The New York Times (Analysis)
September 15, 2011 - 12:00am


As delegates gather in New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly next week, the U.S. was seeking a last-minute compromise to delay a U.N. vote supporting Palestinian statehood. Turkey and Egypt have lent support to such a resolution, and American negotiators in the Middle East were in talks aimed at averting the U.N. vote.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel seemed intent on blocking it, and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority appeared equally determined to see it proceed. Is there a case to be made that Israel's very survival depends on the creation of a stable and viable Palestinian state?

"Israel Is Not a Superpower"
Ronen Bergman

Jews are known for answering questions with another question, so I’d add a third question to this discussion: Would an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict end the Israeli-Arab conflict? Or more concretely, did the forced departure of the Israeli ambassadors from the country’s two main strategic bastions in the Middle East — Turkey and Egypt — spring from the fact that an independent Palestine has not yet been established, or is it the result of hatred toward Israel, a hatred that will never die?

Hatred of Israel in the Arab world is not a reason for prolonging the frozen posture that the Israeli government has adopted..At a recent conference on terrorism, right-wing Israelis, including some cabinet ministers, said that Palestinian statehood was motivated by hatred. According to their reasoning, there’s little value in settling the conflict with the Palestinians, because the Palestinians cannot or do not want a peaceable solution that will ensure both countries can live side by side. They believe that the majority of Arabs will continue to back actions detrimental to Israel in an attempt to do away with the Jewish state.

All we can do, according to this view — one that is shared by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — is to go on living by the sword while trying to reach limited and partial solutions to contain the situation and gain time.

Although this approach is not entirely devoid of logic, it should be firmly rejected. Israel’s deteriorating international situation demands immediate diplomatic action. The occupation of the West Bank is almost universally condemned as illegitimate, and if Israel continues to insist that it cannot exist without that territory, it is in danger of losing its own legitimacy as well.

Israelis have yet to feel the country’s declining stature in their pockets, but the day is not far off. Israel cannot carry on as usual without reaching a substantial compromise on the Palestinian issue. The country is not a superpower, and it had better stop trying to behave like one.

The establishment of a Palestinian state presents many dangers for Israel. The gravest of these was described by Yuval Diskin, the former head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security organization, as “two states for three peoples,” a reference to the bottomless rift between the moderate Fatah and the fundamentalist Hamas. What will happen in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip if a state that encompasses the strip and most of the West Bank arises? Would Hamas and the other Jihadist movements give up their demand for the “dismantling of the Zionist entity”? We can assume that at least some of them will not, and that will mean further rounds of warfare. Regrettably, a Palestinian state will not mean that 130 years of bloodshed will come to an end, and neither will the hatred of Israel in the Arab world.

This, however, is not sufficient reason or justification for prolonging the frozen posture that the Israeli government has adopted. Israel would benefit if the next rounds are fought from a position of international legitimacy.

"A Referendum on Israel"
Daniel Gordis

Not long ago, one could have imagined Israel voting for Palestinian statehood at the United Nations. While some Israelis are merely resigned to Palestinian independence, others actually believe that Palestinian statehood is the only way to resolve this interminable conflict.

Furthermore, Israelis understand that what ignited Palestinian nationalism was, ironically, Palestinians’ witnessing the rebirth of a newly sovereign Jewish people. Independence has enabled Jews to return to their ancestral homeland, revitalize their ancient language, gather their exiles from a far-flung Diaspora and engage in a public debate about what should constitute Jewishness in the 21st century. All of these are hallmarks of a flourishing people, and one can well understand why Palestinians would seek the same.

Nonetheless, Israel will not vote for Palestinian statehood, because the U.N. vote is more a referendum on Israel than it is on Palestine. Marginalized as never before, Israel is now witness to Iran’s continuing nuclear aspirations, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s cozying up to Iran by threatening Israel and Egyptian masses who despise Israel simply for existing. Iran, Turkey and Egypt have assumed their positions because of radicalization in the Arab world, not because of anything to do with the Palestinians.

Capitalizing on this trend, the Palestinians are explicitly transforming the vote into a referendum on Israel. Just days ago, Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority claimed that the Palestinians' land had been occupied for 63 years. The “occupation” to which he refers is thus not the result of Israel’s victory in 1967, but rather, Israel’s very creation in 1948. If the U.N. votes to recognize Palestinian statehood in light of this attitude, it will simply be tightening the noose further.

Because such hatred of the Jewish state cannot be appeased, Israel has no good options at the moment. It will thus hunker down and hold on, hoping that the international community that voted to create the Jewish state just decades ago might soon return to its senses.

