Tsipi Livni, Israel’s leading centrist politician, makes a strong plea for a two-state solution to the historic conflict over Palestine—two states for two people. There’s only so much you can say in the space allotted for an op-ed, but Livni should have been more specific as to how she would plan to overcome the formidable obstacles to her preferred solution. Many observers, including former committed Zionists like Peter Beinart, believe that a two-state solution is no longer a practical possibility, given the deep entrenchment of Israeli settlements in the West Bank that would constitute a Palestinian state. How would Livni deal with this conundrum?
The thing is, the creation of a genuinely sovereign, contiguous Palestinian state would require a tremendous, wrenching roll-back of Israeli settlements. I haven’t seen any recent estimate of the numbers that would be required, but it would surely involve the repatriation and resettlement in Israel of many tens of thousands—maybe approaching or even surpassing 100,000–of Israeli colonists. (I’m assuming that Israeli colonists would not wish to live under Palestinian rule; the Palestinians wouldn’t want them anyway.) Recall the huge pushback Ariel Sharon had to fight in order to move 8,000 Israeli settlers out of untenable enclaves in Gaza. Try multiplying that by 10.
Does Livni have a plan for this massive population transfer? I’m willing to bet she does not. That omission can be explained in either of two ways. She may simply figure it’s best to leave the hardest problems for the end—kick the can down the road. Less innocently, she may be unwilling to deal with the requirements of creating a genuine, sovereign Palestinian state. Her idea of a Palestinian state may be a version of what’s been offered before—a fragmented mini- pseudo-state cut up to accommodate Israel’s vast presence on the West Bank with minimal disturbance. The Palestinians have rejected that idea before, but who knows: maybe a weak and corrupt PLO could finally be made to accept “reality.” Maybe it could, but there would still be a problem. It’s called Hamas.
Livni rules out dealing with Hamas for the usual two reasons given for that refusal: Hamas is a terrorist organization and it refuses to recognize Israel’s existence. Neither of these is persuasive. Yes, Hamas is an ugly organization that employs terror, but both Israel and the United States have demonstrated a willingness to deal with ugly interlocutors when pragmatic considerations so dictate. (Is Hamas really worse than the regime in Saudi Arabia? If there’s a difference, it’s microscopic.) Anyway, as I have argued more than once, the government of Israel can be considered a terrorist organization, one that has claimed far more innocent victims than Hamas.
Hamas’s refusal to recognize Israeli governance in Palestine is a problem, but it isn’t really much different from the similar refusal of Israel’s ruling party, Likud, to recognize the legitimacy of Palestinians’ aspirations for statehood. Netanyahu has said there would never be a Palestinian state on his watch. He is consistent with Likud’s charter, which calls for Israeli rule in all of Palestine from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. So, Hamas’s rejectionism has a rough equivalence in Likud’s. But I have never heard anyone say that negotiations with Likud must be ruled out because they refuse to recognize the Palestinians’ political existence. Besides, as I have pointed out before, Hamas on a number of occasions has hinted at its willingness to enter into a long-term truce with Israel—amounting to an implicit, grudging recognition—under the right circumstances. (If you buy into the canard that Hamas seeks the physical annihilation of the Israeli population, see this.)
And, the hard fact is that Hamas has widespread popular support among Palestine’s Arabs. It is very possible, maybe probable, that it would win a fair election on the West Bank as well as in Gaza. So, if you’re seriously interested in coming to an agreement with the Palestinians on creating a real Palestinian state, you have to talk to Hamas. But if all you are willing to give the Palestinians is a truncated pseudo-state, then maybe you can just deal with the PLO. I don’t think it would work, but you can try. Is that what Livni has in mind?