Has the Gaza War Doomed the Two-State Solution?

Ardent true believers signal doubts.

F121018WN04-e1363721664401At the height of Operation Protective Edge, prominent American lawyer and pro-Israel advocate Alan Dershowitz penned a largely overlooked article entitled, “Has Hamas ended the prospects for a two-state solution?” (Gatestone Institute, July 22.)

His ostensible motive was Hamas’ targeting of Ben Gurion airport with a rocket that fell some 2 kilometers away, an act which he designated as a war crime.

In response, the Federal Aviation Administration made the questionable call of banning all US air traffic into and out of Israel for some 36 hrs. Many European airlines followed suit, causing a mass cancellation of flights, thereby providing Hamas with what Israel’s transportation minister described as a “victory for terror.”

A life-long proponent of the peace process, Dershowitz has in the past promoted a “two-state solution that does not compromise Israel’s security.” In the article in question, he elaborates in a seemingly unprecedented manner on what measures this should entail, which are replete with potentially landmark political implications.

The targeting by Hamas of Israel’s economic lifeline, Dershowitz argues, will justifiably make Israel “more reluctant than ever to give up military control over the West Bank, which is even closer to Ben Gurion Airport than is Gaza.”

“When Israel removed both its civilian settlements and its military presence in Gaza,” he explains, “Hamas took control [and] fired thousands of rockets at Israeli civilian targets.… Israel could not accept the risk of a Hamas takeover of the West Bank.”

That this would be the most likely outcome of an IDF withdrawal from the territories should be clear. One needs only to recall the events of 2007, some two years after Israel’s military unilaterally vacated the Strip, when vastly outnumbered Hamas fighters laid waste to a US-trained Palestinian security force, in a coup that ousted Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party from the coastal enclave and brought the Islamist terror group to power.

Jerusalem has repeatedly expressed fear of a growing Hamas foothold in the West Bank, most recently in the wake of the formation of the Palestinian unity government.

It turns out these concerns were well-founded.

Following June’s kidnapping and murder of three Israeli civilians, the IDF’s recovery operation exposed a significant Hamas presence in the West Bank. Hundreds of Hamas members and supporters were arrested during Operation Brother’s Keeper, which also saw the military destroy the makings of a formidable terror infrastructure, including an intricate maze of underground tunnels.

After Hamas essentially shut down Ben Gurion, its  “leader-in-exile” Khaled Mashaal crowed, “the resistance is today in the Gaza Strip and tomorrow it is capable of surrounding you in the West Bank.”

Likewise Amir Mousavi, a former adviser to the Iranian defense minister, recently vowed to provide missiles to Palestinian factions in the West Bank: “A new front must be opened from the West Bank, after it has been armed, especially with missiles, because we know very well that the distance between the West Bank and Tel Aviv, Haifa and other areas is much shorter than the distance from Gaza.”

Because of this very real risk, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made his position eminently clear, never more so than in an uncharacteristically candid press conference held during the latest round of fighting with Hamas: “In Judea and Samaria there is no power that can guarantee Israel’s security other than the IDF…. Any [future peace] arrangement will include Palestinian political and economic control alongside Israeli security control.… We don’t want to rule over the Palestinians, but the necessary security measures [means] that some of their sovereignty will need to be limited.”

As one prominent Israeli commentator put it, “That sentence, quite simply, spells the end to the notion of Netanyahu consenting to the establishment of a Palestinian state.… He wasn’t saying that he doesn’t support a two-state solution. He was saying that it’s impossible.”

Dershowitz seemingly concedes the same thing by likewise contending that, “Israel will have to retain military control over its security borders, which extend to the Jordan River. It will also have to maintain a sufficient military presence to assure that what happened in Gaza does not happen in the West Bank.”

That he subsequently suggests that these military realities need not exist forever is beside the point; the reason being, they are non-starters for the Palestinian Authority.

No Palestinian leader would ever agree to a deal allowing a sustained Israeli military presence not only in the Jordan Valley, but also throughout the West Bank.

Dershowitz himself admits that, “the Palestinian Authority, however, is unlikely to accept such a condition, though it should.”

His following assertion thus seemingly requires clarification: “It may still be possible to create a two-state solution whereby Israel withdraws its civilian settlers from most of the West Bank and agrees to land swaps for areas that now contain large settlement blocks.”

Overall, Dershowitz’s article is an apparent major shift from positions he expounded just over two years ago in a widely-cited Wall Street Journal piece, which opened with the sentence, “now that Israel has a broad and secure national unity government, the time is ripe for that government to make a bold peace offer to the Palestinian Authority.”

In it, he pressed mainly for a construction freeze in West Bank settlements in order to jump-start peace talks, noting only passingly and towards the end of his piece that any future peace deal will require “assurances about Israel’s security in the Jordan Valley and in areas that could pose the threat of rocket attacks like those that have come from the Gaza Strip in recent years.”

“Assurances” are a far cry from a long-term Israeli military presence throughout the territories.

The two ensuing conflicts with Hamas have apparently hardened Dershowitz’s positions, leading him to conclude that, “the Israeli public would never accept a deal that did not include a continued Israeli military presence in the West Bank. They have learned the tragic lesson of Gaza and they will not allow it to be repeated.… This will simply make it far more difficult for an agreement to be reached.”

It would, in practice, seemingly make the two-state solution altogether untenable.

The question is whether, in light of new realities, one of the most outspoken supporters of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is on the road to drawing the same conclusion.

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