If Abbas now drops off the keys for the Palestinian Authority on Netanyahu's desk, the implications for Israel will be nothing short of catastrophic.
John Kerry has had phenomenal patience and put enormous time and energy into his attempt to reach an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. But even his patience and certainly that of the White House seem to have come to an end. Senior administration officials state that Kerry says he has gone as far as he can in his efforts, and that Israelis and Palestinians should now make their own decisions.
Kerry seems to have reached the same conclusion as James Baker, the elder Bush's secretary of state, who told then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir more than 20 years ago that he should call the White House when he was ready to actually do business. It's easy to understand Kerry, whose enormous efforts met ever-new obstacles like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and Israel's repeated initiation of new construction in the West Bank. During the last months it has become ever clearer that the talks were going nowhere, and that prolonging them stands little chance of producing results.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is about to turn to the UN to ask for membership in some 15 organizations Palestinians have access to since they received non-member status at the UN in 2012. He seems to be left with few alternatives. As Jack Khoury has pointed out, Abbas' support among Palestinians, for conducting the talks while Israel continues building in the West Bank, allocating another 177 million shekels for roads and projects there, is dwindling. So he might as well start using the one tool he has to put pressure on Israel. If, for example, he signs the Geneva Conventions he has a case for launching a complaint against just about every action Israel takes on the West Bank, as a violation of international law.
This might create a huge problem: the U.S. Congress has passed a law that would require the U.S. administration to stop financing the Palestinian Authority if Palestinians resort to unilateral steps at the UN or the International Criminal Court. Abbas could therefore create a situation in which he has legal means to put pressure on Israel, but no money to run the Palestinian Authority. He might then be forced to drop off the keys for the PA on Netanyahu's desk, and Israel from this moment on would be responsible for running the West Bank again.
The implications for Israel would be nothing short of catastrophic. In the short run, Israel's economy would be under enormous strain because it would have to finance everything from schools through hospitals and security in the West Bank. In the long run the situation would be even worse: Palestinians will argue that the West Bank is de facto part of Israel and that they are therefore entitled to full political rights.
Israel would then face the full South Africa scenario: The international community would probably accept the Palestinian demand and see the situation as apartheid, while Washington's ability to protect Israel from diplomatic assaults and boycotts will decrease. Israel will be forced to give Palestinians full political rights, and a binational state will be established West of the Jordan River.
On paper, Israel's right-wing proponents of the Greater Land of Israel will have won. De facto, this would mean the end of the Zionist project of the democratic homeland of the Jews. It would also mean the creation of a state that will be impossible to govern, filled with endless strife, for example about the Palestinian right of return to the Greater Land of Israel, Israstine or whatever the new country West of the Jordan River will be called.
It is an irony of history that Ehud Olmert, the prime minister who has come closest to signing an agreement with the Palestinians, has been convicted of bribery in the same days Kerry cancelled his meeting with Abbas. It sometimes seems as if the forces of fate indeed colluded to make sure that the only viable solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict would not come about.
Of course future historians will be able to show the phenomenal number of errors of judgment made by both sides over the years. But frankly, I'm less interested in the blaming game than I am in Israel's future, and this is why I am more concerned with Israel's mismanagement of the conflict than with the endless series of mistakes on the Palestinian side, about which I have written time and again in the past.
The question is whether there is any way out of the scenario which will lead to one unmanageable state west of the Jordan River. Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren suggested a few months ago that if the peace talks fail, Israel should withdraw unilaterally from the West Bank's population centers. This, he claims, would enable Israel to keep the major settlement blocs and ensure security, while ending the occupation of the Palestinian population.
Oren's proposal may end up being the only course of action left to Israel if and when the peace talks fail. But that option comes with major stumbling blocks. Oren probably means that Israel will keep only the major settlement blocs, but if history serves as a guide, Israel is bound to keep many of the other settlements as well.
A brilliant historian, Oren must certainly be aware that the world will by no means see such a move as the end of the occupation -- and for good reason. Palestinians will still not be able to move freely both within their own territory sprinkled with small Israeli settlements and torn apart with roads Palestinians are not allowed to use, and their ability to travel will continue to depend on Israeli permits. Oren has been in the international diplomatic scene long enough to know that such unilateral withdrawal is unlikely to end the process of Israel's increasing international isolation which is now moving from calls to boycott Israel academically to the threat of excluding Israel from FIFA on the grounds that Israel limits Palestinian soccer players' freedom.
Meanwhile we should all prepare ourselves for the two-state solution's funeral. It is just a matter of time until the medical authorities officially and finally declare its demise.