Yossi Alpher is an independent security analyst. He is the former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, a former senior official with the Mossad, and a former IDF intelligence officer. Views and positions expressed here are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent APN's views and policy positions.
Q: Recent opinion polls among West Bank Palestinians show a steady increase in the percentage who support becoming citizens in a single binational state embracing Israelis and Arabs. How significant is this?
A: None of the polls register a majority supporting a one-state outcome. But the percentage of West Bank Palestinians supporting this idea is increasing. Meanwhile, support for a two-state solution is decreasing, largely due to acute disappointment with the current low prospects that such an outcome will indeed be negotiated.
Nor is it clear, even assuming the accuracy of these polls, what effect Palestinian public opinion can have on a Palestinian leadership (whether Fateh or Hamas) that rejects the one-state idea, given the absence of democratic rule in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Perhaps it is most instructive to view this emerging trend in Palestinian public opinion as a simple reflection of reality. There is currently no peace process aimed at negotiating a two-state solution or any other solution. Settlement spread in the West Bank, coupled with ineffective Palestinian leadership, Arab world indifference, and the emergence in Israel of a right-religious pro-settler mainstream, are pushing all parties increasingly toward a de-facto one-state situation.
In other words, there is a one-state dynamic at work both in the field and among Palestinian public opinion, even if outspoken advocacy of a one-state solution among politicians remains on the far-left fringes of both Palestinian and Israeli political life.
Q: If Palestinian public opinion seems relatively powerless, this is ostensibly not the case in Israel. Yet it is broadly understood that the Bennet coalition with its right, left and Arab components will collapse if it is pressured to enter into any negotiations whatsoever with the West Bank-based PLO. So what is happening?
A: Given the total lack of a political process between Israel and the PLO, the Israeli dimension of the current dynamic can be looked at both geographically and functionally. The reference to geography concerns the different ways the issues are being addressed by the Bennet government in the Gaza Strip compared to the West Bank. In contrast, at the functional level, there are both similarities and distinctions between the way the Bennet government approaches the two Palestinian territories.
Coalition leaders Bennet and Lapid undoubtedly recognize that the best way to avoid inviting pressures regarding the Palestinian issue--from Washington, Brussels, Cairo, Amman and even Abu Dhabi and Rabat--is to display at least a modicum of initiative. Here the goal is to avoid or deter violence. After all, terrorism in the West Bank and/or rocket attacks from Gaza, which draw the attention of the international community, could prove a distraction from the confrontation with Iran. And Iran, not Palestine, is definitely the Bennet government’s primary strategic preoccupation.
It is also important to distinguish among approaches to the Palestinian issue advocated by the main components of the coalition. The right-wing parties, Yamina, New Hope and Yisrael Beitenu, want to avoid territorial compromise and expand settlements to cement control over the 60 percent of the West Bank fully occupied by the IDF.
The left, Labor and Meretz, still advocate a two-state solution based on at least partial withdrawal from the West Bank. Raam, the Arab Islamist party, avoids advocacy regarding the Palestinian territories in order to concentrate on improving the lives of Arab citizens of Israel while shunning controversy over strategic issues.
The center, Yesh Atid and Blue-White, more or less straddles the gaps. Party leaders Lapid and Gantz (respectively, foreign minister and defense minister) are capable of paying lip-service to the two-state solution one day, then offering concessions to the settlers the next day.
Here it is important to recognize that, regarding the Palestinian issue, the right wing of the Bennet-Lapid coalition represents about a two-thirds majority of Israeli public opinion. After all, ideologically the coalition’s rightists are allied with the political opposition: the Likud, the Haredi (ultra-orthodox) parties and the far-right Kahanist Religious Zionism party.
Q: What does that right-wing mainstream advocate on the Palestinian issue and how is it relevant to the emerging one-state dynamic?
A: Leaving aside a small minority of openly racist adherents of expelling or disenfranchising West Bank Palestinians (who, perversely, are one-state advocates), we confront a variety of advocates of what can be termed status quo, refined by elements of economic peace. At the political level, there is no advocacy of two-state negotiations because (surprise, surprise!) there is no Palestinian partner for a territorial solution that leaves Palestinians in only around 50 percent of the West Bank, without access by a land border to the Arab world. And foregoing 50 percent of the West Bank is the most that the more moderate segments of right-religious Israel can accept.
At the functional level, there is active advocacy among a wide variety of right-wingers of ‘improvements’ in Palestinian quality of life and of infrastructure arrangements that ostensibly reduce the profile of Jewish-Arab friction.
A: Likud MK Nir Barkat, hi-tech millionaire, former mayor of Jerusalem and Likud leader wannabe, advocates a totally separate road network for West Bank Palestinians to reduce friction with settlers. The current count of around 150,000 Palestinian day-laborers in Israel will increase to as many as one million. The result for Palestinians, according to Barkat? Prosperity and tranquility.
