Why Palestinians Have Time on Their Side
If I were a Palestinian (and, should there be any confusion on this point, I am not), and if I were the sort of Palestinian who believed that Israel should be wiped off the map, then I would be quite pleased with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s performance before Congress this morning.
I would applaud Netanyahu for including no bold initiatives that would have suggested to the world that Israel is alive to the threat posed by its seemingly eternal occupation of the West Bank.
In fact, I would make support for Netanyahu the foundation stone of my patient campaign to dismantle the world’s only majority-Jewish country. I would support not only Netanyahu, but the far-right parties of his governing coalition, the parties that seem uninterested in democracy and obsessed with planting more Jewish settlements on the West Bank.
The settlements would have my wholehearted backing. I would encourage my brother Palestinians to help build settlements at a brisk pace. I would ask the Israelis to build an even more intricate system of bypass roads on the West Bank that would connect Jewish settlements to one another and to Israel proper. I would ask my ostensible allies among the Arab nations to provide interest-free mortgages to Israelis in Tel Aviv, so they could move out to the settlements for some fresh air and a little more yard. And, while I was at it, I would insist that my leaders abort their campaign for United Nations recognition of an independent state of Palestine.
My goal: To hopelessly, ineradicably, entangle the two peoples wedged between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
Then I would wait as the Israeli population on the West Bank grew, and grew some more. I would wait until 2017, 50 years after the Six Day War, which ended with Israel in control of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. I would go before the UN and say the following:
"We, the Palestinians, no longer seek a homeland of our own. We recognize the permanence of Israeli occupation, the dominion of the Israeli military and the power of the Israeli economy. So we would like to join them. In the 50 years since the beginning of the ’temporary’ occupation, we have seen hundreds of thousands of Israelis build communities near our own communities. We admire what they have built, and the system of laws that governs their lives. Unlike them, many of us live under Israeli military law but have no say in choosing the Israelis who rule us. So we no longer want statehood. We simply want the vote."
And this, of course, would bring about the end of Israel.
Either the Jews of Israel would grant the Palestinians the vote, at which point their country would lose its Jewish majority and its identity as a refuge for the Jewish people, or it would deny them the vote, and become an apartheid state. The latter option is untenable, of course: Many Jewish Israelis would be repulsed by this thought; other nations that already consider Israel a pariah would now have just cause; and Israel would lose its last remaining friend, the U.S., because no American -- including and especially young American Jews -- would identify with a country reminiscent of pre-Mandela South Africa.
If Netanyahu had been thinking strategically, he might have realized this when he went before Congress this morning. And he might have done something bold: Acknowledge that the age of Jewish settlement is over. He did mention, fleetingly, that certain settlements would be set adrift in a theoretical peace deal. But he seemed unaware that he was delivering a speech that could easily have been given 10 years ago.
It is not 10 years ago. Israel is now 10 years closer to achieving full pariah status. And -- in part because the Palestinians lack the patience to pursue a strategy of gradual, irreversible entanglement -- a moment of truth for Israel is rapidly approaching.
The Palestinians are seeking a UN vote in September on independence. They will prevail in the General Assembly, though not in the Security Council. President Barack Obama, with whom Netanyahu just picked a fight, will have to spend a good amount of political capital to stymie the Palestinian campaign, even though he appears to have nothing but contempt for Netanyahu’s lack of vision.
But American opposition to this unilateral declaration will be in many ways immaterial. Israel will soon enough be seen by most of the world as the occupier not of disputed territory but of a foreign country. The Palestinians will wake up to find that a General Assembly vote did not, in fact, give them true independence. And then there will be an explosion.
The Palestinians who are watching Yemenis, Libyans and Syrians fighting for their freedom will soon be inspired to once again take up their own fight.
Netanyahu, who understands the existential threat posed by Iran, does not seem to understand the nature of this other existential threat. His five predecessors as prime minister -- including Ariel Sharon, whose heart did not bleed for Palestinians -- understood it. President Obama understands it, too.
"The number of Palestinians living west of the Jordan River is growing rapidly and fundamentally reshaping the demographic realities of both Israel and the Palestinian territories," Obama told members of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying group, on May 22. "This will make it harder and harder, without a peace deal, to maintain Israel as both a Jewish state and a democratic state."
An eternal truth of Middle East politics is that the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Lately, though, this has become an Israeli specialty. If Israel misses the chance this year to set the Palestinians on a course toward independence, it will jeopardize its future as a Jewish democracy.
A Magnanimous Vision
Yes, it will be dangerous for Israel to return to its 1967 borders, or anything close. The potential merger between Hamas and the more moderate Fatah is cause for despair, but it should spur Netanyahu to try to split the moderates from the radicals by offering a magnanimous vision for peace. He should realize that it will be fatal for Israel to maintain control over millions of Palestinians who seek what the people of Yemen and Libya and Syria seek: freedom.
Absent any hope of progress, the Palestinians will do what they can to undermine Israel. But all they have to do is wait.
(Jeffrey Goldberg is a Bloomberg View columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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