Israel-Palestine status quo won’t last

August 5, 2011


It’s time to start thinking about what will happen to Israel — and U.S. policy in the Middle East — when the peace process ends.

Politicians don’t openly discuss the deep threat to Israel’s existence that would result from an end to negotiations over a two-state solution (meaning a Palestinian state living peacefully alongside Israel).

Instead, the Obama team calls for a revival of moribund peace talks — but it is merely going through the motions. The White House is too distracted to provide the necessary involvement, and the current Israeli government has no interest in talking substance. Meantime, divided and weak Palestinian leaders are trying to rally a U.N. vote for statehood in September that won’t change much on the ground.

And so we drift toward the time when a two-state solution will no longer be possible, as Israeli settlements expand on the West Bank, and publics on both sides weary of diplomacy.

Last week, I heard a group of dovish Israelis with extensive military and diplomatic expertise describe the dangers the end of the two-state formula pose to their country. They deserve to be heard.

“This moment in Israeli history is more critical than ever that we end this conflict because time is running out for those who want to secure a democratic, Jewish state,” said Gilad Sher, who served as chief of staff to Prime Minister Ehud Barak during the Oslo peace negotiations.

“The current situation is unsustainable,” he said, speaking at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. “If we discontinue the peace process, either we have an apartheid state or a Jewish-Palestinian state.”

Sher was referring to demographic facts that pose an existential threat to the Jewish state, if it retains effective control over Gaza and continues to occupy the West Bank and Arab sectors of Jerusalem. Within that geographic area of “greater Israel,” Jews hold a narrow edge in numbers over Palestinian Arabs. According to Sher’s colleague, Shlomo Gazit, a former head of military intelligence, the percentage of Jews in greater Israel is 52 percent, and Arabs 48 percent.

This means that, if the peace process ends, Israel faces two highly undesirable choices: rule over an unwilling, largely disenfranchised Arab population, which produces the apartheid analogy, or give citizenship to all Palestinian Arabs, and lose the Jewish character of the Israeli state.

In the Middle East, where group loyalty trumps the American idea of citizenship, a “one-man, one-vote” solution wouldn’t work; it would inevitably lead to further bloodshed. Palestinians and Israeli Jews deeply desire their own independent homeland.

But an apartheid state, where a bare Jewish majority eventually becomes a minority and rules over millions of Palestinian Arabs, is anathema to Israeli Jews who want a democratic homeland.

These men are deeply worried that the passage of time does not favor Israel. The status quo — in which West Bank terrorists have been crushed, with cooperation from the Palestinian Authority — is comfortable to most Israelis. As Jewish settlements and roads expand across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, a viable Palestinian state becomes less likely.

“A two-state solution at some point will no longer be seen as viable by Palestinians,” said Alon Pinkas, a former foreign-policy adviser to Barak. “What are we going to do then?”

Pinkas also raised the prospect of Palestinians conducting huge, peaceful marches after a vote at the United Nations — a strategy now called for by their leaders, in the spirit of Egypt’s Tahir Square revolution. “If they carry pictures of (Mohandas) Gandhi, not suicide bombers, what will we do then?” he asks.

These Israelis are not novices in the hard world of Middle East politics. They know the risks a Palestinian state will pose to Israel, even if it’s demilitarized, but they feel the alternative poses greater risks.

So do they see any way out?

They are part of a nonpartisan political movement called Blue White Future, whose founders include Sher and Ami Ayalon, former head of Shin Bet, the Israeli security service. To promote the two-state solution, the group is trying to facilitate the relocation of Jewish settlers from the West Bank to homes inside Israel.

But as to the bigger picture, a shift in Israel’s approach is unlikely under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, they say, even as America’s influence in the region is weakening.

The men point out that in the past, it has often taken an unexpected and dramatic event to change the approach of the parties — and perhaps prod an American president to take a more active role.

“I believe we wouldn’t have reached peace without the 1973 war,” says Gazit, “and the Oslo peace talks required the first (Palestinian) intifada” to jolt the sides into negotiations.

Such unexpected events can cut both ways: If a U.N. resolution in September is met with huge Palestinian demonstrations, Gazit fears Israel might overreact harshly, prodding a third intifada.

It would be far better if movement occurred because all sides recognized the status quo was unsustainable. Failing that, we can only wait for the unexpected, and hope.

Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Her email address is trubin@phillynews.com


Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 10 months ago

"what will happen to Israel,,, when the peace process ends."

The answer to that seems rather obvious to me.


