The two-state solution, “with Israelis and Palestinians living side-by-side in peace and harmony”. What a lovely thought. This mantra is repeated endlessly by high-profile politicians the world over and in editorials of much of the world’s media. Unfortunately the reality is rather different.
If, for a moment, one puts aside issues of history and the origins of the conflict, where do we find ourselves today? The West Bank (also known as Judaea and Samaria, the Biblical and ancestral homelands of the Jewish people) is divided into three areas agreed to in the 1995 Oslo Accords: Areas A and B (run and administered by the Palestinian Authority, “the PA”), and Area C which is administered by the Israelis and where almost all their settlements are located.
The West Bank is run by the PA, and led by Mahmoud Abbas (who is in his 11th year of a four-year term), whereas the Palestinians in Gaza are run by Hamas, bitter rivals to the PA. In spite of the fact that there have been numerous failed attempts at reconciling both parties, Hamas operatives in the West Bank are responsible for numerous assassinations and attempts at undermining Abbas. It is mostly due to the presence of the Israel Defence Forces (“IDF”), stationed in Area C where they can co-ordinate with PA forces, that the PA under Abbas remains in power. It is largely accepted that should Israeli forces be forced to withdraw from the West Bank for political reasons, this would be swiftly followed by a Hamas-PA confrontation that would inevitably lead to a Pandora’s box of hell—a Hamas takeover and a Gaza makeover, an open threat to both Israel and Jordan, and ultimately an opening to the Iranians. This would also result in the disruption of air traffic at Ben Gurion airport with serious consequences for Israel’s economy. This is simply unacceptable to the Israelis. The lesson was learned in 2005 when Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza, uprooting some 8,500 settlers. Politicians in the West praised PM Sharon for this bold gesture which many assumed would surely be reciprocated by the Palestinians. Furthermore, many in government at the time said that withdrawal from Gaza could provide a template for the West Bank. Unfortunately it did not lead to any hoped-for gestures for peace or any breakthrough with Hamas. On the contrary, within 48 hours Hamas militants moved rocket and missile units up to the border and proceeded to rocket Israeli towns and villages in the immediate areas. Israel’s unilateral withdrawal has been a controversial subject ever since (among Israelis), and similar moves proposed for the West Bank have, not surprisingly, been placed on the backburner. In any case, with whom is Israel supposed to make an agreement? The Palestinians in the West Bank ruled by President Abbas and the PA? (The same Abbas, by the way, who has publicly declared that a future Palestinian state will be Judenrein. Has he not noticed there are approx. 1.6 million Palestinians who are fully fledged Israeli citizens, who enjoy equal rights, more generous than those in most surrounding Arab countries?) And what should happen if Hamas overthrows the PA, and declares all agreements with Israel null and void? Their charter (which can be downloaded) calls for the destruction of the state of Israel and its replacement with a Palestinian Islamic state from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean, an aim which is repeated as regularly as by the ayatollahs who run Iran.
For this to happen, both the Egyptians and Jordanians would have to sell a widely unpopular change of policy to their populace.
Overlaying the above is the relentless and unprecedented level of demonisation and incitement against Israel in the Palestinian media, schools and mosques, and the glorification of terrorism through the naming of sports centres, streets, town squares and monuments after the killers of Israeli women and children. “Occupied Palestine” doesn’t mean the West Bank, it means all of Israel, so Palestinian maps show Israel as “Palestine”, and all Israelis, no matter where they live, are called “settlers”. What is happening is that senior figures in the PA are competing with Hamas in issuing hate-filled, extremist messages to the Palestinian people, who are consequently being increasingly radicalised to the point of supporting Hamas, and even ISIS. The peace process continues to be severely compromised by this, to which the international media pays scant attention, preferring instead to blame Israel for lack of progress. Likewise, President Obama seems unable to raise this issue directly with Mahmoud Abbas. It is no secret that there is no love lost between President Obama and PM Netanyahu. There is some speculation that, after the elections in November and before Obama leaves office in January, he may attempt to shore up his legacy by imposing a solution to the peace process by not using the US veto in the UN Security Council in the event of a French resolution that seeks to achieve the same ends. Abbas of the PA is banking on this, which explains why he consistently refuses to meet with Netanyahu for face-to-face negotiations. Why should he meet him if the Americans can deliver what he wants without having to pay any diplomatic price? The Israelis insist that any agreement with the Palestinians must be as a result of face-to-face negotiations, or warn of the consequences.
So where else can one look for a possible solution? A certain amount of thinking out-of-the-box would be welcomed and urgently required. Is it perhaps time to re-visit the period of 1948-1967 when Egypt was in illegal occupation (according to the UN), of Gaza, and Jordan also was in illegal occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem? Could a form of confederation be considered between the Gazan Palestinians and Egypt, and likewise between the West Bank Palestinians and Jordan? Both Egypt and Jordan have peace treaties with Israel, and both countries fear the rise of Islamist extremists. Although there is close military and intelligence co-operation today between the Egyptians and Israelis as far as Northern Sinai is concerned, both might one day welcome a security arrangement with Israel that allows them to monitor and manage extremists at source. As far as Jordan is concerned, Israel has a strategic interest in, and long-standing commitment to, the security and stability of the Hashemites.
However, such a proposal would be premature in today’s environment, and certainly fraught with complications. Firstly, both the Egyptians and Jordanians would have to attempt to sell what might be considered an unpopular change of policy to their populace. Secondly, this is not without a considerable security risk to Israel. What happens should Egypt’s Al-Sisi be replaced by someone like Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood? Or if the Hashemites are overthrown in Jordan? Could such an arrangement involve a security guarantee by the Americans? And in what form? The two issues at stake here are legitimacy and the existential threat to Israel. The Palestinians and many in the West prefer to camouflage this with the usual mantra of “occupation” and “settlements”. But history must be invoked here. Prior to 1967 there was no occupation and no settlements, not by Israel at any rate. Yet the Palestine Liberation Organisation was formed in 1964. To “liberate” what from whom, may one ask? From 1948 to 1967 the Jordanians illegally occupied Judaea and Samaria (the West Bank) and East Jerusalem, on land that was supposed to be a homeland for the Jewish people in accordance with UN international law, originating in the San Remo Conference (1920), ratified by the League of Nations in 1922. It is the only legally enforceable document that remains valid today. Therefore Israel did not “occupy” Arab lands in 1967, but recovered lands that were a priori theirs under law and according to international agreement.
Christopher Dreyfus is a former member of Council of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, London.