Still Seeking a Palestinian State
By Nayyer Ali MD
For the first time in years, Israel and the Palestinians resumed negotiations over their conflict. The catalyst this time was US mediation, primarily intense diplomacy by Secretary of State John Kerry. He apparently was able to coax enough out of the Israelis to get the Palestinians to talk without Israel agreeing to a freeze of its illegal settlement building in occupied territory.
The early signs are not good. A leaked version of Israel’s offer to the Palestinians was basically a rehash of the “one and a half state solution” which Israel has offered countless times. Instead of accepting two fully sovereign and equal states living side by side, the Israelis keep demanding they get to keep their settlements, they want to keep soldiers stationed in Palestine, they want to control Palestine’s border with Jordan, and they want to even have control of the airspace. This is ridiculous on its face and shows how totally unserious the Israelis are. Their attitude of entitlement is amazing. They want the Palestinians to accept Israel and then negotiate over how much of the occupied territories they get to keep. The Palestinians are making an historic compromise by giving up their claim to 77% of Palestine that is now Israel, they will accept a real state on the last 23%, but Israel wants to slice and dice that up too. Israelis complain there is no Palestinian partner willing to accept a reasonable offer, and the evidence they provide for that is that the Palestinians will not accept all these outrageously unreasonable offers.
But there are four major trends going on that will eventually push Israel into making a serious offer and getting out of the West Bank entirely. The first and most obvious is demographic. Palestinians have had higher absolute numbers of births than Jews since about 1982 if one includes Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel combined. At this point the total populations of the two groups is about even at around 5.5 million each. But under the age of 20, Palestinians make up 60% of the total. Israel maintains its Jewish dominance through a mix of discriminatory practices against the 1.2 million Palestinians in Israel that have citizenship in Israel, and outright apartheid practiced against the rest of the Palestinians, who live a stateless existence in which their property, freedom, and very lives can be taken at the whim of the Israeli army with absolutely no recourse. At least black South Africans had citizenship under apartheid and could get a passport. It doesn’t take a math expert to realize the trend lines are very unfavorable for Israeli Jews to continue to subjugate the Palestinians. The Palestinians have endured two generations under brutal conditions, in just one more they will make up 65% of the population, and the game will be up.
The second major trend is Iran’s continued attempt to develop nuclear weapons capability. The Iranians are pursuing that for their own security, they saw that Iraq without the bomb got invaded, while North Korea with a bomb is left alone. While Iran’s previous President would indulge in inflammatory rhetoric about Israel, the new President is rather milder, even tweeting Israelis a happy New Year on RoshHashanah. But real power in Iran rests with Ayatollah Khamenei. From the Israeli perspective, a nuclear Iran could make Zionism very problematic. If the purpose of Zionism was to provide Jews a safe place to live in an anti-Semitic world, it becomes ironic that Israel is the most dangerous place to be for Jews once Iran has the bomb. The fear Israeli leaders have is that would cause an exodus of educated secular English-speaking Jews to the West, depopulating Israel of its backbone and leaving it non-viable. Only a peace deal with the Palestinians will give the Israelis the legitimacy they want with the broader Muslim world and get the threat of Iran lifted.
The third major trend is growing global revulsion towards Israel’s apartheid treatment of the Palestinians. The latest move is a proposal by the European Union to boycott all goods produced by Israeli Jewish settlements (and as just an obvious proof of discriminatory nature of Israel, despite the fact that Palestinians make up almost 20% of Israel’s population, not a single Palestinian-Israeli is allowed to live in an Israeli settlement, they are for Jewish Israelis only). On some American campuses there are calls to support the BDS movement which calls for a campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law. Prominent intellectuals and entertainers are refusing to go to Israel, the latest example is that of Stephen Hawking. Last year, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to recognize Palestine as a state, with only the US and Canada among the major nations voting no. This growing international hostility and isolation will gradually increase. What happens when the EU slaps serious sanctions on Israel? How long will they be able to hold out before economic hardship causes a significant number of Jews to emigrate?
The last major trend is the increasing interest Obama has in resolving this dispute. Right-wing Jews, both in Israel and the US, have long distrusted Obama, and felt he harbored a negative view of Israel. The truth is Obama is Israel’s best friend, but the kind that is willing to do an intervention, not simply enable their alcoholism like George W. Bush did. Obama knows that Israel’s long term best interest lies in settling with Palestinians, which is also in America’s interest. He has been able to get the two parties back to talking. The question is how much more is he willing to do? How much pressure will he exert on Netanyahu to make a real offer? I wonder if it might be possible that Obama could use the freedom of being a lame duck to deal a wild card from the deck. If he told Netanyahu privately that Israel has until 2016 to reach a deal with the Palestinians he could back that up with a real threat. All he would need to say is that after the November 2016 elections, when Hilary Clinton has comfortably won but while Obama still has 70 days left in office, Obama will allow the Palestinians to come to the UN Security Council for statehood recognition, and the US will not veto it.