The Growing Probability of a One State Solution

The unstoppable force of Israel’s settlement movement is about to hit the immovable object of Israel’s desire to be a Jewish-majority democracy.

Israeli politicians may have paid a whole lot of lip-service to the notion of a two-state solution over the years, but they continue to carve up and settle the very land that that Palestinian state would be founded upon.

Mahmoud Abbas is calling their bet. He is now threatening to disband the Palestinian authority and hand over control of the West Bank to Israel in retaliation for Israel’s ongoing settlement building activities:

Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, said he will hand over responsibilty for the West Bank to Israel if peace talks are not renewed after Israel’s elections, Haaretz newspaper reported on Thursday.

In an interview with the Israeli newspaper, Abbas said he would relinquish control and disband the Palestinian authority if there was no progress after January 22.

This — if carried through — is quite literally the single smartest thing any Palestinian leader has ever done. As Jeffrey Goldberg noted back in November:

There is a strategy the Palestinians could implement immediately that would help move them toward independence: They could give up their dream of independence.

It’s a very simple idea. When Abbas goes before the UN, he shouldn’t ask for recognition of an independent state. Instead, he should say the following: “Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza 45 years ago, and shows no interest in letting go of the West Bank, in particular.We, the Palestinian people, recognize two things: The first is that we are not strong enough to push the Israelis out. Armed resistance is a path to nowhere. The second is that the occupation is permanent. The Israelis are here to stay. So we are giving up our demand for independence. Instead, we are simply asking for the vote. Israel rules our lives. We should be allowed to help pick Israel’s rulers.”

Reaction would be seismic and instantaneous. The demand for voting rights would resonate with people around the world, in particular with American Jews, who pride themselves on support for both Israel and for civil rights at home. Such a demand would also force Israel into an untenable position; if it accedes to such a demand, it would very quickly cease to be the world’s only Jewish-majority state, and instead become the world’s 23rd Arab-majority state. If it were to refuse this demand, Israel would very quickly be painted by former friends as an apartheid state.

Israel’s response, then, can be reasonably predicted: Israeli leaders eager to prevent their country from becoming a pariah would move to negotiate the independence, with security caveats, of a Palestinian state on the West Bank, and later in Gaza, as well. Israel would simply have no choice.

This is the very best chance that the Palestinians have of getting a state, and if not a state at least equal democratic rights and some kind of peace. By accepting Israeli rule, Israel would be forced to choose between offering citizenship to the millions of Arabs living in the land it controls (endangering Israel’s status as a Jewish-majority state), or losing its status as a democracy (by denying West Bank Arabs votes) which has brought it significant international support and millions of dollars of aid. Goldberg’s theory is that Israel would choose to remain Jewish-majority, bring the settlement movement under control and relinquish land to the West Bank Arabs to found a Palestinian state.

But I don’t think that Israelis will overwhelmingly choose to abandon the settlements and retreat to the ’67 borders. The growth of Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party which advocates for a one state solution where West Bank Arabs are left without voting rights illustrates this very well. So too does Likud’s recent transformation into a party largely opposed to the two-state solution, under the control of hardliners like Moshe Feiglin and Danny Danon.

Indeed, the religious right in Israel appears wholly committed to the idea of not giving up an inch of the biblical land of Israel:

510px-Early-Historical-Israel-Dan-Beersheba-Judea-Corrected

The interesting thing is that Gaza is not part of that historic territory. It is often said that including the entirety of the Palestinian territories, Jews and Arabs are very close in population — according to 2007 data, there are 5,300,000 Arabs, and 6,000,000 Jews. However discluding Gaza, Jews retain a large majority — 6,000,000 against just 3,700,000 Arabs. What this means is that by withdrawing from Gaza as Sharon did, Israel could in theory annex the West Bank, grant full-citizenship to the Arab residents (and so remain a democracy), and remain heavily Jewish-majority for the foreseeable future.

This simple fact means that the likeliest compromise between Israel’s settlement movement and its desire to portray itself as a Jewish-majority democracy is the annexation of only the West Bank, leaving Gaza to either merge with Egypt — increasingly likely given the well-known ties between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood — or to exist as the Palestinian state.

While some like Naftali Bennett may push to keep West Bank Arabs from getting Knesset votes, Israel’s Jewish-majority status would not be threatened by every single West Bank Arab receiving a Knesset vote. This may very well be the best that West Bank Arabs can hope for — they are already under Israeli rule backed by overwhelming Israeli military superiority, and a diehard settlement movement, and have been for almost fifty years. And although there is significant discrimination against Arabs under Israeli rule — indeed, a majority of Israeli Jews openly advocate it —  a larger Arab voting bloc would minimise this.

