A showdown over Israel's choice for ambassador to Brazil, pro-settlements leader Dani Dayan, shows the Netanyahu government may be set to abandon the two-state solution that has promised Palestinians a homeland.
SAO PAULO — A diplomatic battle is brewing in the corridors of power from Jerusalem to Brasilia.
After Israel nominated Dani Dayan to be its new chief diplomatic representative in Brazil, opposition to the appointment has grown in the Latin American state. Dayan is the former head of the Yesha Council, which represents the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Still, the showdown over his nomination is about more than just the job, and it reaches far beyond Brazil.
The activists trying to convince Brazil to reject Dayan's nomination see this is an Israeli attempt to sell the world on the idea of a single, binational state, for both Jews and Palestinians. This would be a direct challenge to the widespread international consensus that says there must be two states: Israel, and a state for the Palestinians. The so-called "two-state solution" is a demand that Dayan has fiercely and publicly opposed.
"Yes, I see Dayan's nomination as a sort of test to put that idea forward, the idea of a binational state instead of two states," says Mossi Raz, a former Knesset member of the leftist Meretz party and head of the Peace NGO Forum, an Israeli-Palestinian umbrella group.
It could of course be just another conspiracy theory, like the many that emerge every day about that part of the world. But this one has a certain logic. Why indeed would Israel suggest a former settlement leader when everybody knows how viscerally Brazil opposes Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories? Why would Israel want the appointment of someone who defends a one-state solution if Brazil — and Israel too, at least officially — still insists on a two-state solution?
What's certain is that this move from the Israeli government is not, as it claims to be, a way to build stronger ties between the two countries.
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Dayan was born in Buenos Aires in 1955, and moved to Israel at age 15. Photo: Wikipedia
So could Dayan's nomination fail? From the Israeli side, this hypothesis seems unlikely now that the two main opposition leaders, Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union and Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid (There's a Future), have called Henrique Sardinha Pinto, the Brazilian ambassador to Israel, to express their support for Dayan's nomination, even though they oppose his stance on settlements
The protocol usually observed is that the host country must give its permission for the nomination. When they happen, rejections are usually conveyed privately.
"Brazil is very afraid of a confrontation with Israel," Alon Liel, a former Israeli ambassador to South Africa, recently told website Arutz Sheva. "It is very hard to oppose Israel on the international front. No country in the world wants a bilateral one-on-one confrontation with the state of Israel."
Liel is one of three former ambassadors who oppose Dayan's appointment, thus running the risk of being regarded as traitors. But like Mossi Raz, he justifies his opposition by saying he fears the potential consequences of a one-state solution.
"We believe that if within the next year or two serious negotiations about two states do not begin, then there will be a binational state here whose Jewish character will be in doubt, as will its democratic character," he says.
In other words, because the fertility rate of Palestinians is much higher than that of their Jewish counterparts, Israel's Jewish character would soon be supplanted. And the only way to stop this would be to scrap the basic rule of majority-rules democracy.
In the context of Dayan's nomination, it's worth noting the result of research conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, which shows that 66% of Palestinians reject the idea of resuming negotiations with Israel without the cessation of settlement construction.
Furthermore, two-thirds of Palestinians surveyed said they no longer believed in a two-state solution, precisely because of settlement expansion, which eats away land that international law says should remain Palestinian.
And now, against its will, Brazil has been placed right in the middle of one of the world's most intractable and explosive conflicts.