If anyone other than Benjamin Netanyahu had made the suggestion, Palestinians, and indeed the world, might be more inclined to listen. But from the mouth of one of the most rejectionist of Israel’s leaders, the idea that some settlers should remain in the West Bank within a Palestinian state sounded less like a trial balloon and more like the popping of the peace process.
Mr Netanyahu is no friend of the Palestinians, nor of the peace process. He was secretly recorded a few years ago admitting he’d lied to the US in order to scupper the Oslo accords. As Israel’s prime minister he has yet to accept that the Palestinians should have a genuine state, rather than small homelands dissected by settler towns and military checkpoints.
Thus, it would be optimistic to view his comments as anything other than politically-motivated: throwing up an idea he knew would get shot down, merely to show that his opponents in Israel and Palestine have no interest in “peace”. All his talk about Palestinians accepting a “Jewish state” and the security of Israel sound hypocritical when he himself has never accepted a Palestinian state and has done everything to reduce the security of Palestinians. Indeed, Mr Netanyahu has rejected the best deal that Israel is likely to be offered, the 2002 Arab peace plan put forward by Saudi Arabia.
With such rejectionism, it is unlikely he means this latest offer to be taken seriously. And yet, the idea, if implemented sincerely, has some merit. Indeed, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, has said previously that it could be considered. Keeping some of the settlements, assuming that they were no longer ethnically segregated and Palestinians could live there, would be beneficial, bringing in investment and making the new Palestinian state more diverse.
Accepting that some settlers – not those guilty of crimes, naturally, or those who have profited from Palestinian dispossession – would remain would also tie a Palestinian state closer to Israel, where many Palestinians live. Indeed, allowing some Jewish residents in Palestine would make it harder for Palestinians inside Israel to be removed in the name of ethnic purity. A Palestinian state with Jews would make it harder for radicals to push for an Israeli state without Arabs.
Moreover, the symbolic value of a state with two peoples would be immense, drawing a figurative line in the sand over the past and showing a willingness to build a genuinely inclusive state. It would be an example to its neighbour that has, in more than 60 years of statehood, failed to be genuinely inclusive, and to politicians such as Mr Netanyahu who seek to keep Israel segregated.