Let's stop pretending Israel is heading toward a two-state solution: Neil Macdonald

The U.S. already arguably funds settlement building, and there would be no more need for weak murmurs of protest every time Israel announces a few thousand more homes on a West Bank hilltop if we all stopped pretending that Israel is heading toward a two-state solution, writes Neil Macdonald.

The 'peace process' itself has become a ridiculous term

Senior Israeli politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, above, have rejected the two-state solution, and the U.S. already arguably funds settlement building in the West Bank and Jerusalem so why are we still pretending, asks Neil Macdonald? (Atef Safadi/Associated Press)

The diplomatic rictuses that were so long fixed in place are not just slipping. They've been torn off and discarded. In the ascendant Trump nation, they are no longer of any use.

What lies underneath shouldn't be a surprise: the Trump campaign official in New York who declared that Michelle Obama should return to Zimbabwe and live in a cave with Maxie the Gorilla; or Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, who malevolently labelled Barack Obama — the man who recently signed the largest aid package to Israel in history — a "Jew hating anti-Semite" because he refused to veto a UN resolution declaring Israel's settlements illegal, a position, incidentally, that is shared by most nations, Canada included

But other masks are probably best dispensed with. It is past time to stop pretending, for example, that Israel and the Palestinians are on a slow but inevitable journey toward a two-state solution.

U.S. president-elect Donald Trump appears ready to embrace Israeli settlement-building. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

President-elect Donald Trump appears ready to do this. He says he intends to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Previous presidents have promised to do the same and then decided against it, advised by experts of the possible consequences. But Trump is not previous presidents, and by his own word, he knows better than the experts. Trump also appears ready to embrace Israeli settlement building if his choice of ambassador to Israel is any indication.

This will be refreshing. Since money is fungible, the U.S. already arguably funds settlement building, and there would be no more need for weak murmurs of protest every time Israel announces a few thousand more homes on a West Bank hilltop. No more carefully written statements about how settlements are "not helpful" to the peace process.

What peace process?

The peace process itself has become a ridiculous term — weasel words that give politicians a refuge from hard truths and ill-educated journalists a rote talking point. That it ever existed at all is dubious.

Former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir once bluntly explained his motives for going to Madrid and participating in the conference that gave birth to the peace process. "I would have carried out autonomy talks for 10 years," he told the newspaper Ma'ariv as he was leaving office, "and meanwhile, we would have reached half a million people in Judea and Samaria." (Judea and Samaria are otherwise known as the West Bank. At the time, the West Bank settler population was around 90,000. It is somewhere around 400,000 today.)

A pause here to acknowledge Palestinian intransigence. I lived and worked in Jerusalem for five years and met most of the important players at the time. I am well aware of the Fatah's capacity for deceit and of Hamas's ridiculously unrealistic agenda.

Yes, the Palestinians have chosen violence over negotiation in the past, but they are powerless, and they were crushed. Israel, on the other hand, is not only every bit as capable of deceit and double dealing, it has all the power. Any Palestinian state will exist only on Israel's terms, and anyone curious about Israel's terms should read the words of some of the most senior politicians and officials in Israel's ruling right-wing coalition: Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home party, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon and, of course, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, all of whom have dismissed the idea of a Palestinian state.

In fact, with Trump about to take office, some of them are talking about outright annexation of most of the West Bank, something the Israeli far-right has had on its mind ever since Rabbi Moshe Levinger and his followers moved into the Al-Nahr Al-Khaled hotel in Hebron after the 1967 war and refused to leave, founding the settlement movement.

Get on with it

Again, it's probably time to stop pretending and just get on with it. Having colonized the West Bank, Israel can proceed with whatever its plans are for the Palestinian underclass governed by the Israeli military.

Because what to do with that underclass is the real issue.

Right now, 1.4 million Palestinians are Israeli citizens, in a population of eight million. There are at least 2.4 million more Palestinians in the West Bank. Annex the West Bank, and you annex a great many of them. And then what? Offer them citizenship? Don't forget, Palestinians have a significantly higher birthrate than Israelis. At some point, perhaps as soon as 2020, the aggregate Palestinian population in Israel and Gaza and the West Bank will exceed the Jewish population.

So, what will Israel do? Forcibly transfer them to tiny Bantustans? Difficult. More likely, there will be three echelons of residents: full Jewish citizens, many of whom immigrated from abroad, indigenous Arabs with Israeli passports and millions of indigenous Arab residents with no real rights at all.

There is a term for that sort of political system, and it's ugly.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that Israel can be either Jewish or democratic, but not both. (The Associated Press)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry touched on it when he said that if the status quo continues, Israel will be either Jewish or democratic, but not both. That wasn't an original thought; former Israeli prime ministers Ehud Barak, Shimon Peres and Ehud Olmert have all said more or less the same thing. Olmert and Barak both invoked apartheid South Africa.

Israeli intellectuals, including authors David Grossman and Avi Shlaim and Yaron Ezrahi of the Israel Democracy Institute, regard this question as existential to Israeli democracy. 

But Israel's fervent supporters in the U.S. or Canada will no doubt be fine with whatever course the Jewish state chooses. They may have to modify their rhetoric and start calling Israel the "only Athenian democracy in the Middle East" or some such thing.

Or, this being a post-Trump world, just resort to name calling, like the Jew-hating-anti-Semite slur. That's always much easier.

This column is an opinion. For more information about our commentary section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.


Neil Macdonald is a former foreign correspondent and columnist for CBC News who has also worked in newspapers. He speaks English and French fluently, as well as some Arabic.