Driving Down the Path of Suboptimal Solutions Without Brakes
The author, Rajeev Pillay, is Founder and General Partner of Abacus International Management. He has worked on institutional and governance reforms in countries going through economic and political transition. Rajeev Pillay is married to an Israeli, and has traveled repeatedly to Israel over the past 35 years. His family had close connections to the Weizmann Institute, a world renown science center.
The construction of new settlements has moved into high gear all over the West Bank. The only country that can stop the bulldozer is the U.S., but while he has retreated somewhat from his earlier stance of openly supporting the expansion, it certainly does not look as though President Trump understands the issue and its implications for the U.S. well enough to do anything about it.
The “One State Solution” is the only likely outcome at this point. The Obama administration’s stand in the Security Council of the UN was a last ditch, futile attempt to at least be heard on the issue after at least 2 years of intensive efforts by Kerry to talk Israel off the ledge. The One State Solution is pretty much accepted within Israel by the majority of the population and the plethora of right wing and religious parties that carry the most weight in the country’s politics. The voices of the left and even Tzipi Livni who has gone through numerous political incarnations and alliances since she ran against Netanyahu on a two state platform and lost, have been long drowned out. Even minorities within the state of Israel (Armenians, Greeks, Italians and Arab Israelis) are expecting a single state.
What are the likely consequences of a One-State Solution?
- Uprising and increased instability in Jordan and Egypt, that are both allies of the U.S. and have recognized Israel fully and have standing peace agreements and relatively close ties with Israel. Jordan is already a tinderbox. It houses over 2 million Iraqi and Syrian refugees in a total population of 9.8 million. These 2 million are not housed in refugee camps, but are in among the population of Jordan, receive the same benefits as the general population and compete for jobs against them in an environment in which unemployment is already very high. Some 60 per cent of the remainder of the population is Palestinian. If Jordan becomes unstable, the problems in neighboring Syria will no doubt spillover (Northern Jordan is already a no-go area for many foreigners. The famous Al Qaeda leader Zarkawi killed in Iraq was originally from Zarka in Northern Jordan). Egypt has an even more repressive government than Jordan, but in addition to the Islamic insurgency in the Sinai, at the last election during the “revolution” before General Sisi stepped in, 60 per cent of the population voted for the Muslim Brotherhood and another 20 per cent voted for Salafi fundamentalists. This will become a rallying cry for them and will make Sisi’s life very difficult indeed. Egypt’s population is, by conservative estimates, about 85 million and as such has an outsize influence in the Arab world.
- A one state solution will skew the demographics dramatically in Israel itself. So much so that the Arab Israelis are actually looking forward to a single state solution as they believe that they will be the majority and will be in charge! I am not of a similar mind. The Israeli government will never allow this to happen, and so in my view they probably have two possible solutions – neither of which are particularly democratic. One is to create the equivalent of the former South African regime’s “Bantustans” where Palestinians are placed and treated as entirely separate and autonomous, but starved for revenue, resources and access to trade and are not given the vote in Israel. The second is to expel Palestinians whose land they expropriate. This is solution long favored by several Israeli politicians on the right including Avigdor Lieberman who is now Minister of Defense in Netanyahu’s government. This expulsion presumably could be to neighboring countries, or it could be to Gaza, which I am pretty sure is to be a Bantustan of sorts because it is such a hornets’ nest. Either way, Israel will no longer be a liberal democracy in the true sense of the term.
- If the Trump administration does not stand up for two states, the US’s role as a mediator for peace will be dealt a final, fatal blow and its standing in the Arab world will be severely affected.
The recognition of Jerusalem as the capital, something that Trump appears to have backed off a bit, will be the icing on the cake for Israel, but will inflame an even wider array of Arab countries (Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries included) because of its religious significance.
I should mention that there is some sort of hope among Israeli policy makers that an anti-Iranian alliance can be struck up between Israel and leaders of countries in the “Sunni crescent” (Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar being the most important among them). My own opinion is that this is delusional. While these countries no doubt have covert relations with Israel, a single state and the an official recognition of Jerusalem by the U.S. as the capital of Israel will leave these countries with no option but to strongly oppose Israel if only to ensure their own domestic stability.
Benjamin Netanyahu is visiting the US yet again and will not doubt place pressure on President Trump to make good on his campaign promises. Netanyahu is up for election and assuming that he survives accusations of corruption and ongoing investigations into him and his wife, is likely to win with a small majority. He will be asked to form a government by the President of Israel and will no doubt have to horse trade with right and extreme-right wing and religious parties to form a coalition. There is no real hope of a softening of Israel’s position.
Congressman Lee Zeldin, who represents Suffolk County is making a visit to Israel as every Congressman from New York State worth her or his salt is supposed to do. I do not expect a great deal from him except for him to pledge to back the Israeli government’s policies in every way that he can. It is important for him domestically — especially as a politician from New York. He is also co-chair of the House Republican Israel Caucus, so his politics are pretty obvious. Furthermore, the settlements are financed by remittances from the diaspora Jewish Community (cost of constructing houses, tax breaks, education, health and other personal subsidies such as cash to buy cars, etc. for new settlers on the West Bank). Most of this money comes from the two coasts of the U.S. (some $11.5 billion last year) and Zeldin must be well aware of the fact and its importance to his domestic politics.
I for one, am fully resigned to the emergence of a single state in the coming 4 years as the Trump Administration will not serve as an obstacle. The Obama Administration, which otherwise was the best friend that Israel could have had in terms of military and humanitarian support, was excoriated as an enemy of Israel just because it sought to speak truth to power and warn Israel of the negative outcomes of the current policy.
Given the reality today, we probably have no option but to go to Plan-B and prepare to deal with negative outcomes in an already volatile and chaotic Middle East.