Opinion

The Demise of the Two-state Solution Deprives Netanyahu's Israel of Its Political Iron Dome

Presumed impermanence allowed annexationists to entrench the occupation, expand settlements and deny basic rights to Palestinians

Palestinian protestors clash with Israeli security forces in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, on January 13, 2018.
ABBAS MOMANI/AFP

Supporters of the two-state solution could soon resemble the toiter or dead Hasidim, the disdainful term once used to describe disciples of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav who adhered to their spiritual leader after his death and refused to appoint a successor. With the two-state solution on life support, its remaining adherents will soon include only those with pure and naive belief in their hearts. All the rest, from the deep left to the moderate right, are already immersed in one of the Kübler-Ross models five stages of grief: After denial, anger and efforts to bargain with reality, depression sets in before the final stage of acceptance.

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The right, on the other hand, is having a ball. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' speech this week, in which he angrily invoked the formative Palestinian narrative of Israel as a colonialist entity formed at the expense of Palestinians, vindicates what the Israeli right has been saying all along, Benjamin Netanyahu asserted. The prime minister knows all too well that in contrast to their 30-year recognition of Israel, which Abbas reaffirmed, acknowledging the Jewish peoples inherent right to the Land of Israel is a bridge too far not only for him but for most Palestinians. But rather than strive for a practical resolution that could someday pave the way to reconciliation and acceptance — the only way to settle deeply-entrenched ethnic conflicts — Netanyahu insists that the Palestinians repudiate the ethos of their national movement before Israel considers what crumbs to throw their way. Netanyahu's genius lay in his success in persuading most Israelis, not only on the right, that his premeditated propaganda ploy should serve as a binding prerequisite for the peace process overall.

The right, in fact, is celebrating a double triumph. Not only are its leaders claiming a historical victory in supposedly proving that Palestinians are no partner for peace talks, they are also reveling in the left's anguish at the impending demise of its precious ideal. With an indifferent Donald Trump in the White House and with Europe and the Arab world otherwise engaged, Israel can calmly go about extinguishing the last chance for partition. The Palestinians will eventually have to choose between continued occupation or Bantustan-like autonomy, but Israel will continue to rule them forever. Bye-bye two-state pipe dream, welcome to the hell of annexation.

In its joy over what it interprets as its ideological triumph, the right is ignoring its consequences, both intended and unintended. The peace camp may soon be deprived of its rallying cry, but the right stands to lose the diplomatic Iron Dome that protected it for several decades. Even if the two-state solution is just an illusion, as Naftali Bennett and other religious nationalists claim, it was real enough to create the smoke screen behind which successive right-wing governments could entrench the occupation without being held accountable by Israeli public opinion or the international community. This simple truism has been clear to all Israeli prime ministers since Menachem Begin first went to Camp David 40 years ago, but in the Netanyahu era the urge to bask in self-glorification takes precedence over the need to engage in smart evasion.

It's not only the left that will be faced with an unpalatable choice between plague and cholera, between de facto apartheid and a binational state in the offing. With no prospects for a deal on the horizon, the widespread belief that only the right can reach a secure peace will no longer be tenable. In the international arena, their presumed impermanence served as a shield for continued occupation, the settlements it spawned and the ongoing denial of basic rights to Palestinian. Right-wing Israel may be gleefully shedding its protective armor, but when its domestic and international stars stop smiling, it will be left exposed, defenseless and deprived of any reasonable excuse. A formal death certificate for the two-state solution will undoubtedly create an existential crisis for the left but in the long run, it is the right that may wind up missing it more.