What exactly is it that Israel intends to do with the Palestinians now in the territories that it has just opened for home construction for Jewish settlers, thereby extending its policy of occupying and annexing what are legally Palestinian lands?

The U.N. General Assembly's overwhelming vote last week to grant Palestine non-member observer state status was followed by the Israeli government's "punishment" of the Palestinians by withholding tax revenues of some $100 million due the Palestinian Authority, and by authorizing the construction of 3,000 new illegal homes for Israeli settlers in contested areas of Jerusalem, making it impossible for this territory to become, as previously assumed, and as claimed by the Palestinians, part of a future Palestinian state. If Israel has its (present) way, there will be no Palestinian state.

The brutality of this Israeli retaliation shocked those in the international community who had anticipated a reaction but not one so contemptuous of the General Assembly, and so insolent a rebuke to Barack Obama and the American government, which hours before had supported Israel in the assembly vote.

The European reaction was unprecedentedly sharp, with harsh criticism by governments, ambassadors summoned for explanations and a conference scheduled for Monday between France and Britain, and possibly other European governments, to discuss further common actions against Israel.

Israel's government reportedly was taken aback by the British and German abstentions during the vote (Britain in the past has been a complaisant follower of any American lead on Israel, and Germany is always expected to vote with Israel), as well as by the number of all of the votes by the other major European governments against Israel. Globally, only three major nations other than Israel itself voted against the Palestinians: the U.S., Canada and the Czech Republic. (In addition, there were some tiny American island dependencies in the Pacific.)

While the American Congress, to a man/woman, rallied to Israel's side, what the American people as a whole thought is hard to say, given the rather muddled notion of the Arab-Israeli conflict held by most Americans, and popular ignorance of international affairs in general.

Most Americans have accepted the exploitation by Israel and its American supporters of vast material and military assistance, and even vaster political backing, put at Israel's disposal by Republican and Democratic administrations alike, as well as the notorious intimidation and blackmail of American elected officials that goes on concerning the Palestinian issue (which is a commonplace item of the political landscape in Washington and New York, but not widely known across the country). A substantial number of American (and Israeli!) political observers fear that this ignorance/indifference might eventually end in a popular American backlash against Israel and its American facilitators. That is not likely to happen soon but could be of great force if it came.

But to return to the original question, which few seem willing to pose: When Israel wins its campaign to create a single, unchallenged Jewish state on all of the land given by the U.N. in 1948 to make parallel Jewish and Arab homelands (a plan which the Arab states fought and lost), what happens to the Palestinian people left in the country?

There will not be quite as many of them as there currently are, if they persist in their sporadic and unsuccessful outbursts of resistance, revenge or retaliation, since it is Israel that, like the imperialist powers of the past,  has "the Maxim gun, and they have not" - taking the form of F-16s, cluster bombs and nuclear weapons, if necessary. However, the Palestinian birthrate is much higher than the overall rate ofIsrael's Jewish population.

What do Prime Minister Netanyahu and his colleagues intend to do with the Palestinians? For the present, the latter are penned up in walled or barricaded enclosures on what they consider to be their own land, but the whole purpose of Israel's national policy is to take that land away from them.

Moreover, left landless in ever-deteriorating conditions -- and in a Greater Israel -- the Palestinians would become apartheid victims robbed of hope. That would be a terrible inconvenience and an international disgrace, as well as an ethnic contradiction, in what Israeli patriots would expect to be seen as a triumphant All-Jewish State, the Israel of the Prophets.

What can they do with the Palestinians? Force them all out into Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon or Syria (what's left of it), none of which wants them? In any case, the spectacle of Israel forcing what is left of the millions of Palestinians -- sobbing mothers, children dragging their pitiful possessions, struggling men -- across its borders into foreign countries, at gunpoint or using bulldozers and tanks, would be poor public relations (one might say).

Perhaps the United States, the land of immigrants, would take the Palestinians in? One must ask Obama or congressional leaders. I would think, though, that the answer would be no. Europe already has more Muslim immigrants than it finds comfortable. But perhaps the Israelis could force them onto ships to go to Germany, which started all this?

It is a very serious question -- what does Netanyahu think he is going to do with the Palestinians? There is an unthinkable solution. The better one would be for Israel, right now, to accept the two-state solution.

 (c) 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.


William Pfaff, a former editor of Commonweal, is political columnist for the International Herald Tribune in Paris. His most recent book is The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America's Foreign Policy (Walker & Company).

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