The problem with advocacy for a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is this: No one can posit a scenario that ends well.
Recent utterances by Israeli and Palestinian voices alike suggesting the end of two-state efforts show a skepticism rooted in the realities on the ground. The teasing toe-dipping by Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas has rarely proven anywhere close to sincere. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mouths the right words, yet his inactions suggest an unwillingness to invest even modestly in the process.
This is all painted against a backdrop of start-and-stop cease fires that more often than not are broken by Hamas or Islamic Jihad forces resident in Gaza. The pattern has become all too familiar — rockets burst into the air from Gaza toward southern Israel, and the retaliation from Israel in defending its sovereign space is labeled as disproportionate by Palestinian leaders. The cycle perpetuates over and again.
So when Israeli Economy and Commerce Minister Naftali Bennett (the right wing Home Party) says the two-state concept is dead after 20 years of on-and-off negotiation, he has a reasonable basis for his views. He eschews the possibility of a successful diplomatic process and as he told the Washington Post last week, “We have to figure out how we live together with a degree of disagreement.”
Bennett isn’t wrong in his recitation of facts, but he is dead wrong that a plan such as he suggests — severing Gaza off to Egypt and requiring Palestinians, Arabs and Israeli settlers to live in political harmony in much of the West Bank — is even more naive than the two-state solutions he brands as impossible to achieve.
Bennett, whose career includes a successful technology startup, believes that economic development by all sides, rather than ethnic segregation, is the only tactic that can win the day. He is not flat-out crazy — he condemns the forced relocation of any peoples and says he believes in peace and equal rights for all. Those are noble positions indeed.
What he does not see, at least in our opinion, is an accurate picture of how his proposal plays out in the future. He minimizes the prospect of ethnic and religious conflict by those sharing the same country and shunts aside the impact of demographic trends, citing diminishing Arab population growth and expanding Jewish growth.
That view is one with blinders on, however, as the strongest Jewish growth is among the most observant segments of Israeli society. No matter whether these segments continue to grow at a greater clip than the general Israeli population, Bennett’s logic is flawed.
Look at it both ways. If the observant numbers grow with the continued propagation of large families, then that constituency will gain more political power and the power of centrist, moderate factions will diminish, making lasting peace less likely. If, on the other hand, observant Jewish growth slows in relation to Arab and Palestinian growth, then the demographics will ultimately place Israeli Jews in a minority. That would effect a situation in which the heretofore inaccurate and offensive claims of apartheid could truly come to pass. Neither path works.
Bennett has made clear he will not upend efforts toward the renewal of negotiations between Israel and the PA, and for that he is to be commended. But he hasn’t said what he would do, or how he would instruct his party members, if a two-state proposal came before the Knesset. We do know that another political power, Yair Lapid, Minister of Finance and head of the Yesh Atid party, still supports a negotiated two-state solution, so the clash of these friendlies, who are at odds on this issue, could wreak havoc with Israeli politics down the line.
We understand the frustration with the status quo of failed efforts, unpredictable violence and painful disappointment. But we still challenge anyone to offer a cogent argument as to how the Bennett plan or anything similar could truly work in practice. For now at least, we’re not seeing it.