Please Tell Me, Where is Israel Headed?


Please Tell Me, Where is Israel Headed?

By John J. Mearsheimer

March 31, 2009 "FP"

Benjamin Netanyahu is in the final stages of putting together Israel’s next government, which will be opposed to a two-state solution. Most importantly, the new prime minister and his Likud Party are firmly against a Palestinian state. The Labor Party, which will be part of the governing coalition and which has been identified with the two-state solution for the past two decades, did not insist that Likud support that policy as a condition for joining the government. Its leader, Ehud Barak, merely asked for and got a vague statement saying that Israel was committed to promoting regional peace. Avigdor Lieberman, who heads Yisrael Beiteinu, the other major party in the ruling coalition, is not likely to push to give the Palestinians a viable state of their own. His main concern is "transferring" the Palestinians out of Israel so that it can be an almost purely Jewish state. 

So Israel will continue expanding its settlements in the West Bank. In fact, the Israeli press is reporting that Netanyahu and Lieberman agreed in their negotiations to form a government that Israel would build 3,000 housing units in an area between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim (a huge settlement bloc) known as E-1. Once that is accomplished, Israel will have effectively cut the West Bank in half, making it almost impossible to create a viable Palestinian state. This deal was supposed to be secret, because the United States is opposed to Israel building in the E-1 area.

The Palestinians, of course, will remain locked up in Gaza and a handful of enclaves on the West Bank. In essence, Netanyahu and his two key ministers — Ehud Barak (Defense) and Avigdor Lieberman (Foreign Affairs) — are committed to creating a Greater Israel, which will cover all of the territory that was once Mandate Palestine. 

The Obama administration will surely try to push Netanyahu to change his thinking about a two-state solution and work to give the Palestinians a real state of their own. The Israel lobby, however, will adamantly defend Israel’s right to do whatever it wants in the Occupied Territories and make it impossible for the president to put significant pressure on Israel. Netanyahu, like all Israeli leaders, understands this basic fact of life. He knows that he will just have to say a few nice words about the "peace process" and blame the whole thing on the Palestinians, who he believes are a bunch of terrorists anyway, and he will be pretty much free to do whatever he wants in Gaza and the West Bank.

It seems clear to me and to many smart people I know that this story does not have a happy ending. Indeed, it looks like a disastrous ending. Greater Israel cannot be a democratic state, because there will soon be — if there aren’t already — more Palestinians between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea than there are Israeli Jews. So, if you give each person one vote, Israel becomes Palestine. That is not going to happen anytime soon, if ever, which leaves two possible outcomes: apartheid and expelling the Palestinians — and there are more than 5 million of them — from Greater Israel. Talk about repulsive options. It is worth remembering that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said that if there is no two-state solution, Israel will end up in a South Africa-like situation and that will mean the end of the Jewish state. In effect, he is saying that Israel is turning itself into an apartheid state.

My bottom line is that Israel, with the backing of the lobby, is pursuing a remarkably foolish — Ehud Olmert would say suicidal — policy towards the Palestinians. 

I would appreciate it greatly if Israel’s American backers would explain what I am missing here. They must think that there is a happy ending to this story that Olmert and I simply fail to see. Otherwise they would not be backing the Greater Israel enterprise. There is no need for Christian Zionists to respond, because I know what their happy ending is: the Battle of Armageddon and then the Second Coming of Christ. Israel’s Jewish backers do not buy this story, which, in fact, many consider anti-Semitic. But they must have an alternative explanation for how Greater Israel is good for the Jews. What is it?

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