Israel | Opinion | Opinion

Israel’s dilemma: Running out of time

One of the professional hazards of columnists today is the temptation to borrow from the wealth of materials available on the Internet without giving proper credit to their authors. I guess that if Moses came down from Mount Sinai today, he would add an 11th commandment: Thou shall not cut and paste.

Indeed, it is extremely difficult today, especially for someone who has been witnessing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for so long, to come up with something new. It seems that we have seen everything: Intifada, the Oslo Accords, Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, terror and retaliation, Benjamin Netanyahu, Hamas, Ehud Barak, talks, another Intifada, Ariel Sharon, Mahmoud Abbas, Ehud Olmert, more talks, Netanyahu again, Palestinian zigzagging, Israeli settlements.

In between, U.S. secretaries of state have worn off their shoes shuttling to this troublesome region and trying to broker a peace between two reluctant peoples, who have each been assuming — mistakenly — that time was working in their favor.

Even the sudden reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas (assuming it is genuine), does not change the overall picture. Peace talks with Mahmoud Abbas only, with Hamas challenging his right to deal with Israel in the first place, were problematic to start with.

Now, when the two seem to be hugging each other again, it remains to be seen who will have the upper hand: Abbas, who is willing to talk with Israel but doesn’t seem to be able to strike a deal, and who — at the same time — keeps threatening to appeal to the United Nations or to dismantle the Palestinian Authority; or Ismail Haniya and Haled Mash’al, leaders of Hamas, who stick to the original charter of their organization, which calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.

Either way, all this only deepens the feeling among Israelis that there is no reliable Palestinian partner and brings back memories of Arafat, who was a so-called partner for peace but at the same time turned a blind eye to terror. I know that the Palestinians have their own grievances against Israel, but having the vital interests of Israel in mind, I’m not interested in this blame game, but rather with one question only: What should Israel do now?

If picking other people’s brain is not an option, then stealing from oneself is perhaps a lesser sin. Let me quote, then, what I have written here more than a decade ago (Miami Herald, July 18, 2003), following yet another one of the Palestinian caprices:

“Israel has to act alone. In the long run, there will be more Arabs than Jews between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea. Therefore, there is only one way to keep Israel both a Jewish and a democratic state: Pull out of Judea, Samaria and Gaza. To do that, Israel shouldn’t be waiting for a trustworthy Palestinian partner to show up; it might wait forever. For its own best interest, Israel should act alone.”

I doubt that the late Prime Minister Sharon ever read that column, but two years later he pulled Israel out of Gaza unilaterally.

His confidant, Dov Weissglas, told me that had Sharon not fallen into coma, he would have carried on the momentum in the West Bank. And this was the same Sharon who for years had been relentlessly pushing Israelis to settle in Gaza and the West Bank. Except that things probably look different from the prime minister’s office.

Opponents of unilateral steps might argue that we pulled out of Gaza and got barrage of rockets in return. The same might happen if we retreat from most of the West Bank. They have a point.

However, we have the Israel Defense Forces to deal with potential security threats, while there is no way to stop the ticking clock of demography.

To quote myself again (The New York Times, July 2, 2003): “Israel should unilaterally pull out of the territories, because in the Middle East the choices are not between good and bad — they are between bad and worse. Losing either the Jewish nature of Israel or its democracy are to me the worst possible scenarios.”

Can Netanyahu make such a bold, unilateral move, and save Israel from becoming a one, bi-national state, which will mean the end of the Zionist dream? I doubt it.

Despite what he said in his Bar Ilan speech in 2009, deep in his heart he is against the creation of a Palestinian state; and as a political survivor, he will not dare follow Sharon’s footsteps, thus losing the right wing of his own party, Likud. We will have to wait for the next elections for the Israelis to elect a leader capable of keeping Israel both Jewish and democratic.

(Uri Dromi is director general of the Jerusalem Press Club, a former spokesman for the Rabin and Peres governments, and a retired colonel in the Israeli Air Force. He writes a column on Israeli affairs for the Miami Herald.)