Palestine 2048: Israel on road to self-destruction
The government being set up in Jerusalem this week is a dramatic development for a number of reasons: it puts an end to a three-election deadlock that has lasted over a year and makes Israel perhaps the first nation in history to appoint a leader who will within days go on trial for bribery.
Israel is also the only country whose opposition felt compelled to join the incumbent government as a junior partner because of the idea that the corona emergency trumps politics. That challenger Benny Gantz bought that and succumbed to Benjamin Netanyahu despite in effect winning a parliament majority in March makes it a true feat of political legerdemain by the premier.
But the real reason to stand up and take notice lies beyond the political machinations and Netanyahu’s train wreck of a legal situation. The potential for lasting impact comes from Gantz’s remarkable agreement to allow Netanyahu move as early as July to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.
The moderate former military chief probably calculated that enough Israelis are mesmerized by the green light offered by U.S. President Donald Trump that he risked looking unpatriotic by standing in the way.
It’s understandable for Israelis to feel a unique opportunity has presented itself. The United States strongly opposed annexation, until Trump. He cannot win reelection in November without the massive support of Evangelicals, and many among them are religiously motivated supporters of Israel’s ultra-nationalists and have no fear of bringing on the End of Days.
And that is the very risk that caused even right-wing Israeli governments to avoided annexation — despite settling the territory with Jews, whom they left in a kind of legal limbo. Even nationalists don’t really want to destroy the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, despite having waged a poisonous campaign to prevent its establishment in the 1990s. They pretend otherwise, to placate the mob, but they know the PA helps maintain security and gives Israel plausible deniability about ruling millions of disenfranchised people.
The demographic math is this: Israel has about 7 million Jews and dominates the lives of an equal number of Palestinians. About 2 million of them live in Israel as citizens. About 3 million live in the West Bank as vassals, with the PA running a sort of municipal government but Israel controlling everything important including entry and exit. About 2 million live in Gaza, under the boot of Hamas militants and blockaded by Israel from the sea, air and (with Egypt’s help) land. The latter two groups — five million people, or about 35% of the Holy Land’s population, cannot vote for the government that dominates their lives — in the case of the West Bank directly.
Israel needs to maintain separation from the West Bank’s Palestinians especially in order to maintain the claim that it is a democracy that shares values with the West. It is a delicate and brittle balancing act which has survived somehow since Israel captured the area in the 1967 war, despite pressure from Israeli settlement activity and bouts of Palestinian terrorism met with harsh Israeli security measures.
That balance that is endangered gravely by the coming annexation. The larger the territory Israel will annex, the graver the risks. Renewed violence with the Palestinians is a clear and present danger. So I will offer an outline of what might follow if the government goes through with a significant annexation and the Likud Party manages to stay in power for another few election cycles:
_ 2020: Israel annexes about 100 settlements in the West Bank, creating one of the world’s strangest maps — scores of disconnected islands in a sort-of land archipelago. Palestinian terrorism resumes in the West Bank.
_ 2021: Israel periodically invades PA-ruled towns to conduct anti-terror operations. Hundreds of settlers and thousands of Palestinians are killed.
_ 2022: Serious boycott initiatives finally take off around the world. These are dismissed in Israel as no big deal — just Europeans and anti-Semites.
_ 2023: Egypt and Jordan suspend the peace treaties with Israel. Moderate Sunni nations cut off clandestine ties.
_ 2025: The US president, a Democrat, orders a review of the automatic veto of anti-Israel moves at the UN and other world organizations. Over next two years it is dropped. US aid winds down as well. Visa-free travel to the European Union ends, and Israel is kicked out of the Eurovision song contest and the Euroleague’s basketball tournament. Israel’s annual per capita GDP stagnates, and as the shekel falls it stabilizes at $32k at today’s prices — only 20% lower that at its 2019 height.
_ 2027: There are now 1 million settlers including in East Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority disbands and leading Palestinian figures demand annexation with the establishment of a single state allowing West Bank and Gaza Palestinians the same civil rights enjoyed by Israeli Arabs. The idea is rejected by the Israeli leadership (“Everyone knows Israelis reject the one-state solution,” everyone says). Military control is reestablished in some areas. Jihadist and other gangs take over others. Some years of chaos follow. Investment in Israel dries up, tech companies local and global move abroad, and the shekel falls further versus the dollar and euro (remaining level with the British pound because of troubles in the rump UK).
_ 2030: The global boycott of Israel is at a level reminiscent of what occurred with South Africa, with only the US holding out. Israel’s per capita GDP, with Palestinians excluded, falls to $20k/year.
_ 2033: The US, after years indecision and turmoil, joins the boycott of Israel in a joint news conference with the EU and South African presidents. AIPAC is bitterly opposed but J Street, supported by most US Jews and almost all non-Orthodox ones, supports.
_ 2036: Israel, under overwhelming global pressure, annexes West Bank, hesitantly extends voting rights to its Palestinians, and issues desperate pleas for massive Jewish “aliyah.” With the West Bank and East Jerusalem Palestinians (who are now all “Israeli Arabs”) finally included in the math, per capita GDP stands at $15k at today’s prices — 79th in the world.
_ 2039: The Joint Arab List wins 50 seats in Knesset election, finally toppling Likud and the right. It forms a coalition with Israeli far left — and, in an interesting twist, the Haredim, who no longer have a rightist option. Likud and Zionist Union squabble over who will lead the opposition; Likud, again, emerges on top. Opposition chief Yoav “The Shadow” Eliasi gets to meet once a month with elderly PM Ahmed Tibi.
_ 2040: The government changes the name of the country to Palestine, repeals the Law of Return allowing automatic Jewish immigration, and replaces Hatikva with a Hebrew-Arab version of “Biladi, Biladi.” In a key concession to Jews, there is no Right of Return for the 11 million descendants of Palestinian refugees from 1948.
_ 2048: Palestine successfully negotiates annexation of Gaza, run for decades as an Islamist version of North Korea. The conditions demanded by Hamas are for the Hebrew part of “Baladi, Baladi” to be dropped, for the Right of Return to be adopted, and for the “Principles of Sharia” to apply. Millions, some as little as one-eighth Palestinian, stream in. A mass exodus of secular and Ashkenazi Jews commences. By year’s end Palestine is 80% Palestinian.
Other scenarios are possible, including Israel holding out and becoming a total pariah nation, or a horrendous war in which millions are expelled (it is astounding how many Likud supporters who can actually do the math admit in private that this is what they assume will happen).
It must be said that there is indeed a risk in pulling out of the West Bank, which would leave Israel about 10 miles wide in the middle. That muddles the equation, legitimately concerns even reasonable Israelis, and needs to be factored in to any recommendations about how to end the moral stain of what goes on in the West Bank.
Either way the end-of-Zionism scenario is plausible, and it would be ironic in having been brought on by nationalists. If it comes to pass, historians will sit around Harvard Yard, smoking electronic pipes and asking how “Start-Up Nation,” with its crackerjack TV formats and squinty celebrity chefs, blundered into such a thing.
In her book “The March of Folly,” Barbara Tuchman offered a theory that might apply: “Mankind .. makes a poorer performance of government than almost any other human activity. Why do holders of high office so often act contrary to the way reason points and enlightened self-interest suggests? … Wooden-headedness, the source of self-deception, is a factor that plays a remarkably large role…”
But what of Israel’s voters? Here I see a fascinating psychological phenomenon: Homo Sapiens are not well wired for choosing the least bad option. Give them a snap choice between the flu and leukemia and they will hesitate. And that type of mistake, to quote a perceptive James Bond villain, is tough to bounce back from.