A top settler leader spoke out Monday against annexing the West Bank, warning it could lead to a system of “apartheid.”
“The one-state solution has very difficult questions that we need to be aware of and we need to be willing to answer,” said Oded Revivi, the chief foreign envoy of the pro-settlements Yesha Council.
“I can’t see in the modern world having an apartheid state,” he told The Times of Israel on the sidelines of the Haaretz Peace Conference in Tel Aviv. “And if that means giving equal rights to all the Arabs who live between the Jordan [River] and the [Mediterranean] Sea, we need to understand the implications. I am not sure that those who are advocating for a one-state solution understand those conditions.”
While not endorsing a two-state solution, Revivi’s position is nevertheless at odds with much of the Israeli pro-settlement right, which not only rejects Palestinian statehood but supports a partial or total annexation of the West Bank.
Advocates of a two-state solution argue that Israel cannot be both democratic and Jewish as long as it holds on to the West Bank, where more than two million Palestinians live. Supporters of a one-state solution have suggested various models to deal with the problem: Some want to promote Palestinian emigration to a third country, while others are willing to grant some or all of them full Israeli citizenship (which, opponents argue, would jeopardize Israel’s Jewish majority). Yet others would grant Palestinians a residency status that is less than citizenship.
Revivi, who has been mayor of the West Bank town of Efrat for nearly a decade, appeared to favor maintaining the political status quo coupled with a grassroots effort to improve Israeli-Palestinian relations on the ground. He said he hoped Israelis and Palestinians would work on fostering a climate of coexistence, including for Israelis to learn Arabic.
“I hope that the reality and the atmosphere that will be built would be of such a nature that we’d be able to give them equal rights. But we need to see about that,” he said, minutes after concluding a panel discussion during which he shared the stage with left-wing, centrist and right-wing politicians, including MK Bezalel Smotrich.
Addressing the annual conference, Smotrich, a lawmaker from the nationalist Jewish Home party, argued passionately in favor of a one-state solution.
For decades, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has revolved around two questions, Revivi said: Who has the better legal, historical, biblical and political claims to the land? And what solution do we seek — a one-state or a two-state solution? “And in the meantime, there are private individuals who are suffering, who don’t get what they deserve as human beings.”
Both Israelis and Palestinians are negatively affected by the status quo, he stressed, urging, therefore, improving the living conditions for everyone in the West Bank.
“It’s very easy to debate whether it should be one state or two states, and who has a better title to the land,” he said, while the key to an eventual agreement is to cooperate on basic issues of common concern such as water and infrastructure. “But at the moment the leaders are pulling us apart and creating more hate instead of bringing more people together.”
Acknowledged he had no peace plan that would answer all outstanding questions, Revivi said he was focused in Efrat on building good relations with his Palestinian neighbors.
Speaking after the panel, Revivi recalled a recent episode in which a child in Efrat who is learning Arabic in school excitedly told his teacher about a conversation between two Palestinians he overheard the day before in the supermarket.
“The teacher is taking pen and paper to write down the information because she thinks it’s breaking intelligence news,” he said. “And he tells her that the two workers in the supermarket said that the tomatoes were very red today. That’s the level of fear we have to overcome. Once we manage to do that, the sky is the limit.”