Will the Obama administration follow up on its betrayal of Israel at the United Nations Security Council? It could, either by supporting or abstaining on a resolution backing Palestinian statehood that does not compel the Palestinians to make peace with the Jewish state first. While some informed observers think it’s still a possibility, the lame duck president may defer at this point to the French effort to convene an international conference on the Middle East conflict only a couple of days before Donald Trump is sworn in. Even if the new Trump administration does its best to reverse its predecessor’s policies, international support for the Palestinian effort to avoid direct negotiations with Israel will likely continue to build. But the question those backing this end-run around the Oslo peace blueprint must ask is: Which Palestinian state is it that they want to recognize?
There are already two models for statehood. One is the corrupt and violent kleptocracy in the West Bank presided over by the so-called moderates of Fatah, who run the Palestinian Authority. The other is the independent Palestinian state in all but name that exists in Gaza. Neither should give any confidence to those who view the creation of such a state as not only the solution to the conflict with Israel but also a boost to regional stability.
The Hamas state in Gaza is a standing threat to Israeli security, albeit one that has been temporarily deterred by Israel’s technological advances and the memory of the Israeli victory against the rocket war of 2014. But it remains a dagger pointed at Israel’s throat that could be reactivated if the Islamists or their Iranian allies decide another war is in their interests. It also offers a dismal future the Palestinians trapped there under the Islamist group’s tyrannical rule.
Fatah is supposed to be Israel’s good option for peace due to its supposed moderation, but it has never accepted the notion of a peace treaty recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state. Moreover, its weakness raises the possibility that, without Israeli security assistance, Fatah’s rule in the West Bank will be toppled as easily as was its hold on Gaza in 2007. Replicating Hamastan in Gaza in the larger and more strategic West Bank would be a disaster for Israel, as well as its Arab neighbors. They fear the creation of a new Islamist-run terror state as much as the Jews.
Yet even if we assume that Fatah will hang onto power, that is also bad news for Palestinians languishing under the rule of a party that quashes political dissent and has squelched attempts to promote economic growth and good government. Such an entity would be highly unstable, and its leaders would likely continue to use the continuing conflict with Israel—which it fuels with daily incitement to hate Jews in its official media and schools—in order to distract its people from their shortcomings.
At best, either the Fatah or Hamas models for Palestinian statehood don’t end the war on Israel but would degrade its security and ability to deter terror. At worst, another Palestinian state is an invitation to another round of bloody violence with incalculable consequences due to the pressure on Israel not to defend itself against the new entity.
Is there an alternative to either the Fatah or Hamas statehood models? Given the way the Palestinian sense of national identity has become inextricably linked to the century-old war on Zionism, the odds of either group being defeated at the ballot box by liberal democrats are non-existent.
That’s why Israel’s critics need to be more forthcoming about what kind of Palestinian state they are seeking to create. The peaceful demilitarized state they talk of is a pipe dream. Unless the Obama administration and its European allies can put forward a plan that would ensure neither the Fatah nor Hamas option is chosen, both Trump and the Israelis would be wise to ignore these demands. Instead, they should concentrate on efforts aimed at improving the lives of ordinary Palestinians rather than a state that will put them and their Israeli neighbors at risk.