On May 15, 2012, Jeremy Ben Ami, founder of J Street, and Bill Kristol, founder of The Weekly Standard and director of Emergency Committee for Israel, took part in a debate that addressed commonly-held positions of the pro-Israeli community on the future of Israel and Palestine. The debate itself was uneventful, a surprise given the fact that J Street and the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) represent views that are on opposing ends of the political spectrum. Both parties remained civil and even-toned. Ben Ami reiterated views that are integral to the left-leaning pro-Israeli platform; Kristol, for the most part, refused to engage him by claiming ignorance of many of the issues raised.
Bill Kristol was plenty clear on one point, however: for Kristol, continuing the 45-year military occupation of the Palestinian territories for an indefinite amount of time is the default option if a two-state solution cannot be realized. Because neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians are close to engaging in negotiations, it would seem the intent of the Israeli government is for the occupation to continue. However, the rapid expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory is transforming this military occupation into what appears like an outright expansion of the state of Israel. The settlements are limiting the amount of land available for a Palestinian state and the expansion contradicts the notion that any kind of "status quo" is being maintained.
The occupied Palestinian territories, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, are owned by the Palestinians and are intended for a Palestinian state. That land is now diminishing rapidly under the authority and approval of the Israeli government. Since 1967, Israeli settlers have colonized much of the West Bank, which is approximately the size of Delaware. While the majority remains Palestinian, a substantial and increasing percentage of the region's population is now Israeli. In June 2009, for example, the IDF reported that approximately 304,569 settlers lived in the West Bank; this represented a 2.3 percent increase since January of that year. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics in Israel, by 2010, that number had reached 314,132 settlers in the West Bank; that's an increase of 10,000 settlers in just the West Bank within one year. On the whole, over half a million Israeli settlers resided in the occupied territories in 2010.
The facts are available to those who investigate this subject. In March 2012 the Civil Administration, an agency within the Israel Defense Ministry, was forced to release maps and documents that demonstrate how 10 percent of the land in the West Bank has been designated outright to Israeli settlers. The documents also reveal that the wall that was constructed in order to maintain Israel's security serves to strategically maximize the amount of Palestinian land granted to settlements. The Israeli Civil Administration is also seeking to legalize unauthorized outposts throughout the West Bank, which further increases the amount of land appropriated by Israel. These documents and policies lend credence to the hypothesis that the settlement-construction process has been orchestrated by the Israeli government. Inevitably, through the construction of these settlements and the legalization of unauthorized outposts, the state of Israel has been expanding.
That the settlements are expanding is hardly news to most people following the politics of the region. In 2010, for example, planning officials told Ha'aretz of plans to build 50,000 additional housing units in East Jerusalem alone; 20,000 of these housing units were already in advanced stages of approval and implementation. At that time, a representative of the NGO Ir Amim said that if these plans for construction go through, attaining a viable resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict via a two-state solution would be nearly impossible. Along these lines, former President George W. Bush, President Barack Obama, and leaders of European countries have urged Israel to halt the construction of settlements -- to no avail. In anticipation of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu's approval of further settlement construction, Fatah spokesperson Hanan Ashrawi declared, "What Netanyahu is doing is clearly at the scale of a grand deception."
So is it possible for Israel to maintain the status quo, as Kristol asserted? With such rapid expansion, there is no static status quo. These takeovers of Palestinian land preclude the possibility of continuing the military occupation in its current form. Furthermore, the rapid expansion of settlements is rendering the possibility of two separate territories impossible. The settlements and the wall are rendering the borders between Israel and a hypothetical, already diminishing Palestine porous and fluid. These developments suggest that the current government of Israel is engineering a road to a greater Israel and not to two independent, sovereign states.