When Magical Thinking On Israel Meets Reality
Editor's Desk

When Magical Thinking On Israel Meets Reality

Is the Zionist goal to crush the Palestinians or accommodate them?

Editor & Publisher of The NY Jewish Week.

Netanyahu, Trump and a changed Mideast dynamic. Getty Images
Netanyahu, Trump and a changed Mideast dynamic. Getty Images

It’s not hard to see why Israel’s Transportation minister, Yisrael Katz, has proposed naming a train station in Jerusalem’s Old City in honor of President Trump. For Katz and his Likud party, and for many other Israelis who felt insecure, at best, under President Obama for eight years, Trump has been a breath of fresh air. (Not hot air, as he has been for many American Jews.)

Given Israelis’ perspective, they might want to rename the Western Wall “Trump Tower East.” That’s because many Israelis are thrilled to see our president as willing to buck long-held beliefs about Mideast peace efforts that have shown few results since the Oslo Accords more than 24 years ago. Chief among those beliefs was the U.S.’s role as trusted mediator, coaxing and prodding both the Palestinians and Israelis to the negotiating table and trying valiantly to make each side feel valued in equal measure — regardless of the fact that it is Israel that has made every overture for peace and the Palestinians who have turned them down; and that it is Israeli civilians who have been the target of countless terror attacks from Palestinians honored by the leaders of the Palestinian Authority as “martyrs” for their murderous acts.

Then along comes Donald Trump and announces that Jerusalem is indeed the capital of the state of Israel, that he plans to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and further, seems prepared to cut off significant funding for the Palestinian Authority.

Bolstered by such bold public indications of White House support for Israel, members of the right-leaning Netanyahu coalition have been trying to take advantage of the new reality in Washington, like calling for annexation of the West Bank and making increasingly vocal their preference for a one-state solution that would deny voting rights to Palestinians.

US President Donald Trump signs a proclamation after he delivered a statement on Jerusalem from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, DC on December 6, 2017 as US Vice President Mike Pence looks on. President Donald Trump recognized the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — a historic decision that overturns decades of US policy. Getty Images

Such magical thinking reflects a return to the dream of a Greater Israel — without dealing with the reality of overseeing the lives of two to three million Palestinians. “I would never give citizenship to the masses of the Arab population in Judea and Samaria,” Yoav Kisch, a Likud member of the Knesset who is advocating an autonomy plan, told The New York Times. Views like his are being driven in part by the fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has long kept his most fervent pro-settlement coalition partners in check, is feeling politically restrained to do so now as he may soon face indictment on corruption charges.

Mainstream Jewish organizations here have always supported a two-state solution and continue to do so. They point out that the alternatives are either a Jewish state that is not democratic (even considered apartheid), or a democratic state doomed to no longer be a Jewish state once it becomes a Palestinian majority.

Perhaps surprisingly, among the critics of a one-state solution is Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, the group perceived as among the most fervently pro-Netanyahu, and chiefly funded by hawkish businessman and philanthropist Sheldon Adelson.

Which Zionist dream is in jeopardy and which is being realized?

“I am totally, unequivocally opposed to annexing lands where Palestinians live in the West Bank without offering them the right to vote,” Klein told me this week.

He favors a plan that would cede Palestinian areas in the West Bank to Jordan, and Gaza to Egypt. But neither Jordan nor Egypt seems at all interested in such an arrangement.

“It’s impossible to make a deal with the Palestinians because their goal is Israel’s destruction and they’ve refused to negotiate, time and again,” Klein said. He has had discussions with Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s chief Mideast negotiator, he added, and told him that the only chance to resolve the standoff is for Trump to tell the Palestinians “the jig is up — no more U.S. money for you, and we’ll support Israel publicly and privately in any and every way unless you change your mind and come to the table.”

And Greenblatt’s response? “He acknowledges that the Palestinians are not acting in an appropriate manner. He understands they have acted atrociously. And he says he will bring this viewpoint to the president.”

The Jerusalem Post this week cited a senior White House official saying that Palestinian leaders, despite their very public anger with the White House, know there can be no peace process without the U.S. and that “once the plan is revealed, it will speak for itself.”

Klein said that when he had lunch with Greenblatt at the White House a few weeks ago, “he wasn’t sure what the plan is.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (R) meets with US President Donald Trump’s Assistant and Special Representative for International Negotiations, Jason Greenblatt (R) as part of the 28th Arab League Summit in Amman, Jordan on March 28, 2017. JTA

In recent days the talk has been less about a two-state peace plan and more about a one-state solution, a shocking reversal in Mideast discussions. And on the Palestinian side, a one-state solution has a very different meaning, namely dropping the drive for Palestinian statehood and calling for equal voting rights in one democratic state for both Arabs and Jews. It sounds appealing, so simple, and presumably appealing to liberal democrats everywhere. Which is why it poses a real threat to Israel, since the demographic reality in time would be an Israel that is not a Jewish state.

Adding to the zeal of Greater Israel advocates these days is the fact that, given complex Mideast realities, including deep concern about a nuclear Iran and diminishing support for Abbas and the Palestinians, key Arab states are less confrontational about Israel. Saudi Arabia has not pushed back significantly against the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Neither has Egypt, which, behind the scenes, was informing popular media personalities last week to downplay the importance of Jerusalem to the Palestinian cause.

But at some point, even ideologues must deal with practical realities. Those on the left who advocate two states for two peoples must explain how Israelis would be secure with a Palestinian state next door. Those on the right who call for annexation must account for being responsible for as many as three million Palestinians.

The end of the Palestinian Authority would mean no more cooperation between its security forces and the Israel Defense Forces, an arrangement which has been effective in keeping a lid on violence in the territories. And Jerusalem is not calling on the U.S. to cut off all aid to UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works Agency), as emotionally satisfying as that would be in putting an end to an organization that, in supporting more than five million Palestinian refugees, is hostile to Israel and perpetuates Palestinian dependency — and the conflict itself. But Israeli leaders realize the immediate result would be chaos.

President Trump may be comfortable with an approach of “Ready. Fire. Aim,” but the Mideast conflict is far too complex for simple solutions that lack nuance and thorough planning.

Jason Greenblatt, left, meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to Jerusalem, March 13, 2017. JTA

Yossi Klein Halevi, the Israeli journalist and author of “Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation,” pointed out the “dubious premise of one-state right-wingers that Israel can unilaterally determine its fate, with a right of return only for Jews.

“Both the left and the right think they can impose reality,” he told me, “but the Mideast has a will of its own and a one-state solution will be a no-state solution.” Hard-liners have “failed to internalize that a key goal of Zionism was to teach the Jewish people a politics of realism, to deal with real dilemmas and unpalatable choices. Zionism was to cure us of the politics of fantasy,” Klein Halevi concluded.

Indeed, Israelis reflecting on Theodor Herzl’s famous statement, “If you will it, it is no dream,” must determine whether the ultimate Zionist goal is to crush one’s Arab neighbors or accommodate them. One Israeli’s fantasy is another’s nightmare.

Which Zionist dream is in jeopardy and which is being realized?

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