Commentary Magazine


Illuminating Reactions to an Unpopular Proposal

With Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas having retreated so far from previously agreed positions that he now even rejects Israeli sovereignty over the Western Wall (he’s willing only to let Jews pray there under Palestinian sovereignty), one might reasonably think any further discussion of final-status proposals is pointless. Yet some proposals are still worth discussing–not because they could, or even should, be adopted, but because reactions to them are so enlightening. A prime example is the Yisrael Beiteinu party’s much-maligned proposal to transfer certain Arab-Israeli towns to a Palestinian state in exchange for Israel’s retention of the settlement blocs. 

Since both Israelis and Palestinians generally oppose this plan, it clearly isn’t realistic. Yet the Arab-Israeli reaction to it speaks volumes about two key issues related to the “peace process”–the nature of the future Palestinian state, and the nature of the existing Jewish state.

In an op-ed defending her party’s plan last week, Yisrael Beiteinu MK Faina Kirshenbaum noted that the UN itself explicitly condones swaps of populated territory: General Assembly Resolution 55/153, adopted in 2001, states that “When part of the territory of a State is transferred by that State to another State, the successor State shall attribute its nationality to the persons concerned who have their habitual residence in the transferred territory and the predecessor State shall withdraw its nationality from such persons.”

Moreover, almost every peace plan ever proposed demands that Israel do exactly that: quit East Jerusalem and transfer its inhabitants, all of whom are either Israeli citizens or permanent residents, to Palestinian rule (the same goes for the persistent demand that Israel return the Golan Heights to Syria). In short, there’s no barrier to the plan under international law; the objection is purely practical: Arab Israelis themselves vehemently oppose the idea.

That they don’t “want to become part of a failed, corrupt and poor new state” is perfectly understandable, Kirshenbaum continued. But a successful peace process, she argued sensibly, shouldn’t create such a state to begin with. Indeed, such a state wouldn’t even be viable: It would likely “break apart in a bloody conflict like so many of our neighbors,” and Palestinians themselves would be the main victims.

Kirshenbaum doesn’t spell out the obvious conclusion, so I will: The fact is that many Arab Israelis who “continually malign Israel” and self-identify as Palestinians nevertheless insist on remaining under Israeli rather than Palestinian rule because they, like all the people worldwide who back their opposition to Yisrael Beiteinu’s plan, do expect a Palestinian state to be “failed, corrupt and poor”–and reasonably so (see, for example, the case of Mohamed Sabawi). That raises one question: Why should anyone think bringing another failed state into the world is desirable?

This Arab-Israeli stance is equally instructive regarding the canard that Israel is an “apartheid state.” After all, if this were true, one would expect them to jump at Yisrael Beiteinu’s proposal: It would free them from “apartheid rule” without their even having to leave home, since their towns would simply become Palestinian rather than Israeli. As Prof. Alex Yakobson pungently noted in an op-ed last month:

Of course, one has the right to say: “I am a Palestinian whose Israeli ID card was forced on him, and I prefer to be subject to an apartheid regime, an oppressive, fascist, racist and colonialist regime. I prefer all this to having to live under Palestinian rule.” A person who exercises his or her democratic right to express such a position cannot prevent others from exercising their democratic right to find such a statement ridiculous.

In short, reactions to the Yisrael Beiteinu proposal illuminate two key truths that too many people refuse to acknowledge: Far from being an “apartheid state,” Israel is a thriving democracy whose Arab citizens cling zealously to the right to remain in it. And far from being ready for statehood, “Palestine” would likely become yet another failed state in a world that already has far too many.