Of course Israeli opponents of peace are extremists

Everyone who opposes peace in the Middle East based on two states should be clear about what alternative they favor. The status quo has almost no defenders whatsoever. The broad outlines of a two state agreement have been clear for many years, with lots of details to be worked out but no real confusion about the basic arrangement. Opponents of such an agreement tend to be extremely vague about what it is they actually endorse. This is because specificity either reveals the fantastical and implausible nature of these alternative versions of the future, or, even more significantly, the deep extremism behind almost all rejections of a two state agreement, which is the only plausible means to achieve an end of conflict in the foreseeable future.

Palestinian Islamists often speak in terms of a single Islamic state from the river to the sea, but they are extremely vague about what that would look like, beyond the fact that it would be a Muslim theocracy. Alternatively, they sometimes also speak in terms of a long-term “hudna” or truce with Israel, lasting between 10-80 years depending on who is speaking and to what audience, to be followed by an unspecified eventuality (undoubtedly the resumption of armed hostilities). One-state advocates in British and American universities propose a single, democratic state in all of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, but they are exceptionally vague about what, in practice, this would look like, what form it would take, or any other detail beyond the idea that it would replace the state of Israel with another state.

Because of the difficulties facing the realization of Palestinian national rights and the many years a frustrated peace negotiations, Palestinians opposed to a peace agreement with Israel have become increasingly vocal and active, although they remain extremely vague about what it is that they are actually advocating and how it would work in practice, let alone how they propose to achieve their aims. Islamists rely on armed struggle, one-state advocates on “boycotts, sanctions and divestment.” These are in fact the twin pillars of traditional Arab opposition to Israel, and there is no serious reason to suspect that violence or boycotts will be more successful in the next 60 years of the conflict than they were for the last 60 years of it. So, while Palestinian opponents of an agreement with Israel are becoming increasingly vocal, they don’t actually propose any plausible alternative strategy for the Palestinian national movement.

Among Israelis, opponents of a two state agreement have generally been less organized and vocal because they have relied on the government itself to lead opposition or at least obstruction to the prospect of Palestinian statehood, and busied themselves with colonizing or policing the occupied Palestinian territories. Given the significant momentum towards peace being developed by the new Obama administration in the United States, and the extremely skeptical international reception of the potentially rejectionist new Netanyahu Cabinet in Israel, Israeli opponents of peace have been making some unusually visible public relations efforts to promote their own “visions” for the future. What they have to say has been exceptionally revealing (which is probably why they have, in the past, preferred to remain more quiet). Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely organized a conference entitled "Alternatives to the Two-State Outlook," which was designed to coincide with the end of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent visit to the United States during which President Obama made American support for a two state agreement crystal clear. The Jerusalem Post reports that, “The event was intended to send a message that opposition to the creation of a Palestinian state was common among mainstream Israelis and politicians not considered extremist.“

If these people are not considered extremists, they certainly should be. According to the Post, Vice Premier and Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe Ya’alon used the conference to try to explain “why efforts to find a solution to the conflict must stop.” He ruled out the creation of any “Palestinian entity,” and said that he prefers that the conflict be “managed” rather than resolved. Netanyahu’s former bureau chief, Uri Elitzur, proposed annexation of the West Bank, making all Palestinians there Israeli citizens, but “Israel first needed to draft a constitution formally enacting that Israel would always remain a Jewish state.” I will not insult the reader’s intelligence with any detailed explanation of what a ridiculous contradiction this is. Shas chairman Eli Yishai proposed his own five-year “hudna,” after which unspecified future developments could be considered (presumably including either war or peace). Adi Mintz, a former chairman of the Settlers’ Council, proposed annexing most of the West Bank and that the “1 million people living in the remaining 38% of the West Bank would become Jordanian citizens and Israeli residents, and would administer themselves” – whatever that means. Many other speakers endorsed the idea that Egypt and Jordan respectively could be made to once again assume responsibility for Gaza and parts of the West Bank that Israel does not wish to retain, in spite of the fact that this would be totally unacceptable to their national interests.

All of these ideas are absolutely preposterous. They reflect the preference of Israeli extremists for continued conflict rather than territorial compromise, and an absolute determination to continue the occupation into the indefinite future, giving way to eventual annexation. Ya’alon knows perfectly well that the conflict cannot be “managed,” but that instead it has and will continue to only deteriorate in the absence of a peace agreement. His arguments may be couched in the language of “security,” but they plainly reflect a fanatical attitude based on the desire to continue to colonize occupied Palestinian lands and to never relinquish Israeli control of them. Since it is antithetical to the only means through which Israel can achieve both peace and security, the idea that this is some sort of “security” argument can only appeal to those who already accept the overriding necessity of continuing the occupation and refusing to allow Palestinians their independence.

Ideas at this conference that center around forcing Jordan and Egypt to assume responsibilities for parts of the occupied territories that Israel does not wish to continue to rule, while take what it wants permanently, apparently reflected the opinions of most speakers. They are non-starters, because neither Jordan or Egypt will possibly accept such a situation, as it would be absolutely incompatible with the Jordanian and Egyptian national interests.

This is the litmus test by which all ideas about peace in the Middle East need to be judged: are they at all compatible with the minimal national interests of the parties involved? If not, they have no possibility of success and are red herrings rather than real proposals. This is the problem with all the alternatives to a two-state peace agreement – they are all not compatible with the essential national interests of one or more of the parties involved, and therefore cannot be accomplished.

All of these Israeli rejectionist ideas are implausible and unachievable because they are not in the minimal national interests of the Palestinians, the Jordanians or the Egyptians. Palestinian ideas about an Islamic or post-ethnic democratic state in the entire territory are nonstarters because they are antithetical to fundamental Israeli national interest.

Only peace based on two states corresponds to the minimal national interests of both Israelis and Palestinians, not to mention Jordan, Egypt and the other Arab states, and the United States as well as the rest of the international community (with a few rather unpleasant exceptions). Israelis who reject the idea of a Palestinian state to live alongside Israel in peace and security are as much extremists, and at least as dangerous to a peaceful future, as Palestinians who refuse the prospect of peace with Israel. These forces have much more in common with each other than they do with anyone seeking peace and a reasonable compromise. Of course they are extremists, and they should be clearly identified as such. In order to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians, it is going to be necessary to marginalize those who would oppose it at all costs based on political or religious fanaticism and a refusal to compromise.