The Two-State Unicorn
The signing of the Oslo Accords in Washington, DC, Sept. 13, 1993. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
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.
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The Cleverest Kind of Lie: Accusing Israel of Future Crimes
Gerard Araud. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
One tool of verbal demonization that is extremely difficult for Israel to combat is accusations of crimes it supposedly will commit in the future. These are far more difficult to contest than outright lies about current events. An example of this kind of manipulative lie is a remark in an interview by the outgoing French ambassador to the US, Gérard Araud, in which he said that Israel will officially be an apartheid state in the future.
In a parting interview with The Atlantic, he said that Israel will have to either make Palestinians totally stateless or turn them into its citizens. “They won’t make them citizens of Israel,” he said. “So they will have to make it official … which is an apartheid. There will be officially an apartheid state. They are in fact already.”
Peculiar semantics aside, Araud’s slander is smart. It levels an accusation about what may happen in the future, which is extremely difficult to refute. If someone tells an individual, “You are a rapist,” proof can be demanded. But if one says instead, “You will be a rapist someday,” nothing has to be proven.
Of all people, a French ambassador should be among the last to slander Israel in this way.
After France’s defeat by the Germans in 1940, the elected parliament of the French Third Republic ended its existence by naming Philippe Pétain head of state, and subsequent governments turned France into a country that was far worse than an apartheid state. Vichy France, still autonomous, banned Jews from many professions, including the civil service. Eventually it confiscated Jewish businesses entirely. It held tens of thousands of Jewish refugees in concentration camps. The Vichy regime handed over many tens of thousands of Jews to the Germans, who then deported them to their deaths.
There was massive wartime collaboration between the French and the Germans. Post-war French governments did not want to assume responsibility for Vichy’s acts. This was the case even though Pétain had come to power legally. Socialist president François Mitterrand, who served from 1981 to 1995, was once a Vichy employee. He changed sides and joined the resistance in 1942. He was clearly well aware of Vichy’s crimes, yet refused to accept France’s responsibility for them.
It was only in 1995 under Jacque Chirac, the center-right successor to Mitterrand as president of the Fifth French Republic, that the country’s official policy finally changed. In July of that year, Chirac admitted France’s role in the murder of Jews, whom it had not protected and instead delivered to their executioners. In a memorial ceremony, he said France had given the Nazis assistance in arresting Jews as a step on the way to their murder. He said: “We maintain toward them an unforgivable debt.”
Araud’s latest incitement against Israel comes many years after his first. Freddy Eytan, a former Israeli ambassador who is currently with the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, recalled earlier misbehavior by Araud. The latter was appointed ambassador to Israel in 2003, but had not yet presented his credentials when he said: “Sharon is a thug and Israel is paranoid.” This almost cost him the job.
When Yasser Arafat died in a French hospital in 2004, France, under Chirac, bestowed military honors upon him. By that time, it had become known that Arafat — even after winning the Nobel Peace prize — had personally signed off on documents detailing how much money Palestinian murderers of Israelis should receive. These documents were found after Orient House, formerly the PLO’s seat in Jerusalem, was taken over by Israel in 2001.
Araud was ambassador to Israel at the time. He remarked that Israelis disturbed by the French government’s bestowing of honors on Arafat, a mass murderer of their countrymen, demonstrated an anti-French neurosis.
After heavy criticism of his more recent remarks in The Atlantic, Araud explained via tweet that he was referring to the West Bank and not to Israel, which is not an apartheid state. Leaving aside the fact that 95% of the West Bank’s Palestinians have lived under the rule of the Palestinian Authority, rather than Israel’s control, since 1996, his tweets are incompatible with his statements in the interview. His explanation makes no sense.
Araud’s remarks in the interview join various other paradigms of verbal demonization that are based on accusations about future criminal actions. One is that Israel intends to destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount. Nadav Shragai, an Israeli journalist specializing in the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict regarding Jerusalem, says: “This canard is disseminated by leading Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim groups and individuals. Haj Amin al-Husseini, the pre-war Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, was the first to promote this slander in the 1920s. It was part of the vast antisemitic activities of this ally of Hitler.”
Shragai added: “The ‘al-Aqsa is in danger’ lie has expanded greatly since 1967. It is propagated by official Iranian sources — al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, etc. Akrama Sabri, former Mufti of Jerusalem appointed by the Palestinian Authority, is another leading disseminator of the al-Aqsa libel.”
Another accusation about future actions by Israel was made by German Literature Nobel Prize winner Günther Grass. He claimed in a hate poem — without providing any proof — that Israel is planning to commit genocide against the Iranian people with nuclear bombs. This left-wing poet, who in his youth was a member of the Waffen SS, must have known that in fact, it is Iranian leaders who have repeatedly and openly threatened Israel with genocide. Yet he suggested the reverse.
Grass’ poem was published by major European dailies, including the German Süddeutsche Zeitung, the Italian La Repubblica, the British Guardian, the Spanish El Pais, the Danish Politiken, and the Norwegian Aftenposten. Such extensive republication of a poem is highly unusual. The most likely explanation is a common thread of strong anti-Israel bias among the papers’ editors.
Yet another unfounded accusation about the future was made by former French right-wing Prime Minister François Fillon. In 2014, he claimed that Israel is a threat to world peace because it has not helped to create a Palestinian state.
These kinds of accusations are far more difficult to contest than lies about contemporary issues. That does not mean, however, that one should not make the effort.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is a senior research associate at the BESA Center and a former chairman of the Steering Committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He specializes in Israeli–Western European relations, antisemitism, and anti-Zionism, and is the author of The War of a Million Cuts.
A version of this article was originally published by The BESA Center.