Time to consider unconventional alternatives to the insolvent two-state paradigm, including: Palestinian-Jordanian federation; shared sovereignty in the West Bank; a three- or four-way land swap involving Egypt and Jordan. The Clinton parameters are obsolete.
President Obama launched his first term in office with a ‘reset’ in relations with Russia and the Islamic world. For his second term, he might consider a ‘reset’ in approach to Palestinian-Israeli diplomacy. It’s time to consider moderate, creative, and realistic alternatives to the two-state paradigm.
It’s increasingly obvious that the two-state solution is close to obsolete, although it is still not politically-correct to say so in polite diplomatic company. It has little chance of coming into being because the Palestinians do not want the constricted West Bank state that Israel can give them, and because Israel cannot risk establishment on the Samarian heights and along its eastern border of another radical Islamic bastion. Sinai-stan, Hama-stan, Hezbollah-stan, and Syria-stan are already more than enough for Israel to handle.
The two-state concept is also floundering because the Palestinians are irreconcilably split between Hamas and Fatah, and are light-years away from being ready to forego their demand for Palestinian refugee return to Israel. They’re just not ready to close the book on all claims against Israel in exchange for a small West Bank and Gaza state. For its part, Israel is not able or willing to dismantle the many Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria or to divide Jerusalem.
So instead of bashing heads to drive an insolvent construct and reap nothing but bitterness and failure, American diplomacy ought to take a close look at some unconventional, substitute visions of the Israeli-Palestinian future.
A good place to start would be the proposals for “regional solutions” and multi-party land swaps outlined by Major General (res.) Giora Eiland, former IDF planning directorate chief and national security advisor to Prime Minister Sharon, and Prof. Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.
Eiland reviews and rejects proposals for an “interim agreement” and for “conflict management” arrangements. Neither will suffice, he says, because they leave the door open for hostile actors like Iran to continue to stir the pot, and because they will erode Israel’s international security and legitimacy. He also dismisses notions of an imposed permanent status agreement, now advocated by some in Europe and Washington. “Even if American pressure brought about a final status agreement (which in itself is unlikely), there is doubt as to whether the sides can carry out their commitments successfully.”
“The maximum that the Israeli government (any government) will be able to offer the Palestinians and to survive politically is much less than the minimum that a Palestinian government (any government) will be able to accept and to survive politically. In other words, neither Israelis nor the Palestinians can accept the so-called Clinton parameters.”
Eiland’s alternative approach questions basic assumptions and changes the cost-benefit calculus for the principal parties. “All the current proposals for a permanent or interim solution have three basic claims in common, each of which requires re-thinking: that a solution to the problem is restricted (geographically) to the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea; that the solution lies in the establishment of an independent Palestinian state; and that the West Bank and Gaza will form a single political entity in any solution. These three assertions have confined the discussion to a narrow space and prevented a real discussion that starts afresh and examines all possibilities for a solution to the conflict without preconceived notions.”
Eiland concludes that widening the circle of actors taking part in a settlement can transform the current deadlock from a zero-sum situation to a win-win scenario. Negotiators need to move, he says, towards a regional approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which Arab states take responsibility for solving the conflict and invest concrete, tangible resources in the solution.
Options that have to be considered, he says, are a Palestinian-Jordanian federation; shared sovereignty in the West Bank; a three- or four-way land swap involving Egypt and Jordan; and, most likely, a combination of all these approaches.
Eiland understands that the international community is currently locked into the two-state paradigm. Moving beyond this, he says, will require third-party diplomatic leadership, a US mindset shift, and capitalization on the right political opportunities. “What remains certain,” concludes Eiland, “is that the disadvantages of the currently-envisioned two-state paradigm outweigh its advantages in the eyes of the combatants. As thus, it has run its course.”
Echoes of Eiland’s thinking could be found at last week’s Herzliya Conference, as well. The conference chairman, Maj. Gen. (res.) Danny Rothschild (who is no right-winger!), and conference director, Dr. Tommy Steiner, wrote in their opening position paper (“The 2013 Herzliya Assessment”) that the US should “support the peace process and promote feasible regional change through a grand bargain that places the Israel-Palestinian peace process in a broader regional context leveraging the commonality of interests in tackling the regional macro challenges.”
The paper urges Washington to get the “rich Middle East countries to allocate sufficient resources towards the economic recovery of flagging Arab countries, such as Egypt and Jordan,” and to place more onus on these rich Arabs for helping solve the Palestinian issue too, first and foremost by engaging Israel directly on a host of regional security issues.
This week, Obama can “speak directly to the Israeli people” above or below the heads of Israel’s political leaders all he wants. He can try to do the same in the PA. But without a new approach to regional peace diplomacy all that speechifying will come to naught. As long as he is wedded to the standard two-state paradigm, the peace will remain elusive.