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Opposites Attract

The Israeli far-right converges with the anti-Zionist left.

It is an old adage that political opposites converge. But when it actually happens, it’s still a surprise. And in the last year or so, in Israel, it did: Extreme hawks on the right, and extreme anti-Zionists on the left, seem to have arrived at more or less the same plan for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The surprising change came from the right, which so far was vague on its vision of the future. What the moderate left wanted was clear for many years: a two-state solution. What the extreme anti-Zionist left wanted was also clear: accepting the Arab position which was in place ever since the idea of partition was first put on the table, back in the 1930s: one democratic state over the whole of Palestine. In the 1930s and 1940s Palestinians favored that solution since they were the clear majority. Those Palestinians who still favor it, favor it because they assume—rightly—that they will eventually be a majority. The anti-Zionist left adopts that position.

But what was exactly the endgame of the right? The right was explicit about what it didn’t want—partition—but not about what it did want. By building and supporting settlement it aimed to block the road to partition, but it also refused to annex the territories. Annexation would mean extending Israel’s constitutional framework into the territories, which would entail granting the Arab population there the same political rights that their brethren in Israel proper have, thus risking the loss of the Jewish majority. And without a clear Jewish majority, the very idea of a Jewish democratic state makes no sense.

Some on the radical right, especially among religious settlers, were content to drop the democratic from a Jewish democratic state. In effect that meant extending the legal structure of the occupation into Israel proper, rather than vice versa. The state would then become an official apartheid. But for most on the right, this was never an option, for both ethical and practical reasons. Likud was and is anchored in the democratic worldview, and most of its politicians also know that Israel will not survive if it loses its moral legitimacy in the West. So the right was stuck with refusing partition, but without any vision for a viable alternative.

This finally drove Benjamin Netanyahu to formally declare support for the two-state solution, though his declaration seems to have fallen short of complete honesty. It is clear by now that under the cover of this formal stance, he is doing his best to prevent it from materializing.

Surprisingly, however, some on his side of the political divide have come to the conclusion that they can no longer be content with refusals, and moved to offer their view of the solution. Young religious Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely, old guard Likudnik and current chairman of the Knesset Reuven (Rubi) Rivlin, and former Likud minister of defense Moshe Arens, along with settler leader and former Netanyahu aide Uri Elitzur, have all publicly endorsed annexation. The novelty is that they also concede that this would mean granting the residents of the territories full citizenship. They have thus come full-circle to accept the one-state vision of the anti-Zionist left: a single democracy over the whole of mandatory Palestine.

How will that state remain Jewish, in their view? Well, it’s not exactly clear. Relying on some of the most optimistic demographic statistics—controversial at best—they have calculated that Jews will still retain a more or less 60 percent majority. So on paper, Zionism is safe, at least in the short run.

This new trend on the right should be commended for its new honesty. But not for its realism. Even if their calculations are right, a 40 percent Arab minority will de facto mean an unworkable bi-national state, and it is naïve to think that the Palestinians will give up their aspirations for national independence. So perhaps we should commend these pioneers of the right for something else entirely: for exposing the fact that holding on to the territories is not an extension of Zionism, but an undermining of Zionism; that the Greater Israel ideology is no less an ideological enemy of Zionism than is the anti-Zionist left. Opposites indeed converge, even if they do not mean to.

Gadi Taub is an assistant professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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