How A Decade Of Netanyahu Has Reduced The Chances Of A 2-State Solution

Apr 5, 2019
Originally published on April 5, 2019 9:33 am
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Israelis go to the polls on Tuesday, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to get re-elected. He had served previously as prime minister in the 1990s, then fell out of power but has now led Israel again for the last decade. We're taking this opportunity to look at how Israel has changed over those 10 years. One difference, a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has become less likely. Here's NPR's Daniel Estrin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: I'm in the West Bank city of Hebron on the Jewish carnival holiday Purim. In the center of town, several hundred Israeli settlers live in guarded enclaves among a couple hundred thousand Palestinians. Today Palestinians are indoors while Israelis get ready to parade down the main street.

YISRAEL ZEEV: I think we're starting now. I've got to light my pipe.

ESTRIN: Yisrael Zeev is in costume as an American farmer. He moved here from Chicago 25 years ago. Around that time, on this same Jewish holiday and just down the street from us, an Israeli settler killed 29 Palestinians as they prayed. When Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister two years later, he allowed in international observers meant to make the Palestinians feel safer. A few months ago, Netanyahu kicked out the observer group called the Temporary International Presence in Hebron.

ZEEV: There was the Temporary International Presence in Hebron. And apparently, they were very temporary. And we're the permanent Israeli presence in Hebron.

ESTRIN: He's driving a float in the parade with a piece of an observer's uniform fluttering on a pole, like the flag of a vanquished enemy.

ZEEV: Everything's going in the right direction.

ESTRIN: Israel captured the West Bank in 1967, and both sides have historic ties there. Netanyahu's position on the West Bank has changed since he returned to power a decade ago. A few months into the job, he gave a speech that's become famous.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: For the first time, he publicly called for the creation of a Palestinian state. That was under pressure from then-President Obama, who wanted a Palestinian state alongside Israel - a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But it didn't stop Netanyahu from enlarging Jewish settlements in the occupied land. Hagit Ofran is with Peace Now, a watchdog group that looks at aerial photos and counts each and every settlement housing unit that's built.

HAGIT OFRAN: Every year, they build at least 2,000 units, which means thousands new settlers every year in West Bank. And if we want to have peace specifically where Netanyahu is building, it is in places that will be harder to compromise.

ESTRIN: Places deep in the West Bank - leaving the map of what could be left for a Palestinian state looking like Swiss cheese. By the time Netanyahu ran for re-election in 2015, he opposed a Palestinian state. And lately, he's planned more settlement construction with little opposition from President Trump. Political analyst Reuven Hazan says it's not just Netanyahu but the Israeli public that doesn't believe a peace deal is possible right now with instability in the region and a fractured Palestinian leadership.

REUVEN HAZAN: He has spoken to a country that has shifted to the right because the prospects of a peace partner or a viable peace process is not something that you can sell to the man or woman on the street, nor can you win an election on today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Foreign language spoken).

ESTRIN: In the run up to the elections, senior officials in Netanyahu's government released videos endorsing a policy once considered fringe. Instead of negotiating with Palestinians about the West Bank, they're calling for Israel to unilaterally annex parts of it. Netanyahu himself hasn't gone that far. But last week, he said Israel has the right to keep land it's captured in war. Palestinians see the chances of their own state slipping away.

MUFID SHARABATI: (Foreign language spoken).

ESTRIN: In Hebron, Palestinian Mufid Sharabati stands on his roof and counts the abandoned homes.

SHARABATI: (Through interpreter) I have around me here 10 houses that are empty.

ESTRIN: He says about 60 Palestinian families left the neighborhood in the last five years because life among Israeli settlers and soldiers feels impossible. There's been a recent wave of Palestinian stabbings against soldiers in the city and settler harassment of Palestinians too. He says he shows Israeli soldiers his assigned number, 711 - written in Sharpie on his I.D. cover - to get to his street.

SHARABATI: (Foreign language spoken).

ESTRIN: He calls it a ghetto. We leave this enclave and go to a Palestinian-only part of the city.

(SOUNBITE OF TURNSTYLE CLICKING)

ESTRIN: Now we're crossing through a turnstile - a checkpoint. Palestinian politics professor Assad Aweiwei waits for us on the other side. He's not allowed to cross through.

ASSAD AWEIWEI: This is apartheid politics. We must change the condition. We must be equal in this land. We can live together.

ESTRIN: He wants one shared state with Israelis, with Palestinians likely becoming the majority. But that would end the idea of a Jewish state. Back at the holiday parade, I meet Israeli Ophir Solonikov, visiting Hebron for the first time on his 50th birthday.

OPHIR SOLONIKOV: I'm happy I'm here on my birthday.

ESTRIN: He's not a Netanyahu voter or a settler. But in the last decade, Netanyahu's government invested in tourism, archeology, and educational tours to get more Israelis like him to visit Hebron, where Jewish tradition and Muslim tradition say Abraham is buried. Solonikov says he'd be willing to see Israel pay Palestinians to leave.

SOLONIKOV: I don't know, you know? If you do it in good will, it's a good idea.

ESTRIN: Paying Palestinians to leave.

SOLONIKOV: You don't kill them and you don't - you do it in a pleasant way. That's a win-win situation.

ESTRIN: Netanyahu doesn't embrace the two-state solution anymore. And many Israelis and Palestinians are embracing alternatives that sharply conflict with each other.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, the West Bank city of Hebron.

(SOUNDBITE OF ERIC LAU'S "STAR TREKKING")

MARTIN: This weekend, Daniel Estrin will report on how Netanyahu has broadened Israel's foreign alliances, in part by welcoming ties with nationalist leaders. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.