical quagmire, and how these eventual moderate leaders develop the policies and confidence building measures to slowly bring both populations to a consensus for peaceful coexistence.

And therein lies the challenge not only for Israelis and Palestinians, but also for the rest of the world, since what happens in the Middle East always has serious global implications.

Mérida, Yucatán