The Palestinians have only themselves to blame for unifying the bulk of the Israeli public and for not being a hot issue of division in the forthcoming Israeli elections.
A century of unbroken Palestinian intransigence is best expressed by the Palestine Arab Executive Committee’s statement in 1921, “Either us or the Zionists. There is no room for both”.
The problem for the Palestinians is that after a century of refusing to allow a shared vision for the area, much of the Arab world that was originally part of this declaration have moved on and today some Arab States, some even publically to one degree or other, recognise the Jewish State as a reality. Something the Palestinians do not.
Concurrently, there is also a President in the United States who appears to be willing to try for a different type of solution to the conflict.
Ironically, it has been mainly in Israel itself that the serious possibility of pursing a Palestinian State as part of a 2 state solution, was even promoted in recent years, albeit by rapidly decreasing numbers of political parties and people.
Already in April the two major parties, Likud and Blue & White, espoused very similar policies on territory: keeping the Golan Heights; maintaining Israel’s eastern security boundary at the Jordan River; retaining and strengthening the settlement blocks; and with a united Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Add in those parties that aligned with Netanyahu and Likud in April plus Lieberman and you have fully 105 out of 120 members of the current Knesset who are committed to Israel retaining at the very least, security control over these areas.
Indeed, Israeli’s are now approaching the matter by looking at Israel’s security needs firstly and then determining what can or may be offered to the Palestinians should they ever come to the table, or be forced to serious negotiations.
Israeli’s have simply been mugged by experience.
Even the ultra left wing Meretz who might normally provide some focus on the 2 state solution will not go into this election with the Palestinian issue front and centre. Meretz, who just scraped over the threshold and into the Knesset in April, have now teamed up with Stav Shaffir who broke from Labor and also with Ehud Barak (who came back from the political retirement village). They are campaigning under the name of the ‘The Democratic Union’. This party is running with its main theme being the removal of Netanyahu and to ‘save Israeli democracy’ – connected ideas as they see them.
So what does this mean for a 2 state solution?
Now that the parties competing in the September elections have been finalised, it’s clear that if and when the matter even arises, the discussion in Israel is what to do and where to build – or not build. The aim being to attempt to predetermine how big or small a territorial concession might be made in the future. If at all.
And where at one time even Prime Minister Netanyahu was talking about what form a Palestinian State might take and the Israeli discussion was framed as a State Plus or State Minus question – today it is seen very much as something more akin to autonomy rather than a state.
The West Bank/Judea & Samaria is divided into 3 areas – A,B & C – basically according to demographic realities. All of the Jewish residents are in Area C (with some minor technical exceptions). Also in this area are some 50,000 to 200,000 Palestinians depending on who does the counting and on how you count them.
One needs to take into consideration that these areas whilst demographically distinct are not easily geographically separable.
The gap between the most left wing sections of Blue & White and the most right wing parts of Likud and the now Ayelet Shaked led United Right party, is whether to limit settlement construction and aims of sovereignty just to the settlement blocks in Area C or to extend it to the whole of Area C.
The need for long term security control over Area C by Israel however, is agreed to by all of these particular Israeli political parties. That is the vast majority as represented by Knesset MK’s.
This means that any Israeli vision for the Palestinians, whilst still aiming for some form of separation between Area C and Areas A & B, is in a version of autonomy or even autonomy plus. But short of a state.
Whilst Prime Minister Netanyahu talks of not uprooting a single Jew from Area C – and even on occasion about extending sovereignty to all the areas settled by Jews, he has to date, not expressed anything about extending sovereignty aims to the whole of Area C itself.
Jewish settlement in the West Bank/Judea & Samaria (A,B & C together) covers approximately 10% of the total area more or less – depending again on how one count’s it.
It is a very big step from talking about claiming sovereignty over where Jews live within Area C, to extending sovereignty to the whole of Area C. Let alone to the whole West Bank/Judea & Samaria. Neither of which steps has the Prime Minister yet made.
Indeed, in this Netanyahu is much closer to where Blue & White stand under Gantz, than members of his own Likud party and the United Right party.
Hence the constant refrain from Shaked and Bennett that they are needed in the Knesset to ensure Netanyahu remains committed to a right wing agenda.
The unanimous cabinet decision a week ago, to allow the building of 700 Palestinian homes in Area C was a very big and extremely unusual step. What made it even more surprising was the agreement received praise for this move from people in the United Right party and ultra right wingers like Bezalel Smotrich, who even voted for this approval in the cabinet.
This raises the obvious question – President Trump?
Once again it is rumoured that both Putin and Trump will make moves to assist Netanyahu getting re-elected. Putin is discussing a visit to Israel prior to the election which would support Netanyahu’s credentials as a statesman.
Trump is rumoured to begin pushing his peace plan before the Israeli election. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the Americans look like supporting something short of a state for the Palestinians – not such a coincidence to say that it appears to be some form of autonomy and not necessarily in the whole of Areas A, B & C.
Could it be that the entire cabinet supported these 700 Palestinian apartments – despite the demographic effect they will have in Area C – due to pressure from Trump or even in exchange for US support for Palestinian autonomy rather than a state?
And in parallel, to also demonstrate that even in areas under Israeli control, Palestinians too can build and grow.
Such a formal change in US policy would be an even bigger boost to Netanyahu’s re-election chances.
In terms of the election itself, not much has changed. There are fewer smaller parties. Each party within their respective blocks that have grown in the polls, have done so at their future coalition partners’ expense – so no change in the overall totals within the two blocks – if opinion polls are to be believed.
On the so called left and centre, Blue & White remain dominant, but lacking sufficient partners to look like serious contenders for government.
On the so called right the first question will be, and this is serious, is whether in effect, Shaked’s United Right party will siphon off sufficient votes from Likud to deny it (Likud) first chance at forming a coalition if Blue & White end up with more seats.
And in any case it looks as if Lieberman will remain kingmaker if neither block can form a governing coalition.
Once again there are only two contenders – Prime Minister Netanyahu & Bibi. The statesman vs the flawed human being. Even after the election he is likely to remain the issue and be either the saviour or obstacle to forming government.
Lieberman repeatedly states that he is determined to form a national unity government without the Haredim.
On current polling, if this eventuates, this means that either Gantz will have to back down and do a deal with Netanyahu, or the Likud will have to drop Netanyahu to do a deal with Gantz.
Regardless of who wins the election next month – the Palestinians have lost a great deal – Abba Eban was right of course.
Dr Ron Weiser AM
Dr. Ron Weiser AM is an Hon Life Member of the Zionist Federation of Australia Executive, and the Hon Life President of the Zionist Council of NSW.