Given the Israeli government’s reaction to the Palestinian Authority’s plan to ask the UN for non-member observer state status, you’d think the PA was asking the General Assembly to resolve Israel out of existence. The government has threatened to “go crazy,” while the Prime Minister’s office apparently intends to show the Palestinians “what’s what.” The most extreme measures contemplated are building lots more settlements and halting transfers of tax revenue to the PA.
Put another way, Israel is being extremely short-sighted, and if it follows through with its threats, will put itself at great risk.
Mahmoud Abbas seems bent on pursuing this course while ignoring all the signals of lasting damage that could be done to the Palestinian government and the two-state solution. To be fair, virtually all of his options have been taken away from him: distracted by the American election, Iran, the Arab Awakening, and the rising power of Hamas, nobody is supporting the PA, leaving it to struggle alone against far more powerful forces. Although Abbas could do far, far more to convince Israel that he’s genuinely committed to peace negotiations, there’s no evidence that the government of Benjamin Netanyahu is interested and would take seriously any offers.
But still, Israel’s over-reaction is creating a situation in which it will be responsible for the collapse of the PA. It’s hard to see how this would benefit Israel. The West Bank will then be opened up to greater penetration by Hamas; the security cooperation between Israel and the PA, which has been successful at containing most violence and threats against Israelis, will end; the Salam Fayyad administration, which has been busy stabilizing the Palestinian economy—no small feat under contemporary conditions—and ensuring international support for a moderate government will disappear.
More settlements will also mean more settler violence against Palestinians and their property, which in turn will undermine the legitimacy and authority of the Israeli state.
It’s hard not to come to the conclusion that a third intifada is the likely outcome here, and moreover that Israel is simply not prepared for it or will be able to respond effectively. This is the conclusion reached by many Israel analysts and former military and intelligence officials; at best, serving officials argue, the current “quiet” in the West Bank is temporary. Nobody can say what form such an uprising would take, but coming while the nuclear issue with Iran is unresolved, the Syrian civil war rages, relations with Egypt continue to be marked by uncertainty, and the Sinai remains a source of danger, Israel cannot afford to direct soldiers and resources to the West Bank.
This is the moment for hard decisions in Israel, most of which go against long-standing assumptions and expectations. A broader policy framework needs to be constructed, one that incorporates policy toward Hamas/Gaza and the PA/West Bank. A firmer assertion of the state supremacy over domestic groups should complement this. And a more realistic assessment of the settlements is necessary.
The nature of governmental decision-making in Israel combined with the continual threats to the country hasn’t facilitated this kind of long-term thinking. The experience of surviving and prospering under all kinds of adverse conditions also engenders a kind of we-will-persevere-no-matter-what presumption.
These conditions are dangerous for the country’s future security, welfare, and stability. What will it take to get the country to take all this seriously?