Skip to main content

End Game

Does Israel Have a Plan?

By Natan Sachs

How Israelis envision and plan for the future of their country

Does Israel have a plan? What does the country want to look like in 10 or 20 years? What borders does it hope to have? Will the West Bank or the Gaza Strip be part of it? Will the Palestinians residing the territories be granted citizenship and become Israeli citizens? Does the country as a whole even know what it wants, what its goals are, or how to achieve them?

Israel faces a fundamental question, a “trilemma.” It can choose only two of three different goals many Israelis hold dear: to maintain control over the West Bank, with its strategic and religious significance to Israel; to retain a clear Jewish majority, the goal of the Zionist movement that founded the state; or to remain a democracy, with full voting rights for all citizens.

This trilemma has caused world leaders and publics, Israel-supporters and critics, to wonder aloud time and again: what does Israel want? If it wishes to maintain its Jewish and democratic character, surely it must separate from the West Bank and its population; why then does Israel keep building in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, making such separation all the more difficult? And if it plans to retain control over the West Bank, is it really willing to give up on either its Jewish nature or its democracy?

End Game attempts to solve the puzzle of why the Israeli strategic vision seems so elusive to many foreigners and Israelis alike. It explores how Israelis’ beliefs about their future are formed and how their visions are translated into policy, focusing on three factors in depth: the role of security concerns, ideology, and domestic political constraints that combine to shape Israel’s strategic posture.

The book contrasts the full range of views in Israel over the future of the West Bank, from supporters of a bi-national state or confederacy on the left, to supporters of a “one state” on the far right of the political spectrum. It pays particular attention to the worldview of the political center-right, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a conservative, risk-averse and “anti-solutionist” approach to the problem. This worldview, following decades of precedent, rejects the need for a full-fledged strategic “solution” to the problem, leading to widespread confusion over Israel’s goals. The book analyses and critiques this approach, arguing forcefully for ending Israeli indecision over the future of the land and in favor of partition and, eventually, peace.

Get daily updates from Brookings