The Two-State Unicorn
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said prior to the Israeli elections that he would annex the West Bank settlements, many politicians, pundits, Jews, and foreign policy gurus reflexively asserted their fealty to the two-state solution, insisting it is the only path to peace. Alas, it is evident that the pursuit of a two-state solution is akin to the search for aliens in Area 51 the Loch Ness Monster, and Bigfoot.
If you reflect on history, you may wonder why anyone ever thought two states were possible given the Palestinians’ irredentism.
The Palestinians have had no fewer than eight opportunities to achieve independence since 1937, and they have rejected each one. Two states for two peoples sounds logical, but the Palestinians cannot countenance a Jewish state; they even rejected a British proposal to create a single state where Jews would have been a minority. Those who believe the Palestinians long for statehood should ask them why they never demanded independence during the 19 years their Arab brethren occupied the West Bank and Egypt.
Some of the Palestinians’ refusal to accept Israel is rooted in their religious conviction that Jews cannot rule over Islamic territory or Muslims. Yair Shamir noted, “We have fought against Jihadi terrorism long before there was a single foot in the West Bank, and even before Jewish sovereignty was reestablished in 1948. In the 1920s and 1930s, the mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini would whip his followers into a religious frenzy who would then murder, burn and frequently dismember innocent Jews.”
Today, Hamas carries on the mufti’s legacy. Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal has said: “Palestine is ours, from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on an inch of the land.”
Roughly 40 percent of the Palestinian population in the territories lives in Gaza. Mahmoud Abbas has said that Gaza must be part of a Palestinian state, but how can he negotiate an agreement without their assent? If Abbas made a deal, he would be killed by Islamists or one of the tens of thousands of Palestinians who oppose a peace agreement. In fact, a majority of Palestinians reject a two-state solution based on the 1967 armistice lines; nearly three-fourths oppose exchanging any land for statehood.
In 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians virtually everything they said they wanted, but Yasser Arafat rejected the deal. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a similar offer eight years later, which Abbas did not accept.
Further evidence of Palestinian rejectionism is found in their rhetoric, schools, and media. Their maps show Palestine in place of Israel. Rather than hold “peace now” rallies, they glorify martyrdom. Each year, they commemorate the Nakba, reflecting their belief that it was Israel’s creation that was a “catastrophe,” not the “occupation.”
Israelis also have little interest in a two-state solution following the disengagement from Gaza. After enduring a barrage of nearly 700 rockets over the weekend, how many people do you think are clamoring to give Hamas a foothold in the West Bank where they can target Israel’s capital, airport and heartland?
The “moderate” Abbas offers Israelis no comfort. His pay-to-slay policy encourages terrorism even as he claims to oppose violence. “We are proud of them,” he says of the families of the martyrs and prisoners, “and we will pay them before we pay the living.”
The vision of trading land for peace was a mirage. The only reason Israelis contemplate a Palestinian state is the fear that incorporating the Palestinians into Israel would force them to decide between democracy and remaining a Jewish state. That is not the only choice. For example, after nearly 52 years, the mantra that the status quo is unsustainable has proven inaccurate. It may be undesirable, but it remains an option, as do the seemingly unlikely possibilities of a confederation or what Netanyahu refers to as a “state minus.”
If the Palestinians wanted a state, they could have negotiated one before the point of no return was passed. When they turned down Menachem Begin’s autonomy offer, there were fewer than 10,000 settlers. By the time they agreed to the Oslo Accords, the number had grown to more than 100,000. Still, if they had not literally blown up the peace process, a state could have been created (although most people forget that Yitzhak Rabin opposed it). When Arafat rejected Barak’s offer, the population had grown to 200,000, but most lived in settlement blocs that Israel was expected to annex.
Then came the disengagement and Israelis saw how difficult and gut-wrenching it was to evacuate 9,000 people. West Bank settlers also saw how difficult it was for those people to pick up the pieces of their lives.
By the time Olmert made his offer, more than 275,000 Jews lived in the territories. Again, the Palestinians could have stopped further expansion, but they were no more willing to compromise in 2008 than they were in 1937.
Today, nearly 450,000 Jews live in 113 communities. Instead of 70-80 percent residing in the blocs as was the case in 2000, only about 56 percent do now. The total area of these communities is still only about 1.5% of the West Bank; however, they are sprinkled throughout and it is increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to carve out a contiguous Palestinian state (if you consider Gaza, it is impossible under any circumstances). Israel would also have to evacuate tens of thousands of Jews. It is difficult to imagine Israelis would be willing to pay the emotional and financial cost of such a large-scale relocation, or risk a civil war with those who refused to leave.
Setting aside all of these issues, the two sides have radically different ideas of what a Palestinian state would look like. The Palestinians see, in the short-term at least, a state encompassing the entire West Bank with Jerusalem as its capital and the right of five million refugees to return to “their homes” in Israel (another indication of their ultimate interest in destroying Israel). Israel’s idea of a Palestinian state would not include Jerusalem, the settlement blocs or the Jordan Valley. It would also have to be demilitarized.
The essence of the conflict is Palestinian rejectionism. I know rational arguments will be no more convincing to the true believers than those made to dispel the belief in unicorns. The question is whether the rest of us will continue to be dragged into their delusions.