"The Middle East Has Changed"
Rashid Khalidi

There are only two genuine threats to Israel’s survival. One is its continued subjugation of the Palestinian people. The other is its failure to realize that it lives in a very different Middle East from that of Herzl or Weizmann or Ben Gurion. That was a region dominated by outside powers that blandly accepted Herzl’s idea of Israel as a colonial outpost of the West, and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians in 1948. Such things are inconceivable in a Middle East where popular sovereignty is finally beginning to have an impact on the foreign policy of states like Turkey and Egypt, and where peoples like those of Libya and Syria are waking up to their power to resist authoritarian governments.

The United States too must adapt to this new Middle East, instead of continuing to rely on bullying pliable clients like the undemocratic Arab regimes that are falling like dominos. The Palestinian Authority has been subjected to threats and pressure to prevent the inter-Palestinian reconciliation which is a precondition of any serious attempt at a peaceful settlement of the conflict, and to prevent it from going to the United Nations to achieve member state status for Palestine.

True security, stability and self-determination for the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples can only come when both enjoy precisely the same rights on a basis of complete equality. That can only happen when both peoples feel safe in a homeland that is not predicated on discrimination and the denial of the rights of the other, as is the case with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians today.

More important than whether it comes via the establishment of one or two states is arriving at a sustainable and lasting final outcome based on justice, international law and human rights. That has not been on offer in American policy for over two decades, nor is it today. As long as the United States supports Israel in standing in the way of an immediate rollback of settlements and end to illegal occupation, a Palestinian state will not see the light of day, and any discussion of it is futile. Until we Americans change this status quo, based on crass domestic political considerations as opposed to our true national interests and our moral and legal responsibilities, a just and stable peace will be a long time in coming.

"Israel's Fate Is Not on the Line"
Aaron David Miller

The bottom line on Israeli survival and the Palestinians is this: even without a settlement, Israelis will keep their state; the problem is that the Palestinians (and Arabs) will never let them completely enjoy it.

Let’s be clear. The creation of a Palestinian state is no panacea. Proximity and concern about Palestine's stability will mandate a cooperation and dependency that will constrain Palestinian sovereignty and likely generate Israeli-Palestinian tensions.

Still, without a two state solution Israel’s situation will be worse. Palestinian demographic advantage, continued Israeli occupation and deteriorating relations with its Arab neighbors will undermine Israeli security, not to mention the threat posed by a potentially nuclear Iran.

But let’s not go overboard. The notion that Israel will inevitably disappear or be converted into an apartheid state just doesn’t add up. Palestinians are weak and divided, split into at least five constituencies. Israel fully controls only one, the 300,000 Palestinians of East Jerusalem; and a good many of them would choose to live under Israeli control as permanent residents rather than in an ill-managed Palestinian state. Israel has removed itself from Gaza and Palestinians govern themselves in a large part of the West Bank. The chances that Palestinians would demand or be expected to receive citizenship in an Israeli state is highly unlikely.

Moreover, Israel is a regional superpower: it enjoys a vibrant high-tech sector, and 120 of its companies’ stocks trade on American exchanges. The nation also possesses one of the world’s finest militaries, has a close alliance with America and has nuclear weapons.

Yes, as John Maynard Keynes argued, in the long run we’ll all be dead; who knows where Israel will be 50 or 100 years from now? But states just don’t disappear. And for the foreseeable future — with or without a solution to the Palestinian problem — Israel will not only survive, but also is likely to prosper.

"Path of Least Instability"
Shibley Telhami

Experts and outsiders may agree or disagree on the viability of Israel without a Palestinian state, but in the end, Israelis will always think they alone know what's good for them. How do Israelis feel about this issue? Although they vary in their support for a two-state solution, most are pessimistic about its likelihood. And yet, a majority of Israelis believe that without a Palestinian state, there will either be intense conflict for years to come or the status quo will continue, with only a few believing that the Palestinians would eventually give up their aspirations.

Interestingly, Arab public opinion in the six Arab countries in which I conduct polls (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates) showed even more pessimism about the alternative to the two-state solution in 2010, with only 10 percent expressing the view that it would lead to a one-state solution.

In fact, this uncertainty is what's still keeping the two-state solution alive in Arab (and Israeli) minds: On the one hand, majorities express support for a two-state solution based on the 1967 boundaries; on the other hand most believe it will never happen. But since majorities also think that the alternative will not be one state but protracted conflict, they are reluctant to give up the two-state solution.

