Israel’s Other Existential Threat Comes From Within

It used to be said by some in Israel that “only the right can bring peace.” But the brave, pragmatic Zionist right of Menachem Begin is gone.

Successive right-wing governments have adopted the mantra “there is no partner for peace.” Of course, the Palestinians have not been the perfect partner — and, of course, there is no such thing. You make peace with your enemies, as Yitzhak Rabin used to say.

In place of negotiations toward a two-state solution, however, the increasingly radicalized Israeli right has developed a strategy of “conflict management.” The results are in: endless operations in Gaza, Israel’s southern residents living under impossible conditions, Jerusalem on the verge of a third intifada, weakened Israeli deterrence and an Israel increasingly isolated in the world.

The only way for Israel now to remain both Jewish and democratic — that is, for Israel to remain a democracy and retain its Jewish majority — is to separate from the Palestinians via a two-state solution. Without such a settlement, Israel is drifting ineluctably toward becoming a binational state. And make no mistake: The logic of the binational state means an end to the Zionist project. This threat to Israel is so grave partly because it is happening at a slow enough pace that our leaders can essentially ignore the problem without facing electoral catastrophe.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu helped scupper Secretary of State John Kerry’s push for peace by insisting on Palestinian recognition of Israel as “the Jewish state” — which is an important and fair demand, but not as a precondition for talks. Because of those fruitless efforts and the bitter wrangling over the Iran deal, the Obama administration probably has little interest in spending more political capital on reviving the peace process. So Israel must take the lead to secure its own interests and its own future.

I recently presented a plan at the Knesset that I hope will eventually become government policy. It is aimed at generating momentum toward a final status accord between us and the Palestinians. The broad parameters are already known, but there is more we should do.

Israel should recognize the Palestinian state at the United Nations. Recognition would be conditional on final borders and other essential elements of a deal being determined exclusively through negotiations. The dispute should no longer be about whether there will be two states, but about the details of an agreement.

Israel should also respond — for the first time — to the Arab Peace Initiative and conduct a regional dialogue in parallel with Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Moderate members of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation that have endorsed that initiative could prove critical to achieving Israeli-Palestinian and regional agreements. Many of these states are now our strategic allies thanks to shared opposition to an Iranian bomb.

To build trust, Israel should refrain from construction over the Green Line in areas of the West Bank that would harm the contiguity of the Palestinian state. Illegal outposts built since March 2001 should be dismantled.

There has been much hand-wringing over the growth of the Jewish population over the Green Line, along with claims that this growth virtually precludes a two-state solution. This argument assumes that, to reach a deal, there must not be a single Jew in the Palestinian state. But why should there be no Jewish minority in a newly created state of Palestine, when there is a Palestinian minority in Israel? Those settlers whose homes remain outside Israel’s final borders should be offered, under an agreement, residency or dual citizenship in the new Palestinian state, along with a guarantee of their security.

Jerusalem is on the verge of a third intifada. A number of steps could calm the volatile situation. Israeli police presence in East Jerusalem should be reduced. (At the same time, we should step up military and intelligence activity against Hamas and Islamic Jihad cells operating there.) A municipal body representing the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem should be established and developed, to fill the vacuum left by the closing of Orient House in 2001, which functioned as an umbrella institution for civil institutions in East Jerusalem.

Mr. Netanyahu was right to call for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, but his insistence on such recognition as a precondition was both a ploy and an error. Both states should recognize each other in their sovereign borders — when an agreement is finalized.

Naturally, I will have my detractors. But I believe we have no choice but to confront these issues. Sleepwalking toward becoming a binational state, Israel faces an internal threat to its existence potentially no less severe than the external one of a nuclear-armed Iran. It must pursue the two-state solution no less fervently than it opposes an Iranian bomb. Only this path can safeguard Israel’s long-term security.

Hilik Bar is a deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset and the secretary general of the Labor Party.

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