The Five-State Solution: Idealism Trumps Reality Yet Again Concerning Israel

by Tommy Brown

The New York Times‘ Thomas Friedman,  he of the fabled Friedman Unit (“The next six months in Iraq. . . .”), has written yet another slightly creepy op-ed where he pretends to be a foreign leader writing to the American president. This time he’s pretending to be Saudi Arabia’s King ‘Abdullah:

Dear President Obama,

Congratulations on your inauguration and for quickly dispatching your new envoy, George Mitchell, a good man, to the Middle East. I wish Mitchell could resume where he left off eight years ago, but the death of Arafat, the decline of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel war in Lebanon, the 2009 Hamas-Israel war in Gaza, the continued expansion of colonial Israeli settlements and the deepening involvement of Iran with Hamas and Hezbollah have all created a new reality.

Specifically, the Palestinian Authority is in no position today to assume control of the West Bank, Hamas is incapable of managing Gaza and the introduction of rockets provided by Iran to Hamas has created a situation whereby Israel won’t turn over the West Bank to any Palestinians now because it fears Hamas would use it to launch rockets on Israel’s international airport. But if we do nothing, Zionist settlers would devour the rest of the West Bank and holy Jerusalem. What can be done?

I am proposing what I would call a five-state solution:

I’d like to tackle each part of the solution he proposes separately. They are idealistic, noble and totally unconnected from reality.

1. Israel agrees in principle to withdraw from every inch of the West Bank and Arab districts of East Jerusalem, as it has from Gaza. Any territories Israel might retain in the West Bank for its settlers would have to be swapped — inch for inch — with land from Israel proper.

Total withdrawal for the West Bank, for one, is a total nonstarter. Israel relies on the headwaters of the Jordan River (inconveniently located within the Occupied Territories) for the majority of its water. This is naturally a major security interest for the Israelis; they fought a war with the Arab League over the attempted damming of the Jordan, water being a big deal in the desert, go figure.

The other two are just as fantastic. While there is the chance that Israel would recognize mostly-Arab East Jerusalem as the ceremonial capital of a Palestinian state, there is no way in hell they are going to give up control of probably the most holy city in the world, or let it be divided Berlin-style that way it was between Israel and Jordan before the Six Day War of 1967.

Regarding a land-swap, settler territory for actual Israeli land to become part of the Palestinian Authority: The fundamentalist right wing in Israel, the characters who are the force behind the attempt to settle the entire area that was once ancient Judea and Samarra, will never ever let an inch of Israeli territory be given to the Palestinians. They’re not even that hot on giving them land in the Occupied Territories. And they have never shied away from violence to prevent this; Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo Accords and was assassinated shortly afterward by a “lone gunman” right-wing Zionist; Ariel Sharon withdrew the settlements from the Gaza Strip and shortly afterwards fell victim to a mysterious stroke (I’m no conspiracy theorist, but still).

2. The Palestinians — Hamas and Fatah — agree to form a national unity government. This government then agrees to accept a limited number of Egyptian troops and police to help Palestinians secure Gaza and monitor its borders, as well as Jordanian troops and police to do the same in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority would agree to five-year “security assistance programs” with Egypt in Gaza and with Jordan in the West Bank.

With Egypt and Jordan helping to maintain order, Palestinians could focus on building their own credible security and political institutions to support their full independence at the end of five years.

The ground truth is that Hamas and Fatah are locked in a civil war for control of the Occupied Territories (leaving America in the bizarre position of financially backing Fatah when we pushed for the elections that knocked them out of power and started the war in the first place). Hamas is a fundamentalist Islamist group, while Fatah, the former Palestinian Liberation Organization, is a secular nationalist organization composed of Muslims. Huge difference. There is pretty much zero chance of the two reaching any sort of power-sharing agreement, as Hamas considers Fatah to be apostate rulers.

The idea that the Israelis letting Jordanian security forces into the West Bank is similarly insane; the Israelis took the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan in the first place. It’s never ever ever going to happen. And despite the Camp David Accords with Egypt, letting them put guys with guns into the Territories is another fantasy. Despite their mutual diplomatic recognition and the return of the Sinai to Egypt, the received wisdom in Israel is that President Hosni Mubarak pays but lip service to the agreement, while turning a blind eye to the smugglers supplying Gaza despite the blockade.

3. Israel would engage in a phased withdrawal over these five years from all of its settlements in the West Bank and Arab Jerusalem — except those agreed to be granted to Israel as part of land swaps — at the same pace that the Palestinians meet the security and governance metrics agreed to in advance by all the parties. The U.S. would be the sole arbiter of whether the metrics have been met by both sides.

Removing the settlements is not a bad idea at all, but, as noted above, attempting to give the Palestinians their own land or withdraw the settlements seems to lead to the death or incapacitation of Israeli prime ministers. And if Bibi Netanyahu of the Likud Party becomes PM, this will become another fantasy.

The real issue with this one is that it somehow assumes that either the Palestinians or the Israelis will somehow view America as some kind of impartial judge after eight years of abandoning the role of mediator and siding with the Israelis entirely. Not to mention the aforementioned elections that made Hamas the legitimate government of the Territories. Less than a few weeks ago, during the Gaza War, Prime Minister Olmert actually demanded to speak with President Bush and convinced him not to sign onto to a UN-brokered ceasefire that Condi Rice, his Secretary of State, had drafted the majority of. Something tells me Israel is going to attempt to continue this kind of relationship, though with the new administration it’s totally up in the air. And both Fatah and Hamas view America as betrayers of their interests more than ever.

4. Saudi Arabia would pay all the costs of the Egyptian and Jordanian trustees, plus a $1 billion a year service fee to each country — as well as all the budgetary needs of the Palestinian Authority. The entire plan would be based on U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338 and blessed by the U.N. Security Council.

This one is my favorite suggestion of Friedman’s, for a couple reasons. One, Saudi Arabia is already the major funder of both Fatah and Hamas. They have financed the PLO and other resistance groups since the creation of Israel in 1948, financed the Arab League in both the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War, and their resident religious nuts (which is most of the country) strongly supported and backed Hamas during the still-smoldering Gaza War.

Despite King ‘Abdullah’s profession that he wants peace, and it is little known that in 2003 he offered diplomatic recognition of Israel in return for the US dropping its planned invasion of Iraq, his proposals always contain enough caveats that make them basically impossible to implement. This is remarkably similar to former President Bush’s “road map for peace,” in which Israel quietly logged seventeen “reservations” about the plan that effectively scuttled it.

And “basing the entire plan” on UN Resolutions 242 and 338 is the problem to begin with, because they call for Israel’s total withdrawal to its pre-1967 borders, which would include returning the Golan Heights to Syria (not a huge deal) and returning the West Bank and East Jerusalem to the Jordanians. As discussed in detail above, the West Bank is too important to Israel’s strategic interests and they will never accept a divided Jerusalem again. It also means that the Jordanian security forces Friedman proposes would not just be there to help the Palestinians, but would be a precursor to Jordan’s eventual reintegration of the territory into their country.

And this is from supposedly one of the finest foreign policy minds in the country?

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