Israel’s unity government ushers in endgame for two states

A man waving a flag sits in the middle of a road facing a line of armed soldiers

A demonstrator holds up Israeli soldiers during a protest in the Jordan Valley earlier this year.

Mohamad Torokman Reuters

It took one year, three elections and a global pandemic, but Israel finally has a new government, and this time, it is one with a broader mandate than any other in recent memory.

This is mostly thanks to Benny Gantz who repeatedly said that he would not join a government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, only to join a Netanyahu-led government at the third time of asking.

He did so under the pretext of creating an emergency government to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. But this is not a government established to deal with any emergency. This is a government with the specific brief of determining when and over what further areas of territory occupied in 1967 Israel will start applying its sovereignty.

Gantz’s choice should not really come as a surprise. Gantz and Netanyahu may have their differences and Gantz may be genuinely dismayed at having agreed to be subservient to a man who is unwilling to step aside even though he is under the shadow of serious corruption charges and is married to someone who has already been convicted of the same.

However, on Israel’s constant quandary – the Palestinians, the land’s native population – Gantz and Netanyahu see eye-to-eye. That is: Maximum land, minimum Palestinians. It is a time-honored Israeli strategic aim and one both Netanyahu and Gantz might feel they have a unique opportunity to pursue unhindered at the moment.

A non-starter

This is mainly because Israel enjoys the presence of a US president in the White House who could not be more zealous for Israel had it been an Atlantic City casino.

Donald Trump’s administration is already on board with Israel annexing West Bank territory, by all accounts. It is, after all, a cornerstone of his son-in-law’s peace plan.

Even so, the US administration would like to see Palestinians negotiate the surrender of more territory to Israel “along the lines set forth in President Trump’s Vision,” according to one State Department official.

This is undoubtedly to make it more palatable to Arab countries, who by some accounts are simply dying to accept the Trump “vision” and once and for all rid themselves of their Palestinian burden.

The problem of course is, as everyone knows, there is nothing here for Palestinians to agree to or negotiate.

The parameters have been nailed down already and while there is talk of statehood, with no control over borders, airspace, seaspace, natural resources, no independent access to the outside world, a captive economy, with trade at the mercy of Israel, and without the right to have a military, there is no meaningful sense in which Palestinians can be said to enjoy sovereignty, freedom and independence.

And this is not even to mention the desultory amount of land set aside for this “state.”

So it is a non-starter. It was always a non-starter. And Israel knows that for Palestinians it is a non-starter. This is why Israel wants to take advantage now of a US administration that does not really care about the optics of Palestinian collusion, in order to present the rest of the world a fait accomplis.

Changes

Israel has done all this before. It annexed East Jerusalem immediately after occupying the city in 1967. It annexed the Golan Heights in 1981, 14 years after it occupied the Syrian territory in 1967.

In fact, the area known as Israel today (with or without 1967 occupied territory) is in effect a fait accomplis. Israel has no settled borders, every inch was taken in war and with violence. Its boundaries are just that, armistice lines where various militaries came to a standstill in 1948.

These 1967 boundaries were long seen as descriptive of a future solution comprising two states. That was the promise in the 1978 Camp David accords (without Palestinian participation) that ultimately swayed the Palestine Liberation Organization to “recognize” Israel and abandon its one secular state position for a two-state promise and the Oslo process (with Palestinian participation).

Oslo was ultimately undermined by the US. Israel had made its intentions clear from the outset, and it was up to the US to make good on its promise of neutral mediation.

But the US was never an honest broker, and by the time Trump announced that he would have a fresh look at the Palestine issue because previous efforts had failed, he was right. His “vision” of a solution, however, is of course an insult to Palestinians, their rights, their history, their heritage and their identity.

It ought also set off alarm bells in Israel among the very people so enthusiastic for stealing more land.

Israel proclaims itself a Jewish state and grants exclusive national rights to its Jewish population. But 20 percent of its citizens are non-Jewish (and therefore, by definition, second-class) and it would seem strange for a country which strives for ethno-religious purity to want to add to the number of non-privileged ones.

Yet that is exactly what the annexation of more West Bank land will lead to. Stalwart pro-Israel two-state solutionists like Dennis Ross, a former US mediator, can see this quite clearly.

The land Israel wants to annex this summer is sparsely populated, but the more populous areas will eventually go the same way. The Palestinian Authority will hang on for a while longer, but annexation marks the end of any chance of a two-state outcome.

Netanyahu and Gantz may consider this a triumph and rejoice in springtime for a Greater Israel. For Palestinians it continues to be winter. There is still a road to freedom. But it remains a long walk.

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The two states solution has been a fantasy for a long time. Indeed, Anne McCormick, the New York Times journalist, declared it dead it January 1949. It would have been possible only if the Israelis and the US were serious. They never were. The former have never wanted anything but total control of Palestine. Their problem is that they didn't quite finish the job of ethnic cleansing in 1948. This is the problem of all settler-colonial projects: they require genocide. Since 1948 the question the Israelis have been grappling with is: how do we wipe out the Palestinians without the world noticing? In 1948 they could have got away with it. They would pay the price in the long term, but they could have done it. The world has changed and now they have to be less direct. But their aim is consistent: the elimination of the Palestinians. Annexation does present the demographic problem: they begin to look more and more like South Africa the greater the population of non-Jewish Israelis becomes. That's why what they long for is annihilation. But the Palestinian population is not much less then the Israeli. The second demographic problem is the birth-rate. Israel is caught in its own trap. There is no way out but a single, democratic State. The PLO's recognition of Israel was generous but naive. The Israelis refused to reciprocate. Arafat was tricked and traduced (and assassinated). Trump is a mere half-wit. In time, the Palestinian population will exceed the Israeli. Then the South African comparison is irrefutable. Israel will refuse a single State out of bigotry and will go the same way as South African apartheid. Or use its nuclear weapons. It is the US which will determine the outcome. Changing opinion in the US is the most important task. When the US ceases to fund Israeli racism, it comes to an end. This could happen very soon. It is in the hands of US voters. Sanders' supporters need to push Biden. He is vacuous and can be shoved. Then in 2024, finish the job.

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A one-way bridge over the Jordan River is the highway to the Greater Vision who is going to Roadblock?
Is there likely to be another such example of abandonment as what has happened in Palestine? the various Accords have only shown Helicopter Models over the Years.

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Omar Karmi

Omar Karmi is an associate editor for The Electronic Intifada and former Jerusalem and Washington, DC, correspondent for The National newspaper.