PM Netanyahu’s pre-election promise to extend Israeli sovereignty to settlements in Judea and Samaria created great consternation among American Jews. The Reform and Conservative movements and several satellite organizations were so upset that they sent a letter to President Trump urging him to oppose the annexation of any territory in Judea and Samaria (which they, following Jordanian usage, refer to as “the West Bank”). The letter argues that such actions could “destroy any chance of a negotiated two-state solution” (the expression “two-state solution” appears five times in a one-page letter).
Although many headlines refer to Netanyahu’s intention to “annex the West Bank,” his promise referred only to Jewish settlements. But two-staters see this as a threat against the whole two-state enterprise. They fear that applying sovereignty to the settlements will make it impossible to dismantle them. And if the settlements cannot be removed, then their stubborn presence will prevent the establishment of a sovereign and contiguous Palestinian state. Only such a state, they think, can avoid the “insoluble” dilemma that Israel must ultimately either make citizens of all the Arab residents of the territories and give up its Jewish majority, or annex them without making the residents citizens, and give up democracy.
But there is almost nothing more dangerous (except perhaps an Iranian atomic bomb) to the survival of Israel than a sovereign and contiguous Arab state in Judea and Samaria.
The reason is simple: a Palestinian state would be hostile to the Jewish state, and it would be strategically located on high ground next to the center of the country where it could do huge damage almost at will, with simple and cheap weapons like those used by Hamas in Gaza. It could invite armies from other hostile states into its territory. As a sovereign state – like Lebanon, for example – it could support terrorism against Israel, while any attempt by Israel to counter it could be characterized as aggression.
Those who predict the future by wishing for a particular outcome say that a Palestinian state need not be hostile. But those whose predictions are based on past behavior, on analysis of the statements, character, and ideology of Palestinian leaders, and by observation of their current actions – that is to say, on reality – understand that it is certain that the state would be a violent, belligerent enemy. Here are just a few reasons:
- The Gaza precedent. Even before the Hamas takeover, Gazans fired rockets at Israeli communities across the border, and launched terrorist attacks. The Hamas takeover opened the floodgates of terrorism, with massive rocket barrages, tunneling, and so on. In Judea/Samaria, even if the PLO were interested in peace, it could easily be overthrown by a more-militant group like Hamas – or worse.
- PLO ideology. Despite strenuous lobbying by President Bill Clinton, the PLO never actually eliminated those parts of its charter calling for violent “resistance” to Israel. The Palestinian Authority media and its educational system have never stopped claiming that all of Israel is in fact “Palestine,” was stolen from the Arabs, and will be returned to them by means of violent “resistance.” PA media consistently praises terrorists and incites Palestinians to murder.
- Palestinian authority policies. Despite Israel and the US acting to cut off funds that are used to pay terrorists and their families, the PA has continued to pay them – even when it means that funds for medical care for ordinary Palestinians will be cut.
I could go on, but why bother? Since there is no way to ensure that a deal made with a Palestinian partner today would be operative tomorrow – or that that partner would still be in power tomorrow – the exercise is academic anyway. The only way to prevent the creation of a belligerent Palestinian state is to prevent the creation of a sovereign state at all.
It’s doubtful that such a state could survive on its own anyway. “Palestine” would be a tiny state, much smaller than Israel, and – if the economies of the PA and Gaza are any guide, not viable. Palestinians will tell you that their economies are hobbled by “occupation,” but the fact is that the PA and Gaza receive help in various forms from Israel and have fewer expenses than they would as a sovereign state. Their economies are wracked by corruption, addiction to handouts, and – in the case of Gaza – the diversion of resources into making war against Israel.
But what about the “insoluble dilemma” that would prevent Israel from being both Jewish and democratic if there were no Palestinian state? In fact, there are several solutions. One of them is to create an autonomous Palestinian entity that would allow for economic development and allow the Palestinians to rule themselves with no interference from Israel – insofar as they refrain from terrorism against the nearby Jewish state. It needn’t be contiguous, and probably it’s better that it not be.
Control of borders and airspace must remain with Israel, and the Palestinian entity must be demilitarized, in order to prevent it from becoming a threat to Israel. In that respect, it would be less than a sovereign state. There would be complications: it is not as easy as simply annexing Area C. But there is no other alternative that allows for a peaceful Palestinian entity alongside Israel.
The Palestinians would not accept this at first and would continue their diplomatic and kinetic warfare against Israel. But they would do so anyway; and it would be easier for Israel to protect herself against them than if they had a completely sovereign state.
At this point, the objection may be made that such an arrangement would be unjust. Shouldn’t the Palestinian people have a sovereign state, too, like the Jewish people? Don’t they, in the words of Barack Obama, deserve a state?
In a word, no.
The Palestinian Arabs didn’t even self-identify as a distinct people until the 1960s, when the PLO was formed as a joint project of the Egyptians and the Soviets as a tool to attack Israel. Suddenly the Palestinians, who had disparate origins in the Middle East – most families have only been in the land we call Eretz Yisrael since the late 19th or early 20th centuries – became a “people” with a “national liberation movement.” Suddenly the Jewish people, who had good historical and archaeological evidence for their claim to be the aboriginal inhabitants of the land, became “European colonialists,” while the Palestinians made scientifically ludicrous claims to be descended variously from Canaanites or Philistines. From the beginning, the only specifically “Palestinian” aspect of their culture has been their opposition to Jewish sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael.
Their demands have always been maximal, and they have rejected numerous compromises, usually violently. The Arab response to the 1947 UN partition resolution was war, and Arafat’s answer to the Camp David summit was the Second Intifada. Since before the founding of the State of Israel, Palestinian Arabs have expressed their frustration with the Jewish presence, and now sovereignty, by murdering Jews. Although they were not the first to use them, they popularized airplane hijacking and suicide bombing. Palestinians didn’t perpetrate 9/11, but they were its spiritual father. Today they have created an even more inhuman weapon, a generation of children raised to believe that nothing is more praiseworthy than slaughtering a random Jew in the street.
Most Israelis understand all this quite well, and that is why – despite their myriad problems with him – they have democratically chosen Binyamin Netanyahu to be PM yet again. Security has always been the political issue that overrides all others, and they are convinced (one hopes correctly) that Netanyahu will stand up to the pressure coming from antisemitic Europe and uninformed America – including liberal Jews – and will not make another disastrous mistake like the Oslo Accords.
The American Reform and Conservative movements love the idea of democracy, and talk about it all the time. They would do well to get used to the idea that the results of the democratic process may not always be to their liking.