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A lot of liberals and other Palestine supporters make the following argument about Israel's control of the West Bank: Currently, the Palestinian people living in the Israeli-controlled territory in the West Bank do not have any say over the government that rules them. If Israel wants to maintain its control, it has two options. It can give those people the ability to vote in Israeli elections, in which case the Israeli electorate will become rapidly dominated by Palestinians, thus eliminating Israel's status as a Jewish state. Or it can indefinitely deny those people the ability to have any control over their government, in which case Israel would lose its status as a democratic country. Thus, the argument goes, the only reasonable alternative Israel has is to leave the West Bank.

My question is, what has Israel's response to this argument been? Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud (the current ruling party in Israel) seem to be opposed to leaving the West Bank, so what is their long-term plan? Do they plan to give up the West Bank at some point in the future, and if not do they plan to give Palestinians the ability to vote?

  • I'll craft you a response, though it's sort of tangentially answered in politics.stackexchange.com/questions/1838/… – Avi Dec 30 '13 at 6:10
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    Also, I wouldn't necessarily conflate liberals with Palestine supporters. While supporters of Palestine will tend to be on the left, in America at least, it isn't necessarily the case that those on the left will support Palestine. – Avi Dec 30 '13 at 6:26
  • @Avi My experience has been that the vast majority of non-Jewish liberals are Palestine supporters. I'm certainly not aware of any non-Jewish liberal who's a Netanyahu supporter, for instance. – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 30 '13 at 7:02
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    that's somewhat of a false dichotomy. One can support Israel and not Netanyahu specifically. In fact, most people I know fall into that category. Anyways, I wrote you a rather long answer. It details Israel's history of offers to the Palestinians which is intended to reinforce the notion that Israel does intend to create a Palestinian state. – Avi Dec 30 '13 at 7:05
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The long term plan of the Israeli government is to create a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. This is even the stance of current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who, in the Bar-Ilan speech, expressed support for a two-state solution. This came as a bit of a surprise, as Likud has traditionally been opposed to a two-state solution, as are many of its supporters. However, as you point out, the demographics make it impossible for Israel to exist as a democratic and Jewish state while absorbing all of the West Bank and Gaza.

Creating a Palestinian state became the policy of the Israeli government in 1993 with the Oslo Accords. The Oslo Accords created the Palestinian National Authority, and granted this new government partial sovereignty over most of Gaza and around half of the West Bank. Though final status talks were set to occur in 1996, they did not start until 2000. Those talks did not result in the creation of a Palestinian state, as the Palestinians rejected all Israeli offers.

In the 2000 Camp David Summit, Israel offered the Palestinians around 90% of the West Bank. Israel would retain its settlement blocks in the West Bank, and give Palestinians control over all of Gaza. Israel would also transfer some land from its side of the Green Line. Israel would grant Palestine sovereignty over the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed in 1967, and would grant Palestine "custodianship", though not sovereignty, over the top of the Temple Mount, where the Dome of the Rock is. The Palestinians rejected this, demanding land equivalent in size to the entirety of the West Bank, and full sovereignty over all of East Jerusalem, including Jewish holy sites like the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. Arafat also demanded that all 4 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants be allowed to return to Israel, which would make Arabs a majority in Israel.

After the failure of the Camp David talks to produce a final status agreement, President Clinton proposed parameters for an agreement. In the Clinton Parameters, Israel would retain around 5% of the West Bank and 80% of its settlers. The Palestinians would not demand full "right of return" for Palestinian refugees and their descendants, and sovereignty over holy sites in East Jerusalem would be granted to either Israel or Palestine, depending on the site. Israel accepted these parameters, with reservations that Clinton said were inside the parameters. Arafat claimed to accept these parameters, but Clinton said that Arafat's reservations were outside the Parameters.

More recently, in 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made an offer to the Palestinians that would meet their demand of land equivalent to the entirety of the West Bank. Israel would retain most of its settlement population in the settlement blocs, but transfer an equal amount of land from inside Israel's side of the green line in exchange for the land upon which the settlements were established. Olmert also offered to accept a small number of Palestinian refugees and descendents back into Israel, but created a fund to monetarily compensate refugees or descendants who could not return, in accordance with UN Resolution 194, which called for compensation for refugees who could not return to Israel. Olmert offered international sovereignty over the holy sites in East Jerusalem, where sovereignty would be shared by Israel, Jordan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. Abbas, the Palestinian Prime Minister, rejected this offer, refusing to allow Israel to retain the settlement bloc of Ariel. You can find a map of this offer here.

