Nick Cohen

It’s time to abandon winner-takes-all politics in Israel

The Islamist savages of Hamas and the political extremists in Israel only lead us nowhere


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on September 27, 2023. (Photo by ABIR SULTAN / POOL / AFP) (Photo by ABIR SULTAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

January 24, 2024 16:51

Only a desperate opportunist fighting to save his career (and to stay out of the dock) would insult his truest ally. But that is what Benjamin Netanyahu did when he rejected Joe Biden’s two-state solution.

The US president and every friendly and half-friendly European and Arab government want a settlement, as does the Palestinian Authority, as do all decent people.

Yet scratch the surface and the two-state solution can seem like a pious myth. It is invoked but not believed. In my darker moments, I look at everyone concerned with the conflict and think they’re all Bibi Netanyahu now. They would rather engage in war to the death than compromise.

As this is the JC, let us look at it first from a Palestinian point of view. Does a two-state solution mean Israel will withdraw from all of the West Bank, taking 700,000 settlers with it? Will it give Palestinians East Jerusalem as their capital?

If not, refugees in Gaza, Syria and the wider Palestinian diaspora will be asked to give up their claim to the lands they lost after 1948 — their right of return — for a tiny fractured state that would be at Israel’s mercy.

If you are a member of the global left, you have been told repeatedly that the two-state solution is already dead. In its place, progressives demand a single, multinational and multi-faith nation where peace, love and understanding will flourish.

The reality behind this utopian con trick was exposed when the former leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, told the Kuwaiti podcaster Amar Taki earlier this month that the massacres of October 7 showed the way forward.

They had renewed “the dream and the hope for Palestine from the river to the sea”, Mashaal said, drawing encouragement from the demonstrators chanting Hamas slogans in Western capitals. “The American and Western public” was on the side of Hamas, and understood that war was the way forward to a unitary Islamic state.

So there you have it. Innocent Western leftists don’t know that Hamas takes their “from the river to the sea” chants, not as calls for a happy-clappy one-state solution but as an endorsement for more murder and rape. (Although I suspect their leaders know it all too well.)

As for the Israeli case against compromise, JC readers know it well. Since 1948, Palestinians have rejected every offer. When Israel did what all the good people wanted and pulled out of Gaza, Hamas took over and declared war.

Why should Israelis agree to the West Bank becoming a new launching pad for attacks on them?

Even the Israeli left has given up on peace.

The mobilisation of progressive Israelis against Netanyahu’s attempt to undermine the judiciary in 2023 was magnificent to watch. It has in all likelihood saved the country from becoming a strongman’s bossocracy. But it was a movement to protect Israeli society from the extreme right, not to improve the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

It was as if the protesters had tacitly accepted that the cause of a two-state solution was hopeless and the best thing to do was to carry on as if Israelis lived in a bubble and the occupied territories did not exist.

Why not play the tough guy and tell these hard truths?

There’s an appeal, after all, to posing as the realist who cuts through all the soppy progressive platitudes. After October 7, I heard a BBC correspondent speculating in the voice of a well-bred upper-middle class English liberal that perhaps the violence would spur a new push for peace.

Oh yeah, I thought.

Israelis will respond to the evil of October and Palestinians will respond to the destruction of Gaza. The spiral of mutually assured misery will twist down ever lower. That’s just the way it is.

But it need not be.

Look where the tough guys have already taken Palestinians and Israelis. The Hamas belief that no compromise is possible led to war crimes against Israelis that have been disasters for Palestinians.

Twenty thousand or more have died in the Israeli counter-attack and the Gaza Strip is in ruins.

Meanwhile, the supposedly tough-minded Israeli right was so concerned with undermining the judges that the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust happened while it was looking the other way. As far as anyone can tell, Netanyahu and his allies are now clueless in Gaza. They have no idea what to do once their war is over, assuming it is ever over.

There are small confidence-building measures available to both sides. Israel could announce an immediate freeze on settlement building. It might accept that it could withdraw from most of the West Bank at minimal cost. Palestinians might make a decisive break with terror tactics, which have served them so badly for so long.

I am not saying these changes are probable, even though the polls show a majority of Israelis back Biden.

But they are preferable to the winner-takes-all positions of the extremists on both sides. Israeli far-right politicians are not, of course, equivalent to the Hamas butchers, but both have brought ruin on their peoples.

​Read me at Writing from London:

January 24, 2024 16:51

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