The Palestinian Authority will next week begin its push for membership at the United Nations. It’s unclear at this point whether the Palestinians will seek full membership or some other form of recognition as an independent state. Palestinian leadership figures have said the move represents frustration with the lack of progress in direct peace negotiations with Israel toward a two-state solution.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in late 2009 that he supports the creation of a Palestinian state — though one that is, as CAP’s Matt Duss noted, “so severely circumscribed that it’s unlikely that any Palestinian leader could accept it and hope to retain Palestinian popular support.” While Netanyahu has never offered any concrete, substantive plan on how to implement the creation of a Palestinian state, his rhetoric since suggests that he has no real interest in pursuing this policy. In May, Netanyahu spoke before a fawning U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill and made a series of arguments that would make a two-state solution impossible.
But the main obstacle to the creation of a Palestinian state is Jewish Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and Netanyahu has not made any serious effort to stop them. The prime minister’s settlement freeze last year lasted only 10 months. Since the freeze ended in September 2010, settlement construction in the West Bank jumped 660 percent and the Israeli group Peace Now found recently that there has been “nearly 2 times more construction in the settlements than in Israel.” Peace Now has mapped Israeli settlements in the West Bank with Jewish settlements and municipal areas in blue and light blue, respectively (click here for a larger version):
With settlers in the West Bank increasing at such a rapid pace, how would a two-state solution practically be implemented? Israel would have to evacuate tens of thousands of Jewish settlers from the West Bank (estimates put the number of settlers living there at around 500,000). Israel forcibly evacuated just 6,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005, and Netanyahu has vowed never to repeat such a scenario. “I won’t evacuate settlements. Those understandings are invalid and unimportant,” he said in 2009.
So the creation of a Palestinian state requires that Israel forcibly evacuate tens of thousands of settlers from the West Bank while Netanyahu has shown no interest in stopping Israeli settlement expansion or evacuating settlers that are already there. So what’s next?
As CBS News’ Bob Simon noted in a report on the two-state solution for 60 Minutes back in 2009, “Demographers predict that within 10 years, Arabs will outnumber Jews in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Without a separate Palestinian state, the Israelis would have three options, none of them good”:
They could try ethnic cleansing, drive the Palestinians out of the West Bank. They could give the Palestinians the vote. That would be the democratic option, but it would mean the end of the Jewish state. Or they could inflict apartheid, have the minority Israelis rule the majority Palestinians. But apartheid regimes don’t have a very long life.