Analysis from Israel

The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East
By Caroline B. Glick
Crown Forum, 352 pages

Devotees of the two-state solution will surely dismiss Caroline Glick’s The Israeli Solution out of hand. They shouldn’t. Whether or not one agrees with Glick’s conclusions, it’s hard to dispute her premise: The two-state solution has failed repeatedly for more than 80 years, starting with serial British partition plans in the 1930s. Each time, it has foundered on the same obstacle: Arab rejection of the Jewish state’s right to exist within any borders. And there’s no reason to think this will change anytime soon. So anyone who truly considers the status quo unsustainable needs to explore alternative solutions.

Glick, a longtime columnist for the Jerusalem Post, spends almost half the book detailing the two-state solution’s repeated failures, in her trademark take-no-prisoners style. Then she presents her solution: Israel should apply Israeli law to Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and grant its Palestinian inhabitants permanent residency, with the right to become citizens if they so desire.

Many of her arguments in support of this plan were once widely accepted both in Israel and the West: Judea and Samaria are the Jewish people’s religious and historical heartland. Israel has a better legal claim to them than anyone else does, Palestinians included. These areas are essential for defense against both terrorism and invasion. And, for those who care about Palestinian self-determination (which Glick doesn’t much), there’s also the fact that a Palestinian-majority state already exists in 80 percent of the original Palestine Mandate; it’s called Jordan. Since Israel has shamefully allowed these arguments to be forgotten during two decades of peace-processing, Glick’s recap is necessary and important, but not groundbreaking.

The crux of the book, therefore, is to refute the two main objections to a one-state solution: the demographic and the diplomatic.

Glick relies on the work of the American-Israel Demographic Research Group, which concluded that the West Bank and Gaza contain about 1.3 million fewer Palestinians than the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics claims. If the group’s methodology is sound—and leading American demographers have approved of it—then Jews make up two-thirds of all inhabitants of Israel, Judea, and Samaria, and 59 percent if you include Gaza.

Like Glick, I find AIDRG’s work persuasive, not least because its opponents’ predictions of demographic doom have persistently proven to be wrong for decades. AIDRG also discovered some errors so glaring that even its die-hard opponents were forced to admit them, such as the double-counting of 200,000 East Jerusalem Arabs. Nevertheless, Israelis would probably be reluctant to bet their country’s future on any single study, given that annexing Judea and Samaria could erase Israel’s Jewish majority if AIDRG were wrong.

Neither AIDRG nor Glick addresses another relevant demographic matter: how many Israeli Jews would back this sizable Palestinian minority’s demands to eliminate Israel’s Jewish character. The radical leftists who would do so gleefully are relatively few in number, but their claim that Israel’s Jewish character is “discriminatory,” “undemocratic,” and “contrary to human rights” has already infected parts of the Zionist left. And that worrying trend would probably accelerate if left-wing organizations intensified their existing campaign on the issue, which they surely would under a one-state solution. Finally, Glick’s proposal excludes Gaza. That’s clearly reasonable for now: Hamas won’t cede power voluntarily, and Israel won’t invade. But it may not be tenable long-term.

None of this makes a one-state solution inherently demographically unfeasible—especially since no demographer disputes that Jewish birthrates are rising while Palestinian birthrates are falling. But it does mean further research is needed.

A related question is whether, even if the math works out, Israel could assimilate such a large Palestinian minority. States with large, hostile national minorities don’t have good track records. Here, Glick’s answer is eye-opening. Israeli Arabs and East Jerusalem Palestinians, she notes, overwhelmingly reject Israel’s right to exist. Yet very few become terrorists, and polls consistently find that most want to remain Israeli. Indeed, Israeli Arabs overwhelmingly oppose becoming citizens of a Palestinian state even if territorial swaps would allow them do so without leaving their homes. In short, much as they dislike the Jewish state in principle, Israeli Arabs seem to prefer it to a Palestinian one in practice. Thus, given the same option, Glick argued, Palestinians might well reach the same conclusion.

Her response to the diplomatic objection is also thought-provoking, but ultimately, less convincing. Essentially, she argues that though Israel would suffer a short-term diplomatic hit by annexing Judea and Samaria, in the long run, this would bolster its diplomatic position. She is certainly correct that Israel’s pursuit of the two-state solution has been diplomatically devastating (a subject I explored in a 2010 Commentary article, “The Deadly Price of Pursuing Peace”), and more of the same will only worsen the damage. She’s also right that annexation would have some diplomatic benefits. For instance, it’s hard to make the case for Israel’s legal rights to Judea and Samaria while saying these areas should be a Palestinian state; thus annexation would actually help Israel fight the pernicious libel that it stole the Palestinians’ land. Letting Palestinians become Israeli citizens, moreover, would eliminate the argument that Israel’s “occupation” is uniquely evil, because Palestinians are stateless, whereas Tibetans and Kashmiris, say, are at least Chinese or Indian citizens.

