Rabbi Menahem Lester

Rabbi Menahem Lester

By Rabbi Menahem Lester, Former Minister of South London Synagogue

US Secretary of State John Kerry has abandoned an attempt to forge an agreement between Israel and the ‘State of Palestine’, based on the concept of ‘the two-state solution’ and looking to achieve ‘two democratic states living side by side’. I doubt if this will ever happen.

To clear up the second bit first, no Arab state is ever going to be democratic – at least not in the near future. And by democracy, I mean it requires the fundamental institutions, including a free press, independent judiciary, elected parliament with executive powers, human rights and rights for women and minorities. It’s the institutions that make democracy, not elections, which are just the icing on the cake.

And what’s wrong with the two-state solution? One answer is the Arabs have rejected that option on various occasions. Even before their dismissal of the 1947 UN Partition plan, whereby they were to receive the best part of the rump of Palestine, they were ready for war to nullify it.

There were 19 years when Jordan, illegally, ruled over Judea and Samaria, which they re-named the West Bank, not once was a separate state proposed for the Palestinian Arabs. In 1964 and ‘65, the PLO was formed and its objective was the destruction of Israel.

After June 1967, Israel offered to restore all lands it had just conquered in a legitimate defensive war; that offer was countered at Khartoum in September 1967 with the “Three Nos” – no to recognition, no to peace and no to negotiation.

With the cessation of negotiations this time, it is instructive to examine who exactly Israel was negotiating with: not the Gaza contingent ruled by Hamas, which vehemently refuses to recognise or negotiate with Israel; rather the unrepresentative PA president, Mahmoud Abbas, whose term expired four years ago.

His bottom line, reiterated of late is a variation on the Khartoum theme: should an agreement be reached, this should not be confused with peace – hostilities will continue; he will never recognise Israel as the Jewish state, and even were he to receive a state in parts of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, the rump Israel state must still accept all five million refugees claiming that status. [This would tie in with the new Palestine state, where no Jews would be allowed, while pre-1967 Israel would automatically lose its Jewish identity in absorbing an Arab majority].

Israeli soldiers patrol the fence where an Israeli man was killed in the northern Jordan Valley, Friday, Oct. 11, 2013. Palestinians wielding axes and iron bars killed an Israeli man outside his home in the West Bank, the Israeli police said Friday, the latest in a series of attacks on Israelis in the area.

Israeli soldiers patrol the fence where an Israeli man was killed in the northern Jordan Valley in October 2013.

Given this, it’s instructive to view Israel on a map: with Judea and Samaria, it’s equivalent in size to New Jersey or Wales. Concurrently, a large percentage is the Negev desert which, given all the will in the world, is never going to hold millions of people. If “the Territories” are detached, Israel is reduced to a long coastal strip holding the bulk of its population, its industry, its ports and its airports.

That strip narrows to just nine miles wide north of Netanya and is dominated by the ridge to the east. From that ridge, enemy rockets and artillery could pulverise the state (as Jordan started to do on 5 June 1967). Given Israel’s experience of the Gaza withdrawal and the subsequent unleashing of 10,000 rockets, it would be suicidal to sign any agreement based on these parameters.

In central Europe today, tiny states such as Liechtenstein and San Marino can thrive. But they are not surrounded by enemies whose cultivated hatred transcends all barriers and logic. Rather, the concept of a two-state solution has run its course: that envisaged by Western statesmen or demanded by Abbas are not conducive to Jewish survival.

Alternatives must be considered. The status quo can be maintained albeit with political repercussions; better to annex Area C, the area dominated by Jews with only 40,000 Arab inhabitants, who could be offered citizenship. For Palestinian majority areas “A and B” currently under Palestinian jurisdiction, autonomy could be offered; alternatively, resettlement to another Arab country.

This doesn’t resolve the issue of Palestinian refugees in surrounding countries who were dumped by the vanquished Arab states in 1949 and where they’ve been maintained by the international community. It is, nevertheless, the responsibility of those Arab countries which initiated hostilities and who’ve ducked the issue ever since.

That’s where international statesmanship should be focused for once. Israel absorbed their co-religionists in 1949 onwards – it’s about time the Arabs grew up and reciprocated.