Being an admirer of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, I read with interest a recent column of his in The New York Times about the Palestine situation. One thing that particularly caught my attention was his reference to a phrase in the original platform of Likud, the political party led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The phrase reads “between the Sea and the Jordan there will only be Israeli sovereignty.”
It is intriguingly similar to “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a mantra that has created quite a furor. The users of this phrase say it simply expresses equality for all inhabitants of historic Palestine. Critics insist that it negates Israel’s existence and is, therefore, anti-Semitic. Germany has banned it.
Whatever the “Palestine” phrase means, there is no doubt what the “Israeli” phrase means—Israel will control all of Palestine. There will be no independent Palestinian state. Likud has wavered on this over the years but there can be no doubt that the current government believes in precisely what the phrase says. In Sander’s article, he points out that last year saw record settlement growth in the West Bank.
The most important point in the article is that justice for the Palestinians cannot be left to the two parties alone. Toward advancing a two-state solution, he states, “The United States, the international community and Israel’s neighbours must move aggressively toward that goal.”
He emphasizes that the United States in particular must squeeze Israel, saying “the only way these necessary changes will happen is if the United States uses the substantial leverage we have with Israel. … The blank check approach must end.”
I have elsewhere expressed my doubts about whether the endlessly hyped two-state solution is still possible, but the gist of what Sanders is saying is critical. The Palestinians must be liberated and the international community must see to it. This is the best, the only, way to ensure peace and security for both peoples.
There are three reasons it cannot be left solely to Israel and the Palestinians.
First, Israel has all the leverage. They have the army and they control all the land. Asking the Palestinians to negotiate under these conditions is asking them to negotiate on their knees. The U.S. (and Canada) have surely understood this, making one wonder if the idea all along was to coerce the Palestinians into an agreement that served Israel’s interests and not their own.
The second reason is that the current Israeli government has no intention of allowing independence for the Palestinians. Someone has to change their mind and the U.S. is probably the only power that can.
And thirdly, leaving it to the two parties has been a miserable failure for 75 years—three generations. The situation has only gotten worse. It is too important, too dangerous, too unjust to the Palestinians, to be anything less than an international imperative.