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23 June 2021

The Creation Of A Palestinian State Is Inescapable

By: Alon Ben-Meir
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Every Israeli will sooner than later realize that the creation of a Palestinian state is the only way by which Israel can protect its democracy, independence, national security and national Jewish identity. Denying Palestinian statehood defies Israel’s existence as we know it.

Righting the Wrong
The continuing international consensus that supports the establishment of a Palestinian state only strengthens the Palestinians’ resolve to never abandon their quest for a state of their own. Having held on to this position for more than seven decades, they still have no reason to accept anything less, regardless of the vast changes on the ground. They will continue to wait and engage in sporadic violence and mini wars, as we have seen time and again, regardless of the heavy toll in human lives and destruction. However, besides the consistent international consensus in support of a Palestinian state, Israel also has a moral and practical obligation for its own sake to resolve its conflict with the Palestinians based on a two-state solution.

Israel’s very existence is based in morality—the West felt the moral responsibility to support the creation of the state because of what happened to the Jews of Europe during the Holocaust—and its continuing existence as a free and independent country depends on its moral standing both as a democratic state and as a Jewish nation.

Discrimination of the Jews
The Jews were discriminated against, persecuted, and segregated, and millions perished during World War II simply because of their religious identity. Their horrifying historic experience makes it morally unacceptable to subjugate other people, especially the Palestinians with whom they coexist and will have to continue to coexist indefinitely, and yet Israelis treat them with derision and contempt the way the Jews were treated for centuries in foreign lands.

Thus, maintaining the occupation in any form defies what the Jews worldwide stood for and sacrificed for millennia. True, the Palestinians have made many mistakes and to this day some Palestinians groups remain vociferous in their threats against Israel. These threats, however, have never amounted to being existential, and right-wing Israeli parties have over the years deliberately exaggerated the potency of such threats to justify the occupation and the often-draconian policies against the Palestinians.

Given the fact, however, that since 1967 new irreversible developments (such as the building of new and expansion of existing settlements and intermixing of populations) occurred, the two-state solution appears now to many Israeli and Palestinian observers as either unrealistic or undesirable, or both. They no longer believe that a two-state solution is possible, especially given the interdispersement of Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and in Jerusalem, and Israel’s unwillingness to relinquish much of the occupied territories. These facts are leading the believers of the one-state solution to argue that it is the only practical alternative.

One state is not an option
Such an alternative will never be accepted by the Israelis at large, as that would compromise the state’s Jewish national identity and its democracy by virtue of the fact that the nearly 3.1 million Palestinians in the West Bank and the 1.6 million Israeli Arabs will constitute roughly 45 percent of the total combined population of Jewish and Arab Israelis and Palestinians. If we were to include the Palestinians in Gaza, the total number of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs will be near that of Israeli Jews.

Although the Jewish fertility rate has now surpassed that of the Arabs for the first time, with an average of 3.1 per Jewish woman versus 3 per Israeli-Arab woman, that does not change by much the demographic time bomb. In fact, even without the Palestinians in Gaza, a minority of nearly 50 percent makes it impossible to maintain the Jewish national character of Israel without violating the Palestinians’ human and political rights.

Under such circumstances, if free and fair elections are held, it is unlikely that an Israeli coalition government could be formed without the participation of the Arab parties, as we have already seen. To prevent that from happening, Israel would have to apply military laws to govern the Palestinians, along the line of what is in place today in the West Bank.

This would make Israel an apartheid state, which would be unacceptable not only to the international community but to many Israelis who believe that Israel has a moral obligation to treat all citizens equally before the law. For these reasons, no Israeli government has considered the creation of one state by annexing the entire West Bank with its Palestinian population to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Occupation defies Israel’s existence
Instead, Israel chose continued occupation with creeping annexation of land, and in so doing it maintained control over the territories and built settlements, governing the Palestinians under military law yet applying Israeli laws to the settlers. Although many Israelis maintain that the current status of Israeli occupation of the West Bank is sustainable and may well be a way of life for decades to come, over three-quarters of the Israeli Jewish population (76.7 percent) supports the Abraham Accords, which required Israel to stop further annexation of any Palestinian territory. Most Israelis recognize that further annexation will damage any chances at making peace with the Palestinians and freeze further normalization of relations with other Arab states.

Every Israeli who opposes the establishment of an independent Palestinian state should ask themselves if there would be a circumstance under which the Palestinians would abandon their aspiration for statehood. The answer is clear—that simply would not happen. Why on earth would they give up their right to a state of their own? What force—Israeli or foreign—could compel them to do so? What kind of political or economic pressure will coerce them to submit to the harsh Israeli occupation and resign themselves to unending humiliation and despair?

After 72 years of Palestinian resistance and the extent of suffering they have endured, nothing will dissolve the Palestinians’ determination to realize what they aspire for, to govern themselves in a free and independent state.

In fact, continued occupation defies the very reasons behind the establishment of Israel, which was intended to be a haven for the Jews where they could live in peace and security. The notion that occupying the West Bank will make Israel more secure has been shown after 53 years to be nothing but an illusion, as Israel has never felt completely secure yet has also never faced a legitimate existential threat that it could not meet with ease. However, as the Palestinians, moderate and extremists alike, continue to challenge the occupation, they ensure that Israel will always feel insecure and spend billions of dollars on its security.

Some Israelis find comfort in the fact that several Arab states have normalized relations with Israel before the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has ended, which was a precondition to normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab state under the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002. Since then, however, many Arab states have grown weary of the Palestinians’ repeated missed opportunities to reach an agreement with Israel and no longer want to be held hostage to their intransigence.

Pressure through normalization
There are already clear signs that this normalization process has put some pressure on the Palestinians to moderate their position and be more realistic about the concessions they need to make to reach an agreement with Israel. This kind of pressure, however, will not alter their principal demand for statehood, and every Arab state that normalized relations with Israel—the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan—made it clear that they are against the occupation and view the two-state solution as the only practical option.

In the final analysis, both sides know that there is no way out of coexistence by virtue of their proximity, the interdispersement of their respective populations, the significance of Jerusalem for both sides, national security, the widespread of the settlements, and extensive common interests. This leaves us with one conclusion: the only realistic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one that can ensure the democratic integrity, independence, and Jewish national identity of Israel and the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state.

The new Israeli government must remember that the establishment of a Palestinian state is inescapable. Israel must accept this inevitability, or become ever more a pariah state rejected by its friends and reviled and constantly threatened by its enemies.

* Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies. - alon@alonben-meir.com

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