The religious nationalists in Israel have become increasingly more successful in their drive to incorporate the West Bank (what they call Judea and Samaria) into the State of Israel. Their effort is based on their belief in a biblical allotment of that land to the children of Israel or in some form of nationalistic "manifest destiny." To the Israeli public, world Jewry and other interested parties, they frame their plan, as Naftali Bennett, Israel's Minister of the Economy and leader of the Jewish Home Party has done in a November 5th op-ed in the New York Times, as driven by a concern for Israel's security.
After unilaterally pulling out of Lebanon and Gaza, they say, Israel still suffered attacks. How then can it pull out of the West Bank, which would leave major Israeli areas even more vulnerable. And now they will try to buttress their argument by pointing to the horrific killings of four leading rabbis in a Jerusalem synagogue by two Palestinian terrorists and the rejoicing about that act by Palestinians in Gaza. Of course, terrorist acts by angry individuals are totally different from and do not define how a state would act. After all, former Israeli Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, when they were part of the Irgun resistance movement against British colonial control of Palestine, effectively used terror tactics to help drive the British out of Palestine. Yet, the state of Israel under their leadership did not carry out terror activities.
Moreover, as a recent open letter to Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu from over 100 former Israeli Generals and intelligence chiefs led by retired General Amnon Reshef has explained, true security for Israel does not lie in trying to control an unwilling Palestinian population but in separate Israeli and Palestinian states as part of a comprehensive regional peace deal with the moderate Arab nations. Yes, there are security risks, General Reshef has said, but Israel is strong enough to overcome those risks and the perils of not reaching a two state solution are greater than the risks. We should recognize that without partition and separation Israel's very legitimacy as a Jewish state can be subject to challenge; representing a threat to the Zionist dream of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people.
A key strategy used by the nationalists to accomplish their aim is to push the boundaries of Israeli settlements to the point where it is politically impossible to reverse the course and create a viable separate Palestinian state. In that process, if they weaken those Palestinian leaders who could make a two state deal, or undermine the American representatives who could help bring that goal about, that furthers their aim. At this point too, the Israel Defense Force, itself, is so populated with religious nationalists that doubt has been raised whether they would act to move settlors physically, if ordered by their rabbinical authorities not to do so.
What the religious nationalists fail to discuss openly, however, is what their plan is for the 2.7 million Palestinians living in the West Bank. If they treat them as full citizens of Israel adding them to the approximately 1.7million current Arab citizens and residents of Israel -- which nobody believes they have in mind -- they will give so much voting power to the Palestinians as to threaten Israel as a Jewish state and will add enormous economic burdens on the state. If they treat those Palestinians as second-class citizens or as having no rights of citizenship at all, they risk being accused of being an apartheid state with the consequences of that charge in world opprobrium. If they plan to transfer those Palestinians to another area like Jordan -- they will meet great resistance by the Palestinians and the Jordanians as well as international condemnation. Such a course of action would also generate continuing tension and violence far beyond any we have seen so far.
It would be naïve not to recognize that the religious nationalists are succeeding in their aim. Step by step they are expanding settlements, creating facts on the ground that will make it politically impossible to move settler in order to to create a viable Palestinian state. They have created obstacles to every effort by the Obama Administration to move a peace process forward. And they are destroying the hopes of Palestinians for a state of their own, so that too many, particularly younger Palestinians, are now thinking about a bi-national state.
There is very small window of opportunity left to stop the nationalist momentum and create the conditions for a regional negotiation that has some chance of success. It will take a major effort to alert the Israeli public that unless they act quickly the two-state solution will be off the table, even though most of them say they want it. And world Jewry, particularly in the United States, must join in that effort. As the General's letter points out, generating movement by the Israeli public has to take place in a regional context so the Palestinian leaders and Arab states must show the courage to advance the interests of their people by opening a dialogue with Israel which contemplates a comprehensive political, economic and cultural regional relationship and which also encompasses a two state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian issue. For the various parties to hold back in a "you first, Alphonse" approach is a recipe for failure. Only a major joint effort can stem the tide against a two state solution.
Robert K. Lifton, a businessman and political activist, is a Board Member of the Israel Policy Forum. His memoir "An Entrepreneur's Journey: Stories From A Life In Business And Personal Diplomacy" was published by Author House in 2012.