Mahmoud Abbas’ threat is a wise acceptance of this reality. Israeli settlements are not going anywhere. The two state solution is effectively dead. Palestinians in the West Bank can either continue fighting futilely against an overwhelming enemy, or work toward equal rights in the state in which they now live.

How Palestinians Can Finally Achieve Independence

Jeffrey Goldberg’s suggestion:

There is a strategy the Palestinians could implement immediately that would help move them toward independence: They could give up their dream of independence.

It’s a very simple idea. When Abbas goes before the UN, he shouldn’t ask for recognition of an independent state. Instead, he should say the following: “Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza 45 years ago, and shows no interest in letting go of the West Bank, in particular. We, the Palestinian people, recognize two things: The first is that we are not strong enough to push the Israelis out. Armed resistance is a path to nowhere. The second is that the occupation is permanent. The Israelis are here to stay. So we are giving up our demand for independence. Instead, we are simply asking for the vote. Israel rules our lives. We should be allowed to help pick Israel’s rulers.”

Reaction would be seismic and instantaneous. The demand for voting rights would resonate with people around the world, in particular with American Jews, who pride themselves on support for both Israel and for civil rights at home. Such a demand would also force Israel into an untenable position; if it accedes to such a demand, it would very quickly cease to be the world’s only Jewish-majority state, and instead become the world’s 23rd Arab-majority state. If it were to refuse this demand, Israel would very quickly be painted by former friends as an apartheid state.

Israel’s response, then, can be reasonably predicted: Israeli leaders eager to prevent their country from becoming a pariah would move to negotiate the independence, with security caveats, of a Palestinian state on the West Bank, and later in Gaza, as well. Israel would simply have no choice.

This follows my own train of thought very precisely. Trying to fight the world’s second or third most powerful military with small artillery is a dead end that just kills Palestinians and gives Israel an excuse to continue the blockade of Gaza. Palestinian resistance has just hardened Israelis in their determination to hold onto the land. Violence has failed the Palestinians, and will continue to fail the Palestinians. In order to move forward, Palestinians need to completely reject violence, recognise the reality of the state of Israel and demand voting rights in the state under whose authority they now reside.

Goldberg concludes that none of this will happen because the Palestinians are shortsighted. Maybe, but maybe not. Shortsightedness can easily be corrected.

When Will it be Time to Bomb Iran?

Jeffrey Goldberg — having stated the case for war with Irandoubles back on himself:

The nuclear experts I respect most, including Bruce Blair, of Global Zero, and David Albright, of the Institute for Science and International Security, both call a Middle East in which Iran possesses a small number of nuclear weapons a dangerously unstable place. Here is what Albright told me Monday about Iran’s particular challenges in an escalating confrontation — the no second-strike conundrum: “In a crisis, you don’t want to go first, but you don’t want to go second, either. It ends up in an unstable situation. Miscalculations can result in nuclear weapons being used. Iran may feel it doesn’t have second-strike capability and so would, in an escalating crisis, feel it has to use what it has first.” Iran, he explained, will be hampered, for many years after it crosses the nuclear threshold (assuming it is allowed to cross), by a small arsenal of comparatively modest bombs.

The Israelis, on the other hand, have a much larger arsenal than the Iranians could hope for for many years, and much more varied and sophisticated delivery systems.

So, what to do? Not attack. There’s plenty of time for war. Right now, the focus should be on convincing Iran, through sanctions, and a promise, if it gives up its nuclear ambitions, to rejoin the international community. Will this work? Probably not, but it has to be pursued. Here’s Bruce Blair on the efficacy of a preemptive attack: “The liabilities of preemptive attack on Iran’s nuclear program vastly outweigh the benefits.”

That’s a nice turnaround. I am all for containment through diplomacy, although lukewarm on sanctions as they seem to punish the people for the actions of a government. But I think all the posturing about the possibility of a nuclear war in the middle east is fantasy. Let me absolutely clear: it is exceedingly unlikely Iran will initiate a nuclear strike — of any kind, either direct or via a terrorist proxy — while Israel retains a Second Strike capability. Why? Because doing so would necessitate the destruction of their civilisation.

All of that Israeli rhetoric about never permitting a second holocaust isn’t merely rhetoric. It’s backed by the fiercest of passions, the fiercest of intellectual traditions, and the weight of six million dead Jews, slaughtered in Eastern Europe during World War 2.

To quote Moshe Dayan:

Israel must be like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother. Our armed forces, are not the thirtieth strongest in the world, but rather the second or third. We have the capability to take the world down with us. And I can assure you that that will happen before Israel goes under.

