There are alternatives to the ‘two-state’ solution
By Bruce S. Ticker
PHILADELPHIA–Low expectations, or no expectations, can only benefit the revived Middle East peace talks.
As Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” assesses his future son-in-law, Motel the tailor, we can characterize the Israeli and Arab leaders’ prospects thus: “They have absolutely nothing. On the other hand, things could never get worse for them. They could only get better.”
To the surprise of only the most optimistic, the average observer fully anticipates the new talks to fizzle out before the one-year self-imposed deadline ends. The Washington Post signaled that this new development hardly constitutes major news by running the story of the announcement on page two.
With expectations so low, Israelis and Arabs might not be too disappointed if the talks are unproductive. It will be all the more an impressive surprise if Israel and the Arabs reach a settlement that will improve the lives of both peoples.
In typical inside-the-box thinking, they are operating on the assumption that an independent Palestinian state is the solution. Is that the only possible solution?
A Palestinian state could founder for any number of reasons: Israeli security concerns, unknown governing abilities, the undersized dimensions of the territory, excessive Arab demands, divided Arab factions, settler resistance to expulsion and so on. Said Palestinian state could be dependent on international support for years, maybe forever.
There are other possibilities which are presented here as raw concepts. They are likewise vulnerable to failure. Present realities alone, such as Hamas’ stranglehold on Gaza, could preclude their chances of success:
Annex Alternative – On paper, this concept makes the most sense. Egypt would annex Gaza and Jordan would negotiate with Israel to annex part of the West Bank. Egypt is located adjacent to Gaza, and the West Bank is separated from Jordan by the narrow Jordan River. Egypt and Jordan both have peace treaties with Israel and will provide a ready-made defense operation. As Arabs, most of their citizens share the same religion and traditions.
Downside: The leaders of both Egypt and Jordan want nothing to do with the territories, which ironically they spent 25 years trying to seize by force. They fear that extremists will attempt to undermine their governments. Likewise, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has dismissed such an arrangement.
Disengagement, again – Israel would unilaterally pull out of the West Bank with the exception of the Jerusalem suburbs. Unlike the Gaza pullout, Israel would maintain a military presence to prevent attacks on Israel proper and arms smuggling from Jordan. While some believe Israel has a right to occupy the West Bank, the territory has been a burden since both settlers and the troops assigned to protect them have been vulnerable to attacks.
Downside: The Palestinian Authority will probably balk at such a move and many settlers will resolve to remain in place. Israel should go through the motions of consulting beforehand with both parties. If the authority refuses to cooperate, that is their decision. Israel should not try to forcibly remove the settlers, and let them know that they are on their own; consider that many settlers have military experience and have no doubt assembled arsenals of their own.
Knesset in Charge – Israel would continue to occupy the territories in a shared governance arrangement. The West Bank and Gaza (assuming that Hamas is contained) would be formed as provinces or states of Israel. The citizens would vote for their own elected officials who will be responsible for all locally-oriented services and Israel would administer programs which affect both Israel proper and the territories.
Downside: While the Palestinian Authority would condemn this plan for lesser reasons, they would oppose the denial of voting rights for national elections. This plan is designed as a compromise so that citizens of the territories can elect officials responsible for direct local needs. However, their inability to vote in national elections would preclude them from dominating the national government. This is an admission that, if it comes down to it, Israel must remain Jewish as the sovereign power. Israel was created as a Jewish state in the middle of far larger Muslim-dominated countries.
Turkish Dish – The bloody flotilla incident could offer a silver lining. The Turkish government and a controversial charity organization claimed they are deeply concerned about the fate of Gaza’s citizens. They have a chance to prove it: Annex Gaza and maybe the West Bank. Turkey can govern one or both territories and set everything right. They have the resources and their close relationship with Hamas might permit a peaceful end to Hamas’ chokehold. Turkey is close enough geographically to Gaza for ready access, but far enough that Gaza is not positioned to undermine its government. Turkey would be responsible for security and must answer for any lapses.
Downside: Obviously, Turkey may not be willing to put its money where its mouth is. Hamas may be unwilling to cooperate with Turkey.
Each one of these plans is filled with pitfalls, but no more or less than a formalized two-state solution. My expectations that any of the parties would give these proposals any consideration are, well, quite low. Who knows? There could be a workable solution down there somewhere.
Ticker is Philadelphia bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World