Israel’s unity government ushers in endgame for two states

A demonstrator holds up Israeli soldiers during a protest in the Jordan Valley earlier this year (Mohamad Torokman - Reuters)

Omar Karmi

The Electronic Intifada  /  April 29, 2020

It took one year, three elections and a global pandemic, but Israel finally has a new government, and this time, it is one with a broader mandate than any other in recent memory.

This is mostly thanks to Benny Gantz who repeatedly said that he would not join a government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, only to join a Netanyahu-led government at the third time of asking.

He did so under the pretext of creating an emergency government to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. But this is not a government established to deal with any emergency. This is a government with the specific brief of determining when and over what further areas of territory occupied in 1967 Israel will start applying its sovereignty.

Gantz’s choice should not really come as a surprise. Gantz and Netanyahu may have their differences and Gantz may be genuinely dismayed at having agreed to be subservient to a man who is unwilling to step aside even though he is under the shadow of serious corruption charges and is married to someone who has already been convicted of the same.

However, on Israel’s constant quandary – the Palestinians, the land’s native population – Gantz and Netanyahu see eye-to-eye. That is: Maximum land, minimum Palestinians. It is a time-honoured Israeli strategic aim and one both Netanyahu and Gantz might feel they have a unique opportunity to pursue unhindered at the moment.

A non-starter

This is mainly because Israel enjoys the presence of a US president in the White House who could not be more zealous for Israel had it been an Atlantic City casino.

Donald Trump’s administration is already on board with Israel annexing West Bank territory, by all accounts. It is, after all, a cornerstone of his son-in-law’s peace plan.

Even so, the US administration would like to see Palestinians negotiate the surrender of more territory to Israel “along the lines set forth in President Trump’s Vision,” according to one State Department official.

This is undoubtedly to make it more palatable to Arab countries, who by some accounts are simply dying to accept the Trump “vision” and once and for all rid themselves of their Palestinian burden.

The problem of course is, as everyone knows, there is nothing here for Palestinians to agree to or negotiate.

The parameters have been nailed down already and while there is talk of statehood, with no control over borders, airspace, seaspace, natural resources, no independent access to the outside world, a captive economy, with trade at the mercy of Israel, and without the right to have a military, there is no meaningful sense in which Palestinians can be said to enjoy sovereignty, freedom and independence.

And this is not even to mention the desultory amount of land set aside for this “state.”

So it is a non-starter. It was always a non-starter. And Israel knows that for Palestinians it is a non-starter. This is why Israel wants to take advantage now of a US administration that does not really care about the optics of Palestinian collusion, in order to present the rest of the world a fait accomplis.

Changes

Israel has done all this before. It annexed East Jerusalem immediately after occupying the city in 1967. It annexed the Golan Heights in 1981, 14 years after it occupied the Syrian territory in 1967.

In fact, the area known as Israel today (with or without 1967 occupied territory) is in effect a fait accomplis. Israel has no settled borders, every inch was taken in war and with violence. Its boundaries are just that, armistice lines where various militaries came to a standstill in 1948.

These 1967 boundaries were long seen as descriptive of a future solution comprising two states. That was the promise in the 1978 Camp David accords (without Palestinian participation) that ultimately swayed the Palestine Liberation Organization to “recognize” Israel and abandon its one secular state position for a two-state promise and the Oslo process (with Palestinian participation).

Oslo was ultimately undermined by the US. Israel had made its intentions clear from the outset, and it was up to the US to make good on its promise of neutral mediation.

But the US was never an honest broker, and by the time Trump announced that he would have a fresh look at the Palestine issue because previous efforts had failed, he was right. His “vision” of a solution, however, is of course an insult to Palestinians, their rights, their history, their heritage and their identity.

It ought also set off alarm bells in Israel among the very people so enthusiastic for stealing more land.

Israel proclaims itself a Jewish state and grants exclusive national rights to its Jewish population. But 20 percent of its citizens are non-Jewish (and therefore, by definition, second-class) and it would seem strange for a country which strives for ethno-religious purity to want to add to the number of non-privileged ones.

Yet that is exactly what the annexation of more West Bank land will lead to. Stalwart pro-Israel two-state solutionists like Dennis Ross, a former US mediator, can see this quite clearly.

The land Israel wants to annex this summer is sparsely populated, but the more populous areas will eventually go the same way. The Palestinian Authority will hang on for a while longer, but annexation marks the end of any chance of a two-state outcome.

Netanyahu and Gantz may consider this a triumph and rejoice in springtime for a Greater Israel. For Palestinians it continues to be winter. There is still a road to freedom. But it remains a long walk.

Omar Karmi is an associate editor for The Electronic Intifada and former Jerusalem and Washington, DC, correspondent for The National newspaper