Israel in the Middle

The assumption is very often made that the long-lasting standoff between Israel and the Palestinians is intolerable for Israel, but it continues due to outside pressures.   These pressures include Palestinian refusal to agree to a reasonable two-state solution and international pressure to not take the measures required to completely destroy Hamas and other violent factions.  The fact is that the status quo is not only the best option for Israel, it is the only viable option.

In order to see this, let’s look at the possible “solutions” to the standoff that defines Israel-Palestine.  The first is the two-state solution.  Forgetting about the nitty-gritty, this requires Israel to recognize a Palestinian state the shares hundreds of border miles with it and would require a link corridor that runs through the middle of Israel.  It means the end of settlement expansion, and probably the dismantling of many current settlements.  It means that the next time there are rocket attacks, military tunnels, or suicide bombers, Israel won’t be able to respond with police action, but will essentially have to either keep the peace or go to war.  And war means eventual occupation and a return to present conditions.  So keeping a one-sided peace may be the only outcome.

This reality of the two-state solution is intolerable to many Israelies.  It’s seen as a big step backwards to being surrounded by hostile states over which the only control is going to war.  It doesn’t seem viable until the Palestinians renounce violence, and few in Israel believe they ever will.

The other reasonable solution is the one state solution, which means absorbing the West Bank and Gaza Strip into Israel proper and giving all their residents Israeli citizenship.  But that creates a country with two groups opposed along not only religious but also economic lines.  It is incredibly difficult to have a functioning democracy under such conditions.  A unified Israel-Palestine would have approximately equal numbers of Jews and Muslims.  The higher birth rate of Palestinians, one of the highest in the world, would mean more Muslims than Jews within 10 years, transforming Israel from a Jewish state into… no one can imagine.  So it’s not really a reasonable solution after all.

The other solutions involve essentially the ethnic cleansing of the occupied territories so that the Palestinians are no longer a factor in the future of Israel.  While this does seem to be the logical end of settlement building, few people really advocate this as a stated policy.  So officially, we can eliminate this option as well.

That leaves the status quo.  As I said, it’s the best solution for Israel now.  And there are many who calculate that it will be the best solution for the long run.  As settlement activity continues, the occupied territories will become less and less livable until, perhaps, Palestinians will simply give up and leave for greener pastures.

This implies that time is on the side of Israel, and the longer they hang onto the status quo the better.  But the misery of the Palestinians isn’t the only trend.  As it needs to take more and more violent action, the isolation of Israel increases.  There will come a day when Israel will be seen by most of the world in the same terms as the South Africa of the 1980s.  And the only country to steadfastly support it, the US,  may have seen the height of its power pass by, so its support may not be what it used to be.  Moreover, the US muslim population continues to grow and gain political strength, which may lead to a political need for a more balanced US approach to the region.  So those trends do not go in Israel’s favor.

Whatever the trends, it remains a fact that Israel’s best option at the moment is to keep the status quo.  It’s not what it should morally do, but it’s probably what it will do.  Think of it this way: Israel is sometimes referred to as a regional superpower, because it is so much more militarily and economically capable than any of its neighbors.  With that kind of power, doesn’t it make sense that they get to have things their way?  So it only makes sense that the middle course between one state and two is what Israel prefers.

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