There is one price, however, that the vast majority of Israelis, including many if not most settlers, will not pay for a Greater Israel: the loss of the state’s Jewish identity. Israeli polls have confirmed this repeatedly. It is an issue that Israelis believe can be finessed, either by continuing to hold out the promise of a two-state solution in an undefined future or by carving up the West Bank in a manner that excludes the heavy concentrations of Palestinian population from Greater Israel, as advocated by Bennett and others. But if those two options were precluded and the choice were to either grant citizenship to the Palestinian residents of a Greater Israel or a two-state arrangement with limited and equal territorial exchanges, Israel’s cost-benefit calculations would have to change.
And it would come down to that choice if the disguise of the existing Greater Israel were stripped away. The issue for the United States would then no longer be where the borders of a Palestinian state are to be drawn—a matter Washington has for all practical purposes left to the Israelis to decide—but whether it is prepared to defend what increasingly would be seen by everyone as an apartheid regime.
It is unlikely that even those Western democracies accustomed to pandering to their Israeli lobbies would be prepared to shield Israel from condemnations and sanctions when its apartheid can no longer be disguised. One must assume that no American president would again declare at a UN General Assembly that Palestinian victims of such a system should seek relief not from the UN or international courts but from their occupiers.
The key to changing the deadlocked status quo is therefore exposing the Greater Israel that has been created by the settlement project in the West Bank and the de facto apartheid regime under which Palestinians now live. But the United States and the European Union will not be the whistle-blowers, most certainly not as long as Palestinians themselves continue to collaborate with Israel’s pretense that a one-state reality does not yet exist, a collaboration implicit in their adherence to the Oslo framework and to the myth that the Palestinian Authority and the strengthening of its institutions can still pave the way for Palestinian statehood.
Nothing would expose more convincingly the Israeli disguise of the one-state reality now in place than a Palestinian decision to shut down the Palestinian Authority and transform their national struggle for independence and statehood into a struggle for citizenship and equal rights within the Greater Israel to which they have been consigned. Only by declaring that Palestinians will no longer be complicit with their occupiers in their own disenfranchisement will Israelis be confronted with the need to choose between a two-state arrangement and a single state that sooner or later will lose its Jewish identity.
In recent talks with Palestinian leaders, some of them told me they fear that Israel would take advantage of such a move to annex area C and consign Palestinians to enclaves in areas A and B, as proposed by Bennett. But Israel's government has already done so. Only those blind to the facts on the ground created by the settlements can believe there still exists a possibility for a two-state outcome that might be put at risk. And the sooner Palestinians expose their new reality the better. For an Israeli land grab in area C that would follow the launching of a Palestinian anti-apartheid struggle is far more likely to be seen by the international community as confirming Israel’s apartheid than a land grab that precedes it—i.e. when the issue is still presented by Israel as the setting of the border between two states.
Friends of Israel should fervently hope that such a Palestinian strategy will succeed in changing the cost-benefit calculations of Israel’s government, for the success of the settlements holds the seeds of Israel's demise. Palestinians have lived under Israeli occupation for nearly half a century and will endure, if they must, another half century. They have few alternatives.
However, it is highly doubtful that Israel can survive another half century of its subjugation of the Palestinians. The region has been radically transformed by the emergence of Islamic regimes that, unlike their predecessors, will not suppress Arab furies provoked by Israel's permanent disenfranchisement of the Palestinians. America's ability to impose its own political order on the region is in decline. Even Arab royals in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Emirates will be pressed to prove their legitimacy by joining efforts to deepen the ring of Arab hostility that surrounds and threatens the Jewish state. America's fading influence and Israel's growing vulnerability in this emerging regional order have already been exposed by Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi's decision, in defiance of American objections, to attend a conference of nonaligned nations hosted by Iran. The heightened sense of isolation and insecurity that Israelis will experience as Arab countries join the nuclear club, which in time they surely will, is bound to lead to an exodus of Israel's best and brightest, and in time it could spell the end of the Zionist dream. As reported in Israel’s press, the search in certain sectors of Israeli society for foreign passports and second homes abroad has already begun.
An honest Israeli offer of Palestinian statehood based on the Clinton parameters would avert such a calamity, remove the most incendiary issue from the region's agenda, and leave Iran and Hezbollah without a cause in the Arab world.