WASHINGTON – A couple of recent interviews with two Israeli citizens, the first one a seasoned policy-maker with an impressive background in intelligence and national security, the other an inhabitant of a settlement in what is technically Palestinian territory, conveyed to me in a powerful way that Israel will never allow the creation of a real, sovereign Palestinian State. And I really mean never.
We know the official Israeli position on a Palestinian state. In principle, Israel would like to see a Palestinian state. The Israelis do not want to carry the burden of indefinite occupation. It is difficult, and it is costly.
However, for this to happen, there would have to be solid guarantees. The Palestinians would have to openly and unequivocally recognize Israel as a Jewish state. They would have to unequivocally give up any claims to the territories that belong to Israel. No claims, no violence against Israel and no terrorism.
Palestinians will not deliver
Well, we do know that this blanket, unequivocal, non revocable recognition of Israel is not coming. At least not in a form that would satisfy Israel. We do know that at least some Palestinians openly state that their goal is the elimination of Israel. We also know that many Palestinians assert their right to regain possession of land and homes they were forced to abandon after Israel was created.
From this vantage point, the Israeli government can easily proclaim that since the Palestinians are reluctant to fully acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, unfortunately Israel cannot take the chance to allow the establishment of a full-fledged Palestinian state next door. This position implicitly indicates that, should the Palestinians finally change their mind, then the road to an agreement leading to the “Two States Solution” will be open.
Quiet determination to carry on
This is the official position. However, beyond the public pronouncements, I detected in the two interviews I watched on TV both an oblique conclusion that a deal with the Palestinians is impossible and an Israeli quiet determination to hold on to the status quo –essentially for ever. I assume that this determination is in part based on a healthy mistrust of the Palestinians and in part on a widespread implicit and at times open assumption whereby all of Biblical Palestine, including the West Bank, is and should be recognized as a part of Israel.
In political terms this position is conceptualized as an Israeli version of the old Soviet “limited sovereignty” doctrine that shaped relations between Moscow and the vassal countries of the Eastern Bloc. “You are semi-free, but only to the extent that you do not do anything that in our judgment undermines our interests”.
In a nutshell, the senior Israeli policy maker stated that it is acceptable to have a Palestinian Authority with some of the elements of a sovereign state, as long as Israel is still in overall control. It is alright for the Palestinians to have jurisdiction on most of their internal affairs, as long as they recognize that they will never be allowed to have a real army, and other attributes of a truly independent state.
Furthermore, the Palestinians should accept the consequences of their almost total economic dependence on Israel. Israel is a key supplier of basic goods to Palestine, and the employer of many Palestinians. Israel is in the lead and therefore it dictates the terms. The Palestinians should be wise enough to recognize all this, and what it means to them.
Bottom line: since the Palestinians cannot be fully trusted, the status quo will continue –for ever, if necessary. The Palestinians better get used to their status of permanent vassal territory.
But while all this makes some sense, these positions are reinforced by a belief widely held by many Israelis: the West Bank is in fact part of Israel.
Settlements are here to stay
Indeed, switching to the long interview with the Israeli settler, it is patently obvious that he and tens of thousands of other feel perfectly comfortable where they are. He does not believe that his home is “illegal” since it has been built on occupied Palestinian territory. On the contrary, he believes that it is alright for himself and thousands of Israelis to build settlements in what used to be Palestinian land.
Clearly these settlements are not temporary. They are permanent. Through them and all the Israeli citizens who live there, little by little Israel is expanding its de facto borders.
Anyway, the combined meaning of the two interviews is that they convey a quiet determination to carry on with the status quo, without any final settlement, and without giving away an inch.
Palestinians cannot be trusted
May be with cause, the Israelis concluded that a “real deal” with the Palestinians is in fact impossible. They have concluded that no Palestinian state, no matter who is in charge, can be trusted to act as a peaceful good neighbor.
No Palestinian government can be trusted when it comes to pursuing terrorists or others who will continue to plot violent actions against Israel. Therefore, while endless occupation is not an ideal situation, letting go entirely would most likely have adverse consequences. Just think of what happened in Gaza after the unilateral Israeli withdrawal. It became a Hamas-dominated enclave, and a launching pad for terror attacks against Israel.
Change the borders
At the same time, by creating settlements in the occupied territories, Israel is slowly modifying to its advantage a rather unfavorable territorial reality. Israel is a very small country surrounded by potentially hostile neighbors. Getting little pieces of Palestine by creating Jewish settlements in strategic locations will eventually diminish the disadvantage of such a small territory.
And if many settlers believe as they do that they are building homes in what is in fact Biblical Israel, the land of their forefathers, this is even better. Strengthened by this religious belief, they will have the determination to hold on to their homes and defend them with force, whenever necessary.
Given all of the above, my perception is that this –the endless continuation of the occupation– is what we are going to have. Whatever the official pronouncements, whatever the objectives of the next round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Israel will not budge.
In fact Israel will continue to slowly modify in its favor the reality on the ground through its ongoing settlements policy which amounts to de facto annexation of slices of Palestinian territory.
The Palestinians have responsibilities
This may look terribly unfair to the poor Palestinians. But the Palestinians have their share of responsibilities. Many of them are wedded to unrealistic ideological positions. Many of them openly want Israel to disappear. At least some of them are terrorists, and many more support terrorism against Israel.
Therefore it is truly disingenuous on the part of the Palestinian leadership to assume that Israel will give up and allow the creation of a fully sovereign, but potentially hostile state a few kilometers away from its major cities.
Israel’s worst nightmare is to see the entire West Bank become another Gaza Strip controlled by fanatics. For all these reasons expect occupation to continue.
There will be no fully sovereign Palestinian state.