The first measure is if it would be more stable than the alternatives. Instincts of both the Arab and Jewish publics are about right: The alternative would probably be more unstable and, importantly, more destabilizing, particularly for neighboring states. The stability of a small Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza would depend less on Palestinian internal divisions and economic viability than on the stability of the political and security arrangements with Israel, Egypt and Jordan.

Sure, the economy of such a state will face challenges and may in the end have to be interconnected to the economies of Israel and Arab neighbors, but that is not a bigger challenge than the current situation or than the one many states face. Palestinians are divided politically, but so too are most governing bodies, including Israel's.

Would Palestine be a stable state? Certainly less precarious than the alternatives..Demographically, the Palestinians are far more homogeneous than are the populaces of many states in the region. In the end, the measure of stability should be relative, as the two-state project is merely a pragmatic solution intended to address an intolerable reality and the absence of viable alternatives.

The measure of instability should not be limited to the Palestinian state and its neighbors. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been destabilizing for the entire region and the world. Even a moderately successful accommodation that's acceptable to both sides will enhance global stability.

"Dream vs. Nightmare"
Dahlia Scheindlin

Israel’s legendary military prowess has never been able to counter the “demographic threat” -- the existential fear of being outnumbered by non-Jews. Nor could Israel’s security obsession ever dissolve the liberal democratic threat, in which minority rights challenge the Jewish hegemony over cultural, political and economic life.

That’s why for nearly two decades, all Israeli leaders have acknowledged that the survival of a Jewish democratic state hangs on two states. Without Palestine, Israel will soon be forced to provide full political rights to West Bank Palestinians under its de facto control. The only thing about Israel that will survive is its name -- if that.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must be secretly thrilled by the imminent Palestinian U.N. statehood initiative. It offers him an end to crazy talk of a single state and relief from the ungainly load of millions more future Palestinian citizens -- and a homeland for Palestinian refugees, which could ease pressure on Israel. The claim that a Palestinian state balances the Jewish state can be used against both international critics and the pesky Israeli left.

And Netanyahu gives up nothing: not the large West Bank settlements; not East Jerusalem, not Israel's zero-tolerance approach to the return of Palestinian refugees and not even his pride. Like Serbia in 2008, Israel will make great noise about not recognizing a Palestinian state -- officially.

In Netanyahu’s private dreams, the Palestinian initiative leads to an uneasy extension of the current political and geographic balance, while mutually avoiding violent escalation. Countries invested in Palestine’s success shower it with funds, trade and investment. Like certain other unilaterally declared state-entities, Palestine promotes international acceptance through democratic advances and accession to international conventions. Economic growth and national pride give the Palestinians more to lose and less incentive for terrorism.

But there’s also a nightmare scenario. Corruption, authoritarian elements and stubborn political divisions (despite an accord) continue to alienate the Palestinian people from their government. Settler roads, outposts and skirmishes perpetuate their rage. Aggregate Palestinian anger fused with religious fundamentalism is trained on Israel; terrorism and occupation lead, once again, to war.

Stabilization of the Palestinian state is Israel’s only chance to survive in more than its name. But Israel would have to do all it can to help, however, discreetly -- or at least, cause no more harm.

"A Bad Option, and a Better One"
Rami G. Khouri

The easy answers to the two questions — Can Israel survive without a Palestinian state? Can Palestine be a stable state? – are an obvious “yes” and “yes.” Israel could survive as a garrison apartheidlike state, surrounded by massive walls and protective missile shields, and Palestine could be stable if it had real sovereignty and a nonpredatory Israeli neighbor.

These easy questions are pertinent today, though, for helping us grasp two important issues that explain the persistent stalemate and next week’s Palestinian initiative at the United Nations to seek recognition of statehood: why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in its seventh consecutive decade of active warfare, and why the United States has totally failed in its nearly 20 years of trying to mediate a negotiated peace.

The imperative of Israel’s survival and concerns about Palestinian instability are important, but they cannot be the intellectual drivers and diplomatic criteria of Arab-Israeli diplomacy or American policy in the Middle East, as has been the case since the 1980s. The American-mediated “peace process” has failed dismally and consistently for decades because it has given supremacy, or at least priority, to Israeli security concerns over parallel Palestinian rights to statehood, sovereignty and security. The Palestinian resort to the U.N. statehood bid reflects a strategic shift from a failed reliance on American-mediated bilateral talks to a multilateral global forum where the rule of law and state rights can be applied more equitably and consistently to both sides in this conflict, because the Israeli-American combine would not be the prosecutor, judge and jury at the same time.

Only mutual and simultaneous statehood, genuine sovereignty and reciprocal recognition can provide Palestinians and Israelis with their national rights and the security and stability that are integral elements of those rights.


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