For 50 years, the conventional wisdom about the Middle East is that Israel must choose between an apartheid or a binational state unless it retreats from the West Bank. Without a two-state solution to the conflict, the assumption is that Israel will either be forced to treat Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza as full citizens, and thus lose the Jewish character of their state, or else repress them in an unsustainable apartheid regime. But the problem is that the Palestinians have never fully embraced the idea of two states for two peoples.
Belief in this rational idea has always been more a matter of faith than serious analysis. The Palestinian Authority’s repeated rejection of Israeli peace offers that would have granted them a state in the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem and the second intifada disillusioned most Israelis. But hope that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas was, as President Obama assured us, a champion of peace, remained. Or at least it did until Jan. 14 when Abbas gave a speech in which he dropped the pretense of moderation.
The speech was supposedly a response to President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his pressure on the PA to stop subsidizing terrorism. But Abbas made it clear his problem wasn’t so much with that policy shift as it was with the entire concept of a Jewish state. In an anti-Semitic rant that denounced the Balfour Declaration with as much heat as Trump, Abbas spewed forth denials of Jewish history and any connection between the Jews and their land. He reminded us that there’s a reason why the PA has always refused to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.
This vindicates the Netanyahu government, which has taken the position that if Israel is to be asked to give up more territory, the result cannot be a repetition of Ariel Sharon’s 2005 Gaza experiment, in which Israel traded land for terror, not peace. But undaunted by Abbas, Israel’s critics will stay say it must give up the West Bank in order to avoid the one state/apartheid choice that will lead to its destruction.
But Israel doesn’t have to choose between those two impossible options.
Since the Six-Day War, Israelis were told that the status quo could not be sustained. And yet despite repeated predictions of disaster, Israel has done just that. It’s a dismal state of affairs that both sides dislike. Friends of the Jewish state are particularly upset by it since the anomalous situation undermines the idealistic vision of Zionism they prefer to the cold, hard reality of the Middle East.
But it is clearly better than any alternative.
Separation without real peace means a continuation of the conflict under more disadvantageous terms that most Israelis rightly reject as madness.
A one-state solution, whether pursued by land-of-Israel activists on the Jewish right or Palestinians, is equally absurd. Abbas debunked the notion that the Palestinian national movement will embrace democracy and coexistence in hopes of voting Israel out of existence. So long as their national identity is inextricably tied to the war on Zionism, resistance to the Jewish presence will continue rendering one state merely a prescription for more conflict.
And Israel doesn’t need to impose its laws apartheid-style on the West Bank. Abbas and his corrupt Fatah Party are obviously bluffing about dissolving the Palestinian Authority. Israel can continue to allow it to govern most Palestinians autonomously while maintaining security control. And it can continue to do so until the Palestinians are ready to drop the hatred and talk peace seriously in no small measure because many of their erstwhile Arab allies are sick of their rejectionism.
Despite the impulse to think that a solution must be found now, Israel has proven that it can afford to wait for peace. Rather than being weakened, it has grown stronger and despite the hate of BDS groups and other foes, there’s no reason why that won’t continue. As much as those that love it would prefer that the wait not continue, for lack of better options, that’s the only real choice Israel has. Hard as it may be to accept, Abbas has made it clear the status quo is still the best of all available current options.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org and a contributor to National Review. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.