It’s a hot afternoon and I’m still feeling heavy from overeating on Shabbat. So should I go to my Sunday night masters swim group or stay home and watch Binyamin Netanyahu’s much-heralded policy address? Which will get my pulse up higher?
I think I’ll go for the swim. By all accounts, Netanyahu will surprise no one. He’ll try to square President Obama’s circle by declaring how important the Israel-U.S. relationship is, while at the same time refusing to accept America’s lead in setting Israel on course toward serious negotiations over an accommodation with the Palestinians and the Arab world.
Netanyahu will follow the lead of his mentor, Menachem Begin, in insisting that Israel’s settlements in the territories have no connection to negotiations with the Arabs. President Jimmy Carter thought he had gotten Begin’s consent to a settlement freeze until the ultimate fate of the West Bank and Gaza Strip was determined; Begin insisted that he’d agreed only to a three-month freeze. Netanyahu might offer a similar sop, but he will refuse to desist from expanding Israel’s civilian presence in the occupied territories on the grounds that handing the territories over to the Palestinian Authority would render Israel vulnerable attack.
Netanyahu and his supporters don’t seem to grasp what nearly everyone outside Israel—including Israel’s best friends—sees as a logical lacuna.
Say he’s right. Let’s accept the premises that the Palestinian Authority is weak and divided, that Hamas is irremediably hostile to Israel’s existence, and that Palestinian militants will seize the first opportunity to launch missiles and suicide terrorists against Israel from any territory that comes under Palestinian sovereignty.
If that’s the case—and these premises are not unreasonable deductions from the available evidence, even if I question their accuracy—then Israel needs to maintain military control over the West Bank.
But the adjective is crucial here—Israel’s right to defend itself could be invoked to justify continued military occupation of the Palestinian territories. But security needs in no way justify civilian occupation. Indeed, the presence of Israeli civilians in the West Bank actually hampers the IDF’s ability to deploy itself in the most effective way to defend Israel. Huge amounts of manpower, money, and energy are now diverted to defending the Israeli civilians who live in settlements deliberately scattered all over the territories.
The only justification for Israeli civilian settlements is to assert an Israeli claim to the territory. In other words, the presence of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is, in and of itself, a rejection of a two-state solution to the conflict.
Netanyahu can constructively ambiguate himself to his heart’s content tonight, but none of it will convince anyone unless he recognizes this fundamental contradiction in his doctrine. His contortions might get his heart beating fast, but they won’t do much to mine. So I’m going swimming. If Bibi says something surprising, come let me know. I’ll be doing my laps at the pool. But I won’t be holding my breath.