The New One-State Solution
On the cusp of this month’s Israeli election, powerful Likud politicians push for annexation of the West Bank
Bennett’s “partial annexation” plan calls for Israeli sovereignty over Area C, which comprises 60 percent of the West Bank and includes all of the Jewish settlements and their environs. Whereas Areas A and B are Palestinian-run, C is currently under full Israeli control. Bennett’s annexation plan is attractive to many because it focuses exclusively not on messianic ideology, but on security and paints a rosy picture of a comfortable Palestinian autonomy after the annexation. (Elyakim Haetzni, a former member of Knesset and one of the pioneers of the settlement movement, advocates a similar plan but admitted at the conference that it would place the Palestinians in a choke hold, effectively allowing only for limited self-administration.)
Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan, however, No. 4 on Bennett’s ticket and until recently the head of Israel’s rabbinical courts, used very different rhetoric while describing his own vision. Gone was the focus on security; in came the numerous biblical decrees affording the Promised Land to the people of Israel and forbidding concessions. “That there are minorities in this land, Arabs who call themselves Palestinians, is nothing new,” he said. When Joshua led the Israelites into Canaan, he too encountered minorities—and they were allowed to stay, Ben Dahan summarized, if they accepted Jewish rule and quit idolatry. “That should be the policy towards the Palestinians,” he argued.
None of the speakers at the conference seemed particularly perturbed by what the global response to such actions might be. In fact, many argued that this would be the least of Israel’s problems. “The real problem,” said Moshe Feiglin, who ran the Zu Artzeinu (“This Is Our Land”) group that violently protested the peace process in the ’90s and is set to win a Likud Knesset seat later this month, “is with those Israelis who just don’t understand that this land belongs to us—and only to us. Once they do, applying sovereignty will be easy.”
Edelstein, the diaspora minister, went so far as to suggest that applying sovereignty would strengthen Israel’s standing abroad by depriving foreign diplomats of the ability to suggest that Israel doesn’t seriously believe it will stay in the West Bank in the long term. He also proposed using different terminology: not the “West Bank” or the “territories” but Judea and Samaria to emphasize the biblical connection. “ ‘Settlements’ sounds colonial. We should say ‘Jewish communities,’ ” he said. “Then no one would say ‘Jewish communities’ should be evacuated—it sounds anti-Semitic.”
All concede that the problem is, at its core, one of demography, and the conference’s closing panel discussion was devoted to the status of the Arabs after sovereignty. When the application of sovereignty started gaining headway on the right several years ago, its original proponents, such as Rivlin and former Minister of Defense Moshe Arens, favored bestowing Israeli citizenship unto the entire Palestine population. They accused the left—with its constant talk of the demographic threat and good fences making good neighbors—of segregationist racism along the lines of Avigdor Lieberman’s plan for land swaps that would leave Israel free of Arabs and Palestine free of Jews. The humane thing to do, these early proponents asserted, would be to annex the entire territory, with Arabs remaining in place and receiving full citizenship rights. As a result, the sovereignty movement was often accused of post-Zionism, favoring the sanctification of the land while sacrificing Israel’s Jewish character. (The movement, frequently relying on the work of contrarian researchers, claimed that there was no real demographic threat to speak of, and that the numbers floated by the left were wildly exaggerated.)
But now it seems that the idealistic belief, held by Rivlin and others, that there could be a Jewish liberal democracy on both sides of the green line has taken a dark turn. Indeed, a strain of casual racism pervaded the discussions at last week’s conference. Haetzni, the pioneer of the settler movement, said he would be willing to allow for a limited Palestinian autonomy, but stressed the need for clear separation, so as “not to let them mix with us, not to let them debase us.” MK Aryeh Eldad of Otzma LeYisrael (“Strong Israel”) spoke optimistically of the Hashemite Kingdom’s coming collapse as part of the Arab Spring. Once that happens, a Palestinian government in Jordan is guaranteed, and the Arab population in the West Bank is welcome to stay in their villages but vote only for the Jordanian parliament. Or, better yet, to move there.
While the Kahanist idea of forcibly “transferring” out the Arab population was never mentioned, both Dr. Martin Sherman of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies and Moshe Feiglin argued that, with generous enough offers, the vast majority of Palestinians would be perfectly content to leave voluntarily. Feiglin pointed out that the money that Israel currently spends on the separation fence, policing the local population in the West Bank, and stocking up on Iron Dome missiles (“the costs of the peace process,” he called such expenses) could be used instead for “evacuation encouragement grants”—half a million dollars each—to be awarded to Palestinian families who would then leave to other countries. There’s no other way around this, Sherman, who grew up in South Africa, said. Two states in such a small geographical territory are simply not feasible.
Is this alliance between messianic ideology and secular nationalism—expressed as annexation—gaining the same traction in the public sphere as it has among political elites? Despite the popularity of HaBayit HaYehudi and Likud-Beiteinu, recent polls show that two thirds of Israelis still support a two-state solution with strong security measures, despite skepticism regarding its prospects, while only 20 percent oppose it. Even among right-wing voters, a majority say they would support such a plan. That disparity between public sentiment and electoral prospects could be explained by the classic Israeli maxim that only the right wing can pull off a peace deal. But on the cusp of such an important election, it seems odd—and therefore telling—that these ideas should be getting such an unprecedented airing in the Israeli mainstream.
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