There is plenty of blame to go around for the sabotaging of the once-promising Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the subversion of the much-maligned two-state solution, but surely Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deserves an inordinate share of it.
For nearly 25 years — or more, depending when you start counting — he has consistently fought to derail the process, calling it a “mortal threat” to Israel, assuring Israelis and the world that there is no trustworthy Palestinian partner to negotiate with and slow-walking the negotiations where possible.
Now, on the eve of the Israeli elections he hopes will propel him to a fifth term in office and make him the country’s longest serving prime minister, Netanyahu has threatened a further blow to the moribund peace process: He said Saturday that if reelected, he would see to it that Israel begins to annex portions of the West Bank, the Palestinian territory it seized and occupied during the Six-Day War in 1967 (along with the Gaza Strip), and which has been at the core of the conflict with the Palestinians ever since.
In particular, Netanyahu said he would annex not just the major Israeli settlements on the West Bank but also more remote settlements in isolated areas.
It is hard to overstate how terrible a proposal this is. This land is not part of the state of Israel, but territory captured in war; it has been the position of the world community — as laid out in U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, unanimously approved just weeks after the end of the 1967 war — that Israel must withdraw and return to its prewar borders. Despite that, Israel has kept control over the West Bank (and the more 2.8 million Palestinians who live there) ever since, and has allowed hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers to move into highly fortified West Bank communities. The settlements are widely viewed as illegal under international law.
It has long been the position of this page and of the United States government and of most of the world that Israelis and Palestinians must negotiate a just solution to their more than 100-year-old territorial conflict and that such a solution must include a withdrawal from the occupied territories and the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside a safe and secure Israel. The settlements, which divide the West Bank, obviously make that more difficult, and annexation would make it even more so.
Not that many years ago, a two-state solution seemed almost unstoppable and inevitable. That is, until the Hamas bombings began, Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated and Netanyahu was elected to his first term as prime minister. Now such a solution seems further away than ever. Palestinians, whose leaders certainly bear their share of the blame, are increasingly turning toward a one-state solution that they imagine as a democratic binational state; Israelis seem willing to stick with the status quo or to support a one-state plan of their own in which Palestinians and Israelis live together in a Jewish state.
It is difficult to see either of these two plans coming to fruition or working well if they do. Meanwhile, talks between Israelis and Palestinians are at a standstill. The hatred, mistrust and blame that has characterized the relationship between the two peoples for a century continues unabated. Rockets still fly from Gaza into Israeli towns, sometimes resulting in damage or death; Israeli reprisals still kill terrorists as well as civilians.
Unsurprisingly, President Trump has been a consistent enabler of Netanyahu. Most recently, Trump promised that the U.S. would recognize Israel’s long-ago annexation of the captured Golan Heights. That imprudent promise no doubt helped convince Netanyahu to speak out on his wrongheaded West Bank plan.
The Israeli election is Tuesday. Netanyahu’s Likud Party is locked in a tight race with the more centrist party of former army chief Benny Gantz. Though Netanyahu himself is facing indictment on bribery and corruption charges, it would be foolish to count him out.
If he is indeed returned as prime minister once again, the best that can be hoped for is that he won’t keep this dangerous and irresponsible campaign promise.