For decades, some people have been calling for a “two-state solution.” The Israeli Left, the American establishment, even the leaders of the Palestinian Authority claim to want it. Some were fond of saying that “everyone knows what the solution is,” and just a few details need to be ironed out – how, precisely, to divide Jerusalem; how to reward the Arab “refugees” (who are mostly not refugees) that have been promised that they will “return” for all these years; how to divide the land as closely as possible to the armistice lines that were never supposed to be borders; and how to ethnically cleanse the so-called “West Bank” of Jews for the second time since 1948.
Before the advent of the UN, when a country acquired territory in a war, it got to keep it unless the other side (or someone else) took it back. But the founders of the UN thought that humanity needed to become more mature. Acquisition of territory by aggression was forbidden, and although national self-defense was permitted, changing borders even in a defensive war was frowned upon – even when it could be argued that the “acquisition” was actually the restoration of illegally seized land to its rightful owner. And especially if Jews might benefit.
After the Six Days War, the UN Security Council proposed a compromise, the famous Resolution 242. The great powers that dominated the UN in those days thought that it would be unfair to allow the Arabs to suffer the complete defeat they deserved, so they suggested that Israel should give up territory it had conquered in return for “peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.” As if we didn’t deserve those things from the start!
At first, the Arabs refused to even talk. But ultimately, after the Palestinians replaced Jordan as the proposed recipients of Judea and Samaria, they agreed. No problem, they said: just reverse the decision of the war, give us every centimeter of [your] land that was under Jordanian control for 19 years including eastern Jerusalem, and [by the way] allow millions of Arabs who are supposedly descended from the refugees of 1948 to change the demographic balance in your country so that it will have an Arab majority.
This was the “two-state solution” that the Palestinians would accept. Not a compromise, but a complete reversal of the outcome of the war, plus what would quickly become a reversal of Israel’s War of Independence as well. This is what Mahmoud Abbas means today when he talks about a “two-state solution.”
The responsible parts of the Israeli Left and some of the other two-staters have enough sense to oppose the demand for a right of return. But they more or less accept the rest of the Palestinian program.
So why was it never implemented?
The main reason was that the Palestinians, noting the success of their propaganda efforts in the West, believed that time was on their side, and ultimately the “international community” would force Israel to give them everything they wanted, including even the right of return. They held out against Israeli demands for a security presence in the Jordan Valley, Palestinian demilitarization, recognition of a state of the Jewish people, and of course for the right of return.
They probably would have succeeded but for two things: the change in the energy markets that reduced the worldwide dependence on oil from the Gulf, and the realization by the Sunni Arab states that only Israel – and not the US or Europe – would stand up to expansionist Iran. Suddenly, much of the air went out of the Palestinian balloon.
And that is a good thing, because the kind of two-state solution that the Obama Administration wanted to impose, even without a right of return, would have put Israel in a box, with indefensible borders and – ultimately if not immediately – next door to a terrorist state ten times as dangerous than Hamas-ruled Gaza. The ethnic cleansing that Israel would have been obliged to perform on herself, even if she could have kept the main “settlement blocs” near the Green line, would have torn the country apart.
Just at the right time, along came Donald Trump with his “Deal of the Century.” It is nothing other than a different “two-state solution,” one that is closer to what was envisioned by the drafters of UNSC 242, and an arrangement that would at least create defensible borders. The two-staters should love it, but they don’t.
Of course the Palestinians oppose it, but what I find interesting is why the Israeli Left, the American Reform Movement, and so many supposed moderates find it so objectionable. They oppose “annexation,” but they can’t explain why the armistice lines, which both sides agreed would not have political significance, somehow gained it when Jordan illegally occupied Judea and Samaria and ethnically cleansed the region. They oppose “unilateral action” but the roughly 30 years that Israel has been talking to the PLO should have amply demonstrated that there will not be mutual agreement. And I don’t think it’s occurred to them what it would be like to expel 100,000 Jews from their homes.
Right now there is enormous pressure being placed on PM Netanyahu not to apply Israeli law to the Jordan Valley, or to the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. The Hashemite King of Jordan is strongly opposed, or pretends to be. He knows that if he appears to be weak, the violently anti-Israel Palestinians that form the majority of Jordanians might destabilize his government (and kick him out). But at the same time, he would far rather have Israel at his back than a Palestinian state that would stab him in it, as Arafat tried to do in 1970. The other Sunni Arab states are required to make the correct noises as well, but they do not particularly love the PLO, which they remember supported Saddam Hussein in Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and attacks on Saudi Arabia. I am sure that if Iran vanished tomorrow, they would go back to trying to eliminate Israel, but for now they need us.
The European Union opposes Trump’s plan too. But legally, morally, and practically there is little that they can say or do. This is a curse we have to bear for Europe’s history of colonialism and genocide.
The Palestinians have threatened another intifada. But the IDF will be prepared, and the Palestinians understand that. Anyway, ordinary Palestinians are sick and tired of the corrupt Palestinian Authority. They are not going to go out and put their lives on the line for the ones that are stealing them blind (video), especially when it is to respond to an Israeli action that has little real effect on them.
Iran and Hezbollah have threatened us as well. But this is not connected to what we do in Judea/Samaria. The Iranian regime is committed to try to destroy Israel. It will attack us whenever it believes that it can succeed (unless we strike it first; but that’s another story).
The Trump plan as a whole has many problematic aspects. Still, it is really a conceptual framework more than a concrete plan. Israel does not have to “sign on the dotted line” and agree to all of it, especially when so much is undefined. Unilateral action to extend Israeli law to the Jewish communities and the Jordan Valley would take the Jordan Valley off the table as well as make it harder for a future government to agree to expel Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria. It might protect some communities from demolition at the hands of the Supreme Court.
Would the US agree to recognize our action without firm commitments to the rest of the program? Well, in a legal sense, there is nothing to “recognize.” We are not declaring a state, and we are not “annexing” anything that we are not already in justified possession of. This is an internal Israeli matter.
But in any event, why would the US disapprove of Israel taking the first step to implement the plan, proposed by its president, that represents the first real crack in the stalemate that has existed since 1967?