Rethinking the conflict
OpinionGuest Columnist

Rethinking the conflict

If the idea of a two-state solution is dead, Jett writes, "Israelis have a simple, binary choice. They can live in a democratic nation or a Jewish one, but it cannot be both."

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the general debate of the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 20, 2017. (Photo by Cia Pak / U.N. Photo)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the general debate of the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 20, 2017. (Photo by Cia Pak / U.N. Photo)

Anyone who cares about Israel has to be deeply disturbed by the recent outbreak of violence there. And not just because Hamas has been launching thousands of rockets aimed at population centers and that Israel has felt compelled to respond by leveling multistory buildings in Gaza. Even more appalling are the scenes of Israeli Jews attacking Israeli Arabs and vice versa in Haifa, Jaffa, Lod, Acre and other places where they had coexisted in peace if not always in harmony.

In a few days or weeks, when both sides have exhausted themselves, the bloodletting will stop. A tense ceasefire will take effect and relative calm will return. It will remain that way for months or maybe even years. But inevitably another round of fighting will break out and the killing will resume. This cycle of violence demonstrates that both the Israeli approach to the Palestinian problem and the American efforts to create a permanent peace are abject failures.

There is something that the American Jewish community could do to change this situation, which is as depressing as it is predictable. In the past when Israel was under attack, the answer for many was simple and straightforward — support Israel. It is time for the American government and the American Jewish community to rethink what needs to be done.

But it is far easier to propose steps for change, however, than to implement them for two reasons — domestic politics and the deep divide arising from decades of conflict. That divide results in the refusal of both sides to give any credence to the arguments of the other. The leaves Israelis without peace, Palestinians without a country and no one with any hope that the situation will change.

The current violence also demonstrates the failure of the Abraham Accords to address Israel’s real security threats. It’s not surprising that a presidential administration, which was composed of people who believe money is the only thing that matters and that everything has its price, thought the Palestinians would sell their identity for a few billion dollars. And that, if they didn’t, they could be ignored.

But they cannot be ignored and the Israeli policy, which has been in place for decades, of salami slicing and appropriating parts of the West Bank cannot be ignored either. So here is a radical approach — steps should be taken to address the problem by not pretending the Palestinians grievances have no merit or that Israel’s concern for its security is not justified.

What many have seen as an answer — a two-state solution — has increasingly been declared by observers to be dead. If that is really the case, Israelis have a simple, binary choice. They can live in a democratic nation or a Jewish one, but it cannot be both. And attempting to confine the vast majority of Palestinians on the West Bank to urban areas under some stateless status while appropriating the rest of the land for settlements and security buffers is what got the situation to where it is today.

Here are three things that should be done to begin to end the impasse. The United States has for two decades officially endorsed a two-state solution, but at the same time has prevented that from happening by refusing to let Palestine be admitted to the United Nations as a member state. The U.S. should let that happen.Palestine, in turn, would recognize Israel’s right to exist with the details on things like borders left to future negotiations. A two-state outcome will never happen if the second state is never allowed to exist even on paper.

The second step is to insist that property disputes be settled by an international court or other international body. If Jewish claims on land occupied by Palestinians are taken to Israeli courts, but Palestinians with claims on land occupied by Jews have no judicial recourse it is hard to argue against the notion that the law and municipal regulations are being used to ethnically cleanse East Jerusalem and other areas.

The third step would be to insist the Palestinians be allowed to have their own elections including those who live in east Jerusalem. They have not had an election in 15 years and when the ones planned for this month were postponed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the U.S. reaction was to implicitly endorse denying Palestinians any democratic means for choosing leaders who are less corrupt and incompetent than the PA and Hamas. If new leadership is not allowed to develop, the often-repeated claim that Israel has no one to negotiate with will be given more credibility.

It is clear that none of these three steps are going to happen, however. There are too many politicians and lobbying groups that benefit from the status quo and would be threatened by the inability to inflame passions on both sides. And in the U.S. the Republicans, who also have no ideology or programs that are not based on hate and fear, have made unquestioned and total loyalty to the far right in Israel an article of faith. That is not because it is in the interests of Israel or the United States, but is just another way to pander to the evangelical Christians who are the GOP’s bedrock base voters.

So the cycle of violence will continue and the grandchildren of children being born in Israel today will know no peace. And for those who would summarily reject all of the above, the question is what is your plan for peace? Or are you content to see the situation we have today endless repeated? PJC

Ambassador Dennis Jett (Ret.), Ph.D. is a professor of international affairs at Pennsylvania State University.

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