Edited Transcript of Remarks by Professor John J. Mearsheimer
Transcript No. 327 (29 April 2010)

To view the video of this briefing online, go to
http://www.palestinecenter.org

The Palestine Center
Washington, D.C.
29 April 2010

Professor John Mearsheimer:

It is a great honor to be here at the Palestine Center to give the Sharabi Memorial Lecture. I would like to thank Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the Jerusalem Fund, for inviting me, and all of you for coming out to hear me speak this afternoon.

My topic is the future of Palestine, and by that I mean the future of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, or what was long ago called Mandatory Palestine. As you all know, that land is now broken into two parts: Israel proper or what is sometime called “Green Line” Israel and the Occupied Territories, which include the West Bank and Gaza. In essence, my talk is about the future relationship between Israel and the Occupied Territories.

Of course, I am not just talking about the fate of those lands; I am also talking about the future of the people who live there. I am talking about the future of the Jews and the Palestinians who are Israeli citizens, as well as the Palestinians who live in the Occupied Territories.

The story I will tell is straightforward. Contrary to the wishes of the Obama administration and most Americans – to include many American Jews – Israel is not going to allow the Palestinians to have a viable state of their own in Gaza and the West Bank. Regrettably, the two-state solution is now a fantasy. Instead, those territories will be incorporated into a “Greater Israel,” which will be an apartheid state bearing a marked resemblance to white-ruled South Africa. Nevertheless, a Jewish apartheid state is not politically viable over the long term. In the end, it will become a democratic bi-national state, whose politics will be dominated by its Palestinian citizens. In other words, it will cease being a Jewish state, which will mean the end of the Zionist dream.

Let me explain how I reached these conclusions.

Given present circumstances there are four possible futures for Palestine.

The outcome that gets the most attention these days is the two-state solution, which was described in broad outline by President Clinton in late December 2000. It would obviously involve creating a Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel. To be viable, that Palestine state would have to control 95 percent or more of the West Bank and all of Gaza. There would also have to be territorial swaps to compensate the Palestinians for those small pieces of West Bank territory that Israel got to keep in the final agreement. East Jerusalem would be the capital of the new Palestinian state. The Clinton Parameters envisioned certain restrictions on the new state’s military capabilities, but it would control the water beneath it, the air space above it, and its own borders – to include the Jordan River Valley.

There are three possible alternatives to a two-state solution, all of which involve creating a Greater Israel – an Israel that effectively controls the West Bank and Gaza.

In the first scenario, Greater Israel would become a democratic bi-national state in which Palestinians and Jews enjoy equal political rights. This solution has been suggested by a handful of Jews and a growing number of Palestinians. However, it would mean abandoning the original Zionist vision of a Jewish state, since the Palestinians would eventually outnumber the Jews in Greater Israel.

Second, Israel could expel most of the Palestinians from Greater Israel, thereby preserving its Jewish character through an overt act of ethnic cleansing. This is what happened in 1948 when the Zionists drove roughly 700,000 Palestinians out of the territory that became the new state of Israel, and then prevented them from returning to their homes. Following the Six Day War in 1967, Israel expelled between 100,000 and 260,000 Palestinians from the newly conquered West Bank and drove 80,000 Syrians from the Golan Heights. The scale of the expulsion, however, would have to be even greater this time, because there are about 5.5 million Palestinians living between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.

The final alternative to a two-state solution is some form of apartheid, whereby Israel increases its control over the Occupied Territories, but allows the Palestinians to exercise limited autonomy in a set of disconnected and economically crippled enclaves.

It seems clear to me that the two-state solution is the best of these alternative futures. This is not to say that it is an ideal solution, because it is not; but it is by far the best outcome for both the Israelis and the Palestinians, as well as the United States. That is why the Obama administration is intensely committed to pushing it.

Nevertheless, the Palestinians are not going to get their own state anytime soon. They are instead going to end up living in an apartheid state dominated by Israeli Jews.

The main reason that a two-state solution is no longer a serious option is that most Israelis are opposed to making the sacrifices that would be necessary to create a viable Palestinian state, and there is little reason to expect them to have an epiphany on this issue. For starters, there are now about 480,000 settlers in the Occupied Territories and a huge infrastructure of connector and bypass roads, not to mention settlements. Much of that infrastructure and large numbers of those settlers would have to be removed to create a Palestinian state. Many of those settlers however, would fiercely resist any attempt to rollback the settlement enterprise. Earlier this month, Ha’aretz reported that a Hebrew University poll found that 21 percent of the settlers believe that “all means must be employed to resist the evacuation of most West Bank settlements, including the use of arms.” In addition, the study found that 54 percent of those 480,000 settlers “do not recognize the government’s authority to evacuate settlements”; and even if there was a referendum sanctioning a withdrawal, 36 percent of the settlers said they would not accept it.