That’s why Israel developed a Second Strike capability. Any middle eastern state that hits Israel will be obliterated by Israeli plutonium. It’s as simple as that, and Ahmadinejad knows it. Iran is not developing nuclear weapons as a tool of destruction. We have to look at the context; non-nuclear states like Libya and Iraq have been subject to Western-backed regime change, while far more brutal nuclear-armed dictatorships like North Korea have not. Simply, the Iranian theocracy is not pursuing nuclear arms to attack Israel, and thereby guarantee their destruction. They are pursuing nuclear arms to guarantee their survival.

If Israel were a defenceless nation, neoconservative hawks who wish to see Washingtonian intervention might have a stronger case. If a nuclear-armed second-strike-capable Iran were threatening to obliterate a non-nuclear Israel, Israel could truly claim that there was an existential threat to her. But back in reality, that is just not true.

Even Meir Dagan, the former head of Mossad recognises that Iran is not an existential threat to Israel.

From the Guardian:

Upon leaving his post, Dagan publicly warned against Israel attacking Iran to stop it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

In his latest comments, he said that if Israel attacks Iran, it will find itself at the centre of a regional war that would endanger the state’s existence. Dagan’s intervention is dangerous for Netanyahu because it comes from the right wing of Israeli opinion rather than the left, where the prime minister would expect criticism.

Dagan has been in charge of aggressive Israeli actions abroad in recent years, that have included assassinations in Lebanon, Syria and Dubai and an air attack on a suspected nuclear reactor in Syria. He also criticised Israel’s failure to offer any initiative to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians .

The absence of any workable plan, he said, will leave Israel in a dangerous and weak situation.

This really echoes my thinking: the real threat to Israel, and America is not inaction on Iran, but excessive force. Iran poses little threat, but military intervention to effect regime change in Tehran runs the risk of huge and widespread blowback throughout the Muslim world: terrorism, guerrilla warfare, and deeper intergovernmental hostility, a breakdown of regional trade, and even a wider land war involving Eurasian nations who wish to protect Iran, including China and Russia.

The real threat to world peace — and to Israel — is Western paranoia, leading to pre-emptive warfare. 

Jeffrey Goldberg Calls For War With Iran?

Jeffrey Goldberg, foreign policy hawk, is making the case for some more “liberal” interventionism.

From Bloomberg:

An Iran with nuclear weapons may be unbearable for Israel. It would further empower Israel’s terrorist enemies, who would be able to commit atrocities under the protection of an atomic umbrella. It would mean the end of the peace process, as no Arab state in the shadow of a nuclear Iran would dare make a separate peace with Israel. And it isn’t too much to imagine that some of Iran’s more mystically minded leaders, mesmerized by visions of the apocalypse, would actually consider using a nuclear weapon on Israel — a country so small that a single detonation could cripple it permanently.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who once told me he believes that Iran is led by a “messianic, apocalyptic cult,” is correct to view Iran as a threat to his country’s existence.

[President Barack Obama] has said, repeatedly, that an Iran with nuclear weapons is unacceptable to the U.S. Many Israelis, and many Americans, think Obama is soft on such matters. But I believe, based on interviews inside and outside the White House, that he would consider using force — missile strikes, mainly — to stop the Iranians from crossing the nuclear threshold.

We’ve been here before.

From Goldberg’s 2002  New Yorker piece calling for American intervention in Iraq:

Saddam Hussein never gave up his hope of turning Iraq into a nuclear power … There is some debate among arms-control experts about exactly when Saddam will have nuclear capabilities. But there is no disagreement that Iraq, if unchecked, will have them soon … There is little doubt what Saddam might do with an atomic bomb or with his stocks of biological and chemical weapons.

The trouble is, no evidence was ever found that Saddam Hussein had any weapons of mass-destruction. But that didn’t stop the military-Keynesians who steamrollered into Baghdad before embarking on almost a decade of wasteful, expensive occupation at cost to the American taxpayer.

In a late 2002 debate in Slate, Goldberg described Hussein as “uniquely evil” and advocated an invasion on a moral basis:

There is consensus belief now that Saddam could have an atomic bomb within months of acquiring fissile material. … The administration is planning today to launch what many people would undoubtedly call a short-sighted and inexcusable act of aggression. In five years, however, I believe that the coming invasion of Iraq will be remembered as an act of profound morality.

Yes — profound morality.

Because, of course, war, imperialism, torture and mutilation are “profoundly moral” acts.

For those with strong stomachs, here’s some more explicit pictures of that “profound morality” guiding American “liberal” interventionism.

Goldberg was wrong about Iraq, and he’s wrong about Iran. Far from plunging the middle east into the throes of war, an Iranian nuclear weapon could very well stabilise the region under the shadow of mutually-assured destruction — the same force that stabilised relations between the Soviet Union and America.

The big difference, though is that with Iraq there was no threat that any “liberal” interventionism would spill over into a wider regional war.