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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection portends an end to the peace process as we know it. Liam Glen writes on the current state of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
As an American, I am expected to have an opinion on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. It is rather strange that this foreign conflict is so politicized in the US, but the cultural and geopolitical factors of the twentieth century have rendered it thus. In any case, it has always been my view that “pro-Israel” and “pro-Palestine” are meaningless labels that enforce a false dichotomy. If any label is appropriate, “pro-peace” has a good ring to it.
For half a century, the realistic plan for peace was the two-state solution. The countries would return to their pre-1967 borders, with a Palestinian state controlling the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. If I recall correctly, this was my stance back when I completed a high school project on the conflict.
However, with the continuation of tit-for-tat violence between the Israeli government and Palestinian militants and controversial Israeli settlements on the West Bank, hope for the two-state solution has faded over the years.
The last nail was set in its coffin on April 9, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party and its right-to-far-right allies won a majority of seats in the Israeli Knesset. Netanyahu has pledged to annex all Israeli settlements in the West Bank of Palestine. The seizure of such a large amount of territory would render a Palestinian state untenable.
Some argue that the two-state solution was always impossible. Israel would never evacuate the settlements, and a prosperous Palestinian state could never come out of the noncontiguous West Bank and Gaza Strip. For his part, Israel’s ceremonial president Reuven Rivlin favors a one-state solution with equal rights for Jews and Arabs.
Unfortunately, this is not what the parliamentary majority has in mind. The Israeli right sees the country’s status as a Jewish state through the lenses of twentieth-century ethnonationalism. Politicians openly speak of the Arab Israelis who constitute a fifth of the country’s citizenry in terms of the “demographic threat.” In July 2018, Netanyahu pushed through a Basic Law that most infamously declared, “The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” The current government will not accept any further integration between Jews and Arabs.
Instead, Netanyahu’s plan is to annex settlements while organizing the rest of Palestine into a pseudo-state without control of its own security. Civil liberties, political rights, and economic development in this rump territory are left to the imagination. The same goes for the plan’s effect on the strenuous peace between Israel and West Bank Palestinians.
The Future of Peace
Ideally, a movement against this disaster would come from within the region. But the peace movement is terminally weak. Netanyahu won on an expansionist platform even though his main rival Benny Gantz, former Commander-in-Chief of the Israel Defense Forces, was no peacenik himself.
Hope for change within Palestine is even dimmer. The besieged Gaza Strip is under the authoritarian thumb of Hamas, a terrorist group that seeks Israel’s destruction. Meanwhile, governance in the West Bank is split between the Israeli government and the infamously dysfunctional Palestinian National Authority.
This is where the American obsession with Israel becomes important. The Israeli government is dependent on US diplomatic backing to avoid international action against controversial policies. The US also gives Israel around three billion dollars in military aid per year. If anyone is in a position to sway Netanyahu, it is the American government.
While Jared Kushner is supposedly still working on a plan for peace in the Middle East, the chance of a sustainable peace under the current administration is very low. The Trump administration has been unabashedly pro-expansion, recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. As Netanyahu bows to the demands of the Israeli far-right, America is unlikely to rein him in.
This may change, however. Unqualified support for the Israeli government has long been the norm in US discourse, but Americans are growing critical of current Israeli policies. Netanyahu’s embrace of the hard right has only accelerated this trend. When the White House next changes hands, the Israeli government may face newfound pressure to work towards peace.
Until then, it is incumbent on Israelis, Palestinians, Americans, and anyone else in a position to make a difference to advocate for a humanitarian end to the conflict. Whether a two-state solution is still salvageable, an equitable one-state solution is the only way, or whether diplomats must draft a completely new proposal is immaterial. The current trajectory threatens the lives and livelihoods of Israelis and Palestinians alike, and it is a human priority to change course.