The two-state solution and its enemies

Danny Danon, the rising star of the Likud, has been brought down to Earth with a bump.

After boasting during an interview with the Times of Israel that he and his fellow right-wingers in the government would block any move towards a two-state solution, the Deputy Defense Minister found himself under attack from the opposition while Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slapped him down and briefed against him to the Knesset press corps.

The Likud MK told the Times of Israel: “If you will bring [a two-state solution] to a vote in the government — nobody will bring it to a vote, it’s not smart to do it — but if you bring it to a vote, you will see the majority of Likud ministers, along with the Jewish Home [party], will be against it.”

This is nothing Danon hasn’t said before. He is on record advocating a “three-state solution” — a risible notion documented in his book which I reviewed last year — and the partial annexation of Judea and Samaria. But back then he was just another MK addressing a rally in Hebron or appearing on the Glenn Beck show. Now he’s a minister in the government, and Deputy Defense Minister at that. The outrage at his remarks is understandable. They were ill-considered, undisciplined, and a public relations own-goal for a government that already struggles with its hasbara. What better propaganda tool for the Palestinians than an Israeli minister saying his government doesn’t believe in reaching a two-state solution?

That said, the world has been slower to anger over two other attacks on the two-state solution this past week. The first was the revelation, reported in the Times of Israel, that Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas rejected yet another offer of peace talks last year. Netanyahu proposed the release of 50 Palestinian terrorists imprisoned in Israeli jails in exchange for direct talks between the two leaders, a proposition which Abbas dismissed.

Another instance of Palestinian rejectionism came last week in an interview given by Palestinian Authority official Jibril Rajoub, a member of the Fatah Central Committee and chairman of the Palestinian Football Association. Asked on Qatar’s Al-Kass sports channel if Barcelona Football Club’s forthcoming visit to Israel would include “the occupied lands”, Rajoub replied: “They are coming to the occupied lands. All of Palestine — from the river to the sea — it’s all occupied.”

Rajoub, who says “Jews are Satans, and Zionists the sons of dogs” and who insisted the Palestinians would use a nuclear bomb against Israel, is naturally a poster-boy for the Israeli Left — “one of the most important peace-seekers on the other side,” in the estimation of Zahava Gal-on, the credulous leader of the credulous Meretz party.

It is instructive to compare the reaction in Israel to Danon’s comments with Palestinian reaction to Abbas’s obstructionism and Rajoub’s rejectionism. While the Likud minister has been ferociously denounced within and outwith his party, there has been no comparable backlash against Abbas or Rajoub. Why is this? Probably because, while opposition to a two-state peace deal is a fringe position in Israel, it is the default position of the Palestinian President. A December 2012 poll conducted by Machon Dahaf found 67% of Israelis in favor of a two-state solution, including 57% of Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu voters and even 53% of Bayit Yehudi supporters. So Danon, although a sincere democrat and a passionate Revisionist Zionist, is not a mainstream figure on this question.

Can we say the same about the Palestinian leadership? Can we be confident it doesn’t represent the 40% of Palestinian Muslims who told Pew that suicide-bombing of civilians was justified “in defense of Islam”? Or the 45% of Palestinians who say “armed struggle” is the best way to achieve statehood, plus the further 22% who support terrorism in combination with negotiations and non-violent methods?

This is the difference between Israeli and Palestinian attitudes towards a two-state solution. Israelis overwhelmingly want a peace deal and have in Netanyahu a tough-minded leader but one who wants peace. A segment of Palestinian public opinion also wants peace but is ignored by its leaders, who prefer to pander to another segment that wants to fight the old battles once again. Both Netanyahu and Abbas face internal political obstacles, as the last few days have shown. But there is a crucial difference. The challenge for Netanyahu is to bring his base along on something they don’t believe in; the challenge for Abbas is to bring his base along on something he doesn’t believe in.

One of the cruelest ironies of the Middle East conflict is that the two-state solution’s fiercest enemies are the very people who would benefit most from it. Cynics are fond of quoting Abba Eban’s lament that the Palestinians “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” But those words sound hollow and glib now, failing to capture the masochistic destructiveness of Palestinian rejectionism. The Palestinians’ refusal to make peace and accept a state is a protracted act of national self-harm.

It would be facile to suggest, as dilettante diplomat John Kerry has, that the two-state solution will be “over” if a deal isn’t struck within two years. But “two states for two peoples” does seem more distant today than ever before. The first step to getting it back on track, however, is recognizing that its true enemies are not to be found in the Likud faction in the Knesset but in the actions, pronouncements, and ideology of the Palestinian leadership.

Originally published in the Times of IsraelFeature image © I, Makaristos by Creative Commons 3.0.

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