The "Two-State Solution" as Panacea Never Fades Away
President Biden’s visit to Israel reflected his long support for that nation. As I wrote in National Review this week:
Biden’s adherence to the “old religion,” the support for Israel that used to characterize Democrats when he was a younger man, is a valuable antidote to recent trends. From the viewpoint of Israel and its supporters, there is some utility in having a Democratic president who is 79 years old and knew Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin.
But that old religion contains as well a formulaic adherence to the “two-state solution.” In Jerusalem Biden said “the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own that’s independent, sovereign, viable and contiguous. Two states for two peoples, both of whom have deep and ancient roots in this land, living side by side in peace and security.” This remains the conventional wisdom, confirmed in a column today by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times.
Biden did add that “the ground is not ripe at this moment to restart negotiations.” But absent from his statements, and from Friedman’s own pontification, was the essential problem: security in the West Bank after a Palestinian state is established. As should be obvious, the Palestinian Authority’s security forces are no match for those of Hamas, which easily booted the much larger PA/PLO/Fatah forces out of Gaza in 2007. An “independent, sovereign” Palestinian state would quickly become a great security threat not only to Israel but to Jordan as well. That is why calls for an independent Palestinian state are empty gestures or simple virtue-signaling unless they confront the security challenge. If you don’t have a solution for the problem of keeping Hamas and other terrorists groups out of power in a new Palestinian state, your demands to establish one are irresponsible. And that is precisely why the “peace camp” in Israel has fared so poorly for the last 20 years.
Today, PA security forces work hard at combatting Hamas’s efforts in the West Bank but there isn’t even a credible argument that they could do so alone, without Israeli intervention. If there were no IDF, Mossad, and Shin Bet (or Jordanian, but that’s another story) activity in the West Bank, there’s little doubt that Hamas would steadily gain power. Hamas control of the West Bank would mean that Islamists in Jordan would have a base for political and terrorist activities that would quickly threaten stability there. And just as Gaza is a base for terrorist activities against Israel, so would the West Bank become one. But that would be far more dangerous than Hamas control of Gaza, due to the geography: Gaza is not adjacent to Israel’s international airport, nor does it look down on the coastal plain where most of Israel’s population and industry are located. These facts are all well understood by Israelis and have been discussed by American and Israeli experts for decades, so it’s almost embarrassing to have to recite them again.
But it is apparently necessary. It’s all too easy for Americans to lecture Israelis on the danger of “maintaining the occupation” which after all is “untenable” or “unsustainable.” But after 55 years, why conclude that it is unsustainable—unless a better option now exists that is also realistic and safe? And why lecture Israelis on its dangers (which certainly exist) when it is they, not Americans, who will bear the risks of coping with a terrorist-controlled West Bank? Israel has faced repeated rounds of conflict in Gaza—even after leaving there in 2005. Those awful little wars would pale in destructiveness compared to a conflict in the West Bank, and the death toll on both sides would be far higher. It’s too easy to repeat old formulas about two states. First, tell us how security for Jordan and Israel would be achieved and maintained. Then give your lecture.