The revelation that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had proposed that Jewish settlers be allowed to remain under Israeli sovereignty in the area of an independent Palestine (Barak Ravid and Amir Tibon, Haaretz, June 12) should have been a little more exciting. The previous proposal, more impressively innovative, that settlers in settlements not to be annexed to Israel could continue living in their homes under Palestinian sovereignty, went by almost without leaving footprints. The shrug at both proposals shows that both are perceived as unrealistic, especially because of the choke hold on Netanyahu, courtesy of Education Minister Naftali Bennett et al.
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The working assumptions behind the disregard with which these ideas were treated are the large numbers of settlers in the territories and East Jerusalem (about 600,000); the lack of a Palestinian partner; a government that is not interested in a solution; an indifferent public; a relatively good economic situation that blurs the economic damage of the occupation; and relative calm, in terms of security – they all anchor to the ground any attempt to float a diplomatic balloon. Thus there is no point in even raising an idea or an initiative; its better to wait until the American administration says something, or says nothing.
But Netanyahus two proposals reveal a number of fascinating aspects about his diplomatic worldview. A person who is willing to leave Jews under Palestinian sovereignty cant be an extremist ideologue at the forefront of whose mind is a messianic dream. A person who understands that he has to make original diplomatic proposals because of American pressure, either from former President Barack Obama (the flexible version) or by President Donald Trump (the hardline version), also understands that the occupation cant last forever, even if his declarations say the opposite. And more important: A person who makes do with the settlement blocs and tries hard to find a solution for the isolated settlements – in which more than 40 percent of the settlers live – recognizes the existence of the occupation and one way or another the historical mistake in establishing the settlements.
Thus we can continue to seek rays of light in these proposals, the more important of which is the adoption of the idea of the binational state in Palestine and not between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, thus keeping Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. This is also where the real revolution lies that stems from the proposals. According to them, as part of a peace agreement, Palestine would have to be a state of all its citizens, Jews and Arabs, to prevent the threat of Israel becoming such a state. Even the right wing, which says that Jews must be allowed to live in any country in the world, cant oppose this.
But as usual, the logic on which these proposals rests does not take into account the Palestinian vision. Why should the Palestinian leadership agree to accept 200,000 Jews at least (the residents of the isolated settlements) – a figure that constitutes about 8 percent of the Arab population in the West Bank – when Israel is not prepared to accept even a single Palestinian refugee? Just as Israel is worried about its Jewish identity, Palestine is also worried about the presence of a nationalistic, subversive and rebellious minority within its borders. But to this, a solution can be found in the principle of reciprocity – 200,000 Jews in Palestine in exchange for 200,000 Palestinians in Israel, thus neutralizing the obstacle of the right of return, in view of the Palestinians acceptance of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194, as laid out in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.
Ostensibly, all that remains is to release Netanyahu from the fetters of the extreme right wing, release the government from the punishment of Bennett and his colleagues, and persuade Trump of the logic of the plan. And here exactly is where the bluff lies. Netanyahu is no ideologue, but he knows how to survive. A peace agreement now is the opposite of survival from his point of view. It will bring down the wrath of the right wing on him, and will not free him from the investigations of which he is the object. But for a moment its nice to think that theres a way to a solution.