Mitt Romney’s No-State Solution
In the surreptitiously recorded video, Mr. Romney can be heard asserting that “the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish,” because “the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace” and remain “committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel.” He then cast doubt on the viability of a Palestinian state, given the region’s geography:
Rather than search of a solution, Mr. Romney said, “you hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem.” Comparing the open-ended crisis to the co-existence of China and Taiwan, Mr. Romney added: “we have a potentially volatile situation, but we sort of live with it and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.”
Some might say, ‘Well, just let the Palestinians have the West Bank, and have security, and set up a separate nation for the Palestinians. And then come a couple of thorny questions. I don’t have a map here to look at the geography, but the border between Israel and the West Bank is obviously right there, right next to Tel Aviv, which is the financial capital, the industrial capital of Israel, the center of Israel. It’s what? The border would be, maybe seven miles from Tel Aviv to what would be the West Bank. …
The other side of the West Bank, the other side of what would be this new Palestinian state would either be Syria at one point or Jordan. And of course the Iranians would want to do through the West Bank exactly what they did through Lebanon, what they did in Gaza, which is, the Iranians would want to bring missiles and armament into the West Bank and potentially threaten Israel. So Israel of course would have to say, ‘That can’t happen. We’ve got to keep the Iranians from bringing weaponry into the West Bank.’
Well, that means that — who? The Israelis are going to patrol the border between Jordan, Syria, and this new Palestinian nation? Well, the Palestinians would say, “No way! We’re an independent country. You can’t, you know, guard our border with other Arab nations.” And now how about the airport? How about flying into this Palestinian nation? Are we going to allow military aircraft to come in and weaponry to come in? And if not, who’s going to keep it from coming in? Well, the Israelis. Well, the Palestinians are going to say, ‘We’re not an independent nation if Israel is able to come in and tell us what can land in our airport.’
These are problems, and they’re very hard to solve, all right? And I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say, “There’s just no way.”
Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of The Palestine Center in Washington, was scathing in his response.
Mr. Romney’s frank remarks, which undercut even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s public endorsement of “a solution of two states for two peoples: a Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state,” seemed to break from decades of official American foreign policy. Since before the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, Republican and Democratic presidents have thrown their weight behind the effort to secure Israel’s future as a democratic state with a Jewish majority by creating a second state for up 2.5 million Palestinians who have lived under Israeli military rule for more than four decades.
Critics of the two-state solution, however, have argued in recent years that Israel’s determination to hold on to large settlement blocks in the West Bank has made the creation of a viable Palestinian state there almost impossible.
In an interview with The Lede on Tuesday, the Palestinian-American activist Ali Abunimah said that there was “nothing Earth-shattering” in what Mr. Romney said. “In substance, I don’t see it being very different than Obama’s approach,” he said.
Mr. Abunimah, who advocates what is known as the one-state solution — in which Palestinians and Israelis would live together in a shared, democratic country — suggested that “there is an agreement among all political parties in the U.S. to pay lip service to a political settlement and a negotiated two-state solution, but if any one of them was speaking frankly,” they would almost certainly agree with Mr. Romney’s assessment. In the absence of progress toward a negotiated settlement, Mr. Abunimah observed, there is general agreement among political leaders on all sides in the region that “we’re in a stage of so-called conflict management.”
Two decades after the Oslo Accords, Mr. Abunimah said, the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the occupied West Bank, “needs to maintain the fiction that it is providing momentum toward Palestinian independence,” while, in fact, “they exist in order to keep a lid on the situation.”
As the peace process has ground to a halt, support for some sort of one-state solution seems to have become more common in the region. According to a recent poll, cited by Mr. Abunimah in July, almost a third of Israelis and Palestinians agreed that “there is a need to begin to think about a solution of a one state for two people in which Arabs and Jews enjoy equality.”
Edward W. Said, the renowned Palestinian professor, made the case for abandoning the two-state goal more than a decade ago, writing in The New York Times Magazine in January 1999: “it is time to question whether the entire process begun in Oslo in 1993 is the right instrument for bringing peace between Palestinians and Israelis. It is my view that the peace process has in fact put off the real reconciliation that must occur if the hundred-year war between Zionism and the Palestinian people is to end. Oslo set the stage for separation, but real peace can come only with a binational Israeli-Palestinian state.”
In the absence of a negotiated solution, the search for an alternative arrangement has even led some political leaders on Israel’s right to flirt with a form of the one-state solution. As the Israeli journalist and blogger Noam Sheizaf reported in 2010, members of Mr. Netanyahu’s own Likud Party have suggested that they would rather annex the entire West Bank, including Jerusalem, and give Palestinians full civil and political rights than force more than 500,000 Israeli settlers to abandon their homes.
Mr. Romney’s argument about the region’s geography also seemed to echoremarks made last year by Mr. Netanyahu, who told President Obama last year that Israel “cannot go back to the 1967 lines,” because the country’s borders before it seized the West Bank and East Jerusalem that year were “indefensible.” In an address to Congress the same week, Mr. Netanyahu insisted that, in any negotiated settlement, it would be “absolutely vital for Israel’s security that a Palestinian state be fully demilitarized. And it is vital that Israel maintain a long-term military presence along the Jordan River.”
As The Lede reported at the time, not all Israelis agree that a Palestinian state on the entire West Bank would pose a mortal threat to Israel. Martin van Creveld, a leading Israeli military historian, explained why in an essay for The Forward in late 2010 headlined, “Israel Doesn’t Need the West Bank to Be Secure.”
After dealing in detail with the ways that a nuclear-armed Israel could neutralize any military threat from an independent Palestinian state, Mr. van Creveld suggested that continuing the military occupation of the West Bank indefinitely, the approach that Mr. Romney explicitly endorsed in another part of his recorded comments, would be a greater threat to Israel’s security than ceding the entire territory.
“Strategically speaking,” Mr. van Creveld wrote, the risk of giving up the West Bank “is negligible.” He continued: “What is not negligible is the demographic, social, cultural and political challenge that ruling over 2.5 million — nobody knows exactly how many — occupied Palestinians in the West Bank poses. Should Israeli rule over them continue, then the country will definitely turn into what it is already fast becoming: namely, an apartheid state that can only maintain its control by means of repressive secret police actions.”
Update | 5:50 p.m. In a post about Mr. Romney’s remarks for the Israeli news blog +972, Ami Kaufman points out that, in another part of the recording obtained by Mother Jones, the candidate talks about the fact that his campaign team includes some “extraordinarily experienced, highly successful consultants… they do races all over the world: in Armenia, in Africa, in Israel. I mean, they work for Bibi Netanyahu.”
Video of Mitt Romney mentioning that his campaign consultants have worked in Israel.
As my colleague Michael Barbaro reported in April, Mr. Romney boasted about his friendship with Mr. Netanyahu during a Republican primary debatelast year. Responding to disparaging remarks about the Palestinians by his rival Newt Gingrich — who called them an “invented” people with no particular claim on the territory they live on today — Mr. Romney said: “before I made a statement of that nature, I’d get on the phone to my friend Bibi Netanyahu and say, ‘Would it help if I said this? What would you like me to do? Let’s work together, because we’re partners.’ I’m not a bomb thrower, rhetorically or literally.”