Last week another chapter of Israeli-Palestinian “peace talks” began. It hasn’t gone very far yet, and it still could all break down. But for those who see a sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza as an intolerable security threat to Israel, it’s enough to induce unease.
Imagine cutting two chunks out of New Jersey, adding up to almost one-fourth of its land mass, and setting up a deeply hostile statelet in them with a population nurtured in hatred for generations. Rocket firings, sniper fire, and terror incursions are some of the problems that spring to mind. Not to mention—particularly since this “New Jersey” is in the Middle East—alliances with enemy countries, which could include inviting such countries’ armies into its territory. Collusions involving sabotage or even WMD attacks are not at all far-fetched.
True, there has always been talk of the Palestinian state being “demilitarized.” But with current, purportedly moderate Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas having said he wouldn’t tolerate the presence of a single Jew—civilian or soldier—in his state, that would leave only (presumably Jew-free) international forces to monitor the supposed demilitarization.
Israel, however, has had a long and negative history with international “peacekeepers.” The latest egregious example is the complete failure of the enlarged UNIFIL force in southern Lebanon to prevent Hezbollah from rearming itself with tens of thousands of missiles since the 2006 war.
This time, however, it’s not shallow, malleable leaders like former prime minister Ehud Olmert or former foreign minister Tzipi Livni who are engaging in the Palestinian-state talk, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his far greater intellectual depth. One astute Israeli commentator, Israel Harel, claims Netanyahu has undergone the “conversion” and really believes in what he’s saying. It still seems more likely that Netanyahu is playing a carefully calibrated game aimed at managing the ongoing pressure from Washington. Even if so, his words further legitimize the notion of such a state and sow discomfort.
In other words, the specter of the Palestinian state may still be far off, but it’s hauntingly there at the fringes now. And in such a situation, one can only be profoundly grateful that about 300,000 Israelis now live in “settlements”—towns, villages, communities—in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). Their presence simply makes it more difficult, perhaps even impossible, for the Palestinian state to arise. They are a natural bulwark against such a development.
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