But that won't be anything new, they've already had 6 of them since 1948.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 10 months ago

While war seems probable, given history, we should be prepared for the possibility that people of peace will emerge. We should be ready for that possibility.
If war is the result, the U.S. should be ready for wars unlike those that have already been fought. The region is changing, regimes that could be predicted to behave in one way may not be relied upon in the future. But here's to hoping that the peace process will produce peace.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 10 months ago

"Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us." - Golda Meir

Abdu Omar 6 years, 10 months ago

How can the world give arms, nuclear arms, to one side and allow it to take away the property of another side without war? And obviously the end will produce a nuclear reaction since the one side will never surrender until the last woman and child is killed. Taking away the Palestinian right to rule them selves may be a big mistake. Some day, when the Arab spring is settled and democracy rules the other Arab countries, they will support Palestine wholeheartedly. Then What? Israel is on a losing path. They should return the West Bank and Jerusalem to the Palestinians and allow a peace deal.

Golda was wrong. Peace will come when the Jews love their children and their democracy more than they love land.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 10 months ago

Prior to 1967, when the Arabs controlled the West Bank, including Jerusalem, peace did not exist. What reason is there to believe that a return of those lands will produce peace? As to the disparity of arms, one need only look at the disparity in the region, and the world in general. There are 22 "Arab" members of the U.N. There are 55 countries with Moslem majorities. The combined population of Arab counties is 50 times that of the Jewish population of Israel. The support the Palestinians get from those counties is offset by the support Israel gets from the one remaining super-power, the U.S.
Israel may well be on a losing path. History has shown (in Gaza and Lebanon) that withdrawal from lands without a peace agreement only leads to violence. Withdrawal from the West Bank will likely lead to more violence. Unless a legitimate peace partner comes along. What is clear is that shortly after the 1967 war that produced Israel's land gains, Israel was more than willing to return lands in exchange for peace. Egypt came forward and got their land and Israel received peace. Jordan abandoned it's claim to the West Bank, leaving a political void that continues to this day. When a legitimate peace partner emerges, and I sincerely hope that one does, then the Palestinians will get their own country.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 10 months ago

"What reason is there to believe that a return of those lands will produce peace?"


Abdu Omar 6 years, 10 months ago

Israel has never wanted to return lands. Look at the flag. It represents their goals. From the Nile to the Euphrates rivers belongs to the Jews, so they think. Your statement of so many Arabs against so few Jews is ludacrious. I mean, look at the political agreements between the US and those Arab countries. Because the Arab countries are ruled by dictators, and they are aligned with the USA, there is no kind of coalition between them. Palestine is on her own, period.

When the Arab spring is concluded and each country is ruled by the people, God willing, then there will be changes and the Israelis are in trouble.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 10 months ago

"Israel has never wanted to return lands". That statement couldn't be more wrong. Israel captured a huge amount of land from Egypt during the 1967 war yet returned every inch of that land in exchange for a promise of peace. Egypt abandoned Gaza, not wanting it for themselves and leaving behind a political void. Eventually, Israel also withdrew from Gaza. And without a peace agreement, that withdrawal was met with violence. Israel also withdrew from captured lands in South Lebanon. Lebanon, with a very weak government, also was unable/unwilling to enter into a peace agreement. Israel's withdrawal was met with violence. Your first sentence is just plain wrong. You say so many Arab countries have agreements with the U.S. The fact is that it was those countries that attacked Israel. In what has become a shell game, Palestinians now claim to be innocent bystanders in those attacks. Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, along with support from other Arab countries attacked Israel with the stated intention of wiping Israel off the map. Israel has never intended to wipe anyone off the map. The Arab spring you mention may bring unknown changes in the region. Perhaps Egypt will breach it's peace agreement. Perhaps Hezbollah will have a greater presence in Lebanon. Perhaps Iran will give even more support to Hamas in Gaza. Perhaps a true leader committed to peace will emerge in the West Bank. Israel's very existence dictates that they be ready for any and all of those possibilities and many more.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 10 months ago

"the one side will never surrender until the last woman and child is killed."

That is so true. The Arabs have always been very open about stating that their goal is to drive all the Jews into the sea.

There have been 6 wars so far, not counting minor skirmishes. Israel has won every time. Never could get any peace out of it.

Abba Eban remarked that the Six Day War (1967) was “the first war in history in which the victor sued for peace and the loser called for unconditional surrender.” [4]

[4] 4. Eban, p. 450.

Abdu Omar 6 years, 10 months ago

That was the mantra under Arafat, I am sure, but he is gone and the mindset is different. The Israelis keep building "settlements" and that is the problem now. Stop the settlements and stop the occupation. and how can Jordan want a land that is occupied by the Israelis? Go there, as I have, and you will see exactly what is happening.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 10 months ago

The settlements are a problem with no solution. They are a reality that both sides are going to have to deal with. Under no circumstances will they be removed. There is simply too many people involved. Nor will those Palestinians living inside Israel proper be removed. They are real and they will not be removed. Any suggestion that they be will cause untold hardships that are simply unimaginable. There was a time when the settlements did not exist. The Arab response to Israel's peace overtures was the infamous 3 No's. No peace, No negotiation, No Recognition. Events on the ground have changed. That bell cannot be un-rung. The settlements will stay. As to the occupation, as I have said before, when a legitimate peace partner emerges, Palestinians will get a land of their own.

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