All of these offers have required Palestine to demilitarize, and Netanyahu's recent offers have required that Palestine accept Israel as a Jewish state and not attempt to change that via demographics. Abbas publicly accepted Israel's demand for a demilitarized state.

As you can see, a number of Israeli governments from across the political spectrum have offered the Palestinians a state in the West Bank and Gaza. It should therefore be clear that Israel intends to resolve the conflict with two states.

However (and you should be warned that there is a certain amount of conjecture here), Israelis and the current Israeli government have been less eager to establish a Palestinian state than they may have been in the past. Netanyahu has insisted on troops in the Jordan Valley for many years after the establishment of a Palestinian state. This is like because the security fence around the West Bank has lead to a dramatic reduction in terrorist attacks, meaning that the government is less likely to view the establishment of a Palestinian state as immediately necessarily to Israeli security interests. Combined with concerns that the West Bank could turn into a hotbed for terrorism like Gaza did after Israel's disengagement, and Netanyahu may be reluctant to agree to a deal that could sacrifice Israel's current security.

However, the majority of Israelis support a two state solution, Israel has offered Palestine a state several times, it is the stance of the current government that the conflict should be resolved via two states, and Israel is currently in negotiations over a final status agreement that would establish a Palestinian state, so we can conclude that Israel's "long term plan" in the West Bank is to establish a Palestinian state over almost all of it.

  • But what is the plan for the territory in the West Bank that Israel does ultimately want to keep control of, and the Palestinians who live there? Would they be given Israeli citizenship and the ability to vote? – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 30 '13 at 7:16
  • Israel plans to annex it and make it part of Israel. Very few Palestinians live in those areas: the settlement blocs are overwhelmingly comprised of Jews. But they would likely be given full citizenship, and Israel offered citizenship the the residents of the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem when those were annexed. – Avi Dec 30 '13 at 7:17
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    I thought, in the question, you were referring to the West Bank as a whole. The parts Israel wants to keep permanently comprise no more than 7% of the West Bank, and comprise only a few percent (single digits) of the Palestinian population of the West Bank, who are almost entirely in East Jerusalem and areas already under Palestinian control. I can put these things in my answer if you want. – Avi Dec 30 '13 at 7:18
  • Are there any right-wingers in Israel who do not want to ultimately give the West Bank to a new Palestinian state? A lot of right-wingers in the US make the argument that West Bank constitutes "ancient Judea and Samaria", and that it must always remain under Israeli control. If there are such people in Israel, what is their plan for Palestinians living in the West Bank? – Keshav Srinivasan Jan 4 '14 at 21:29
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    @Mohit A couple of things. First, that statement was over a year after I wrote this answer. Second, this question asks about Israel's longer term plan. If Netanyahu is unwilling to create a Palestinian state under present conditions that is certainly unfortunate, but doesn't change the inevitability of the creation of a Palestinian state in most of the West Bank in the long term. – Avi Apr 17 '15 at 20:30
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Israel has four options:

  • Return to pre-1967 borders
  • Annex the West Bank
  • Make a deal with the Palestinians
  • Continue the occupation

The first option is strongly opposed by a majority of Israelis. Many see the land as theirs and a civil war or coup would be likely if a government intended such a plan.

The second option, as Avi explained, is also not desirable because Jews would hardly be a majority after that.

The third option has been considered but because the Palestinians want more than the Israelis are willing to return, it has so far led nowhere.

Netanyahu's position is that "there will be no Palestinian state". This is his current position and pretty much disavows what he said in the 2009 Bar Ilan speech.

Note that Netanyahu is a politician, so when he meets peace activists he will say things that make them happy and when he meets settlers completely different things.

But when it comes to doing, rather than saying, Netanyahu has choosen the fourth option which is to continue the occupation and building more settlements. The Palestinian leadership have stated that a settlement freeze is a pre-condition for negotiations but the Netanyahu government has not stopped building settlements, ergo it is not interested in negotiations.

Think of it like this: If you are my trainer and I say "I want to have big muscles!" and you answer "Cool! Are you prepared to work out eight hours peer week to get them?" and I say "Nah, I only want to exercise five minutes per week..." Would you, as my trainer, believe that I really am interested in getting big muscles? :)

Netanyahu also has public support of this fourth option. According to the Peace Index poll 55% of the Jewish public prefers continued Israeli rule over Palestinians.

The long-term plan of the government is to keep the situation as it is. The rest of the world sees Palestine as under belligerent military occupation, but it is not seen in the same light in Israel. Many settlements feel just as Israeli as regular Israeli cities within the borders of the state. The prevailing view among Jewish Israelis is that the situation has been going on for close to 50 years and that it is working. It can go on for 50 years more.

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