Is Rick Santorum for Apartheid or Ethnic Cleansing or What?

Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum disagree about Palestinians. Gingrich says they're an "invented people." Santorum says they don't exist. "All the people that live in the West Bank are Israelis," says Santorum. "They are not Palestinians. There is no Palestinian. This is Israeli land."

As Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post points out, even the current right-wing Israeli government doesn't describe the situation this way. And if you pursue the implications of Santorum's view, you'll see why.

There seem to be three possibilities:

(1) Is Santorum saying that Palestinians in the West Bank, being Israelis, should be allowed to vote in Israeli elections? This would be a version of the "one-state solution." This scenario is favored by a growing number of people who think it's too late for a two-state solution, but most of these people are several thousand light years to Santorum's left, and I think it's unlikely that this is what Santorum has in mind.

(2) So is Santorum saying that Palestinians in the West Bank, though (by Santorum's lights) living in the state of Israel and warranting the label "Israelis," shouldn't be given the vote? This would be a variant of the one-state solution known as "apartheid." Which may help explain why the Israeli government prefers to call the West Bank "disputed territory" rather than part of Israel, even though the charter of Netanyahu's political party, Likud, seems to rule out ever giving the Palestinians a state.

(3) Maybe, if Santorum isn't embracing scenarios (1) or (2), he's just hoping West Bank Palestinians will find another place to live? This is a view held by some right-wing Israelis. (It also may be held by Gingrich, whose notorious "invented people" utterance also included the less remarked-upon line that "they had a chance to go many places.")

But this exodus scenario runs into practical problems. Jordan, commonly cited as the natural alternative home for West Bank Palestinians, isn't eager for the influx, so, barring Jordanian regime change, this is a non-starter. And, even assuming regime change, the only thing that would make Palestinians leave their West Bank homeland en masse would be if life there were made very difficult for them.

To be sure, life is becoming pretty difficult for them. West Bank Palestinians, compared to nearby Israeli settlers, get inferior government services. (See, for example, my video exchange with a Palestinian who on most days doesn't have running water.) Worse still, increasingly radicalized Israeli settlers subject Palestinians to abuse--destroying their olive trees, poisoning their sheep, burning their mosques. So maybe before too long most West Bank Palestinians will indeed want to leave the West Bank. But when an ethnic group leaves its land under these kinds of circumstances, we call it "ethnic cleansing."

So which is it? Is Rick Santorum in favor of apartheid or ethnic cleansing or the left-wing variant of the one-state solution, in which Palestinians are given the vote? Or is there a fourth alternative I haven't thought of? Now that Santorum is a serious presidential candidate, we deserve an answer.

Presented by

Robert Wright is the author of The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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