The power imbalance between Israel and Palestine has become so severe that any hope of a two-state solution has all but disappeared. As the clear authority in this one-state reality, Israel is responsible for providing equal rights to all and restraining its use of force.
By Shane O’Callaghan 25 May 2021
Following the attempted removal of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem and the resulting violence that recently ended in a ceasefire agreement, it is clear that Israel is unlikely to agree to a two-state solution anytime soon. Although Israel rejects the international community’s assertion that it has legal obligations as an occupying power under international law, as a powerful nation that claims to value human rights, it has a moral obligation to treat all those living there equally and exercise restraint in the use of force.
Though widely condemned and not internationally recognized, the reality is that Israel has clear control of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights. Palestinian journalist and foreign policy analyst Rula Jebreal articulated this on a recent episode of the popular foreign policy podcast Pod Save the World saying, “Israel controls the whole land. It controls it from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea. Israel is in charge of the whole population. It is a one-state reality.”
Israel’s military and policing capabilities in East Jerusalem and beyond allow it to exercise authority over all those inhabiting these areas. The brutal police response to Palestinian protests and the lopsided number of casualties resulting from recent attacks by each side has made this abundantly clear. Even those who dispute Israel’s right to carry out evictions in East Jerusalem have unintentionally recognized its authority to do so. By appealing the evictions to the higher courts of Israel, the plaintiffs have legitimized Israel’s ability to adjudicate on such matters. Unfortunately for the Palestinians, reality does not require international recognition, and Ms. Jebreal is right–it has become a one-state reality.
The United States’ continued support of Israel’s one-state reality has made a two-state solution even more unlikely. In fact, it is the military aid from the United States that has created this imbalance in the first place. The United States provides nearly $4 billion worth of military aid per year, almost 75% of which has to be spent on American-made military equipment. This has allowed Israel to procure some of the most advanced weaponry in the world, including the Iron Dome missile defense system that intercepts most of the rockets being fired into the country from Gaza. Despite opposition from some in the Democratic Party, President Biden recently approved the sale of $735 million in precision-guided weapons to Israel, reaffirming the unconditional support of the US for Israel.
On top of the military aid, the US’ deference towards Israel enables the Israeli government’s actions. President Biden’s continuation of the Trump policy of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has provided tacit approval of Israel’s exercising its authority in East Jerusalem. While this recognition is not the reason for Israel’s moving forward with forced expulsions, it certainly made it unlikely that the US would oppose Israel’s exercising of sovereignty over what both countries seem to now recognize as Israeli territory.
The Biden Administration has also decided to defend Israel’s strikes in Gaza by taking the age-old stance of “Israel has a right to defend itself from attacks.” This refers to the attacks by the Gaza-based terror group Hamas. While Israel does have a right to defend itself, many are questioning how killing civilians and destroying homes, businesses and a tower housing international media organizations in Gaza can be considered self-defense. Also, given the imbalance in military capabilities described earlier, Israel’s “self-defense” has resulted in heavily disproportionate casualties and damage compared to the attacks on Israel.
Some people, including Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, even argue that Israel’s “self-defense” constitutes war crimes. A claim which Israel denies. According to the official Israeli point of view, Israel always tries to minimize civilian casualties, but Hamas makes this impossible by committing the war crimes of using civilians as human shields and firing indiscriminately at civilians in Israel. Attacking unarmed civilians is a war crime under international law, and another’s war crimes do not justify one’s own.
Many around the world argue that the United States should cut aid to Israel and force it to negotiate. This is not likely to happen, as Israel is America’s closest ally in the region. Additionally, cutting aid would not guarantee that Israel would heed requests of the international community. The imbalance of military strength between the Israelis and Palestinians is already so great that, even without US support, Israel is unlikely to relinquish control of the territory it currently holds. However, the United States stopping or conditioning aid might pressure Israel enough to at least restrict its use of force and provide equal rights to all.
Israel currently has two different sets of laws for Jews and Palestinians. Many have likened these laws to those in South Africa’s apartheid state. They violate Palestinians’ human rights and many basic tenets of democracy.
One such example is the set of laws that stipulate Israeli citizenship. Jews born inside and outside of Israel have streamlined access to Israeli citizenship. In contrast, Arabs, even those who were born in Israeli-controlled territory or lived there before Israel claimed control, are only provided with permanent-resident status. ‘Mere’ residents face many administrative hurdles, including an oath of loyalty to Israel to gain citizenship. Most are either not willing to go through this process or are denied citizenship. Those with permanent resident status have fewer rights, and this status gives the Israeli government the right to expel them from their homes and the country.
This inequality is also reflected in the number of building permits issued by authorities in East Jerusalem. Despite Palestinians making up a majority in East Jerusalem, they are given far fewer building permits than Israeli citizens. This only encourages the building of more Israeli settlements and forces Palestinians from their homes and into increasingly crowded and underfunded neighborhoods.
Perhaps the most blatant symbol of this apartheid state is the separation wall, which physically separates Palestinians from Israelis even inside of what Israel considers to be its territory. This wall divides Palestinian communities, cuts off Palestinians from the rest of Israel and forces them to pass through security checkpoints to go to work or access other basic necessities.
The current power dynamics between Palestine and Israel are severely lopsided in favor of Israel. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel has wielded this power to try to create an apartheid state and drive the Palestinians out.
Israel continues to use excessive force to maintain this power imbalance, violating human rights and committing what observers have called war crimes in the process. Many people have even accused Prime Minister Netanyahu of purposely escalating tensions and violence to distract from his recent failure to form a governing coalition and to undermine his opponent’s efforts to do so. It remains unclear whether he will remain in power, but this conflict may result in Israel’s fifth election since 2019.
Despite all of this, the United States continues to unequivocally support Israel both militarily and diplomatically. Since Israel rejects its obligations under international law and has created a one-state reality for the Palestinians, it has a moral responsibility to stop discriminating against them and to provide them with equal rights and equal access to a prosperous life. It must also show restraint in the use of force, as its military capabilities far exceed those of its adversary and can cause much more “collateral damage.” As Israel’s strongest ally and an alleged supporter of human rights, the United States must also bear some responsibility and pressure Israel to respect the human rights of all.