Open Zion

01.28.13

Last Chance Saloon

It has been the supreme cliché of the Israeli-Palestinian situation for several years now, but, following the recent Israeli election, we really have arrived at the “Last Chance Saloon.” If there is no serious move toward the creation of a Palestinian state in the next few years, it will be too late. The two-state solution was killed off some time ago, and during the past four years it was allowed to decay. We are not merely past midnight—we are six months down the road after that midnight.

Even perceptive commentators like Peter Beinart still talk about the two-state solution in terms that make it seem like a reasonable possibility. His most recent column in Open Zion, commenting on the results of the Israeli elections, contained the following passage:

Netanyahu is weaker. As he tries to assemble a government in the coming weeks, the Israeli leader faces two unappetizing options. The first is a small coalition dominated by right-wing and religious parties. If he goes this route, his government will be dominated by people who want to murder the two state solution and hold a party to stomp on its grave.

Doesn’t Beinart understand that the murder has already been committed? Doesn’t he realize that the grave has already been well and truly stomped on? To establish a Palestinian state, the corpse must be dug up, brought back to life, given sustained medical attention, and nurtured with imagination and creativity.

The West Bank, the area slated for a Palestinian state, is today dotted by Israeli settlements. True, there are learned former IDF generals who like to point out that the actual percentage of West Bank land occupied by Israeli settlements is under ten percent, but anyone familiar with the situation on the ground knows that the settlements are strategically located precisely to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. Flagship villages like Ofra, Elon Moreh, Shilo, and Kaddum are stuck like bones in the throat of any possible Palestinian entity—and we haven’t even mentioned the town of Ariel, with its recently recognized “university.”

Furthermore, the settlements are linked by a network of roads and massive fortifications, and the territory is bisected by the “separation barrier,” which, apart from excluding Palestinian towns and villages from their lands, is cunningly located to leave in Israel important chunks of territory that a Palestinian state would need. The establishment of a Palestinian state—even one that leaves Israel with so-called “settlement blocs”—will involve a dismantling of Israeli settlements and a destruction of the Israeli-built infrastructure on a scale that will make the disengagement from Gaza look like a minor redeployment. Such action will necessitate a gigantic sustained operation, backed by a demonstration of political will and iron determination that is hard to imagine.

A change of emphasis in Israeli attitudes—or even a radical re-direction of Israeli policy—is not enough. There will have to be a political earthquake in Israel, and the quake must be followed by a revolution in Israeli thinking. Advocates of a two-state solution should realize this and not over-simplify the situation. The two-state solution cannot merely be accepted, it has to be resurrected.

Despite all this, I disagree with many observers who are saying that the Israeli election did not change anything, who point out the (admitted) deficiencies of Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party, and who project gloom and doom.

I say: give them a chance!

True, Lapid has yet to show much depth, and his remark about refusing to join with Hanin Zuabi, a militant Arab Knesset member, was worse than unfortunate. It was vulgar racism. At the same time, his platform does include renewing the peace process, and Ofer Shelah, a talented journalist who will enter the Knesset on the Yesh Atid list, has stated that this means striving for a settlement—not just lip service negotiations. Most important: Yaacov Peri, a former head of the Shin Bet security service, one of the “stars” in the Oscar-nominated movie, “The Gatekeepers,” will enter the Knesset as the senior foreign and defense adviser of Yesh Atid. Both in that movie and currently on television in Israel, Peri has made it clear that he thinks Israel can make peace with the Palestinians. Moreover, as a former security chief he knows whereof he speaks. So, despite the enormous problems I have outlined above, it is just possible that the next Israeli coalition, prodded energetically by the United States and Europe, will engage the Palestinians and contrive to muddle through to some sort of arrangement that will lead to a settlement down the line.

Outsiders should understand that neither we Israelis, nor our Palestinian counterparts, have what Tom Wolfe called “The Right Stuff,” the ability to demonstrate grace under pressure. This means that an agreement, when it finally emerges, will not be uplifting, elegant, and magnanimous. It will be untidy, incomplete, and unsatisfying. It will also be accompanied by hysterical whining, odious self-righteousness, and mutual accusations of bad faith. But surely even that will be better than nothing.