World — September 19, 2011 6:12 pm

Israel’s New Security Dilemma

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For the minority of Israelis and Americans who oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state, this week’s historic UN showdown is unlikely to be the disappointment it’s been made out to be.

Luckily for them, nobody imagines that UN recognition will amount to actual Palestinian sovereignty any time soon. Barring a violent paradigm shift, Israeli troops will retain control of Areas B and C of the West Bank, Hamas will maintain its sectarian police rule over the Gaza Strip, and most urban Palestinians in the West Bank will remain subjects of a hapless Palestinian Authority whose leaders have overstayed their democratic welcome.

Riding high on a wave of right-wing anti-UN populism, the likes of US Representative Joe Walsh and Israeli MK Danny Danon will welcome this continuation of the status quo. In their black-and-white take on international relations, no Palestinian state is better than a functional Palestinian state. And because the Palestinians are squatters, so a stronger version of the thesis goes – they bet that if we ignore their condition for long enough, they might just go away.

To Representative Walsh and Minister Danon’s ostensible chagrin, they’ll soon find themselves on the same side of the debate as Hamas, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, and other exponents of radical Palestinian nationalism. In their black-on-white take on international relations, the status quo is better than any conditional settlement for the Palestinians. A UN vote for Palestinian statehood would implicitly accept the right of Israel to sovereignty within its pre-1967 borders, a fact that most elements within Hamas would prefer to overturn – they bet, after all, that international public opinion will do it for them.

It’s perfectly clear that neither extreme position is just: there’s simply no morally coherent argument for displacing millions of people, Palestinian or Israeli. But whose radical wager is right?

It depends on which side is making relative gains in political capital. The extreme branch of the Republican-Likudnik coalition would have us believe that it’s Israel: after all, the US is doubling down on its support, Islamists are moving into the Palestinian mainstream, and small-a Palestinian authority is fractured and weak. Hamas and its friends on the European far left would offer that it’s the Palestinians: as the occupation continues and the Palestinian population continues to grow and bristle against restrictions, former allies are beginning to question Israel’s legitimacy as a state.

As a passionate supporter of Israel’s right to exist and thrive, I’m sad to admit that Hamas’ view of the future looks far more plausible. Israeli officials and businesses face censure across Europe, American academics delight in debating whether or not it’s fair to boycott Israeli research, and the UN spends more time condemning Israel’s actions than those of the Syrian police state, the Iranian theocracy, and the Egyptian junta combined. It also certainly doesn’t help that last year has seen the Knesset debate legislation on loyalty oaths for Israeli Arabs and the criminalization of left-wing NGO activities.

Focusing on the recent rightward trend in Israeli politics, less sanguine Palestinians have disputed this account – arguing that the failure of peace talks to produce a two-state solution since 1991 makes it clear that Israel does not want peace. This is where we part ways.

In fact, the position of the Palestinians vis-à-vis right-wing opinion in Israel has improved substantially since the days of Madrid and Oslo. While in the mid-1990s, center-left Israeli doves like Shimon Peres had to sidestep the explicit endorsement of Palestinian statehood, 2011 is a year when even Binyamin Netanyahu – security hawk par excellence – has no choice but to ultimately endorse the two-state model.

But words aren’t enough. Insisting seriously on negotiations only now that the Palestinian Authority has taken matters to the UN, Netanyahu has made a thoroughly disappointing effort toward peace – and it’s putting Israel in serious danger. With the Israeli-Palestinian conflict now framed by the world community as a question of Palestinian statehood, Israel is quickly losing the capital to determine the terms of a two-state solution. While it would make most practical sense for Israel to annex major settlement blocs, retain sovereignty over a united Jerusalem, and continue security collaboration with the Palestinian Authority, the chance for these issues to be resolved in Israel’s favor continues to wane. More than a few critics have gone a step further, proclaiming the death of the two-state solution, and with it, the end of Zionism.

Regardless of what does or doesn’t happen on the ground as a result of this week’s resolutions and deliberations, only Israel and the United States will lose out. It didn’t have to be this way: the United States could have turned up the pressure on Netanyahu, the Palestinian Authority could have resisted the temptation to make a political scene, and an Israeli government could have headed off Palestinian ambitions by making an offer that couldn’t be refused.

But not this Israeli government. Bibi Netanyahu is a reasonable leader with great strategic vision – which, given his far-right millenarian coalition constituency, makes any expectation that he’d jeopardize his political career for a risky peace gambit highly unlikely. Unfortunately, a risky peace gambit is exactly what Israel needs now more than ever – and at this stage, it might even be worth astounding the world and endorsing the Palestinian bid this week, in an effort to regain leverage and credibility. It’s not going to happen.

For the sake of Israel’s security and survival, I propose an alternative.

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