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The Time Has Come for Israel and Its Allies to Make a Choice

Netanyahu has never been for peace. But the moment of truth is coming. Israel must share the land or share the power.

Biden shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Biden shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a meeting at the U.N. in New York City on September 20.

Vice President Kamala Harris and first gentleman Doug Emhoff had a problem during their 2022 Passover seder. The problem centered on the source of their spirits. The wine bottles at the table had come from the Jewish settlement of Psagot in the occupied West Bank. The Biden-Harris administration had been publicly supportive of the two-state solution as the means to resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. And as part of the support for a solution that encompasses an independent Palestinian state alongside a safe state of Israel, the Biden administration had been publicly opposed to expanded Jewish settlements. In the last days of the Obama-Biden administration, the United States allowed the passage of U.N. Security Council resolution 2334, which declared Jewish settlements illegal (the U.S. abstained on that vote, but importantly, it did not exercise its veto, as it often did on votes about Israel).

So what was the second family doing drinking settlement wine? They swore they were sending no political signal. But it seemed to some symbolic of the administration’s broader posture of occasionally talking tough toward Israel but never really making it pay any price for its policies.

Settlements had been for years the biggest obstacle facing Palestinians’ efforts to determine their future in their own state. In their attempt to convince the world that they wanted peace but that the Israelis didn’t, Palestinians regularly pointed to the constant expansion of Jewish settlements. The Israeli settlement enterprise was often given as the best proof that, as someone once sarcastically said, Israel wanted a “piece” of Palestinian land and not “peace” with Palestinians.

International law, and specifically Article 4 of the Geneva Conventions, made it a war crime for an occupying power to move its people to occupied areas. Israel refused to recognize the Geneva Conventions. Nor did it accept that it was an occupying power, insisting that it wanted peace and that Jews have a right to live in any part of Eretz Israel (the land of Israel). At the same time, Israel and many of its supporters brushed off the issue, pointing out that when it came to a real peace agreement, Israel would remove the settlements, as it did in the Sinia when Egypt and Israel made peace. It was the Palestinians who wanted everything and were unwilling to make compromises.

At one time, the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO, had embraced a peace process that removes religion from politics by calling for a “secular democratic state” in the entire geographic area of Palestine. Israel and its protagonists successfully warped this call as an attempt to demolish and obliterate the state of Israel. Their hasbara (propaganda) was helped by an inarticulate Palestinian national position of what Palestinians actually wanted to do with the Jewish inhabitants of the area if they had their way. Palestinian historical literature is vague on this issue, with some Palestinian leaders saying that Jews who lived in Palestine before a particular date in the twentieth century could stay. But this date was never firm.

Since those days in the 1960s and 1970s, Palestinians have carried out attacks against Israelis, some of which have included attacks on civilian Israelis and airplane hijackings. Israel has labeled the PLO and all attacks against Israeli occupiers (including attacks against soldiers) to be acts of terrorism. It would take a while, but eventually Palestinian secular leaders realized that they need to find a different way to liberate occupied Palestinians areas.

As a result the national Palestinian movement came around to accepting the concept of sharing the land rather than sharing power in the area. This brought about the PLO’s gradual movement toward the concept of a Palestinian state as part (rather than all) of Palestine. The first intifada, which called for an end to Israeli occupation rather than the end of Israel, convinced Yasir Arafat of the need to recognize Israel, and this led to the exchange of recognition with Yitzhak Rabin on the eve of the White House ceremony where the Declaration of Principles was signed, and the famous Arafat-Rabin handshake that made worldwide headlines.

But that process, often referred to as the Oslo process, had one fatal problem. It failed to clearly identify the end goal of an independent Palestinian state. Yitzhak Rabin appeared to be moving in that direction until a radical Jewish settler assassinated him, killing a process that could have led to Palestinian statehood. Instead, and despite two short terms by Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak, Israel was ruled by the longest-standing demagogue, Benjamin Netanyahu. He succeeded in deceiving the world about his peaceful intentions while his consecutive governments built more and more illegal Jewish settlements and brought more and more settlers (many extremely radical, armed, and uncontrolled) to live in what was supposed to be the Palestinian state.

Much blood has been shed as a result of this failed Oslo process, which we now know Netanyahu never believed in. He is publicly boasting now that his insistence “is what has prevented—over the years—the establishment of a Palestinian state that would have constituted an existential danger to Israel.” He said, “As long as I am prime minister, I will continue to strongly insist on this.”

Netanyahu made it clear that for 30 years, “I have been very consistent, and I’m saying something very simple, that any sovereign Palestinian entity was an unacceptable security threat to Israel. This conflict is not about the lack of a state, a Palestinian state, but about the existence of a state, a Jewish state.”

While it is true that politicians lie and some lie regularly, it is also true that even lying politicians have a moment of truth, and for Netanyahu, this is clearly one of them. Not only because he said what he said, but because he has worked at preventing Palestinian statehood by building strategically located Jewish settlements with the purpose of preventing the creation of an independent state. During one of the recent hotly fought elections (three within two years), Netanyahu was picked up telling Jewish settlers that he never believed in the Oslo Accords and that he knew how to handle the Americans.

President Joe Biden has the chance to call the Israeli bluff and recognize Palestine on the 1967 borders and then oversee new elections and have the newly elected Israeli and Palestinian leaders negotiate the modalities between the two states. The United States recognized Israel long before the U.N. did, and recognizing Palestinians under occupation will make it clear what the end goal is.

It may have taken a brutal attack by Hamas and totally out-of-proportion Israeli revenge for months since then to help the world come around to the simple realization that they have been fooled for years by Netanyahu and his claims of wanting peace. Now we know that Israel, or at least the current government, wants to have security control over the entire area between the river and the sea. This means that Palestinians can’t share the historic land of Palestine with Israel and will continue to live forever under an apartheid regime.

Vice President Harris and the second gentleman may have been ignorant of the source of their seder wine in 2022, but today no one on earth doesn’t know about what Palestinians want and the general contours of their aspiration for an end to the Israeli occupation and exclusive settlement enterprise.

In recent days the U.K. and the U.S. are sending signs that they may be willing to agree to recognizing a Palestinian state. If done, this would be a positive step. But it is important that everyone is cognizant of the only options that are available to settle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Israel, its allies, and the world need to make a simple decision. They can either work for sharing the land, which would mean an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, or they will need to share the power, and that means equal political rights for Israelis and Palestinians in the same state. We are not living in biblical times with God giving the right to continuously kill the Amalek (who Netanyahu says are today’s Palestinians), including men, women, children, and animals, to continue Jewish superiority.

The solution is simple. Share the land, or share the power. There is no other choice.