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Salvaging the Two-State Solution

If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic, it cannot be both and won’t ever live in peace.” – John Kerry

 

In 1947 the United Nations passed Resolution 181, authorizing the division of Palestine into two states: thirty-five percent for the Arabs and fifty-five percent for the Israelis. The remaining portion, Jerusalem, was to be governed by an international body. But war broke out and Israel settled on over seventy-five percent of the land, leaving the rest to the Palestinians.

 

This story is often delivered with a stultifying, bitter tone, buoyed by a particular confidence that says, “Palestinians had a chance, and they blew it.” Last week, however, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution 14-0, with one abstention from the United States, that condemned Israel’s settlement policy as illegal and an obstacle to peace. Without American support, Israel is quite literally the only country in the world that believes the piecemeal annexation of the West Bank is permissible.

 

Five days later, John Kerry dedicated over an hour to lambasting Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government and the extremist settlers, who now form the vanguard of Israel’s expansion into the West Bank. It was a decisive left hook that followed the UN’s right jab.

 

The resolution has given the conflict perspective. Sixty-nine years ago the Arabs rejected a third of historic Palestine, leading to wars that never end and negotiations that always fail. But politically and morally Israel has fared no better—it refuses a state twice the size of the one the UN offered the Palestinians in 1947. This rejection, I think, deprives Israel of the right to cast the first stone.

 

Indeed, Israel seems to have taken partition off the table altogether. Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, said that the resolution is the “peak of hypocrisy,” “disgraceful,” “an evil decree,” etc. Danon then raised the Bible above his head, as if the appellate body to this resolution had written its verdict three thousand years ago. Fortunately, no one seemed impressed by this gesture.

 

Prime Minister Netanyahu went on raving with a little more virulence. Before the vote, he warned New Zealand that support for this resolution was a “declaration of war.” He also said the resolution was “anti-Israel” and an “incitement of terror,” and deemed Kerry’s speech something of a “disappointment.” Aloof and humiliated, Netanyahu has availed himself of the cheapest rejoinders, proving that little if anything is beneath him.

 

Naftali Bennett, Israel’s Minister of Education, was a bit more straightforward: “As far as it depends on me, we will not establish another terrorist state in the heart of [Israel]. Israeli citizens have paid with thousands of victims, tens of thousands of missiles and endless condemnations because of the messianic policy of a Palestinian state. The time has come for a new path, and we will lead it.”

 

This rather ironic confession seals a fate for the Palestinians that encompasses war, misery, and squalor, but no prospect for any of their agreeable corollaries. And we must not associate Bennet with some fringe movement that every now and then provides risible material for Ha’aretz. Israel’s decades-long policy in the West Bank has been the fruit of irredentism, imperialism, and an admixture of religious and nationalist impulses.

 

Let us put that last statement to the test.

 

Today almost 600,000 settlers dwell east of the Green Line, an increase of 270,000 since 1993. We are dealing with a Prime Minister who has declared himself the most “committed [leader] to settlements in Israel’s history.” Since Netanyahu regained control of the Knesset in 2009, the population of settlers east of the separation barrier increased from 70,000 to 90,000. For good reason, therefore, Kerry claims that the current regime is the most right-wing government Israel has ever had.

 

Netanyahu’s mind suffers from an acute case of solipsism. He has requested that the Americans make it official policy to exercise its veto whenever a resolution targeting Israel is brought before the Security Council. That would, in effect, grant it the same immunity as the five permanent members, namely, Britain, China, France, Russia, and the US. Netanyahu complains that Israel is subject to a double standard, citing dozens of resolutions that have disproportionately targeted the Jewish state over the years.

 

Buried beneath the many rebukes of Israel’s human rights violations is not some sense of justice for the Arabs, the argument goes, but rather an anti-Israel, anti-Semitic bent. This paranoia, I believe, is a result of the Likud’s unassailable conviction—prepare your Zionist credentials if you dare say otherwise—that Israel can do no wrong. Since its battle for independence, Israel has engaged in at least five major wars, a brutal half-century, military occupation of the Palestinians, an equally hideous, 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon, and multiple operations to “mow the lawn” in Gaza.

 

I hope, therefore, this claim of a double standard only sounds credible to the credulous. Just imagine how the Palestinians feel. In spite of all these resolutions, Israel’s expansion into the West Bank only gets deeper and deeper. Every operation by Israel against Hamas is considered an act of defense. But any resistance against, say, the starvation of Palestinian children, the seizure of private land, or the construction of settlements, invariably amounts to terrorism.

 

I propose a challenge. Identify one instance of violence where Palestinians were not considered terrorists. The terms have become almost synonymous. The PLO militants were still considered terrorists before, during, and after Israel’s war of aggression against Lebanon in 1982. When children, armed with nothing more than rocks, attempted to resist their interlopers during the First Intifada, they too were branded terrorists. Even after Richard Goldstone, a self-declared Zionist and a widely respected international jurist, reported that Israel’s Cast Lead operation in 2008/09 was a “carefully planned” attack to “punish, humiliate, and terrorize a civilian population,” he was accused of being a sympathizer of—wait for it—terrorism.

 

This double standard has produced real life consequences. Many are convinced that withdrawal from the West Bank will weaken Israel’s security and spawn the recrudescence of terror. A revision of this erroneous assumption would help bring consolation to those who desire peace.

 

In spite of these rapturous breakthroughs, we ought to remember that international law has not been an obstacle for Israel in the past. Thus I suspect it will have little effect on Israel now or in the future. The UNSC approved a resolution in 1980 that not only condemned the settlements, but insisted that they be dismantled. Israel’s response was simply more settlements. In 2004 the ICJ ruled that the separation barrier that cuts through the West Bank is illegal. Again, Israel’s response was more settlements.

 

And thus, if the enemies of peace are to be defeated, we must remain vigilant. It is doubtful that a solution to this conflict will come from within; indeed, it is doubtful it will come from without. But, at least for now, nations have united at the United Nations to preserve a brighter future for the Palestinians.

 

That, I believe, is progress of a kind.