ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN peace talks are frozen. President Donald Trump’s plan for the “deal of the century” has been put off. The subject is absent in campaigning for the Israeli election in April, which focuses on looming corruption charges against Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister.
The Oslo accords of 1993 created a crazy quilt of autonomous zones in the lands that Israel captured in 1967. They also kindled the hope of creating a Palestinian state in most of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with its capital in East Jerusalem. After much bloodshed, though, most Israelis are wary of this “two-state solution”. Today Palestinians are mostly shut off by security barriers, and divided. The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank refuses to negotiate with Israel but co-operates on security. Its Islamist rival, Hamas, which runs Gaza, dares not risk another war, for now.
Besides, the growth of Jewish settlements makes a two-state deal ever harder. Establishing a Palestinian state would probably require the removal of settlers in its territory. Israel had trouble enough evicting 8,000 Jews from Gaza in 2005. There are more than fifty times as many in the West Bank. Even excluding East Jerusalem, annexed by Israel, the number of Jews east of the “green line” (the pre-1967 border) has risen from 110,000 in 1993 to 425,000. New home approvals nearly quadrupled from 5,000 in 2015-16 to 19,000 in 2017-18, according to Peace Now, a pressure group.
Such “facts on the ground” follow a pattern: more intense building in East Jerusalem and close to the green line; less so deeper in the West Bank. In theory, a line could be drawn to incorporate the vast majority of settlers within Israel. The route of the existing and planned barriers would take in 77% of the West Bank’s settlers (or 85%, counting East Jerusalem). But this creates deep salients that break up Palestinian areas and cut them off from Jerusalem.
As Palestinians lose hope for a state of their own, some favour a “one-state” deal: a single state on all the land with equal rights for Jews and Arabs. Israel would have to give up its predominantly Jewish identity. That is because, between the Mediterranean and the Jordan river, the overall number of Arabs has caught up with that of Jews, and may soon exceed them.
This creates a “trilemma” for Israel. It cannot have at the same time a strong Jewish majority, all the land and a full democracy that does not discriminate against Arabs. In the end it must sacrifice either land in a two-state solution; or a Jewish majority in a big “binational” state; or the claim to being a proper democracy. It has tried to avoid such stark choices through messy partial withdrawals. But the more permanent its occupation becomes, the more it risks sliding towards apartheid.
Sources: Israel Central Bureau of Statistics; Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics; Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research; Peace Now; Washington Institute for Near East Policy; The Economist
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