By DANIEL TAUBER, JPOST—
President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel last March likely left even his harshest Israeli critics pleasantly surprised. He showered Israel with compliments, joked about prior disagreements, and most importantly, made no demands.
Still, Obama could not completely refrain from addressing the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” and delivered one of his signature lecture-speeches on the subject towards the end of his visit.
Though the speech had little policy significance at the time, in retrospect, Obama did something rarely attempted by foreign dignitaries: he made an actual argument for the two-state solution, succinctly capturing the three fragile pillars its proponents rely upon. In so doing, however, he revealed how preposterous a solution it actually is.
“First,” Obama argued, “peace,” or more accurately, Palestinian statehood, “is necessary.” Why? Primarily because of demographics. “Given the demographics west of the Jordan River, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine.”
It’s a familiar argument in Israel, and the prospect of having an Arab majority in the country is indeed scary for any Zionist. But the picture may not be as dire as it seems. A study published in 2005 by the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University argued that Palestinian numbers had been inflated by as many as 1.4 million persons. Further undercutting the demographic prophecy of doom, figures released by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics in January showed Jewish birthrates rising and Muslim birthrates in Israel falling. That follows reports of declining Muslim birthrates around the world.
And if the two-state solution has any relevance as a means of solving the demographic problem, then areas from which Israel has withdrawn, like Gaza, home to 1-1.4 million Arabs (depending on the source), must be excluded from the count.
But even if the numbers are as bad as is claimed, Palestinian statehood is not necessarily the required policy response. The demographic predictions relate to a future reality, not reality as it stands today. At most they mean that at a future point Israel would have to withdraw from Judea and Samaria, but not before then.
In the meantime, Israel, with the immense powers of statehood at its disposal, has the opportunity to change the demographic situation by enacting policies which will increase the Jewish majority. Perhaps the most obvious of these tools would be kickstarting the engine that created the existing Jewish population: immigration.
There are today millions of Jews residing in Western countries. Hundreds of thousands in Europe enduring Muslim violence and struggling economies. Even in the US, numerous young Jews can’t find work in their chosen professions and are open to alternative life plans. Israel must tell them that it wants them and it should offer significant incentives to get them to come here.
On the other hand, if Israel creates a Palestinian state, the new security threat would deter immigration, discourage foreign investment and encourage emigration. Simultaneously, it could bring tens or hundreds of thousands of Arab immigrants to our doorstep, thereby transforming predictions about Arab demographics in Judea and Samaria and the country as a whole into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
SECOND, OBAMA argued, “eace is also just.” (Again, “peace” being Palestinian statehood). This is because, he said, “the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, their right to justice, must also be recognized… Put yourself in their shoes….Living their entire lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls movements.”
But the presence of the “foreign army” in Judea and Samaria is not due to the lack of Palestinian statehood, but to anti-Jewish violence perpetrated by Arabs. According to a 2010 Haaretz article surveying IDF troop levels in Judea and Samaria, it was with the first intifada, in late 1987, that regular and reserve battalions of the IDF were deployed and even these were reduced in the early Nineties.
In 2000, “troop levels peaked amid the wave of suicide bombings and shooting attacks of the second intifada.”
In 2010, Haaretz reported that “Israeli troop levels in the West Bank are at their lowest level since the start of the first intifada over two decades ago.”
That troop levels increase with terrorism and decrease when it subsides demonstrates that these troops are there for one purpose: to fight terror.
If what the Palestinians want is freedom of movement all they need to do is stop terrorizing Jews and they will never see another soldier.
But that is not something they are interested in doing. No matter what Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said or will say, the Palestinians have not relinquished their violent opposition to Israel’s existence – but are entrenching it in their culture and inculcating it in their youth. That is the great injustice of Palestinian life, not the army deployed to stop it.
Indeed, the Palestinians can embark on such a miserable path because, in large part, the IDF is not patrolling their streets. In their major population centers, or “Area A” and even “Area B,” they rule themselves.
They run their own cities, they have their own educational system, their own oversized police force, their own parliament, presidency and judiciary and more. As far as Israel is concerned, their individual rights to selfrule are fulfilled.
What Israel does deny them is state sovereignty – control of immigration, borders, airspace, a military – because that entails all the tools which can be used to terrorize if not destroy our state. And in many of these areas, if the Palestinians gave up their violent designs, methods could be devised to alleviate any individual hardships.
Admittedly, the group honor of the Palestinians will remain slighted at not being able to say the Palestinian Authority is a true state or in being unable to threaten others with a military, but in the contest between Arab honor and Jewish security, justice demands that we choose the latter.
AND FINALLY, “my third point: peace is possible.” Here, however, Obama failed to offer an argument.
Instead he admitted, “I’m not saying it’s guaranteed. I can’t even say that it is more likely than not,” and moved on to hopeful platitudes about “a future in which Jews and Muslims and Christians can all live in peace” and how we should “believe in that.”
Obama most likely refrained from arguing that true peace is likely or demonstrating how it could actually come about because it would have sounded laughable. In the past few decades, during his tenure especially, the Middle East has become more radicalized than ever. The durability of even the long-standing peace agreement with Egypt is in doubt.
But even if there were some realistic scenario in which true peace could take root, even if it was the likely outcome, that would still allow for the significant possibility that there won’t be peace, and that by establishing a Palestinian state, Israel will have exposed itself to a great level of risk for which it might pay dearly.
So to declare that peace is a possibility is also to admit that peace is not the only possibility, and more than that, not the likely possibility.
SO IF a Palestinian state is not necessary or just, and peace is unlikely, where does that leave us? Or, in other words, what’s the alternative “solution”? Perhaps there is none. Our only option may be to make the best of things. Israel will retain sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, put down terrorism and afford Palestinians the greatest freedom possible, defend itself against the many threats emanating from abroad, grow and liberalize its economy, improve quality of life for its citizens, and hopefully take the initiative in ensuring a sizable Jewish majority in the country.
That may not sound exciting, but it doesn’t sound too bad either.
The writer is director of Likud Anglos.