The world continues to churn outside the impeachment trial in Washington, including some potentially game-changing events in Israel.
In advance of the March 2 elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main political rival, Benny Gantz, have each vowed to annex one-third of the occupied West Bank.
Netanyahu has also promised to extend sovereignty to 132 or more Israeli settlements, some the size of small cities, which are scattered across the West Bank. The Israeli leader said he wanted to take advantage of the “unique, one-off opportunity” afforded by the Trump administration.
Meantime, Israeli media claim President Donald Trump will soon release his long-awaited Middle East “peace plan,” crafted by son-in-law Jared Kushner, presumably in time to help Netanyahu in a tight election.
Yet this rush toward annexation, with Trump’s apparent blessing, could spell the end of Israel as a democratic Jewish state.
For the past three decades, plans to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been premised on a “two-state solution.” That means an Israeli and (demilitarized) Palestinian state side by side, with the latter incorporating most of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
Take a look at the demographics of those territories and you’ll understand why two-staters cling to this concept: If Israel annexes the West Bank and Gaza, the Arab population will soon outnumber the Jews in the Holy Land.
A Palestinian census in 2017 counted 4.7 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, with another 435,000 in Arab East Jerusalem. The Israeli Defense Ministry echoed those numbers. If you add in the 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, Palestinians nearly equal the 6.9 million Jews in Greater Israel.
Once Israel formally annexes much of West Bank territory, it can no longer avoid the question of what civic rights to grant Palestinians, who now live under severe restrictions.
Denying those rights, as former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and other Israeli leaders have noted, would lead to a form of apartheid, where Israeli Jews rule over a disenfranchised majority of noncitizens. Yet granting Palestinians citizenship in one state would end the Israeli state as a Jewish homeland.
Yet Israeli annexationists — with the acquiescence of President Trump — want to see the two-state idea dead and buried. And in reality, it is hard to see its resurrection.
Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have ceased. Extensive Israeli expansion of settlements — with over 600,000 Israelis living in an expanded Jerusalem and the West Bank — has divided the West Bank into disconnected Palestinian cantons that rule out any contiguous Palestinian territory. Palestinian leadership is weak and divided, and the whole Israeli polity has moved rightward.
Understanding this, some Palestinians are adopting the one-state concept. They want to fight for full rights within one state, an argument they believe will attract more international backers.
Ironically, the Trump administration has effectively joined the one-state camp.
The U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, endorses the Israeli concept of annexation on the West Bank. And President Trump carelessly told journalists: “I am looking at two-state, and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” during a Netanyahu visit to at the White House.
Whether or not Kushner releases his peace plan, it’s clear it won’t promote a two-state solution, or focus on any political solution. If Netanyahu remains in office, he will need to annex the Jordan Valley, and Israeli settlements, quickly in order to maintain his coalition. Even if Gantz wins and drops his annexationist pledges, no one expects a revival of serious peace talks or a cessation of settlement expansion.
No wonder many analysts and scholars, including those who have supported the two-state idea for decades, have concluded that the two-state idea is dead.
They include the University of Pennsylvania’s Ian Lustick, whose new book, “Paradigm Lost: From Two-State Solution to One-State Reality,” argues it’s time to jettison the two-state concept because there is now a “one-state reality” that isn’t reversible.
Lustick stresses that this one-state reality is not the same thing as a “one-state solution.” He says it is “not offering a solution — by which I mean a pretty picture to which I have a route that I believe can be followed to attain it. Just because one solution (two states) is no longer plausible, doesn’t guarantee that another is visible.”
Many observers, myself included, can’t imagine Jews and Arab Palestinians coexisting in one binational state. Perhaps Palestinians will warm to the idea, out of necessity, but I can’t foresee Israelis giving up the right to a Jewish homeland. And in the Mideast, communal sentiments trump.
Yet we now see a strange de facto alliance between President Trump, right-wing Israelis who want to annex the West Bank and a nascent one-state Palestinian movement that will fight for equal rights within Greater Israel.
“The consequences of annexation can be quite different from what is expected,” says Lustick. And you can be certain the Kushner peace plan won’t do anything to resurrect the moribund prospects of two states living side by side.