Why Israel does not want a sovereign Palestinian state

Ben White writes in Middle East Eye: “It is time to accept the reality that Israel simply does not want a sovereign Palestinian state – and consider its serious implications” 

How many Israeli settlers – or settlement houses – until a two-state solution is impossible? That’s the question we should be asking our politicians, who frequently refer to a “closing window of opportunity” for a Palestinian state in light of Israeli “facts on the ground”. 

Speaking in Parliament recently, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson urged a halt to “the illegal settlements”; every time Israeli authorities “build new units”, he said, they “move us further from a two-state solution”, even if “they are not yet making it impossible to deliver the new map”. 

So, the question remains: how many is too many? The current settler population is at least 620,000, including occupied East Jerusalem. But 35 years ago, a ‘mere’100,000 was seen as “so large a number that no Israeli government thereafter could agree to withdraw from the territory”. 

Stop counting settlers

Over the decades, the figure has constantly shifted to accommodate the pace of colonisation, with each successive doomsday milestone surpassed by the next: 100,000, 250,000, half a million – now some see 750,000 as the point at which “it will no longer be possible to divide the land”. 

It’s time to stop counting settlers – Israel simply doesn’t want a genuine Palestinian state. 

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Chatham House that “sovereignty” may not be “applicable” in the Palestinian case. Emphasising that for Israel “the overriding concern is always security”, he suggested that other models of sovereignty should be studied.

During the same trip to London, Netanyahu refused to be drawn by the BBC’s Andrew Marr on whether he supported an independent Palestinian state, merely saying that the Palestinians should have “powers to govern themselves”.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise; in January, Netanyahu told his cabinet ministers that the most he is prepared to give the Palestinians is a “state minus”. In 2015, running for re-election, the Likud leader vowed that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch.

Netanyahu seeks the sympathy, and deflects the criticism, of Western audiences by linking his opposition to Palestinian sovereignty to Israel’s perceived ‘security’ concerns.

In fact, the “security” argument against Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) and the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state just does not stand up to scrutiny.

Opposition to Palestinian sovereignty

As SOAS professor Mushtaq Khan has explained, “Israel already possesses overwhelming military superiority not only against any conceivable threat from a future Palestinian state but also against threats from more populous and militarily advanced Arab neighbours.”

And if Israel did not have the military superiority to defend its pre-1967 borders, there would never be a time when sovereignty could be handed over, since “there is no such thing as a credible commitment not to attack in the future by showing a willingness to refrain from attacking today”.

If the security talk is a hoax, however – albeit one that far too many diplomats and analysts uncritically accept – then what explains Netanyahu’s opposition to Palestinian statehood?

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