For many Americans claiming to be friends of Israel, belief in the two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians is more a matter of faith than anything else. Nevertheless, confidence that Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank will magically create peace is still strong in some quarters. The foreign policy establishment, the Jewish left and, of course, an Obama administration that still has a year left in which it can continue to pursue its goal of creating even more daylight between the U.S. and its sole democratic ally in the Middle East, all still think the two-state solution is the only answer. Those who subscribe to this theory believe that it must be diligently pursued via pressure on Israel regardless of the circumstances or the complete lack of interest in implementing such a scheme on the part of the Palestinians. But sometimes things happen that even the most dogged critics of the current Israeli government have to notice. Or, at least, they would if they had any intellectual integrity.
Such an event happened today when Isaac Herzog, the head of Israel’s Zionist Union declared the two-state solution no longer viable. The Zionist Union is the current incarnation of the Labor Party, once the country’s natural party of government and for decades the flagship of the peace movement within the Jewish state. For Labor and its successor, the two-state solution has been the sine qua non of their hopes for the country’s future and the core of its critique of their Likud rivals led by Prime Minister Netanyahu. So it is a sea change of major proportions for Herzog to openly acknowledge that for now the mantra of two states is unrealistic. Indeed, to put in terms of American politics, it would be more or less like the Republicans renouncing the goal of a balanced budget or the Democrats giving up on universal health care.
As the Times of Israel reported, Herzog put it this way:
“I don’t see a possibility at the moment of implementing the two-state solution,” he told Army Radio. “I want to yearn for it, I want to move toward it, I want negotiations, I sign on to it and I am obligated to it, but I don’t see the possibility of doing it right now.”
Though this means all the leading factions in the Knesset are now more or less agreed that two states aren’t viable, Herzog still cast the blame for this situation in a partisan manner. He put the blame for the current situation on Netanyahu as much as on Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. That’s unfair since Netanyahu announced his willingness to accept two states early in his current tenure froze settlement building and even offered Abbas a withdrawal from most of the West Bank during negotiations. Moreover, as Herzog knows all too well, the Palestinians have already demonstrated their unwillingness to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn by refusing statehood offers from Labor’s Ehud Barak in 2000 and 2001 and Ehud Olmert in 2008.
Moreover, the sincerity of Herzog’s eagerness to damn Netanyahu along with Abbas is given the lie by his discussion of what he would do in the rather unlikely event that his party was given the opportunity to form a government in the foreseeable future. He did not claim he could achieve what Netanyahu hasn’t accomplished and to promise to deliver a two-state solution as Israel’s left has always promised it could. Instead, he offered a meek program centered on increased security measures.
Indeed, rather than speak of greater outreach to the Palestinians, his primary answer was to build more fences. Herzog’s idea is to complete the separation barrier begun under Ariel Sharon during the second intifada and to completely protect “all” of Israel’s settlement blocs. This makes sense because even if there were a two-state solution, those blocs would be included inside Israel. The same can be said for his idea to do everything possible to separate Arab villages in the Jerusalem area from Jewish neighborhoods and to allow into Israel only those Palestinians that are vetted by the security establishment.
He also speaks of confidence-building measures to help the Palestinians, but he believes the Israel Defense Forces must remain in the West Bank and especially in the Jordan Valley where it can ensure Israel’s eastern frontier is secure.
Of course, despite his bitterness at Netanyahu, there is very little in any of this that is different from the prime minister’s approach to these issues including those measures aimed at boosting the Palestinian economy. Though he blames Netanyahu for trying to “manage” the conflict which he notes has blown up in a third intifada, Herzog’s plans seem to be just as much an attempt at management of an intractable problem as those of the prime minister.
Why is Labor shifting to the right?
The answer is obvious. It wants to survive. The overwhelming majority of Israelis understand that Labor’s Oslo and Camp David plans for peace have blown up in their faces. The same can be said for Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza, which has become an independent Palestinian state in all but name run by and for terrorists. President Obama and American liberals believe further withdrawals from the West Bank are necessary to save Israel from itself. But Israelis understand that doing so would merely replicate the Gaza fiasco on a larger and more dangerous scale. For the rump of Labor to continue to pretend that such an insane proposal was a good idea would only further marginalize its already decimated ranks.
Indeed, what Herzog clearly wants to do is to run to the right of the supposedly “hard line” Netanyahu and to accuse him of being insufficiently tough on the deadly Palestinians terrorism that is plaguing the country on a daily basis. Unlike Americans who simply ignore any evidence about the conflict that doesn’t validate their preexisting assumptions, Israelis are aware that their so-called peace partners are both inciting and applauding the most gruesome acts of terrorism. Moreover, they have noticed that Palestinians don’t seem to draw any distinction between Jews sitting in a Tel Aviv café or those living in a West Bank settlement. For them, all are ripe targets for murder and those who commit such atrocities are considered heroes.
This is an important point American Jewish left-wingers that pose as experts about Israel steadfastly refuse to acknowledge. It also illustrates how pointless the Obama administration’s efforts to pressure Israel have been. Though Obama treats the hundreds of thousands of Jews who live in parts of Jerusalem as well as those in the settlement blocs as living in “illegitimate” communities, even the Israeli left is saying loud and clear that all of them are staying where they are and will be defended.
No one should expect these facts to influence Israel’s critics. But it ought to have some impact on those vying for the presidency in both parties. The next president’s task will be to repair the “daylight” damage Obama has done. But they should also be willing to tell the world that there will be no more talk of two states until the Palestinians give up their dreams of Israel’s destruction and cease terrorism.
Should the Palestinian political culture ever change to the point where a belief in permanent peace with a Jewish state becomes viable, then it will be time to resurrect plans for two states. But until then, any further discussion along these lines is a waste of time and energy and does nothing to convince the Palestinians to give up their unrealistic expectations.
Americans need to recognize that the requiem for two states is being sounded. Until such a sea change occurs, the U.S. ought to support Israel’s efforts to manage the conflict and to do all in its power to discourage further attempts to delegitimize the Jewish state. Doing so is a matter of Israeli consensus. The same should apply here to those, regardless of their partisan or ideological loyalties, that are truly friends of Israel.