The unemployed female accountant from the southern development town of Ofakim who was promised a job by Benjamin Netanyahu sat on the balcony of her home and contemplated the question that bothers her every time she visits the local welfare bureau: Will there or won't there be a Palestinian state? Like her, architects, engineers and other laid-off individuals from high-tech companies are also certainly contemplating this question. From afar can be heard the whistle of the fast train on the Tel Aviv-Ofakim line that Netanyahu promised to build before he parachuted out of the country.
In the past week, the words "Palestinian state" acquired a kind of status like a conditioned reflex, the way a person angrily kicks the ground when he bites his tongue. Please don't talk about poverty and unemployment, about the absence of investments or a long school day - we are now busy defending ourselves against a Palestinian state.
Here's what happens in the absence of a Palestinian state: nearly 700 Israelis have been killed in the past two years, the army has retaken all the territories, unemployment is running at 10.5 percent and negative economic growth is forecast for next year, along with a further decline in the economic indexes. These developments have led to a situation in which it is precisely the Israelis, who do have a state, who believe that they, and not the Palestinians, need a political and economic horizon. A Palestinian state is not the solution to all these ills, but what further threat could it pose after all the threats that have already been realized?
Without a state, there is no one on the Palestinian side to hold responsible and no one on whom pressure can be brought to bear, and no positive incentives have been created to stop the public support for terrorism. The process obtaining in Lebanon could not have developed in the territories because the terrorist organizations are not offset by a balancing element in the form of a Palestinian government that is anxious about its investment, or an Israeli partner that could offer them an alternative. Hezbollah can only observe enviously the public freedom of action enjoyed by the Tanzim militia or by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Hezbollah always has to keep one eye on Beirut or Damascus and constantly ensure that it is not on a collision course with the Lebanese owners of capital or with the foreign investors or the donor states whose representatives will meet at the end of the week in Beirut.
The portrayal of the establishment of a Palestinian state as an existential threat to Israel is at best election-eve chatter and in the worst case is strategic folly. Even the United States, which attacked Afghanistan and conquered it in about a quarter of an hour, lost no time in establishing a government in Kabul, even if that government rules only in the capital. The U.S. cannot be certain that the Afghan soldiers it is training will not one day open fire on American troops, but it understands that it is essential to have a responsible local group, from the indigenous society and culture, that will manage the affairs of the country's citizens. Netanyahu, too, displays his statecraft when he harps on the fact that he succeeded in reducing terrorism sharply during his tenure as prime minister, because he threatened Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat with expulsion if quiet was not preserved. Netanyahu had an address to which to turn, but Ariel Sharon and Shaul Mofaz erased it.
This is the major difference between the territories and Lebanon and Afghanistan. There are no American settlements in Afghanistan, and there were no Israeli settlements to evacuate in Lebanon. This is also where Netanyahu's bluff lies. He is not afraid of a Palestinian state, because whatever the Israeli army is doing to a "Palestinian non-state," it can also do to a state. The establishment of a Palestinian state means the removal of settlements, and it makes no difference how many settlements. That's why it's essential to persuade the accountant from Ofakim that a Palestinian state will not be an existential threat.
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