Political columnist Pat Buchanan once described Capitol Hill as the third “Israeli-occupied territory” after the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Those days the White House frequently resisted Israeli pressure to support its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, while Congress routinely supported the Israeli stance.
Thursday, the Obama administration voted against the U.N. resolution that recognized the two Palestinian territories as a “state,” which has yet to become a full member of the world body. The U.S. vote was a high watermark in the current and last administrations’ support of Israeli colonial policies. Meanwhile, Israel has pulled out of Gaza. Buchanan could now argue that the White House has replaced Gaza as the third Israeli-occupied territory!
Israel has retaliated against the U.N. recognition of the Palestinian state by announcing the revival of a 3,000-home Jewish settlement project in a territory adjacent to Jerusalem, known as E1. The project would cut through the West Bank, making the creation of a viable state impossible,. Hence it had been suspended in 2009 under intense international pressure.
So what could come of the 138-9 U.N. vote recognizing the Palestinian state? Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, had told cheering General Assembly delegates that their landmark resolution would “save the two-state solution and salvage peace,” which he vowed to pursue through “negotiations” with the Israelis.
I wish I am wrong, but I see his vow to achieve negotiated peace between Israel and the Palestinians a pipe dream. It’s 19 years since the Oslo Peace Accords launched the Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations. During those on-again, off-again talks, successive Israeli governments — both right-wing and centrist — have made abundantly clear that their maximum concessions would fall far short of Palestinians’ minimum demands. Those demands include the creation of a sovereign state in the West Bank and Gaza with its capital in East Jerusalem and return of thousands of Palestinian refugees to their homes and lands in Israel from where they were expelled by Jews in 1948.
The Oslo Accords created the Palestinian Authority and assigned it the task of freezing the Palestinian struggle that could threaten Israel’s security. While the PA kept a lid on anti-Israeli protests and violence in the West Bank, Israel went on gobbling up large swaths of the Palestinian lands through the creation of new Jewish settlements. Together with the E1 project, these settlements are meant to be “facts on the ground” that would leave no room for a workable Palestinian state.
On the Palestinian and Arab side, swirling democracy movements have created another set of facts on the ground, which has further diminished the prospect of a “two-state solution,” meaning the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Democracy has cost Israel the two biggest pillars of its regional security system: Egypt and Turkey. For decades pro-Western secularist regimes in both these states maintained extensive security and commercial ties with Israel, defying their citizens’ overwhelming support for Palestinians and their nationalist cause. In both countries now, democratically elected Muslim governments are strongly opposed to Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and suppression of Palestinians. During the recent Gaza conflict, the intervention of the Egyptian and Turkish governments, along with those of Tunisia and Qatar, prevented Israel from launching a land invasion of Gaza, which would have defeated Gaza’s Islamist Hamas regime.
So what lies ahead for the Palestinians and Israelis? The Gaza war has shown that Palestinian missiles can now rain on just about all parts of Israel, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Imagine Israel’s national nightmare when Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Lebanese Hezbollah will be able to equip those missiles with GPS and target them to Israel’s population centers and vital economic and industrial facilities. More significantly, while Israel’s E1 project is putting the last stitch on the coffin of the two-state solution, the old Palestine — comprising Israel, the West Bank and Gaza — is becoming a de facto bi-national state with a Palestinian majority. In such a state Jews can rule only by disenfranchising the majority Palestinians. Would the 21st century, especially the resurgent Arab Muslim world, live with apartheid in the Holy Land? If not, will most Jews reconcile with living under Palestinian domination?
Mustafa Malik, an international affairs columnist in Washington, hosts the blog site ‘Islam and the West.’