Those settlers, however, do not have to worry about the present government trying to remove them. Prime Minister Netanyahu is committed to expanding the settlements in East Jerusalem and indeed throughout the West Bank. Of course, he and virtually everyone in his cabinet are opposed to giving the Palestinians a viable state of their own. Larry Derfner, a columnist for the Jerusalem Post, succinctly summed up Netanyahu’s thinking about these matters in a recent column: “For him to divide the land, to divide Jerusalem, to give up Hebron, to send 100,000 settlers packing – that would be treason in his eyes. That would be moral suicide. His heart isn’t in it; everything in him rebels at the idea. Our prime minister is constitutionally incapable of leading the nation out of the Palestinians’ midst, of fighting the settlers and the Right in a virtual or literal civil war, of persuading Israelis to admit that on the crucial endeavor of their national life for the past 43 years, they were wrong and the world was right.”

One might argue that there are prominent Israelis like former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who openly disagree with Netanyahu and advocate a two-state solution. While this is true, it is by no means clear that either of them would be willing or able to make the concessions that would be necessary to create a legitimate Palestinian state. Certainly Olmert did not do so when he was prime minister.

But even if they were, it is unlikely that either of those leaders, or anyone else for that matter, could get enough of their fellow citizens to back an effective two-state solution. The political center of gravity in Israel has shifted sharply to the right over the past decade and there is no sizable pro-peace political party or movement that they could turn to for help. Probably the best single indicator of how far to the right Israel has moved in recent years is the shocking fact that Avigdor Lieberman is employed as its foreign minister. Even Martin Peretz of the New Republic, who is well known for his unyielding support for Israel, describes Lieberman as “a neo-fascist,” and equates him with the late Austrian fascist Jorg Haider. And there are other individuals in Netanyahu’s cabinet who share many of Lieberman’s views about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; they just happen to be less outspoken than the foreign minister.

But even if someone like Livni or Olmert was able to cobble together a coalition of interest groups and political parties that favored giving the Palestinians a real state of their own, they would still face fierce resistance from the sizeable forces that stand behind Netanyahu today. It is even possible, which is not to say likely, that Israel would be engulfed by civil war if some future leader made a serious attempt to implement a two-state solution. An individual with the stature of David Ben-Gurion or Ariel Sharon – or even Yitzhak Rabin – might be able to stand up to those naysayers and push forward a two-state solution, but there is nobody with that kind of standing in Israeli politics today.

In addition to these practical political obstacles to creating a Palestinian state, there is an important ideological barrier. From the start, Zionism envisioned an Israeli state that controlled all of Mandatory Palestine. There was no place for a Palestinian state in the original Zionist vision of Israel. Even Yitzhak Rabin, who was determined to make the Oslo peace process work, never spoke about creating a Palestinian state. He was merely interested in granting the Palestinians some form of limited autonomy, what he called “an entity which is less than a state.” Plus, he insisted that Israel should maintain control over the Jordan River Valley and that a united Jerusalem should be the capital of Israel. Also remember that in the spring of 1998 when Hillary Clinton was First Lady, she was sharply criticized for saying that “it would be in the long-term interests of peace in the Middle East for there to be a state of Palestine, a functioning modern state on the same footing as other states.”

It was not until after Ehud Barak became prime minister in 1999 that Israeli leaders began to speak openly about the possibility of a Palestinian state. But even then, not all of them thought it was a good idea and hardly any of them were enthusiastic about it. Even Barak, who seriously flirted with the idea of creating a Palestinian state at Camp David in July 2000, initially opposed the Oslo Accords. Furthermore, he has been willing to serve as Netanyahu’s defense minister, knowing full well that the prime minister and his allies are opposed to creating an independent Palestine. All of this is to say that Zionism’s core beliefs are deeply hostile to the very notion of a Palestinian state, and this makes it difficult for many Israelis to embrace the two-state solution.

In short, it is difficult to imagine any Israeli government having the political will, much less the ability, to dismantle a substantial portion of its vast settlement enterprise and create a Palestinian state in virtually all of the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem.

For the whole transcript, click here.