Rethinking Israeli-Palestinian Deadlock
By Ronald Tiersky January 19, 2017
Rethinking Israeli-Palestinian Deadlock
As the initial fury dies down over the Obama administrations abstention on Resolution 2334 and Donald Trump's inauguration dawns, here's a suggestion on the intractable Israeli-Palestinian deadlock.
Various solutions are in the mix: One-state, two-state, three-state, no-state outcomes. Envisioning two Palestinian states rather than one might make good sense. The first state would be built in the West Bank, the second in Gaza. Not West Palestine and East Palestine, i.e. not two halves of one state, but separate states, perhaps autonomous republics, with the question of merger deferred until circumstances change, if ever indeed they do.
It has long been understood that any Palestinian state entity would be autonomous but not fully sovereign, with control over internal affairs but limited sovereignty in defense and security arrangements. Security would be guaranteed by outside powers, including Israel first of all. A Palestinian state would be launched with substantial economic aid from outside and would be embedded in new transnational economic structures.
Demilitarization has long been accepted by Palestinian Authority negotiators. While it needs police forces, a Palestinian state doesn't need an army. Outside powers would provide external security, and demilitarization guarantees that a Palestinian state could not threaten Israel.
To accept a two-Palestinian-state formula is a sacrifice by Palestinians against the goal of a single contiguous nation-state. For Israel, on the other hand, two Palestinian states create not greater danger but greater security. The neighboring states, Jordan and Egypt, are not asked to make sacrifices either. The issue is whether Palestinians have reason to take the deal.
Four other options have been discussed, none of which breaks the deadlock.
The first is the familiar two-state solution. Through negotiations, a new, contiguous State of Palestine is created. Israel and the new state live side-by-side in peace and security.
The second is the so-called one-state solution of the Israeli nationalist right, i.e. Greater Israel. It involves annexation of the entire West Bank and East Jerusalem, including the Palestinian population, minus people subsidized to leave, or perhaps expelled. There is no Palestinian state at all in this scenario. For demographic reasons--Israel could not long remain a Jewish state--remaining Palestinians would have to be denied equal Israeli citizenship, resulting in legal apartheid. Critics who say Israel is already heading toward a one-state apartheid country can't explain why even a Greater Israel government would blindly annex to the point of apartheid, trading Israel's democracy and all international credibility for more land.
The so-called three-state solution is the third possibility. It would recreate governance in the Holy Land as it existed from the 1949 Armistice Agreements through the 1967 Six Day War. Gaza would revert to Egypt, which occupied it in 1949 and then lost it in 1967. The West Bank would revert to Jordan, which had incorporated it in 1950, also losing it in the Six Day War. A three-state solution means no Palestinian state at all. The very idea of a distinct Palestinian people would be put into question. The three-state motto is that a Palestinian state already exists: It's Jordan.
Why and how Egypt and Jordan should accept Gaza and the West Bank is a mystery left unanswered. And why West Bank and Gaza Palestinians would accept national dissolution and distance from Jerusalem is no clearer. Neither is the question of why the United States and other outside powers would make themselves complicit in a nationalist Biblical Greater Israel. The three-state solution is in effect a recipe for more war and chaos in the Middle East.
A no-state solution is the fourth alternative. Israel's real policy, in this version, is to prevent any kind of Palestinian state. The real strategy is sitting tight, keeping powder dry, always being prepared for war, and outlasting outside pressures. Gaza continues to be governed by Hamas, Israel continues its control of the West Bank, and settlement expansion proceeds incrementally. How long this policy is sustainable is a question of controversy. Critics say it would lead inevitably to a one-state solution, if this last is not interrupted by major war meantime.
Against these alternatives, the virtues of two Palestinian states are clear, both as a goal and in terms of negotiations.
Creating two Palestinian states deflects the issue of territorial contiguity, deferring it to some future moment when circumstances will have changed.
Two timetables are possible, including deferring a state solution for Gaza as long as necessary. The West Bank has priority. The "peace process" becomes relevant again. West Bank Palestinians have an incentive to conclude an agreement earlier rather than later. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said there will be no Palestinian state without Gaza, but this could be taken as an opening gambit, and in any case Abbas is on his way out.
Can Gaza's future be deferred indefinitely? Is it morally justifiable?
This is the issue of dealing with Hamas, in two respects: its rejection of Israel and its significance in the wider Islamist movement of which it is an instance. Here there are only questions. What responsibility does Hamas leadership feel toward the people of Gaza? What happens in five years, 10 years or beyond? Would the strategy remain the same if a West Bank Palestinian state were established, exposing Hamas politically and militarily? Geographically locked between Israel and Egypt, Gaza would be prey to possible international military intervention.
A West Bank state, and an eventual Gaza state, would need incorporation into wider structures to prosper. Economic and perhaps political confederation would involve at least Israel, Egypt, and Jordan, with the prospect of wider arrangements in the Middle East with Arab states and perhaps Turkey, and even with the European Union.
Outside powers would have strong reasons to help post-deadlock Palestinians. The moral principle is that Palestinian demands for dignity and respect are valid, and the international community is not indifferent to their suffering.
For Israel, the benefits are also clear: an end to the conflict including a pledge of no more Palestinian claims, an end to contestation of Israel's legitimacy, a solution to the problem of how Israel can be both a Jewish state and democratic, and a basis for political de-escalation among Israelis themselves.
What about Jerusalem? The future of Jerusalem is the issue of issues. But it's not unresolvable, even recognizing that Israel's government always controls the agenda of what is possible. Beyond this is a discussion too long even to begin here.
Why would the West Bank Palestinians accept the proposal of two Palestinian states, one in the near future, the other a deferred and hypothetical promise that abandons the population of Gaza for the time being?
Geopolitical analyst George Friedman asserts, "the Palestinians can't accept a state divided between Gaza and the West Bank, without any transport under their control," and Israel cannot give up its positions on the Jordan River line "since it is their main defensive position" against possible future conventional attack by Arab states whose future orientations may be different than today's. Therefore "it is impossible" to create an Israel-Palestine two-state solution.
The problem of contiguity, as stated above, can be deferred. As to Israel's security, the Commanders for Israel's Security, an organization of more than 200 of Israel's former highest ranking government, military and intelligence personnel, has presented a deep study of how a multi-layered national and international security system could guarantee a two-state solution. The two-Palestinian-state solution is covered implicitly by this plan.
Look at the deadlock geopolitically from the Palestinian point of view. They are in no position to propose terms to Israel. Geopolitics is, as Friedman says, the belief that power determines outcomes.
West Bank Palestinians ultimately have to give, and Gaza will ultimately follow. This means they have to reconstitute and stabilize their own leadership, because ultimately Palestinians are responsible for themselves.