Revolutionizing the peace process

Published in The Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom, September 12, 2014.

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Two former generals, Egypt’s Sisi and Israel’s Eiland, show the way forward with bold new thinking about “regional solutions” to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Might such clarity of vision and bold thinking be possible in Washington as well?

General Eiland (right) detailing his land swap proposals, at the BESA Center.
General Eiland (right) detailing his land swap proposals, at the BESA Center.

Sometime late last month, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas reportedly rejected an Egyptian offer of some 1,600 kilometers of land in Sinai adjacent to Gaza.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s groundbreaking suggestion would have quintupled the size of the Gaza Strip. This would have allowed the Palestinian national movement an opportunity to resettle refugees from other places in the Middle East, and build a full-fledged state with every possible international recognition and assistance.

Abbas boasted of his rejectionism in a speech to Fatah leaders last week. He spurned the proposal out of hand.

Whether or not Sisi actually made this proposal, it is important to dwell on the significance of the paradigm-changing thought behind it.

For almost two decades, Israelis have been told, and some Israelis have convinced themselves, that there is no solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict other than the conventional “two state solution” involving Palestinian statehood on all (or almost all) of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, including half of Jerusalem. “There is no other realistic paradigm” – it has been said over and over again.

Israeli analysts that called-out the weaknesses, unlikelihood, and undesirability of the “two state solution” were mocked or painted as radicals. Israeli diplomats and generals that argued for new and different paradigms were dismissed as quixotic. Now it seems their time may have come.

Five years ago, Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies director Professor Efraim Inbar bucked conventional wisdom and penned the first full-throated study declaring the so-called “Clinton parameters” for two states as passé. His “Rise and Demise of the Two-State Solution” was followed-up by another provocative BESA Center study by Maj. Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland (former IDF planning directorate chief and national security advisor to Prime Minister Sharon) entitled “Regional Alternatives to the Two-State Solution.”

Eiland proposed the Egyptian land transfer to Gaza just offered by Sisi.

Indeed, the times call for new strategic thinking. It’s increasingly obvious that the standard two-state “solution” is obsolete, although it is still not quite politically correct to say so in polite diplomatic company.

The two state construct as currently envisioned by the international community 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, Hamas-stan, Hezbollah-stan, Syria-stan – and Heaven-forbid, Jordan-istan – 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 to close the book on all claims against Israel in exchange for small autonomous provinces in the West Bank and Gaza. 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, global diplomacy ought to take a close look at some unconventional, substitute visions of the Israeli-Palestinian future.

GENERAL EILAND has done just that. He begins by reviewing the current failures.

“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.”

“What remains certain 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.”

General Eiland proceeds to propose “regional solutions” and multi-party land swaps which positively change the cost-benefit calculus for the principal parties. He suggests three- or four-way land swaps involving Egypt and Jordan; shared sovereignty in the West Bank; renewed consideration of a Palestinian-Jordanian federation; and ideally a combination of all these approaches.

By widening the circle of actors taking part in a settlement, Eiland sees a way to “transform the current deadlock from a zero-sum situation to a win-win scenario.”

He envisions Arab states taking responsibility for solving the conflict and investing concrete, tangible resources in the solution – which is exactly what General Sisi has just offered to do.

Echoes of Eiland’s thinking can be found in Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid’s recent calls for leveraging the shifting broader regional context and the new-found commonality of interests between Israel and some major Arab actors – in order to tackle shared macro challenges such as the threats of Iranian and Palestinian irredentism.

AS LONG AS the Israeli Left remains wedded to the narrow two-state paradigm, peace will remain elusive. As long as diplomats treat the Palestinian demand for a full-fledged state on the 1967 lines as absolute revealed truth, there will be no resolution of the conflict. As long as the Europeans and the automatic totalitarian majority at the United Nations repeatedly ratify such contrived and stale constructs, no security or stability will emerge here.

Unfortunately, most world leaders have spent the past generation building-up and inflating Palestinian expectations. Consequently, Palestinian demands haven’t been modified or moderated since the advent of the Oslo process; in fact, they have hardened and radicalized. All creative thinking about alternative, moderate solutions to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been shut down.

Moving beyond this requires third-party diplomatic leadership, a mindset shift, and capitalization on the right political opportunities. Egypt under Sisi may see the need for new “regional” solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Might such clarity of vision and bold thinking be possible in Washington as well?

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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