U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee recently stating his belief that the window for a two-state solution will close in the next eighteen months to two years.
Certain circles within the American Jewish community, as well as many Israelis, including those in the settler movement, believe that this generation of Palestinians is hopeless as a partner for peace — that peace will have to be deferred to another generation.
But will anything be left to negotiate in a generation from now?
For one thing, the settlers are not waiting. If a grand deal is not attained, the settler movement will push Israel to expand its control of the West Bank. Dani Dayan, the leader of the settlers, points out that by 2014 there will be 400,000 settlers in the West Bank — a number that excludes the 200,000 in East Jerusalem.1 This being the case, approximately 10 percent of all Israeli Jews would be living beyond the 1967 borders.
It would be dangerous to ignore this issue.
I have been tracking the pace of the settler movement since 2000, and I subsequently constructed a series of maps for a territorial solution based on official Israeli figures. I tried to chart three possible territorial solutions to the conflict. My hope was predicated on the fact that 80 percent of the settlers live in 5 percent of the land, largely adjacent to the pre-1967 boundaries and not evenly distributed throughout the territories. The maps show annexation and land swaps ranging from 3.72 percent to 4.73 percent of the land. At the higher end (4.73 percent), Israel would annex the area with 80 percent of the settlers and provide land swaps or land exchanges for the same amount of territory. In that scenario, approximately 240,000 people — those who live in clusters or blocs — would be annexed; the 60,000 settlers living outside of the blocs, on the wrong side and inside Palestine, would not.
According to up-to-date Israeli Interior Ministry data presented in 2012, there is some similarity as well as change over the previous three years of West Bank settlement activity. While the overall ratios have not changed between bloc and non-bloc settlers, the raw numbers have changed: The non-bloc number jumped by 12,000 to approximately 72,000 (and the figure would have been higher if there had not been a ten-month settlement freeze during that period). To put this change in perspective: Twelve thousand additional settlers outside the annexation bloc are more than all the settlers who were evacuated from Gaza in 2005. The pullout of 8,000 Gaza settlers was gut wrenching for many Israelis. Removing 72,000 settlers would be a different order of magnitude. Moreover, if the West Bank settlement of Ariel is added to that mix, the number easily jumps to 90,000, and it could rise to more than 100,000 if some other settlements are added. At what point is it politically unfeasible to engineer such a withdrawal?
Some aides of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu say that the paradigm of evacuating settlers is wrong — that in a two-state solution, the settlers would live in a Palestinian state just as Israeli Arabs live in Israel. An important caveat, though, is that the settlers have always lived under the protection of the Israel Defense Forces, while the Israeli Arabs have never lived under the protection of a foreign force such as the Palestinian Authority police.
Others say that the status quo is tenable because of Israel’s technological edge. And yet, while Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system (which knocked out Hamas rockets during the November 2012 campaign) was astonishing to watch, its success going forward cannot be guaranteed. As President Obama said in Jerusalem, “… given the march of technology, the only way to truly protect the Israeli people is through the absence of war — because no wall is high enough, and no Iron Dome is strong enough, to stop every enemy from inflicting harm.” Of course, security arrangements must be rock solid, and an agreement alone is no guarantee of security, either.
The argument that the status quo is tenable also suggests that there are no implications as it relates to violent ideology. Apart from the growing number of settlers, one cannot assume that a protracted impasse will have no impact. While Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is committed to nonviolence, without a two-state solution, it is doubtful that nonviolence will have a favorable legacy. Radicalization — spurred by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad along with other existing Salafist groups in Gaza — will be a likely substitute. Fresh graves will be dug and old problems will remain. A peace agreement is likely to be the best chance to boost moderates in their constant competition with the rejectionists.
Adding to the complicated mix of change and stagnation is the famed demographic issue: Most Israelis want Israel to be both a Jewish and a democratic state. There are more than 6 million Jews in Israel, but there are also 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza, and another 1.3 million Israeli Arabs (who are citizens and can vote), totaling 5.3 million. So it is a precarious balance between 6 million Jews and 5.3 million Arabs. At what point will the number of Arabs outpace the number of Jews? Though some cite the high ultra-Orthodox birthrate to dismiss the problem, this misses an important psychological fact: The close-to-parity situation encourages Arabs that a one-state solution could be within their grasp. These statistics also serve as fodder for those unfair critics who would love to portray Israel as an apartheid state like the former South Africa — despite the fact that Israeli Arabs vote and Israel has exited Gaza. Those who dare to forecast the future are predicting that the Palestinians could, in the not-too-distant future, bypass a two-state solution for a one-state option. The simplicity of the one-state appeal, which would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state, would draw global supporters and deepen Israel’s delegitimization and isolation.
None of this is to say that a two-state solution is easy or its success assured. The regional Arab awakening or upheaval has certainly exacerbated the situation, deepening the question of whether Abbas is capable of agreeing to a grand deal. However, the absence of a grand deal does not suggest that the parties should refrain from some other interim understanding. The “perfect” should not be the enemy of the good.
A state deferred to the distant future will be a state denied. Israel, not just the Palestinians, will end up bearing the consequences.
For the full study, please visit: http://www.
1 According to World Jewish Population, a 2010 study published by Israel’s leading demographer Sergio Della Pergola.