The mood in Israel today is simply bleak. With acrimony over this summer’s Gaza War still consuming the security services, and Palestinian attacks on Israelis raising the specter of a Third Intifada, there is a feeling that things may go very wrong, very soon.
Now, the Knesset is considering a bill that would formally apply Israeli law to Jews living in the West Bank. The Israeli left isvehemently opposed and insists that the pending bill is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declaration that he has no interest in a negotiated peace settlement. But with Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic State and Iran all menacing, few Israelis are terribly worried about the Israeli left.
This pending piece of legislation, little noticed outside Israel, is a telling lens through which to sense the mood of the Jewish state.
What is really at stake, as one of Israel’s best-known analysts suggested, is that “the Palestinians and Israelis have lost faith that a peaceful solution is possible at all.” He’s right; the two-state solution, if not dead, is on life support.
There are many reasons for this. Although the Barack Obama administration insists on referring to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as a moderate, Israelis believe he is inciting his street and has no interest in a deal. Even if Abbas did sign an agreement, others note, it would not bind Hamas, which a) might once again attempt to take over the West Bank, in which case Israel would have ceded land only to end up holding a useless piece of paper, and b) is likely to perpetuate the conflict in Gaza, so Israel would essentially give up the “land” without getting the “peace.” It’s a deal that Israel’s right was never willing to contemplate, and with the left all but dead and the moderates now dubious, the deal is not going to happen anytime soon.
Critics of Israel’s policies point out that the Netanyahu governmenthas long infuriated Palestinians in many ways, including the continued construction of settlements. This is true, to a degree.
Netanyahu would, indeed, have placated some of his critics had he pointed out that all the newly approved construction is in areas so heavily populated by Jews that there’s little chance they would be given to the Palestinians in any deal. And had he formally stated that he would not build in areas that are genuinely contested, he might have made matters somewhat better. But any such statement would have infuriated his right flank, and given that he, too, knows that the two-state solution is dead, he sees no reason to commit political suicide simply to provide better optics. Israelis and Palestinians are thus infuriating each other.
The two-state solution has always had its critics. Yitzhak Shamir, Israel’s seventh prime minister, detested the notion that the deal had to be predicated on “land for peace.” Why not “peace for peace”? Why would the Palestinians’ willingness to end the conflict be a concession, and Israel’s agreement to do the same would not? Why would Israel have to cede territory, when Palestinians would “only” have to stop killing Israelis?
More recently, Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party and economy minister — who when running for office posted a wildly popular video explaining why he was opposed to a Palestinian state — is now so confident that the two-state solution is dead that he took his argument to the international community on the op-ed page of the New York Times, “For Israel, Two-State Is No Solution.” When he was running for office, he said in a speech that “the Arab-Israeli conflict cannot be solved.” Now, both many Israelis (including many of those who detest his adolescent brashness and defiant tone which they know wins Israel no friends) and Palestinians are convinced that he was sadly right.
There is simply no incentive for Israelis to compromise. What’s in it for them? they ask. Would a deal neutralize Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapon? Would it stop Islamic State? Then why move the border closer to Israel’s capital and international airport?
France may soon recognize a Palestinian state, as Sweden recently has, but none of that will change life for ordinary Palestinians. Israelis and Palestinians have lost all goodwill. The Israeli administration detests Obama and believes that a renewed poisonous attitude to Jews and Israel in Europe makes European capitals anything but fair arbiters. And with the Arab street ever more radicalized, the other side is no more inclined to be accommodating.
Yet as the current Israeli tinderbox makes clear, the status quo is also untenable. Some creative solution has to be sought to make Palestinian lives better, to foster democratic institutions in Palestine and to provide security for Israel’s citizens. But clamoring for a settlement that everyone knows is a pipe dream will accomplish none of that.
Ironically, those who insist on pushing for a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are actually doing the Palestinians damage. The talks would fail, Palestinian frustration would boil over, violence would ensue and Israel, not in the mood for another four-year Intifada, would likely use overwhelming force much earlier than it did in 2000 to 2004.
Strange as it may sound, in today’s Middle East, those most anxious to see violence averted would be well-served to stop pressing for peace