Micah Goodman, religious settler, popular writer and smooth motivational speaker, advocates a “center” way whereby West Bank Palestinians get a little more territory, exclusive infrastructure, more self-rule, and economic benefits so that the profile of conflict is reduced.
If Barkat and Goodman’s solutions remind the reader of Donald Trump and Jared Kushner’s ‘Deal of the Century’, that is not a coincidence. Goodman in particular had input on Kushner’s thinking. Then too, former PM Netanyahu ran one of his many successful election campaigns in recent years on a platform of ‘economic peace’. The really striking aspect of these approaches is that, under the guise or conceit of avoiding conflict and friction in the West Bank, the settlement land-grab proceeds apace and a two-state solution is rendered increasingly unfeasible.
Are these advocates of economic peace and reduced friction truly unaware that they are unwittingly advancing, for lack of any alternatives, a one-state solution?
Q: Let’s turn briefly to the Gaza Strip. There is no territorial issue there. Hamas is not interested in two states. What remains? Economic peace here too?
A: Yes. And here there is a consensus in Israel and broad agreement between Israel and two key Arab countries, Egypt and Qatar. Since last May’s mini-war, Egyptian military intelligence has facilitated renewal of cash dollar payments by Qatar to various parties in the Strip, to buy peace and quiet. Israel has undertaken to expand entry into Israel of several thousand Gazan day-laborers (who are euphemistically dubbed purchasing agents), thereby contributing further to the Gazan economy. Egypt is plowing $500 million into post-war clean-up and rebuilding in Gaza by Egyptian contractors. Investment by additional Gulf countries besides Qatar, starting with the UAE, is being developed. Mediterranean fishing rights for Gazan fishermen have been expanded.
Q: Sounds depressingly familiar . . .
A: Indeed it does. This is an economic peace bribe without the peace. A taste of prosperity until the next outbreak of violence, which at most will be delayed a bit. No one has any real hope of changing the status quo. Not Israel, not Hamas with its Islamist total rejection of Israel, and not the West Bank-based PLO, whose return to Gaza is blocked by Hamas and without which no negotiated solution for Gaza can be contemplated by anyone.
Israel can only hope to tell itself that in the ultimate accounting, because there is no territorial dispute regarding the Strip and because Gaza has a border with Egypt and a Mediterranean coastline, the Gaza Strip can be considered a separate Palestinian statelet in the eyes of the world. That, ostensibly, could mean a three-state solution. Yet if Israel and the West Bank indeed continue to merge into one state, that leaves us with a reconstituted two-state solution: Israel-Palestine between the river and the sea, and Gaza.
Q: Bottom line?
A: All the fashionable right-wing formulas boil down to economic peace and clumsy ‘separation’ arrangements (overpasses, bridges, separate parallel roads) designed to provide quiet while Israeli territorial greed ensures control of more and more West Bank land. Under current circumstances of political stagnation in both Israel and the West Bank and lack of interest in the Arab world, this approach may indeed postpone conflict for a while both on the West Bank and in Gaza.
But at what cost? The right-wingers behind this approach basically want the land without the Arabs. The Palestinians increasingly understand this as apartheid. Advocacy of a one-state solution will continue to gather not only Palestinian support but that of the rest of the world as well.
What Israeli (and American: Trump, Kushner) advocates of economic peace and conflict reduction appear not to understand is that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is not an economic conflict. It is a territorial, religious, political and historical conflict. Palestinians enjoying more prosperity and less ‘friction’ will not long sit quietly while Israeli settlers gobble up what Palestinians consider to be their land. They will not long settle for apartheid status in a single political entity. Nor will the vast majority of Israelis ever willingly cede to them truly equal rights in a single state because that would be the end of Zionism and of a state for the Jewish people.
The two peoples’ shared slide down a slippery slope toward the status of a single entity will continue. Israel’s version of a one-state solution will be some form of apartheid. No more ‘Jewish and democratic’--only Jewish. Violence, involving all Israelis and all Palestinians between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, will be the end product.
Last May’s mini-war was an instructive preview of where the one-state slippery slope is taking us. Ostensibly, Israel was once again (round four!) fighting Gaza-based Hamas and Islamic Jihad. But in reality, the conflict also took place between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem, in Israeli mixed cities like Jaffa, Lod and Akko, and as far afield as London, Los Angeles and American college campuses.
Forget, for a moment, Palestinian public opinion. It is a useful barometer, but it is not the main factor determining the outcome. Nor are outlandish and counter-productive Palestinian political demands like the right of return the main factor. Even Hamas’s out-and-out advocacy of Israel’s disappearance is not the main factor. Rather, it is the Israeli advocates of Israel’s right-religious approach, people like Barkat, Goodman and Bennet, who are driving the outcome. They refuse to recognize the destructive end-result of their policies. This is hard to stomach. This is Barbara Tuchman’s March of Folly, Israel-style.