So much tragedy and insufferable grief now engulfs the Israel-Palestine debate that the past year’s transformation of Israeli politics is easily overlooked. Yet, it is the nutrient for the present catastrophe, and perhaps for even worse in the future.
In 2009, Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu gave a major speech at Bar Ilan University, which, though highly nuanced, purportedly supported a two state solution. His father, a darling of the right-wing, then gave an interview to Israeli TV in which he stated that his son would never approve a state the Palestinians could possibly accept. The past year has demonstrably proved the father’s prophecy.
Netanyahu's pretense to the contrary has been demolished, both by others and himself. Since there is no other sustainable solution, Palestinians have now lost all hope of their God-given right to govern themselves with the dignity humanity demands. History informs us that when that hope is lost, radicalism will ensue. Occupiers lose in the end.
Public and private statements from officials deeply immersed in these talks suggest this Israeli government was never serious about peace. Comments by U.S. Special Envoy Martin Indyk and President Obama's chief Middle East advisor, Philip Gordon, place considerable blame on Israel; perhaps with bluntness unprecedented for American diplomats. They cite Israel's refusal to discuss borders, produce maps, end settlement expansion and negotiate many of the big gap issues. Indyk believes Palestinian President Abbas was humiliated and embarrassed by Israel's coupling of settlement expansions with each release of Palestinian prisoners, implying that Abbas had agreed to pay for the prisoners. During the nine months of negotiations, Israel announced the planning of 8000 settlement units, largely outside the area likely to be part of Israel in any peace agreement. Both men also place considerable responsibility on the Palestinians, but the proportionality is notably different from previous failed attempts to broker peace.
Most important, Prime Minister Netanyahu has now removed his mask. At a recent press conference, after implying Secretary Kerry and General John Allen were naïve about Israel’s security, he proclaimed that any Palestinian state contiguous to Israel constituted an unacceptable danger. Therefore, he said, such a state must have indefinite Israeli military occupation, not only in the Jordan Valley but throughout all of its territory. It appears that the alleged supporter of two states envisions a sovereign Palestinian state – but under Israeli occupation.
Certainly Netanyahu's position doesn't pass the laugh test. Still, it represents a less nuanced and unrestrained hawkishness by the Israeli right wing. Perhaps because the press conference was in Hebrew, these transformational comments have been vastly under reported.
Foreign Minister Lieberman fought for the invasion of Gaza, and driving Hamas out. His goal is an occupied Gaza, as compliant as the West Bank, creating a "stable condition similar to the West Bank."
The smoke screen of a two state solution has disappeared.
The Netanyahu coalition favors a bi-national state, a state where a large percentage of its inhabitants will not be citizens and will be governed without their consent. They will continue, as has been the case for forty-seven years, to be denied the most basic rights of a civil society.
Is this apartheid? The International Criminal Court defines apartheid "As a crime committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination of one racial group over any other racial group with the intention of maintaining that regime."
The United Nations has defined apartheid in a substantially similar manner. For the Jewish people this solution leaves their beloved democratic, Jewish state neither democratic nor Jewish. Young Jews will increasingly disassociate from Israel and the world will hold it in ever more contempt. For Palestinians, they lose all hope of a sovereign state and the right of liberty to which they are entitled. More generations of Palestinians will face a bleak future.
Our hearts break for murdered Palestinian and Israeli children. We're appalled by the massive Hamas missile attacks, and grieve for the over one thousand Palestinian civilians killed as Israel expands its defense. But these tragedies are but symptoms of the despair resulting from the failure to make peace. Until a two state solution becomes possible, we should anticipate the worst.
For now, the fight for a two state solution has failed. Hopefully, another Yitzhak Rabin will emerge before too much more is lost.
Stephen Robert is Chancellor Emeritus of Brown University, member of The Council of Foreign Relations, Overseer of the Watson Institute for International Studies and former CEO of the Oppenheimer Group.
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