Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) is shown walking back to his office in Washington,… (Olivier Douliery/Abaca…)
It's hard to imagine now, but there was a time when a comprehensive rapprochement between Israelis and Palestinians seemed not just possible but inevitable. In the mid-1990s, the two-state solution was gaining support on both sides. Hamas and Islamic Jihad were losing influence. Israel was handing over West Bank cities to Palestinian control. The 50-year-old conflict seemed to be nearing a resolution.
Of course, that never came to pass. Peace fizzled in the wake of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the terrorist bombs of the Palestinian militants, among other things. But does that mean it can't be revived, or that the two-state solution can never work? The reality is that peacemaking is a long, difficult, frustrating business, conducted between enemies who have, by definition, little trust for each other. To give up negotiations in favor of walls and fences, or an endless war of attrition, would be both irresponsible and tragic.
That's why we were distressed to read an article last week by Rep. Joe Walsh, a Republican from Illinois, that took an unusually dark and cynical view of the situation. It may seem odd to single out a little-known "tea party" Republican for excoriation, but his article made an argument that even many vehemently pro-Israel commentators have been reluctant to make. It deserves refutation.
Walsh wrote that anyone who "continues to cling to the delusion of a two-state solution is insane." Mimicking some of the more radical Palestinians who have also declared the two-state solution dead, he argued instead in favor of one state. His version of this single state would be a contiguous Israel "from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea." Since that would mean swallowing up the mostly Palestinian West Bank (and presumably the Gaza Strip as well) and incorporating it all into Israel, Walsh suggested that those Palestinians who didn't like the plan could move to Jordan, while those who remained should be offered "limited voting power" (along with other economic and civil rights).
Just to be perfectly clear, Walsh was suggesting that Palestinians could either pack up and leave their homes or accept permanent second-class citizenship, including limited voting power — whatever that means — in an expanded Israel.
The idea of a Greater Israel stretching from the river to the sea was common enough in the immediate aftermath of the 1967 war, in the days of Menachem Begin, Gush Emunim and the early settler movement. But that line of thinking has mostly disappeared in recent years, or at least gone underground. Most Israelis came to acknowledge that there was, in fact, a Palestinian people and that Palestinians do, in fact, have rights to self-determination, like other peoples. Besides, Israelis realized, ruling millions of Palestinians who would rather rule themselves is not a sensible path to long-term security.
These are dark days for the peace process. Talks are paralyzed. Several Palestinian hunger strikers are in declining health after more than two months without food. Israel retroactively legalized three controversial settlement outposts on the West Bank. Hamas and Fatah, longtime rivals, govern separate parts of the Palestinian territories. The Arab Spring has made Israel's position in the region even more insecure.
Walsh's scary op-ed appeared the day before Hagai Amir was released from prison in Israel. Amir, the brother of Rabin's killer, served 16 years for his role in the plot to assassinate the prime minister, a conspiracy aimed at halting the peace process and derailing the two-state solution. Amir emerged from prison flashing a V-for-victory sign and saying, "I am proud of what I did."
What he did was to deeply wound a process that had been moving steadily forward. Let's hope he did not kill it.