Akiva Eldar
October 4, 2008 - 8:00pm

It is difficult to imagine that a veteran political hack and smart lawyer like Ehud Olmert did not understand that once Israel's prime minister loudly set the bar for an agreement with the Palestinians at the 1967 borders, no Palestinian leader will settle for less. Like the heiress apparent, Tzipi Livni, Olmert knows that there is no point in continuing to bargain. Both have concluded that the old game of the endless peace process that leads nowhere has reached its end. The mantra "if they give, they'll get, if they don't give, they won't get" that Benjamin Netanyahu waved arrogantly in the Palestinians' faces has changed direction: If Israel gives the territories, all the territories, it will get a Jewish state. If Israel does not give the territories, including East Jerusalem, it will get the Balkans.

But Olmert and Livni, not to mention the Zionist left, have not managed to pass on to the public their anxiety over losing the two-state option. The right's frightening scenarios that Palestine will launch missiles at the homes of Kfar Sava and planes landing at Ben-Gurion Airport are scaring people much more than the danger of one state for two peoples; that is, the loss of the state's Jewish character. In fact, Israelis have lived for 41 years in a binational reality, but the regime, and that is what counts for them, has consistently remained unitary.

The numbers of Arabs living five minutes from Israelis' homes, between settlements and army bases, does not bother them. To ease their conscience, most Israelis (55 percent according to the Steinmetz Peace Index from last March) define the West Bank as "liberated territory" and only 32 percent have adopted the term "occupied territory." As long as Israel does not annex the territories and does not give its inhabitants civil rights, the "demographic threat" is a statistical paper tiger. Even "international pressure" to reach a settlement has turned out time after time to make momentary headlines, accompanied the next day by the report of a new outpost and two days later by an invitation to another peace conference.

It appears, therefore, that there is a long-range alternative to a two-state solution other than the one-state solution for two peoples: a Jewish and democratic state west of the Green Line and Jewish and undemocratic rule east of the line. The Palestinian Authority, which was intended to be a temporary arrangement until the establishment of an independent state, has become a fig leaf covering the nakedness of a deluxe version of occupation. The European taxpayer, rather than the Israeli one, is paying the salaries of teachers and doctors in the West Bank. And Mahmoud Abbas' police have become the subcontractors for the Israeli security forces.

In an interview with Haaretz last week, GOC Central Command Gadi Shamni praised the Palestinian police for their raids on mosques and their arrests of imams. The voices of Palestinian public figures like Professor Sari Nusseibeh, who called on Abbas to end the theater of the absurd of the diplomatic talks, dismantle the PA and begin an international struggle for equal rights in all of Mandatory Palestine, have fallen silent. The pollster Khalil Shikaki found that only 25 percent of the West Bank's inhabitants support a one-state solution.

The Palestinians have come to know the Jewish community and they know it will not agree to give up its dominance by force for the sake of egalitarian coexistence with the Palestinian community. Their support for Hamas does not stem from a loss of support for a two-state solution based on the 1967 lines - it stems from a loss of faith in the possibility of bringing Israel back to those lines without a fight.

But the distorted reality of neither two states nor one, neither peace nor war, cannot last. Abbas and his little band are the slender finger in the dam holding back an Islamic flood like that in Gaza from inundating the West Bank as well. The attack on Professor Ze'ev Sternhell reminded us, for a moment, that religious-nationalist zealotry knows no boundaries. Those who are indifferent to the abrogation of their neighbor's universal basic rights, such as the right to a state, are not free in their own state.


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