This post was originally published on Peter Beinart’s Open Zion blog (@ The Daily Beast), as part of a debate regarding the fate of the two-state solution. This piece by Jerry Haber, on the same issue, is worth reading as well. And if you have the stomach for it, here is rightwing MK Danny Danon (Likud), who wants to annex most of the West Bank without giving the Palestinians voting rights.
In the wake of a unity deal between the Likud and Kadima, which resulted in one of Israel’s largest coalitions in history, some claimed that there is a chance to revive the peace process, and ultimately, arrive at a two state solution. Others have said that it’s too late for a plan based on separating Palestinians and Israelis. But this is a false dichotomy.
For Israelis and Palestinians, the single state is a fact of life. The Israeli government controls the airspace, all the borders, the public land, the resources, and even the electromagnetic frequencies between the sea and the Jordan River. The same government has a monopoly over the use of force. The fact that some services that in the past were provided to the majority of the Palestinian population by the army’s civil administration are now given by the Palestinian Authority is all but meaningless. Israel is the sole sovereign both east and west of the Green Line.
Under this single, unified system, different groups of populations enjoy different rights: Israeli Jews have full political representation and all rights; Jews have rights as individuals and as members of certain communities, and they can take active role in shaping their future. More than a million Palestinian citizens have fewer individual and communal rights, but they can still vote. Some 300 thousands Palestinian residents in Jerusalem have even fewer rights than citizens, and they can only vote in municipal elections. Finally, 2.5 million Palestinians non-citizens in the West Bank have extremely limited rights; they are not able to travel freely, they are tried by military tribunals, and they have no political representation within the sovereign system.
Such a system of ethnic separation is nowhere to be found in the West, especially considering that most of the Palestinian population has been under military rule for almost half a century. One can choose any name he or she wants to attach to this situation—”Apartheid,” as Israel’s critics refer to it; or “limited democracy,” as Ambassador Michael Oren recently described the political situation in the West Bank—the reality remains the same: segregation and military control operates along ethnic lines.
The irony is that the “radical” one state solution only involves giving voting rights to the entire population living in Israel, while the “rational” two state solution means breaking the current system into two, not to mention moving many people from their homes. Still, the debate on both ideas misses the point: Israelis don’t feel any urgency in promoting any solution, since maintaining the status quo seems to be the preferred option for both the public and decision makers.
It’s understandable: today Israel enjoys relative calm and economical prosperity. The military advantage Israel has over its neighbors has never been so wide, and the toll of the conflict has never been so low. Keeping things as they are makes sense: the status quo might not be perfect, but it is certainly preferable to all other options. Leaving the West Bank would be costly, dangerous, and could bring the country to a near civil-war moment; giving voting rights to the Palestinians would transform the political system and ultimately the state itself.
Israelis politicians understand this almost instinctively. If elections were held on September as planned, there wouldn’t have been a single party running on a peace platform. Even several of the more dovish parties are explicitly declaring their intention to avoid the Palestinian issue at all cost. The desire to maintain the status quo is what lays the heart of Netanyahu’s new government: While their rhetoric might differ, all parties in the coalition, from the National Religious to Kadima, share an understanding that nothing more than minor adjustments is necessary on the Palestinian issue.
“The problem” is not Netanyahu or Lieberman (nor is it the so-called “Arab Rejectionism”; but rather the way Israeli Jews understand their immediate political interests. They would protest—in masses—the deteriorating government services, but not the collapse of the peace process or the ongoing violations of Palestinians’ human rights. Israelis say in polls that they prefer the two state solution over the single, democratic, state, but when presented an opportunity to keep the status quo, the latter often becomes their favorite option.
There is little point in arguing over the desired change when most of the political capital is invested in preventing any kind of change. The current political battle is not between the supporters of one solution to another’s but rather between those who defend the status quo—the way most of the organized Jewish community, as well as the current administration’s policy do—to those who actively work to transform it.
Instead of debating far-away solutions, political energy should be devoted in constant opposition to the military occupation of the West Bank and the isolation of Gaza, and to all forms of segregation and oppression that come with them. In other words, it should be directly aimed at the status quo and all those benefiting from it.
Since this system not only favors Jews but is perceived by them as the best of the immediate alternatives, changing it means working against the current desires of most Israelis. There is no way around this problem—ending the occupation requires intense pressure on Israel, one that would make the current state of affairs less appealing. All those opposing any form of pressure—whether they are supporters of the settlements or advocates of the peace process—are contributing their part to a regime of oppression and segregation, whose end is nowhere within sight.