Israel has been increasingly isolating itself from other countries through many policies, including its continued program of building Israeli settlements in the West Bank. With these continued settlements, a peaceful agreement between Israel and the Palestinians for a two-state solution seems quite remote. But the recent Israeli parliamentary election — and President Barack Obama’s nominations of Chuck Hagel and John Kerry for Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State, respectively — give renewed hope for a two-state solution. The U.S. must exert its influence with Israel in order to achieve a two-state solution in Obama’s second term. If a peace agreement is not reached during Obama’s second term, a solution for long-term peace between Israel and the Palestinians may never be reached.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was leader of Israel’s Likud party during the last parliamentary government, has been a staunch advocate for constructing Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Yet in 2009 he stated, “I want to advance a peace agreement with the Palestinians. I am capable of achieving an agreement. I have the political will inside me.” Netanyahu’s assertion of wanting a peace deal is in stark contrast to his advocacy for building settlements in the West Bank and the main Likud party platform in 2008. According to Ynet, a popular Israeli news source, the 2008 party platform included, “Palestinians will be able to manage their lives freely … but not as a sovereign, independent state” and the “Jordan River will be the State of Israel’s permanent border.”
If Netanyahu wants to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians, then the Palestinians must be allowed to have their own viable state. In addition, when one looks at a map, it becomes clear if the Jordan River constituted the border of Israel, then there could be no future Palestinian state. This is because both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are west of the Jordan River, and according to the 2008 Likud platform, “Israel will not allow the establishment of an Arab Palestinian state west of the Jordan River.” Thus, Netanyahu may have said he wants to establish long lasting peace, but his actions suggest otherwise.
Not only are the Israeli settlements in the West Bank an impediment to peace and a two-state solution with the Palestinians, they are being constructed in violation of international law. As international lawyer John McHugo wrote, “Since the 1920s, international law no longer [recognizes] that a state can acquire title to territory by conquest.” When Israel was recognized as a nation-state and a member of the United Nations in 1949, its territory did not include the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. Thus, it cannot construct settlements in the West Bank because, in essence, Israel is trying to acquire territory that is not theirs. Furthermore, the U.N. and the European Union consider the West Bank to be Israeli-occupied territory.
Israel has continued to isolate itself diplomatically from other countries by constructing settlements in the West Bank to the anger of the international community at large. Yet, with Israel’s parliamentary election last week, there is a possibility for change. Netanyahu’s Likud party combined with the Yisrael Beiteinu party — forming the Likud-Beiteinu party — in last week’s election. The new party lost seats in Israel’s parliament and, as a result, has been weakened politically. Although the Likud-Beiteinu party won the most seats in parliament, right-wing and ultra-orthodox religious political parties still have fewer seats in parliament than in 2009.
This gives Netanyahu two main choices. He can do what he did in 2009 — form a parliamentary coalition with right-wing and ultra-orthodox religious political parties to form a government — or he can decide to try to form a new parliamentary coalition that includes the new centrist Yesh Atid party, which took second place in last week’s election. If Netanyahu does the latter, there is a chance the Israeli government will try to negotiate a peace agreement with the Palestinians. If he does the former, the construction of West Bank settlements is bound to accelerate even more, further hurting the chances of a two-state solution.
The U.S. cannot and must not wait for the Israeli government to negotiate a peace agreement. It is the duty of the U.S. to exert its influence with Israel — arguably its number one ally — to establish a peaceful two-state solution between the Palestinians and Israel. Both of Obama’s recent cabinet nominations, Hagel and Kerry, support the state of Israel and its security. At the same time, both Hagel and Kerry support of the right of the Palestinian people to have a future viable state. As Hagel said in a speech in 2002, “Israel is our friend and ally, and we must continue our commitment, but not at the expense of the Palestinian people.”
Time is short for a two-state solution. Israel’s right-wing parliamentary coalition, which has interpreted the Bible so literally as to believe Israel’s border must coincide with the Jordan River, has been weakened politically — for now — and Obama’s two nominees strongly believe in a Palestinian state. If a solution is not reached in Obama’s second term, an equitable and fair solution may be forever out of reach. This opportunity for peace must not be wasted.
Aaron Loudenslager ([email protected]) is a first year law student.