By Barry Rubin
The following article isn’t intended to reject a two-state solution but to point out issues that would inevitably arise if one ever came about. Recently, a once-major American magazine ran a cover story saying Israelis aren’t desperately eager for “peace” without ever mentioning the real reasons why that’s so:
It’s simple: Rather reasonably, Israelis want to know whether they would be better or worse off after making a deal to get a promise of peace in exchange for accepting a fully independent Palestinian state.
Making a strategy requires figuring out where things can go wrong and working to avoid or reduce the consequences. Pretending problems won’t happen is the best way to engender catastrophes. So let’s look at what would happen:
Do you think Cubans are fighting for healthcare or freedom from Communism?
A gala celebration marks Palestine’s day of independence. Some world leaders come bearing promises of financial aid. Arab leaders attending offer little money and, except for Egypt’s president and Jordan’s king, avoid contact with Israel’s delegation.
These celebrations are marred by the absence of leaders from countries–including Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, and Yemen. refusing to recognize the new state.
Hamas, ruling the Gaza Strip, along with Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian groups, also reject the “traitorous entity.” Gaza’s rulers mark the occasion by firing rockets into Israel. Palestine’s president boasts hollowly that his country includes all of the Gaza Strip but controls nothing there.
Hardly any of the Western media cover statements by some leaders of Palestine’s ruling Fatah group that the new country’s independence is not the conflict’s end but the first step toward total victory and conquest of Israel.
Nor do many note statements of Islamist and Palestinian nationalist Arab groups among Israel’s citizens that they now seek to dismantle the Zionist nature of the Israeli state, a goal several European newspapers endorse.
Nor is it widely highlighted in the Western media that the new country officially proclaims itself an Arab and Muslim state while ridiculing the idea of accepting Israel as a Jewish state.
Within a few weeks, infiltrators–some from Hamas, some from Fatah–cross the Palestine-Israel border to attack Israeli motorists and farming villages, set fires, and engage in sabotage. Palestine’s government loudly condemns the attacks and claims it is trying to stop them. But the attacks continue even though a few Hamas supporters are rounded up, beaten up, and briefly imprisoned.
Soon, the official Museum of Palestinian History opens with exhibits claiming all of Israel as rightfully part of Palestine. Visiting schoolchildren are told that Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beersheva, and the rest of Israel belong to them and will some day be part of Palestine. Big displays show alleged Israeli atrocities and extol heroes who’d blown themselves up killing many Israeli civilians.
Yet these things, along with anti-Israel incitement in the Palestinian media, mosques, and textbooks, attract little foreign attention. The conflict is over, isn’t it? And to publicize such facts, journalists tell each other, would only “play into the hands of Israeli hardliners” and “undermine peace.”
Israel, of course, protests the incitement and armed attacks to the UN and Western governments, but those diplomatic efforts bring no response. Israel steps up defenses and builds a border fence at great expense, which helps somewhat. Yet every time Israeli patrols fire on infiltrators trying to get across, Palestine protests–backed by Muslim-majority states—that this is unprovoked Israeli aggression.
In the Middle East, the peace agreement brings little change. True, in some countries hatred toward Israel diminishes a bit. But Syria is still uninterested in peace. Moreover, growing fear of a nuclear Iran, Syria, and revolutionary Islamist groups intimidates other Arab states from making peace with Israel. After all, they say, now that there’s a state of Palestine they don’t need to do so.
Islamist groups rally against the “treasonous” Palestinian regime and “sell-out” of Palestine to recruit new members. America is no more popular for having fathered a Palestinian state since that birth required concessions and didn’t bring all the land under Muslim rule. Violent attacks against U.S., European, and occasionally Palestinian institutions take place in a half-dozen countries.
From this point, we can envision several likely scenarios:
–Growing border tension and cross-border attacks lead to Israeli incursions to fight terrorists against whom the Palestinian government doesn’t act effectively. This sets off a crisis in which Israel is branded as the aggressor that is threatening peace and some call for sanctions against it.
–A coup takes place turning Palestine into a military-run regime which might be either more militant, wanting to fight Israel, or more cautious, seeking to crush Hamas.
–As a result of tensions with Israel, internal conflicts, a radical regime, or coup, the Palestinian government obtains military equipment, including advanced anti-aircraft missiles, violating the peace agreement. What’s the world going to do to enforce that treaty? Probably very little.
–As a result of the list of scenarios given in the previous paragraph, the Palestinian government calls in foreign troops, possibly Syrian or Iranian. What’s the world going to do about that? How would the world respond to Israel taking military action against such threats and treaty violations?
–A Hamas coup, far more likely to happen than the Palestinian government conquering the Gaza Strip, produces a pro-Tehran Hamas regime which, perhaps partnered with militant Fatah leaders, tears up the peace agreement and announces an alliance with Iran, making Israel and Western strategic interests worse off than ever.
Of course, we can also assume everything goes well and everyone lives happily ever after, that Palestinians become interested only in raising their living standards and keeping things quiet. That might happen.
But while the above scenarios are speculative they are better rooted in experience and reality than is the “best-case” alternative. At any rate, betting the lives of millions of people, Israel’s future, and Western strategic interests must be based on something better than wishful thinking and refusing to acknowledge the threats involved.
Tell me, if you can, how the above predictions are ridiculously unlikely or impossible. The only likely response is: Shut up! You are endangering the possibility of peace!
Have you ever seen serious discussion of any of these points from Western experts, media, or governments?
Is there any sign of steps being taken to avoid such outcomes in the Western approach to the issue?
O course, this is all hypothetical. In practice, the Palestinian Authority isn’t going to make peace for many years to come.
While may would read this article as reason to oppose any two-state solution altogether. I, like most Israelis, favor a two-state solution if done properly. Yet if no one takes these dangers seriously, why should Israel make concessions, take risks, and rush into such a situation where it would be very likely worse off than it is now?
All we are saying is to give peace a chance. But only if it is likely to be a peace that is lasting and better than the status quo for all concerned.