Newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett paid a visit to Washington last week for his first high-level meetings with President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, leading Mideast pundits to once again reverberate with echoes of advancing a “Two-State Solution.” However, the “Two-State Solution” that was floated during decades past is now permanently dead and impossible. How do some Mideast experts not grasp its demise?
The ‘West Bank’ Is a Semantic Fiction
First, an important semantic clarification. In Israel, the land west of the Jordan River is called “Judea and Samaria.” The alternative term some use for the land — “West Bank” — is a misnomer, born of manifest geographic fiction and no Arab nomenclature for that region. Jersey City arguably may be the west bank of the Hudson River because much of lower Manhattan indeed can be seen from that city’s downtown, but the vast majority of Judea and Samaria are many miles from the Jordan river bank.
Judean cities like Hebron, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem; and Samarian cities like Shechem (Nablus), Karnei Shomron, and Shiloh are nowhere near a riverbank and are actual cities. For example, Ariel, a Jewish community in central Judea-Samaria, is a city of more than 20,000 people and is 21 miles west of the river. The city of Ma’aleh Adumim in Judea, seven miles from Jerusalem, has a population of nearly 40,000.
Semantics matter, because a discrete population on the “west bank” of a river presumably can be evacuated easily as part of a negotiated deal. Not so with the more than 130 Jewish communities established throughout Judea and Samaria.
As of January 2, 2021, approximately 325,000 Jews were living in Jerusalem’s Old City and in other eastern neighborhoods of Jerusalem that Israel liberated in June 1967 during the Six-Day War. Equally striking, the Jewish population throughout the rest of Judea and Samaria on that date was reported at 475,481. Thus, more than 800,000 Jews now live quite permanently in Judea and Samaria.
They live in houses, permanent structures they have built over the past half-century. They pay monthly mortgages, refinance their home loans, furnish their houses and villas with couches, dining tables and chairs, beds and armoires, sinks and faucets, and related sanitary items. In other words, the nearly 1 million of them are not going anywhere.
Uprooting 800,000 People Is a Terrible Idea
A “Two-State Solution” that contemplates uprooting nearly 1 million Jews from their homes, workplaces, and lives is not only unrealistic and impracticable but is absurd and impossible.
Back in 1982 Israel evacuated Yamit, a community of 2,500 Jews, from the Sinai region as part of its 1979 peace agreement with Egypt. In 2005, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon evacuated 8,600 Jews from Gush Katif when he decided to hand over Gaza unilaterally to its resident Arab government.
While the Hamas terrorist group soon gained control of the ceded territory, most missed what transpired meantime in Israel with the Jewish evacuees. Even a decade later, many still had not found permanent new homes and employment economically comparable to what they had enjoyed.
Accordingly, now consider that, for Israel to evacuate its Jewish population from Judea and Samaria, it would have to undertake displacing a population almost 100 times that of Gush Katif — indeed, more than 11 percent of the country’s entire Jewish population of nearly seven million. Israel would need to relocate some 800,000 Jews to new houses and new jobs, and their children to new schools, all in a country 8,019 square miles, an area smaller than Vermont and a bit larger than New Jersey.
The Two-State Idea Does Not Fit Geopolitical Realities
Dating back to the inception of the dispute, one of several unequivocal Arab demands from Yasser Arafat to Mahmoud Abbas on Israel’s east, and similarly non-negotiable from Hamas in Gaza, is that no Jew remains behind anywhere in Judea and Samaria. Thus, the issue not only is intractable but impossible.
Somehow the Trump administration, breaking with more than half a century of State Department orthodoxy, figured this out. They walked away from a “Two-State Solution” that had become a pipe dream and instead managed to forge new alliances for Israel with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco by building on new Middle Eastern realities. They grasped that Iran, a Shiite Islamic society now led by messianically zealous imams intent on acquiring nuclear power, is bent on taking down Sunni Muslim polities no less than to obliterate the Jewish government of Israel.
The proxy civil war in Yemen, now in its seventh year, is but one manifestation of the Shiite-Sunni internecine life-and-death struggle. Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the Saudi-backed government they are fighting have killed more than 100,000 of each other since September 2014, with no end in sight.
For Sunni Arab governments fighting for their survival and to preserve their ways of life, a strong Israel in the neighborhood, prepared to take on Iran, is a bulwark — even more now that the Biden-Blinken foreign policy, punctuated by disastrous miscalculations in retreating from Afghanistan, seems focused on returning America to appeasing Iran’s mullahs. Consequently, for those on the front lines of Mideast reality, a “Two-State Solution” is nothing more than an apparition.
There Aren’t Even Two States to Deal With
Nor, in fact, are the parties to the “solution” actually “two states.” Again, semantics matter. Oklahoma and Wyoming are “states.” By contrast, England, France, Germany, and even Azerbaijan and Liechtenstein are “countries.” It seems easier to work things out between, say, Idaho and Montana than between India and Pakistan.
Israel is not a Rhode Island. Rather, it is called a “state” because of a biblical linguistic quirk. The Hebrew word for “country” is “eretz,” which also means “land.” Thus, the term “Eretz Israel” has two meanings: It could mean “Country of Israel,” but it also could mean the biblical “Land of Israel” that extends either from “Dan to Beersheba” (Judges 20:1) or from the Nile to the Euphrates (Genesis 15:18). To avoid confusion and to assure observers that the Jewish polity has no designs on biblical conquest, Israel’s founders opted to use a synonym that would avoid misconceptions, so they opted for “Medinat Israel,” which means “State of Israel.”
Nonetheless, Israel is not a Delaware or Connecticut. Thus, Mideast peace challenges are not akin to persuading the governors of West Virginia and Kentucky to back off from ordering their respective National Guard troops to invade each other’s states amid the Hatfield-McCoy cross-border tensions that ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court. There is no “Two-State Solution,” and a “Two Country Solution” that would force Israel out of the Jewish patrimony and would create a new Afghanistan in the evacuated territory is not going to happen.
Middle East Harmony Is Best Pursued Other Ways
Peace in the Middle East is strategically important for America. Countries like Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, and Israel are important anchors for our national interests. Israel offers America a democratically stable, cost-effective, battle-tested outpost in a region that oversees the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and the Persian Gulf.
Israel’s advanced technological leadership has enabled her to leverage her military experiences to share with U.S. defense department and weapons manufacturers research and development information of incalculable value. She provides us reliable intelligence that urgently supplements our agencies’ blind spots in a region we often have assessed erroneously at a terrible cost. Such instances include the 1973 Arab oil boycott; the rise of the Khomeini revolution that ousted our ally, the Shah of Iran; the 1983 South Lebanon bombing that took 241 U.S. Marines’ lives; and continuing to the present failures that saw us wrongly assess the “Arab Spring,” catastrophically “lead from behind” in Libya, and now exit Afghanistan.
We do not help ourselves by continuing to resurrect century-old Mideast “solutions” that no longer bear any relationship to reality but distract our allies and give succor to those searching for strategic weak spots in the new administrations in Washington and Jerusalem.