Noam Sheizaf points out that Israelis are not divided between those who support the two-state solution versus those who favor annexing the West Bank. What most Israelis prefer rather than any of the alternatives is the status quo — a situation in which Palestinians are deprived of human rights.
For some reason, people find it hard to accept that the current situation is desirable for Israelis. It certainly isn’t optimal, but considering the alternatives, it is probably the best.
It’s enough to come on a week’s visit to Israel to understand the appeal of the status quo. Despite occasional outbreaks of violence in the south and north, Israelis enjoy stability, prosperity and a general sense of security. According to the theory of “convincing Israelis to abandon the West Bank,” this was supposed to be the right moment for concessions, but the exact opposite is true: When things are going so well, it would be totally irrational to move in any other direction, either by annexing the West Bank or by leaving it.
Israelis understand that instinctively, regardless of what they say in polls on the desired solution to the conflict. Actually, even in polls, when faced with the option of maintaining the status quo, Israelis are likely to prefer it to the two-state solution. A Palestinian state becomes the preferable option only when presented on its own (“do you support/oppose…”) or when it is compared to annexing the West Bank.
See for example question 6 of the January 2012 Peace Index: A clear Jewish majority (57.3 percent) agrees with the following statement:
… even long-term continued rule in the territories will not prevent Israel from remaining a Jewish and democratic state.
This result is consistent with previous polls, I was told. In a panel I attended at Tel Aviv University, Prof. Ephraim Yaar, who runs the peace index, explained that Israelis’ political choices are irrational, since they don’t elect leaders that reflect their support for the two-state solution. But his own polls prove the opposite: that Israelis actually support the status-quo, and choose their leaders accordingly. The record-breaking support for Prime Minister Netanyahu, a man whose entire political history is a tale of maintaining the diplomatic status quo, can be easily explained in this framework, and so can the collapse of the parliamentary peace camp. There is not one Knesset party that has leaving the West Bank as the single most important issue on its agenda today – mainly because everyone knows that the public prefers the current state of affairs. So maybe it’s time to stop blaming the settlers alone.
But aren’t Israelis concerned about the long run? Well, when making political choices, most people don’t pay much attention to the long run, and politicians are even more likely to be focused on the immediate impact of their decisions. Anyway, the “unsustainable” occupation is proving itself to be pretty sustainable thus far. In the last decade, and especially since the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005– a move that was initiated, as Sharon himself said, in order to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank– Israel has been able to resist international pressure at a relatively low cost and maintain control over the territories it captured in 1967, while suffering the lowest number of casualties than at any other time. Never in its history has the gap – military, economic and in terms of international support – between Israel and its neighbors been so wide. The status-quo might not be perfect, but from the point of view of the average Israeli – not to mention that of his elected official – it represents the best alternative.
In other words, the major problem right now is that an inherently immoral order represents the most desirable political option for Israelis. All the left’s effort to demonstrate the problems the occupation creates – like the burden on the state budget – won’t help, since political choices are made based on alternative options, and right now the alternatives are more expensive, more painful, and more dangerous.
It should be noted that the status quo will remain the best option regardless of developments on the Palestinian side. Even if the Palestinians in the occupied territories recognize Israel as a Jewish state or vote Hamas out of office – even if they all join the Likud – from an Israeli cost/benefit perspective, keeping things as they are will remain preferable to the alternatives of either pulling out of the West Bank or to annexing it.