Those words were not spoken recently by Benjamin Netanyahu but by then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, when he defended the Oslo peace process he had initiated two years earlier with President Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat and for which he would be assassinated one month later.
Twenty-five years later, a gulf has emerged between the positions Rabin staked out and what is increasingly believed to be the gold standard for a potential Israeli-Palestinian peace. The result has been the emergence of a two-state illusion that will never happen rather than a two-state solution that might advance peace.
The extension of Israeli sovereignty to certain territories in Judea and Samaria will not, as many critics suggest, destroy the two-state solution. But it will shatter the two-state illusion. And in doing so, it will open the door to a realistic two-state solution and get the peace process out of the cul-de-sac it has been stuck in for two decades.
Let me explain why.
For 20 years, successive Israeli prime ministers have tried to advance peace with the Palestinians. In 2000, Ehud Barak offered sweeping concessions at Camp David. In 2005, Ariel Sharon unilaterally withdrew Israel from the Gaza Strip. In 2008, Ehud Olmert offered even more concessions. In 2009, Benjamin Netanyahu called for a two-state solution in which a demilitarized Palestinian state would recognize the Jewish state and agreed to a 10-month settlement freeze. And earlier this year, both Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, Israel’s alternate prime minister, committed to negotiate based on President Trump’s peace plan.
All along, Palestinian leaders have rejected every Israeli peace overture while systematically promoting a culture that rejects peace and glorifies terrorism, including by providing a lifetime of financial support for terrorists who murder Jews.
The rejectionism of Palestinian leaders has been no surprise to those who understand that this century-old conflict has never been about establishing a Palestinian state. It has always been about rejecting the Jewish state.
That is why Palestinians leaders opposed the two-state solution proposed by the Peel Commission in 1937 and the U.N. Partition Plan in 1947. It is why they made no effort to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza between 1949 and 1967, when those territories were controlled respectively by Jordan and Egypt. And it is why they have rejected multiple offers of statehood since the Oslo process began, including Trump’s latest proposal.
But if you thought that the past two decades of Palestinian intransigence, incitement and terror would convince many international leaders to reconsider their assumptions and rethink their approach to the peace process, think again. They continued to ignore the root cause of the conflict and kept doubling down on a failed strategy, hoping to thread a needle through the so-called final status issues (territory, security, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, etc.) that could magically weave together a deal.
Worse, to coax the Palestinians into negotiating a reasonable compromise, they simply moved the goalposts closer to them. Just compare Rabin’s speech to where the “consensus” on the so-called two-state consensus is today: Israel is expected to return, with minor changes, to the 1967 borders; accept international forces in the West Bank; uproot tens of thousands of Jews from their homes; divide Jerusalem; and agree in principle, if not in practice, to a Palestinian “right of return” (providing the millions of descendants of the Palestinian refugees from the 1948 Arab war against Israel a “right” to return to the Jewish state, ensuring its demise by demographic means).
If these expectations were simply the stuff of think tank seminars, it might make little difference. But in May 2011, the previous U.S. administration upended 40 years of American policy by adopting the Palestinians’ “1967 plus swaps” formulation. In December 2016, the U.N. Security Council passed resolution 2334, which declared everything beyond those 1967 lines “occupied Palestinian territory,” including most outrageously, the Western Wall.
The results of these short-sighted decisions have proved disastrous for peace. By constantly moving the goalposts and expecting nothing of Palestinians, the two-state “consensus” has moved to a place that makes any peace deal impossible. While the international community’s memory is short, the people of Israel have not forgotten that the Palestinian response to Barak’s generous peace offer was a terrorism campaign that murdered over a thousand Israelis, or that territory Sharon vacated in Gaza has been transformed into a terrorism base that has repeatedly forced millions of Israelis into bomb shelters.
The hard truth is that for the past 25 years, international leaders and policymakers have been unwilling to admit that they never had the Palestinians onboard for a genuine two-state solution. And in constantly moving the goalpost to get them onboard, they have now lost Israelis as well.
The current two-state “consensus” is nothing more than a two-state illusion. And that is why Israel must pursue a different course to advance peace.
The Trump peace plan offers such a course. It also calls for a two-state solution. But it addresses the root cause of the conflict by insisting that Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state and by making clear that Israel has a valid legal, historical and moral claim to Judea and Samaria. The Trump plan also seriously addresses Israel’s security needs. The lip service other plans have paid to demilitarizing a potential Palestinian state is replaced with clear principles that give Israel both the right and capability to ensure that demilitarization in the future.
No less important, this peace plan does not ignore the reality on the ground and make unrealistic proposals that have zero chance of being implemented. For example, rather than call for tens of thousands of Jews to be uprooted from their homes, it calls for a peace in which innovative infrastructure solutions enable both Israelis and Palestinians to travel freely within their respective states. The plan does ask Israel to make significant concessions, including more than doubling the size of the territory the Palestinians control today. But the peace deal it envisions would leave Israel with defensible borders, security control west of the Jordan River, sovereignty over a united Jerusalem and resolve the Palestinian refugee issue outside of Israel.
Not surprisingly, after refusing direct negotiations for nearly a decade, the Palestinians have summarily rejected the Trump peace plan.
In the face of this rejectionism and determined to advance a realistic solution to the conflict, Israel plans to extend sovereignty to territories that will remain part of Israel in any realistic peace agreement. At the same time, Israel will not extend sovereignty over territories the Trump plan designates for a future Palestinian state and commit to not building in those territories in the coming years.
Many have argued, including some of our friends, that Israel should not take any unilateral steps. But some of those same friends applauded Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 because they mistakenly believed it would advance peace. Unfortunately, it didn’t. It empowered Hamas, endangered Israel and dealt a heavy blow to the prospects for peace.
Israel hopes the decision to extend sovereignty in parts of Judea and Samaria will have the opposite effect. We hope it will convince the Palestinians that another century of rejectionism is a losing strategy and that the Jewish state is here to stay. And by shattering the two-state illusion and advancing a two-state solution, Israel hopes it will open up a realistic path to peace.