Every once in a while I feel the need to write some form of this post to explain to Americans yet again why a Palestinian state is a bad idea.
This is not a big issue in Israel, despite the impression you may get from reading Ha’aretz’s English website. Most Israelis understand that a peaceful Palestinian state is not on offer, and that withdrawal from Judea and Samaria would create a security nightmare. But a large number of Americans still think that the moderate answer to the Israel-Arab conflict is a “two-state solution.”
They think this because they hear it from liberal Jewish leaders, and because they hear it from the President, whom they by and large respect. And they hear it from the Israeli Left, which has a voice in the media that is far out of proportion to its numbers.
After all, Americans are not here in Israel to see for themselves, so they depend on ‘experts’. And who is a bigger expert than the head of the Union for Reform Judaism or the President of the US? Those who oppose the two-state idea are called ‘extremists’ or worse, and nobody wants to be an extremist.
So here are the reasons against creating a Palestinian state. See if you think I am an extremist.
1. Security, security, security.
Given the instability in the Middle East today, even if a peaceful Palestinian state were to be created there is a real chance that it would come to be dominated by those who want to see Israel destroyed. Gaza, which was turned over to the ‘moderate’ Palestinian Authority only to be taken over by Hamas and used as a base to launch rockets and terror attacks against Israel, is a case in point.
Judea and Samaria are far more strategic than Gaza. A topographical map shows that the part of Israel where most of its population is located lies on a flat plain next to the Mediterranean. The terrain rises abruptly to the east, which would make it possible for terrorists to fire rockets and mortars down into populated areas, as well as Israel’s international airport, its lifeline to the outside world. During the recent Gaza war, Israelis fled from the kibbutzim surrounding Gaza because there is no technical solution to mortars fired over such short distances – Iron Dome, effective against longer-range rockets, can’t stop them. We also saw the potential of serious damage to Israel’s economy when the FAA ordered US airlines not to fly into Ben-Gurion airport (and others followed their lead), even for a day.
Then there is the importance of the Jordan Valley, or more precisely, the slope from the central highlands down to the Jordan river. This is a natural barrier to invasion from the east. If it were not controlled and defended by the IDF, there would be nothing to prevent tanks from as far away as Iran from driving into Jerusalem or cutting the country in half. Can Israel afford to take the risk of laying itself open to invasion in these days of the Islamic State?
2. There’s no partner who can deliver peace.
Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), the most ‘moderate’ Palestinian leader around, has never agreed to end the conflict in return for land, or to recognize the remaining part of Israel as belonging to the Jewish people (he does not believe there is such a people). He insists on a right of return for Palestinians to Israel. When Ehud Olmert offered him almost all of Judea and Samaria plus eastern Jerusalem and control of the holy places, he didn’t respond.
But even if he did agree, he is 80 years old and the other members of the Fatah Central Committee (Fatah dominates the PLO which controls the Palestinian Authority) are more hawkish than he is. Anyway, the PA exists on funds that it receives from the US and the Europeans, and is protected from being taken over by Hamas by the IDF and Shabak (Israel’s internal security service) in the territories. The PA is highly unpopular among Arab residents of the territories, and would be trounced by Hamas in a free election. So what would a paper signed by Mahmoud Abbas be worth?
3. The Palestinians could not be allowed to have a sovereign state.
Even if there were an agreement, certain aspects of sovereignty would have to be denied to the Palestinians. Could Israel agree to a militarized state two miles from its population centers? Could Israel agree to a Palestinian air force, Palestinian tanks? Would ‘Palestine’ be permitted to make treaties, such as a mutual military assistance pact with Iran? Considering that they have been at war with Israel since 1948, could we afford to give them more than a limited state?
In fact, what we could and would give them is a form of autonomy. They would control their economy and the relations between their citizens; Israel would be responsible for security. I can’t imagine that they would be happy with such an arrangement.
4. The Palestinians could not be allowed to import millions of ‘refugees’.
Due to the remarkable rules established by the UN, Palestinian refugee status was made hereditary (unlike that of any other refugee population in history). There were also very loose criteria applied to determine who initially was a refugee. As a result, the 500,000-650,000 Arabs that fled in 1948 have ballooned into a refugee population of almost 5 million – and there is supposedly a “Palestinian Diaspora” of 11 million. All of these (or even a small part of this number) could not possibly be absorbed by a ‘Palestine’ that is dependent on international aid and has few natural resources, without creating instability that would endanger Israel and Jordan.
There is a solution.
But it does not lie in creating yet another Arab state, for a ‘people’ that is mostly descended from Arabs that migrated into the region starting in the 19th century, and who are similar in most ways to their relatives in Syria and Egypt. The first part of the solution is to abolish UNRWA, the UN agency that is responsible for promoting the growth of the refugee population and preventing their absorption in their host countries – which is the next step. Palestinian refugee camps exist in Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza and Judea/Samaria. There were a large number of refugees in Syria, but most have now fled to Jordan. The funds formerly provided to UNRWA should be used to facilitate their integration in the places that they are living (yes, even in Gaza). This will require that discriminatory laws that prevent Palestinians in Lebanon from working or studying must be revoked. And it will probably require the overthrow of Hamas in Gaza.
Next should be the understanding that Arabs in Judea and Samaria can be granted some form of autonomy, but that overall security control for the territories will rest with Israel. Israel’s eastern border will be the Jordan River. Palestinian Arabs that want Israeli citizenship and do not belong to terrorist groups should be able to acquire it.
Of course the Palestinian leadership, committed to its vision of replacing Israel with an Arab state, would never agree to this plan or anything like it. But neither is there a reason for Israel to agree to plans that are nothing more than recipes for its dismemberment.
One question Americans sometimes ask is “if the creation of a Palestinian state is incompatible with Israel’s security, why does our administration say it is committed to both?”
That is a good question, but it should be addressed to the administration, not to me!
This says it the way it is. There is no real option for a Palestinian state at the moment compatible with Israel’s future security. And as you point out the only kind of state which is compatible would be demilitarized and never accepted by the Palestinians. I also think you are right about one point which Israeli negotiators in the past have not really considered fully. They have, or at least some of them have said that Palestinian ‘refugees’ could return to the territories given to the Palestinians. Considering their numbers, considering the economic limitations of any possible Palestinian state there would be continual pressure for infiltration into Israel.
The best it would seem we can do now is along the lines you have suggested.
“Palestinian Arabs that want Israeli citizenship and do not belong to terrorist groups should be able to acquire it.”
Within numeric limits? Or will we let them vote in a Sharia state?
Even if every Arab in Judea/Samaria was granted citizenship, they would not have a majority. Google “Yoram Ettinger demography” to see why.