Tel Aviv — With reports that peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are faltering, figures from the fringes are jockeying to fill the vacuum they believe will result.
As a two-state solution fades, thinkers and activists currently viewed as marginal on both the left and the right, are preparing to wheel out projects that others might view as fantastical or utopian at best. But with the talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry now nearing the halfway point in the nine months Kerry has given them to succeed, the advocates say that now is the time to develop their proposals, however implausible they currently seem.
“There was no point doing this when the whole of the international community was under the magic spell of the two-state solution,” explained right-wing settler activist Dani Dayan, who serves as international envoy for the Yesha Council, the main umbrella group for Jewish settlers on the Israeli-occupied West Bank. “Now, when it is more and more evident that it will not happen, the time is coming to discuss alternatives.”
Activists on both ends of the spectrum envision the formal abolition of the so-called Green Line that marks off Israel’s pre-1967 internationally recognized borders from the territories Israel conquered that year in the Six Day War. And both sides are engaging in detailed advance planning on just what will come in the wake of this erasure.
Last January, a large conference took place to promote Israeli annexation of the West Bank. The Jewish Home party, which sits in the current government coalition, supports the idea. The conference included detailed discussions on what rights Palestinians would have if annexation took place. Speakers presented various ideas, including giving them full citizenship, giving them only permanent residence rights, and granting them residency while insisting that they be granted voting rights in Jordan.
Naftali Bennett, Israel’s economy and trade minister, and other prominent members of the ruling coalition have been pushing a plan under which Israel would annex a part of the West Bank known as Area C. This part constitutes 62% of the territory’s total land area, including its most fertile and resource-rich land, but it contains only an estimated 150,000 Arabs. Palestinians say that Israel has been forcing out the Palestinian population in this sector through denial of building permits and through land expropriations. But Bennett sees the sector’s current demographic character as the basis for launching a new post-negotiations initiative.
“There are 350,000 Israelis living in Area C and only 50,000 Arabs,” Bennett told Israel’s Ynetnews website in February 2012, before his election to public office. “They will become full-fledged Israeli citizens, and according to this plan, no one — neither a Jew nor an Arab — would be driven out of his home.”
Bennett continues to advocate for this idea actively, but now with the clout of a senior minister in the cabinet. This by itself greatly advances the proposal’s move from the fringes into Israel’s mainstream.
At the opposite end of the political spectrum, Israel’s left fringe is trying to break the taboo on Palestinians “returning” to sovereign Israel — and it just held a major conference of its own to discuss how this could work.
The two-day gathering, sponsored by the Jewish-run group Zochrot, advanced the argument that Palestinians with roots in cities, towns and villages that are now in sovereign Israel should be allowed to move back to these areas. In contrast to those who have simply argued this position in the past as a matter of principle, the gathering of 400 people, the majority of them Jewish Israelis, started tackling the specifics of how “return” would work on a practical level. The group even discussed what kind of locales the returners would inhabit.