September may bring the death of the two-state solution - and the Jewish state
What happens when the Palestinians realize come September that UN recognition doesn't change their lives, that the settlements continue to expand, and the occupation continues?
The diplomatic tsunami of September is building up. So far, neither the U.S. nor the EU has been able to dissuade the Palestinian Authority from its bid for UN recognition.
It seems that the Palestinians no longer have a way out. Given that they do not see the Netanyahu government as a bona fide partner on the route toward a viable state, they are bereft of an alternative strategy.
The Netanyahu government has known but one tactic vis-à-vis the Palestinian bid for UN recognition: working against it.
It is bracing for the head-on collision with the UN recognition of Palestine, and hopes to score a ‘moral victory’ if major EU countries like Germany, France and the U.K. either abstain or vote against this recognition.
Basically Netanyahu will argue that the Palestinians ‘only’ got their ‘automatic majority’, and that the major Western countries didn’t go along with it.
But the real question is what will happen after the UN showdown. Israel's political and military echelon is trying to prepare for the eventuality of massive protests in the West Bank after approximately one hundred and forty countries recognize Palestine. The prospect of a new spiral of violence is frightening indeed.
While this is the most immediately pressing issue, the Netanyahu coalition has consistently been avoiding a much larger question. Israel’s concern has been what might happen should the Palestinian bid for statehood succeed in making a real difference.
There is but one scenario that is more problematic: What will happen if this bid indeed changes nothing on the ground, as most Palestinians indeed believe? What will happen when the Palestinians realize that UN recognition doesn’t change their lives, that the settlements continue to expand, and the occupation continues?
Netanyahu probably hopes that he can hang on to the status quo. Judging from his writings in the 1980s and 1990s, he has always claimed that a Palestinian state with territorial contiguity west of the Jordan is an unacceptable security risk for Israel. His clash with Obama earlier this year about the 1967 borders as a basis for negotiations indicate that he has never changed his mind in this respect.
The problem is that soon there may no longer be a status quo to hang on to. As Akiva Eldar has pointed out, Mahmoud Abbas, now 76- years-old, may well be the last Palestinian leader to strive for the two-state solution.
If the UN bid does not yield any tangible results, the Palestinian leadership may seriously consider dissolving the Palestinian Authority, and the West Bank, once again, will be Israel’s responsibility. The implications are enormous both economically and politically.
In that event, the Palestinians are then likely to turn to the UN with a new request: They will claim that after 44 years of occupation, they are de facto residents under Israeli sovereignty, and should therefore receive Israeli citizenship.
This scenario is likely to be the de facto burial of the two-state solution: What would the current Israeli coalition do under such circumstances?
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin has taken a very clear stance, and called for the one-state solution for some time. Because he is a staunch believer in the principles of liberal democracy, Rivlin has called on Israel to grant full citizenship to the Palestinians in the West Bank. In this he is joined by former Likud Defense Minister Moshe Arens.
It seems that most of Netanyahu’s coalition - and actually, most members of Knesset – do not share the vision expounded by Rivlin and Arens of integrating the Palestinians in the West Bank as full citizens, because it is difficult to see just how Israel could then avoid turning into bi-national state de facto.
This is the background for the wave of nationalist legislation in the Knesset. Israel’s lawmakers have been implicitly grappling with this possibility over the last two years, and have been trying to fend it off with law proposals that would guarantee Israel’s Jewish character.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman gave the opening salvo with his proposed loyalty oath to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. In general, his view has been that Israel’s Arab citizens constitute a security risk, so he is unlikely to be thrilled to add more than two million Palestinians to Israel’s citizenry.
Kadima's Avi Dichter’s proposal for a basic law that defines Israel as the homeland of the Jews with Hebrew as the only official language is another attempt to fend off the possibility of Israel’s becoming bi-national.
But all these proposed laws do not provide an answer to the simple question how a state with close to 40 percent Palestinian citizenry could maintain a Jewish character by democratic means.
Thus Netanyahu may go into history not only as them man who killed the two-state solution, but also the dream of Israel as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people that he claims to defend.