Nevertheless, long-term gains are valuable only if you survive to reap them. I think Glick underestimates the short-term diplomatic consequences. Though she recognizes that Europe might impose economic sanctions, she believes Israel can survive them, thanks to its new natural-gas wealth and burgeoning trade with rising Asian powers. Someday, perhaps, that might be true. But right now, Europe still accounts for a third of Israeli exports. Israel’s export-dependent economy would have trouble absorbing a loss of that size.

The bigger problem, however, is America. Glick recognizes that America’s diplomatic backing is indispensable but argues that unilateral annexation wouldn’t cost Israel this backing because America, too, would benefit from ending its futile pursuit of the two-state solution. She may be right about the benefits to America, but there remains the minor problem of persuading Americans of this.

As she herself admits, America’s decades-long commitment to the two-state solution is bipartisan and deeply entrenched. That’s true not only for the foreign-policy establishment, but also for the American people, including American Jews. Thus gambling that Israel could retain American support while unilaterally jettisoning this solution seems wildly irresponsible, unless it’s preceded by a massive (and successful) diplomatic campaign to erode the two-state consensus. I suspect Glick realizes this, and intends her powerful book to be the opening shot in such a campaign rather than a blueprint for immediate action.

But the diplomatic unfeasibility of her plan (at least for now) doesn’t negate the importance of her demographic arguments. For as she correctly noted, Palestinians have spent two decades successfully using their self-created demographic data “to coerce Israel to bend to [their] political will.” Fear that Israel will soon become South Africa, with a Jewish minority ruling over a Palestinian majority, has spurred successive Israeli premiers—all of whom previously opposed a Palestinian state—to offer ever more egregious concessions in a desperate bid to persuade the Palestinians to accept one.

Yet as two decades of failure have amply proven, there’s no way Israel can negotiate successfully from such a position: As long as Palestinians, Western leaders, and Israelis themselves all believe “that Israel needs a Palestinian state…even more than the Palestinians do” (as Glick put it), the Palestinians have every incentive to continue holding out for even more concessions, while Israel will face ever increasing pressure to concede even its most vital interests.

Consequently, Israel has a supreme interest in doing the additional research necessary to determine whether Glick is right about a one-state solution’s demographic feasibility. For if she is, that would be a real game-changer—because an Israel no longer vulnerable to demographic extortion would be much better placed to protect its essential interests in any negotiation. And that’s something even (pro-Israel) advocates of a two-state solution ought to welcome.

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Why Israel Needs a Better Political Class

Note: This piece is a response to an essay by Haviv Rettig Gur, which can be found here

Israel’s current political crisis exemplifies the maxim that hard cases make bad law. This case is desperate. Six months after the coronavirus erupted and nine months after the fiscal year began, Israel still lacks both a functioning contact-tracing system and an approved 2020 budget, mainly because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is more worried about politics than the domestic problems that Israel now confronts. The government’s failure to perform these basic tasks obviously invites the conclusion that civil servants’ far-reaching powers must not only be preserved, but perhaps even increased.

This would be the wrong conclusion. Bureaucrats, especially when they have great power, are vulnerable to the same ills as elected politicians. But unlike politicians, they are completely unaccountable to the public.

That doesn’t mean Haviv Rettig Gur is wrong to deem them indispensable. They provide institutional memory, flesh out elected officials’ policies, and supply information the politicians may not know and options they may not have considered. Yet the current crisis shows in several ways why they neither can nor should substitute for elected politicians.

First, bureaucrats are no less prone to poor judgment than politicians. As evidence, consider Siegal Sadetzki, part of the Netanyahu-led triumvirate that ran Israel’s initial response to the coronavirus. It’s unsurprising that Gur never mentioned Sadetzki even as he lauded the triumvirate’s third member, former Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov; she and her fellow Health Ministry staffers are a major reason why Israel still lacks a functional test-and-trace system.

Sadetzki, an epidemiologist, was the ministry’s director of public-health services and the only member of the triumvirate with professional expertise in epidemics (Bar Siman-Tov is an economist). As such, her input was crucial. Yet she adamantly opposed expanding virus testing, even publicly asserting that “Too much testing will increase complacence.” She opposed letting organizations outside the public-health system do lab work for coronavirus tests, even though the system was overwhelmed. She opposed sewage monitoring to track the spread of the virus. And on, and on.

Moreover, even after acknowledging that test-and-trace was necessary, ministry bureaucrats insisted for months that their ministry do the tracing despite its glaringly inadequate manpower. Only in August was the job finally given to the army, which does have the requisite personnel. And the system still isn’t fully operational.

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