In the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, There is No Status Quo

Alan Elsner Image
Alan Elsner
on February 18, 2016

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Israeli opponents and skeptics of a two-state peace solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, often argue that the risks right now are too high and that maintaining the status quo is the safer option.

This is dangerously misleading because there is no status quo in the Middle East. Instead, there is a policy void that is certain to be filled by extremists and terrorists. Instead of abdicating responsibility in this way, we desperately need leaders willing to state the truth: failure to realize the vision of two states is the single greatest threat to the survival of Israel. It stands to imperil both Israel’s physical security and its future as the democratic home of the Jewish people.

The question for Israeli policymakers is whether constantly delaying a serious peace effort leads to change for the better or for the worse? Is time on their side, or is it running against them? Are the costs of doing nothing greater or less than the costs of moving forward?

Netanyahu argues that the Middle East has become too unstable and too dangerous to move to a two-state solution right now. This is a strange argument because it makes Israel’s future contingent on what happens in Syria, Libya, Iraq or elsewhere. Instead of determining their own fate, Israelis must now wait on the actions of others. This is simply an excuse for doing nothing since the region is likely to remain horribly violent and unstable for a long time to come.

The fact is that an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal would inject a huge dose of stability into the Middle East as well as providing a compelling example of how it is possible to resolve even the toughest issues through negotiation rather than through violence and warfare.

Netanyahu has successfully managed to frame the debate inside Israel as one between risking the country’s security with a foolhardy bid for a peace agreement with the Palestinians or continuing with a life that, while difficult and stressful, is at least bearable for most Israelis. But this is a false equation. Israelis should not assume that the alternative to peace is that life will remain the same as it is today. Instead, in the absence of meaningful negotiations and a peace deal, Israel can expect a gradual worsening of its strategic position on many fronts.

If there is no two-state solution, the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement will gather strength and Israel will face deepening diplomatic isolation and diminishing international support.

We’re already seeing what happens when young Palestinians who see no hope but I’m afraid we’d see even more violence and terrorism, which would provoke more punitive responses from Israel.

Palestinian moderates have already lost much credibility within their community for their failure to deliver tangible results but it’s hard to see how their position would not weaken still further at the expense of extremists.

Eventually, there is a serious risk that the Palestinian Authority will collapse, forcing the Israeli Army back on to the streets of Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem and all the other major Palestinian cities and a return to full-scale occupation. Palestinians will be face to face with their oppressors on a daily basis and many will choose armed resistance. Hamas and possibly ISIS will gain a firmer foothold.

New generations of Israeli youngsters will be forced to serve in the West Bank enforcing Israel’s day-to-day control over the almost every aspect of the lives of some 2.5 million Palestinians who don’t want them there. Meanwhile, more settlements will be built and the settler population will continue to explode. Eventually, the possibility of a contiguous Palestinian territory will be eroded away.

Worst of all for those of us who love Israel, we will have to face the fast-approaching moment when there will no longer be a Jewish majority between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Israel will face the choice of remaining a Jewish homeland or maintaining its democracy because it will no longer be able to have both.

This is truly a nightmare scenario — but it is where Netanyahu is leading Israel. What we need to combat this is a clear vision of a different future based on the promise of an Israel is living side by side in peace and security with a Palestinian state that will be accepted into the Middle East at the center of a regional alignment that advances common strategic and economic interests.

We must reject the status quo because it does not exist. We must embrace a positive vision because, unlike Netanyahu’s path, it actually offers a real future to both peoples.

Alan Elsner is Special Advisor to the President at J Street. He’s on Twitter at @alanelsner

This piece was originally published in the World Post.