The shape of the Israel-Palestine conflict has been clarifying itself over the past few days. On one hand, the head of the Palestine Authority has gone to the United Nations and made his case for a two state solution without the slightest ambiguity, reiterated his recognition of the permanence of Israel, asking in return for the recognition of a Palestine based on the land of 22 percent of the UN mandate, the territories Israel occupied in 1967. The UN General Assembly passed this resolution by overwhelming numbers. A few days later, we saw Israel’s response–the announcement that it plans to build in the “E1″ area, east of Jerusalem, so that there would be no possible contiguous Palestinian state, no way residents of Bethlehem, East Jerusalem, and Ramallah could be linked. The West Bank would be effectively split in half by Israeli settlements. In effect, the Palestinians affirmed their bid for two states, and Israel said no, we will keep all the land for ourselves.
That evening Hillary Clinton opened up her 2016 presidential campaign by paying homage to Israel and the Israel lobby, and giving a doting speech to the Saban center at Brookings (its patron, Haim Saban describes himself as a one issue guy whose issue is Israel). Of course, she sat next to Saban. Knowing full well that it is the president’s policy — as it has been that of every previous American president — to oppose Israeli settlement building and to favor a two state solution based on the 1967 borders, she did include one murky line in her speech — ” in light of today’s announcement” (about E1?) “these activities [settlement building?] set back the cause of a negotiated peace.” But Hillary, at this critical moment, couldn’t even bring herself to mouth the word “settlement”, so beholden is she to the Israel lobby.
However imperfect, the two state solution has always seemed demonstrably better than the alternatives. Are two peoples who clearly hate one another — one whose land was taken away by the other — to share peaceably the same political space? It is not impossible, but it hardly seems the most expedient solution. Or is Israel to attempt — as its far right has long demanded — to “finish the job” started in 1948 and ethically cleanse the remaining Palestinians from Greater Israel. That probably is impossible — there are millions of Palestinians; and any attempt at further ethnic cleansing would ensure that Israel would go down in history as irredeemably morally tainted. Nor, of course, would Israel’s vulnerability to rocket fire be even slightly attenuated by such actions.
Or does Israel simply contemplate a continuation of the status quo — the West Bank Palestinians are confined to their towns, their right to trade and to travel (both within the West Bank and abroad) controlled by Israel, as is their water and electricity. Those who protest will face midnight arrests and detention without trial. I’ve read scenarios like this on right-wing Zionist blogs — the writers often think that Palestinian advocacy in the West is a passing fad which will soon whither away, leaving Israel with a free hand on the West Bank, while Israel will continue to benefit from favorable trade relations with Europe and massive subsidy from the United States. I believe this is the Israeli gameplan, and that it is as far-fetched as the other scenarios. As the UN vote demonstrated, Israel’s image in Europe is far worse than it is in the United States — as European governments pay far more attention to the measures Israel takes to render a two-state solution impossible. And sentiments of guilt or responsibility for the Holocaust, long assumed by Israel to keep European diplomacy quiescent, have lost their potency.
What does the future hold? While the two state solution is not yet off the table, no one with actual power is actually pushing for it. And once settlements are built in E1, two states will be over. At that point, the Palestinian Authority, unable to justify its existence in other than Quisling terms, should and probably will disband. And what former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert described as “a South Africa style struggle for equal voting rights” will commence. (Olmert, by the way, said Israel should embrace the Palestinian bid for observer state status.)