To a great deal of fanfare, Secretary of State John Kerry recently declared that Israel seems to be tending toward a "one-state solution" to the as yet unresolved status of the West Bank after the 1967 Six-Day War. Kerry then went on to warn that such a solution would thrust Israel into the untenable moral conflict of an ostensibly liberal society attempting to remain both democratic and Jewish while simultaneously denying equal rights to non-Jewish Palestinians (who, by treaty or annexation, would necessarily become citizens of some sort).
Well, of course Kerry is right in asserting that a legally-established and recognized Greater Israel would have a tough time maintaining both Jewishness and democracy--since the Muslim Palestinians, if granted full citizenship rights (as they would presumably have to be in a democratic state) would inevitably dilute the Jewishness of the expanded Israel.
But that is precisely why, despite its undeniable "tending" toward a single Mediterranean-to-Jordan state, Israel is currently best served by avoiding the constraints of such a definitive, de jure, disposition of the West Bank territories. Rather, for the moment, the status quo of NO solution is preferable: it is a vague, flexible and essentially extra-legal military occupation which permits, for as long as it endures, a democratic, Jewish state to co-exist with and to exercise authority over the entire West Bank without any moral or legal obligation to grant the rights of citizenship to what remains, de jure and de facto, a hostile, enemy population. In other words, with NO solution, a de facto single state already exists, while de jure, both Jewishness and democracy are preserved.
Now about those settlements. How can anyone doubt that they, together with ongoing (albeit inconsistently-applied) government practices of harassment, intimidation and restriction, are basic manifestations of a deep-seated, visceral urge (not always overtly acknowledged) to push out or otherwise attenuate the non-Jewish population of the West Bank?
Here's what that map reveals and what both the U.S. and Israel know--despite Netanyahu's feigned shock and Kerry's puzzlingly-timed admonishment:
1) Fully 10% of Israel's Jewish population now live in (already-annexed) East Jerusalem or the remainder of the West Bank. No Israeli government could ever voluntarily permit itself to abandon these "settlers."
2) Moreover the settlements are all interconnected and integrated with Israel proper, whereas the tracts reserved for Palestinians are isolated from each other and lack the contiguity necessary for the functioning of a viable state.
4) The current division, per Oslo Accord II, of the West Bank into three "interim" areas of administration affords Israel a relatively efficient means of containing and/or neutralizing the hostile activities of anti-Israeli organizations such as Hamas--organizations that no "peace" treaty would likely make disappear and whose ranks would surely swell with dissidents if any such treaty were concluded. (Even Area A, supposedly the exclusive domain of the Palestinian Authority, is casually subjected to military interventions deemed necessary by Israel, under whose aegis the PA governs.)
5) The very ambiguity of the status quo--as uneasy as it makes systematic thinkers--conveniently allows Israel to entertain simultaneously three seemingly conflicting goals--1) the establishment of a unified Greater Israel stretching from Mediterranean to Jordan, 2) the maintenance of a Jewish identity, and 3) the guarantee of liberal democracy, at least for all citizens. Because, of course, in the happy absence of ANY solution, the Palestinians can continue to be regarded as de jure non-citizens residing in a land that is, nonetheless, a de facto Jewish state.
And the Kerry speech itself? Pretty much useless for Israel and Israelis, who are well aware of their options--but a good reminder for Americans of the dilemmas in morality and Realpolitik posed to us by our ongoing involvement and tangled alliances in the Middle East. We, too, must make some choices about what sort of "solution" will best serve our interests.
P.S. Those who record history sometimes attempt to measure the goodness or badness of sweeping historical movements in terms of some moral criterion of their choosing. But history itself is not moral--and I'm pretty sure that history itself will make no moral judgment about Israel's apparent élan toward a united Jewish state stretching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan. (Certain historians will moralize about the methods used, but that is another matter, independent of the outcomes achieved.) Peoples have invaded, colonized, occupied, exterminated, assimilated, persecuted, enslaved, displaced, etc., other peoples since the beginning of time. My own country, the United States, is the product of such a relentless and unabashed process of ethnic "cleansing." The anti-Israeli Arabs are likewise the descendants of such invaders and their victims. And the Jews, themselves, perhaps more than any other people, have endured centuries of persecutions, displacements and exterminations. History will judge Israel primarily as it judges other nations--by its success or failure, by whether it survives or implodes. I will not live long enough to read that story or, as one of those moralizing historians, to render a judgment on its overall merits. Perhaps, given my squeamish nature, that's just as well.