Ehud Barak, the former Prime Minister of Israel, speaking at Temple Emanuel of Great Neck, May 11, argued forcefully for a two-state solution as the only way to preserve “The Zionist Project” — a nation that is both Jewish and democratic.
While there are no options that do not bring risk, he asserted, the basis for his contention is that Israel is the strongest economy and has the strongest military “for 1,000 miles around” in the region. Israel would insist on drawing the border lines that protect its security.
On the other hand, the existential threat, he argued, would be to abandon the two-state solution.
And he insisted that Israel’s right wing government leaders need to wrest themselves from paralysis and politics and being held hostage to the messianic view of the settlers, and act, even unilaterally, to setting the stage.
Barak laid out a cogent argument based on a lifetime at the center of Israel’s defense, politics and leadership, serving as Prime Minister, Chief of General Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces and most recently as Minister of Defense, for moving forward with a two-state solution, and putting “a wedge” in the slippery slope toward a one-state solution.
He said that the rise of ISIS and the globalized threat of terror from radical Islamic jihadists ironically creates an opportunity because it has elevated Israel’s position as an essential actor in a global conflict, while at the same time diminishing the Israel-Palestinian conflict as a regional one.
He pointed to “an opportunity that happens once in generation and might disappear in a year or so, of a joint common interest that has developed between Israel and Sunni moderate leadership — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and others. “The common interest is fighting together against Islamist radical terror; the second is to join hands and putting at bay Iranian nuclear intentions; third, to join hands in huge regional infrastructure projects – energy, water, transportation; and fourth, the Palestinian issue.”
“We are never going to find ourselves in an ideal world,” he said soberly. “The Mideast is never going to resemble Scandinavia.”
But, “Israel, being the strongest player all around the area, can use this position of strength in a self-confident manner” to finally resolve the Palestinian issue.
On the other hand, if there is only one state, Israel inevitably will become either non-Jewish or nondemocratic.
That is because in an area the size of New Jersey live 8.5 million Israelis (including 1.5 million Arab Israelis) and 5 million Palestinians.
If Israel remains democratic, “overnight it would become a bi-national state and within few years a bi-national state with an Arab majority, almost surely civil war, and no future.”
The other alternative in a one-state Israel is that it would no longer be a democracy, because Arabs would be barred from voting for Knesset.
“Neither is the Zionist dream. It is the consequence of a painful but simple reality: we need a compelling imperative to find a way to disengage ourselves from Palestinians and create a line in Israel that would include settlement blocks and the Israeli’ suburbs of eastern Jerusalem. That would include 80% of the settlers. Beyond this line, should be a place for a viable Palestinian state.
“I reemphasize: it’s not because of the need for justice for Palestinians, not because of the international community [and the spreading BDS — Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, particularly on American college campuses]. It’s out of our compelling imperative to take care of our own security, future and identity.”
There are risks and challenges, “but that shouldn’t paralyze you from seeing difference between existential threat and the technical military risk we’ve lived with. In a way, what happens in the Mideast doesn’t increase the threat to Israel, but reduces it.”
He only briefly addressed the problem on the Palestinian side, and did not address the intractable issue of dividing Jerusalem, saying, “No one can tell for sure whether Palestinians are ripe for painful decisions needed from both sides for a breakthrough in peace process.”
But, he added, “even if there is no way to achieve a breakthrough these days, it doesn’t mean we should be paralyzed, that we should be blind to our interest in starting…”
He said that “professionals” can find their way to a solution. “A group of the most senior leaders of ISF, Mossad, Israeli police, generals – have formed Commandos for Israel Security. They have proposed a practical plan for what should be done now to start disengagement, independently of Palestinians, with backing of Americans and others in the world community. It contains all the elements — political, practical, and security — written by best experts of Israel.”
“They will tell you that Israel is better protected and safer if we delineate this line, if we have to struggle against terror that takes place from outside, beyond the line, and the real enemy of 80 percent of settlers …the real enemy are the elements of the government that keep poking the eye of the Palestinian government by continuing settlement operations.”
He concluded, “We need leadership sober, open eyed, self confident of the strength of Israel and ready to act, holding in their hand an inner compass, not a weather vane. The most immediate and urgent mission is to put a wedge on that slippery slope toward one nation, one state for two peoples. The effect that extremists on both sides — our right wing and Hamas — both dream and act to have one state is what makes the one-state agenda the real existential threat to the Zionist project and Israel.”