Loving Israel to Death

17 Apr

by Elhanan Miller

Legislatures in the states of Florida and of South Carolina have recently adopted resolutions endorsing the extension of Israeli law over the West Bank, or in the words of the Florida Senate “a whole and united Israel governed under one law for all.” This is a rather roundabout way of calling for one inclusive state as an alternative to the two-state solution espoused by the United States since 2002. These bills echo a vaguely worded resolution adopted by the Republican National Committee in January.

The odd convergence of America’s conservative right and its far left is bad for Israel. It runs counter to the declared policy of all Israeli governments since 1992, which have consistently endorsed the partition of land under Israel’s control. Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s most hawkish right wing leader in recent years, publicly called for a two-state solution in his famous speech at Bar Ilan University in June 2009. He repeated this position numerous times since, most notably in the US Congress last May.

Following years of denial, the mainstream of Israel’s right has come to understand a simple truth which continues to elude their American counterparts: applying Israeli law equally to all means extending Israeli citizenship to all. With roughly an equal number of Jews and Arabs west of the Jordan River, Israel’s Jewish majority will quickly vanish. Just like Lebanon’s Christian character has almost disappeared as non-Christians greatly outnumber Christians in the country, so too will Israel gradually cease to be a Jewish state. On the other hand, for Israel to continue discriminately applying military law to the Palestinians of the West Bank while applying Israeli law to its Jews is both immoral and untenable. Neither the world nor the Israeli population can bear an open-ended military occupation in the 21st century. The only viable solution, painful as it is to both sides, is to divide the land.

There are many obstacles to this goal. The Palestinian political leadership is divided between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, with efforts to unite the two failing time and again. Israeli settlements have proliferated in the West Bank, the Jewish historic heartland. Uprooting established communities becomes more difficult with the passage of time, both politically and morally. But as a strategy, the two-state solution is the only program that guarantees Israel as both a Jewish and democratic state over time.

So why does the American right, which subscribes to the notion of Israel as both Jewish and democratic, seem not to understand that? Because, when it comes to Israel, religious considerations seem to trump most others.

When South Carolina legislator Alan Clemmons anchors his bill in “God’s promise of a land of milk and honey,” speaking not of current-day Israelis but of the Israelites of yore, a rational and pragmatic solution to the issues at hand drifts further away. Viewed from a biblical point of view, the practical needs and aspirations of modern Israelis, Jews and Arabs, become secondary.

It is not that religion does not play a crucial role in the conflict. It does. Israelis and Palestinians are deeply traditional and committed to their historic and religious legacies. But religion can and should be interpreted in ways that are conducive to peace and coexistence, not displayed as a zero sum game championing the divine rights of one side over the other. That not only delegitimizes the United States as a fair broker to the conflict, but also renders the issues at hand insolvable before a doomsday war between Gog and Magog.

By denying the existence of the Palestinian people or of the border between sovereign Israel and the occupied territories, the American right is harming Israel’s vital interest in a negotiated settlement to the conflict. Whether you hate Israel to death or love Israel to death, the outcome is the same: Israel’s death.

Elhanan Miller is the Arab Affairs correspondent for the Times of Israel, currently pursuing a research fellowship at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization, Kings College, London.                   

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