The Obama administration’s decision last month not to veto the Security Council resolution condemning the building of Jewish settlements in occupied Palestine was akin to closing the barn door after the horse had bolted. The time to prevent a one-state solution to the Israel–Palestine conflict has long passed.
The inability of successive US administrations to block settlement building activity despite the leverage they possessed with Israel has only emboldened the Netanyahu government and its right-wing settler-based constituency to accelerate the process of devouring more and more occupied land and crisscrossing the West Bank with Jewish settlements and settler-only roads that rule out the establishment of a Palestinian state next to Israel.
A one-state solution is now inevitable thanks to a decade or more of changes in the domestic Israeli context, the regional setting and the international environment. The Israeli domestic scene has changed radically in the past 20 years. The Israeli left is in shambles—it has the Peace Now movement but is a shadow of its former self. The center of Israeli politics has moved so far to the right that the Israeli Prime Minister no longer needs to make even a perfunctory bow to the idea of two states living side-by-side in peace and security. While the Israeli right, now the mainstream, doesn’t believe in a one-state solution with equal rights for all citizens, the creeping annexation of Palestinian territories makes this almost inevitable.
Regionally, the Arab states, especially Syria and Iraq, that have traditionally been the principal supporters of the Palestinian resistance are in complete disarray and headed toward state collapse if they’re not already there. Tel Aviv, therefore, is under no Arab pressure to negotiate with the Palestinians who are now bereft of allies. The only exception is distant, non-Arab Iran. But, Iran is itself over-involved in Iraq and Syria and doesn’t have adequate diplomatic or financial resources to come to the aid of the beleaguered Palestinians in any substantial fashion.
Internationally, successive American administrations, despite occasional rhetoric to the contrary, have been too week-kneed to take on the Israeli lobby in Washington or respond forcefully to Netanyahu’s barely-concealed insults aimed at them. With Donald Trump’s assumption of the presidency next week even the occasional critical rhetoric emanating from Washington is likely to cease. President-elect Trump has openly endorsed the concept of a greater Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and rejected the idea that a Palestinian state could ever be established. That’s music to most Israeli ears and removes any chance that the notion of a Palestinian state would be revived in the foreseeable future.
Russia is too preoccupied with its involvement in Syria and Putin too enamored with the possibility of a friendly, if not pliant, White House under Trump to take more than a cursory interest in Palestine. In short, never have the domestic, regional and international factors been so conducive for Israel to continue down the road of establishing a single political entity between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
The one troubling fact, which most Israelis seem to ignore, is the existence of millions of Palestinians in the area between the river and the sea. While some Israelis may contemplate a repetition of the ethnic cleansing that accompanied the creation of Israel in 1948, the changed sensibilities of the international community won’t allow anything approaching a redux. Unfortunately for Israel, Palestinians come with the territory and may well become a majority in the land between the river and the sea in a quarter century, if not less.
That leaves Israel with two options. One, it turns itself into a democratic, bi-national state with equal rights of citizenship for all its inhabitants. Or two, it turns itself into an apartheid state in law as well as in fact on the model of South Africa, where the civil and political rights are reserved for only one ethnic group and the dominant-subordinate relationship is codified in legal terms.
The first option won’t be acceptable to the large majority of Jewish Israelis, as it would mean the end of the Zionist project that led to the creation of Israel. The second won’t be acceptable to the large majority of members of the international community. Israel may, therefore, become the target of international opprobrium and economic sanctions à la South Africa—a fate from which it can’t be rescued even by the most sympathetic American administration. The Palestinians may still have the last laugh.