By Dr. Nayyer Ali

July 23, 2010

No Good Choices for Netanyahu

While Netanyahu returns from Washington with a momentary triumph, having made up with Obama and seen off his pressure tactics of the last year, he still faces the same long-term issues that leave him with no good choice.

Clearly, the world is getting increasingly fed up with the occupation of the Palestinians, and the obvious apartheid nature of that occupation. Even Obama wants it to end, and his military leaders have increasingly cited Israel’s occupation as a major force driving anti-American violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, thereby threatening the safety of US soldiers.
Within Israel there is deep confusion and uncertainty over the direction relations with the Palestinians should head.  The demographic growth of the Palestinians, who now number almost five million, including those under the occupation and the one million with Israeli citizenship, means that they will exceed the Jews in numbers later this decade.  They are already the majority under the age of 40.  Liberal Jews want to end the occupation and move rapidly to a two-state solution, but right-wing conservatives do not want to give up the West Bank and the settlements. Netanyahu, who heads a  right-wing coalition, was pressured into saying “two states” by Obama last year, but has at present no intention of actually pursuing that.
The chances of a two-state solution are dwindling. The liberal Jews that support it within Israel are leaving.  500,000 Israelis already live in the US and Europe, and the bulk are liberals who would have supported a fair agreement with the Palestinians.  At this point, it has become very hard for the peace camp in Israel to win an election, especially as Arab-based parties are kept out of any governing coalition, and without those seats, the right wing has a solid majority.
A two-state solution would also require Israel to return to the 1967 border and give up the West Bank and the settlements, which currently house over 500,000 Jews (10% of Israel Jewish population).  The settlers, along with traditional right wingers, the religious Orthodox, and the Russian immigrants all together create a majority against a fair peace.  
The right is willing to entertain a version of a two-state solution, and this is what was offered at Camp David in 2000 by Barak, the current Defense Minister, and it is what Netanyahu has in mind.  In this version Israel keeps all the major settlements, annexing large swathes of prime real estate in the West Bank, absorbing all East Jerusalem including the Muslim holy sites, retains military control of the borders and airspace of the Palestinian entity, and controls its customs enforcement, water rights, airwaves, and demands that it has no military self-defense capacity.  On top of that the Palestinians are to make a public declaration that Israel is a “Jewish state”, an odd thing of one nation to demand of another, and doubly odd given that Israel really should be a state of the Israelis, regardless of religion.  Needless to say, this “ Bantustan” solution is a total non-starter, and while Bush may have been fooled by it, Obama sees  it for the sham it is, as do the Palestinians.
There is a second alternative to a two-state solution and that is a single nation from the Jordan River to the sea.  This one state solution has long been championed by some Palestinians and also by some on the extreme left of Israel’s politics. But what is most interesting is that there are now some right wing voices that are calling for one state. These prominent voices base their view on the contention that it is better to give the Palestinians citizenship and keep the West Bank, than to give it up.  Even some leaders of the settler movement are speaking about this.  
There is a big difference between the liberal version of the one state solution, which is meant to create a secular state in which religion plays no role and all are equal, and the right wing version, which wants Israel to remain a Jewish state with Jewish symbols and structure. But Palestinians would have citizenship extended to them in a gradual manner, and would no longer be occupied. However, in the right wing version, this would only apply to the West Bank, the refugees in Lebanon would be out of luck, and the people of Gaza would be left in limbo, perhaps free to set up their own Middle Eastern Singapore-like city state.  
The problem with the right wing one state solution is that it cannot work.  The demographic forces will turn the Palestinians into a critical mass that cannot be kept in a second class status if they are voting citizens.  This notion would also require the Palestinians on the West Bank to turn their backs on Gaza and the diaspora, an unlikely scenario.  Also, once this new one-state situation comes into being, it will be hard to control the border. Palestinians will enter Israel illegally, stay with relatives, or marry someone living there already. Israel would not be able to control the outcome over two or three decades.
So what does Netanyahu do?  He will for now continue to muddle along.  He lacks the conviction or imagination to truly pursue a just peace, and will insist on his Bantustan solution with the Palestinians. Abbas, to his credit, can see this.  Abbas has laid out clear terms for starting direct talks with Israel.  The Israelis must commit to a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, and also accept that any land conceded to Israel beyond those borders must be matched with Israeli transfer of land to the Palestinians. These are bare minimums for a discussion, without them it is pointless to hold negotiations with Netanyahu.

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