Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has proclaimed his support for a two-state solution, and has been quite clear about the conditions that would have to be met for such a solution. But now, just a day before Israelis head to the polls, he abruptly proclaimed that there would be no Palestinian state while he is prime minister: “I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands, is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the state of Israel.”
Over at The Atlantic, Adam Chandler sees it as “last minute reversal.” Though it’s understandable that many people would think so, I don’t think Netanyahu has reversed his position at all. His last-minute “reversal” was simply a recognition of reality. With Iran on the ascendant and ISIS far from defeat, with Hamas arming yet again for war and the Palestinian Authority as truculent as ever, the necessary pre-conditions for a peaceful agreement leading to a two-state solution are now so far away that he can safely predict there will be no two-state solution this decade.
He might have driven the point home still more strongly if he had pointed out that there will be no two-state solution under any of his opponents either. There is simply no way that either Palestinians or Israelis can agree to undertake the commitments and risks necessary for a two-state solution now. Netanyahu was courting right-wing votes with his last-minute declaration, Chandler is undoubtedly right about that, and by risking the appearance of a reversal (and almost certainly another rebuke from the White House) he may indeed be showing some panic. But the fact remains that Netanyahu can pledge that there will be no Palestinian state as long as he is prime minister without “reversing” his ultimate goal of a two-state solution. He is merely being predictive in one case and aspirational in the other.
Incidentally, among the factors pushing the two-state solution away is President Barack Obama himself, who far from shaping the necessary strategic foundations for peace, has only undermined them, among other things by enhancing Iranian influence when the two-state solution requires radically diminishing Iranian influence. With no peace settlement anywhere in sight, Israel’s government has settled into a long-term strategy of reactive perimeter-defense, in no more of a hurry to reach an agreement than its Palestinian counterparts, which is to say no hurry at all.
In the meantime, the Israeli election is just the start of a process that could take many weeks to play out. Netanyahu could fare badly and still be invited by Israel’s president to form a coalition government as prime minister. And even if he is soundly trounced and the next prime minister is someone from the left, nothing about the strategic reality of the situation is going to change. The two-state solution is as far away as ever, and nothing that happens inside of Israel this year or next will bring it any closer.