US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement that the US no longer finds Israeli settlements in the West Bank “inconsistent with international law” could in the long run do more to threaten Israel as a Jewish state than to buttress it.
Pompeo’s statement follows the US’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the earlier recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights which it conquered from Syria in the 1967 war.
In that war Israel also captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan and Sinai and Gaza from Egypt. It has only given Sinai back. But Syria, Jordan and Egypt have shown no signs of wanting their remaining territories back.
They have just been referred to as the Occupied Territories housing some five million disenfranchised Palestinians which under various peace proposals over the past 45 years or so were supposed to form the basis of a Palestinian state under the so-called two-state solution.
But the two-state solution has only ever been a cruel hoax and delaying tactic.
Golan was effectively annexed in 1981 when Israel applied Israeli law to the area. The West Bank has been subjected to ever increasing Israeli settlements and Israel has vowed that none of the areas settled would ever become part of a Palestinian state, making the remaining land an unsustainable hotchpotch.
That leaves Gaza. It has nearly two million people crammed into a virtually resourceless 365 square kilometres – the third most densely populated place on earth. It would be a failed state before it began.
A smarter solution for the Palestinians would be to abandon the two-state “solution”. They should realise that they are never going to get a viable separate state.
Rather they should opt for a one-state solution.
At present Israel controls the original state of Israel as at 1948 plus the Occupied Territories – in total nearly 14 million people. Of them more than five million are disenfranchised Palestinians and two million are Arabs who are Israeli citizens and have the vote (or will get it when they turn 18).
In short, more than half of the people in Israeli-controlled territory are not Jewish.
Arabs in East Jerusalem (around 370,000) and the Golan Heights (less than 100,000) were offered Israeli citizenship but refused, and so can only vote in municipal elections.
The Arab attitude is to have nothing to do with Israel, not to be citizens and therefore not vote. The Arab political parties in Israel (supported mainly by the two million Arab Israelis) have never formed part of a Government even though they have 14 seats in the evenly balanced Knesset (Parliament).
So what if they changed their attitude? The East Jerusalem and Golan Arabs should take up citizenship. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza should demand citizenship.
Certainly in the West Bank Israel cannot have it both ways. It cannot on one hand refuse to give the West Bank to the Palestinians and push ahead with settlements containing voting populations and on the other hand deny the other people (Arab Palestinians) who live in the area their citizenship, voting rights and access to Israeli law, which includes a lot of human rights.
The US position that the settlements are in not breach of international law is tantamount to an acknowledgement of sovereignty and annexation not just post-war occupation. In that circumstance it would be tantamount to apartheid for Israel to deny residents of the West Bank full citizenship rights if they want them.
Similarly for Gaza, though there is no significant Jewish population there. If Israel wants to keep control and does not want to give it back to Egypt or allow it to be independent, it should offer the people there citizenship rights.
The way out of Palestinian repression, is not the elusive two-state solution with one of the states a Palestinian one. The surer way is to demand citizenship and voting rights in a Greater Israel and join in the government.
Demographics would be on the Palestinian side. They have about half the population now and that portion is growing.
The idea that the Jewish population would share what is now Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem with the Arab population (of approximately similar size) with equal civil and religious rights is not as pie in the sky as it might seem.
We need go back to 1917 to see why.
By 1917 the British along with an Arab revolt (led by Lawrence of Arabia) had driven the Ottoman Turks (who had sided with Germany in World War I) out of the Ottoman Empire lands back to Turkey. The Ottoman lands included Palestine (now Israel, the West Bank, Golan, Gaza and East Jerusalem) and the viable areas of what is now Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.
Britain and France desperate to get whatever wartime help they could get promised the Arabs independence after the war, but after victory promptly reneged and carved up the area (with the oil beneath it) for themselves.
To further complicate matters the British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, in 1917 made a promise about Palestine to the Jewish people, particularly the Zionists who sought a Jewish homeland. The Zionists were looked upon favourably by the British Government because their leader Chaim Weizmann led the research in Britain to produce synthetic acetone which could be used to produce cordite explosive which was essential to the war effort.
The words of the Balfour Declaration of November 1917 are worth quoting in full:
“His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
The Zionists incorrectly read that as Palestine itself becoming the national home for the Jewish people, rather than the place in which the home would be along with the existing (Arab) communities in Palestine.
But now, given the US position that settlements do not offend international law, it should inevitably follow that the West Bank is no longer occupied territory, but part of Israel. And further that all its inhabitants should have the same civil and religious rights. The same goes for Gaza, East Jerusalem and Golan.
Palestinians would do well to pursue Israeli citizenship, vote and form governments or be part of governments in greater Israel and gain peace and prosperity with a one-state solution.
In the meantime, one thing is sure: the two-state solution will never happen.