Israel's Right Bets on the Wrong Horse

Israel's pragmatic right is committed to the following principle: Israel has occupied the territories for more than two thirds of its history. So far it's worked, so why give up on this winning horse?

In all decision making processes, there are two conflicting principles: One is never give up on a winning horse. If a strategy's worked so far, just stick with it. This sometimes becomes problematic, however.

The second one is: Don't be like the frog who doesn't notice the water's heating up and boils to death. Watch out for new developments and be proactive.

Israel's pragmatic (as opposed to the ideological) right is committed to the first principle: Israel has occupied the territories for more than two thirds of its history. So far it's worked, so why give up on this winning horse? Time, they say, must be on our side, so let's wait and see.

The problem is that in this case, the "winning horse" principle covers up fear of change and political stalemate. The result is likely to turn out like what happened to General Motors: The auto company believed it was unassailable, and ended up bankrupt.

So far there seems to be nothing to convince the current government that the waiting game is not a winning horse, but a dying frog. Netanyahu keeps calling for negotiations while doing everything to avoid them, whereas Lieberman insists that he doesn't see the possibility of peace in the foreseeable future.

Here's how the strategy of Israel's right is leading to the State of Israel's demise. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is threatening to resign, and the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority is becoming a serious possibility. Many Israelis think that's just a negotiating tactic. They don't realize that long-time Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat is only restating what many leading Palestinians, starting with the late Edward Said, have argued for years: Palestinians shouldn't strive for a state of their own on 22 percent of Mandatory Palestine. Instead they should simply ask for Israeli citizenship.

Let's imagine the following scenario: The next Palestinian Authority president comes to the UN and declares that the PA has been dismantled; that after 43 years of occupation and settling more than 300,000 Jews in the territories, there is no way of implementing the two-state solution; that Israel has de facto annexed the West Bank, and that this status quo should now be recognized de jure by giving all Palestinians Israeli citizenship.

The UN is likely to accept the Palestinian argument. Israel has occupied the territories for more than two thirds of its history. Most Palestinians there have been born under Israeli occupation and should be entitled to full civil rights. Therefore, in 2010 or 2011, 60-odd years after the historic vote for a Jewish homeland, the UN would solemnly vote for the messianic right's dream: the Greater Land of Israel - only it would end up being the Greater Palestine.

An alternative to this strategy of endless procrastination leading to a binational state is now emerging. PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has called for the establishment of a Palestinian state with temporary borders de facto and the 1967 borders de jure. He wants to ask the UN for recognition of this state in 2011, and is meanwhile building institutions that will make the fledgling state viable. So far his success in doing so has been recognized by the IDF, which is turning increasing amounts of territory over to Palestinian control, and has even opened the border to Jenin.

The advantage of this move for the Palestinians is obvious: If the UN recognizes the Palestinian state, Israeli occupation immediately becomes unlawful. Seemingly this would be disadvantageous for Israel, but in reality it ensures that the binational state becomes impossible.

To the surprise of many, Shaul Mofaz has proposed a plan consistent with Fayyad's idea in principle: He calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state on 60 percent of the territories very soon, while leaving contentious issues for later negotiations. While some question Mofaz's motives, and while he would oppose the UN resolution Fayyad wants, his plan certainly offers a new element in the Israeli political debate, coming from a politician known as a security hardliner.

The Fayyad-Mofaz strategy will take the wind out of the sails of extremists on both camps: Israel's ideological right will realize that the dream of the Greater Israel must be left behind, and the Palestinians who still dream of a Greater Palestine will understand that history has moved on.

Netanyahu has no way of adopting this strategy with his current government and against the ideology of the majority in Likud. Since stalling the peace process may lead to Israel's demise, we can only hope that the Netanyahu government will not last. Political scientists tell me that there is no precedent for coalitions that do not include the center to last for more than 18 months. Let us pray they are right.