Memo to the President - January 2009: Is there still a Two-State solution?

white house 88 (photo credit: )
white house 88
(photo credit: )
Dear Mr. President, Before the elections, people in Israel were trying to answer the question of "Which of the candidates is good for Israel?" Obviously that was and remains a silly question that can produce a multitude of contrasting answers. The question you ask yourself is "What's good for America?" in the Middle East, and that requires some shifts from the compilation of policies you have inherited. I submit to you three premises for discussion: President Bush's ambitious but ill-conceived and ill-timed "Agreement within a year" didn't materialize for a variety of reasons. It's not entirely his fault. There never seems to be a good time in the Middle East. Increasingly and alarmingly the "Two-State" solution seems to apply to Virginia and West Virginia and not to Israel and a Palestine. Lastly, you have more or less two years before the Israeli-Palestinian conflict becomes infinitely intractable, which means you have to devise an American strategy and policy as early as possible. Last time I wrote you, I did it in my capacity as your Middle East adviser. I took the liberty of writing this second memo as your Israeli adviser. In other words, this is a synopsis what Israel expects from your administration in terms of both fresh thinking and policy. Now that the platitudes and pandering of the campaign are behind you, it is time you revisit and assess some basic tenets of US policy. In the summer of 2000, Bill Clinton tried at Camp David to draw a conflict-ending, finality-of-all-claims final status agreement. It didn't work. His successor, George W. Bush committed the US to the establishment of a Palestinian State and essentially adopted the "Two State" solution as did Israel and ostensibly the Palestinian Authority too. That has not happened and in fact, the Palestinians are no closer to an independent state today than they were when the Oslo accords in 1993 created a Palestinian Authority, supposedly an interim structure preceding an independent state. The Two State solution may no longer be a viable option. Desirable perhaps, but political reality inhibits and security considerations prevent its implementation. The Palestinian Authority is corrupt, inept, incompetent and politically unpopular. They are countered in Gaza by the Hamas, which while is a murderous, extremist, terrorist and fundamentalist entity is nonetheless a real movement and an accurate expression and reflection of a major and growing strain in Palestinian society and politics. If you're wondering how they came to power give George Bush a call. They are the retarded child of his "Democratize the Middle East" crusade. Israel may need your help to prevent them from "Hamasizing" the west bank. In other words, if you are thinking "why should I care" about the demise of the Two State solution, just think of Hamas, a Sunni group not dissimilar to the people who carried out the 9/11 attacks bordering both Israel and Jordan. Israeli settlements is a general term describing a myopic policy (and I make a distinction between historical rights and smart policy) since the 70's that turned two separate ethno-national groups into an inseparable, intertwined demographic-territorial mess. More to the point, settlements make a Palestinian state discontiguous. In order for Israel to dismantle nearly one hundred settlements and dislocate 120,000 settlers all living outside of the three main settlement blocks there needs to be a dramatic, almost inconceivable shift in Israeli trust in the Palestinian leadership's ability to control the area. Yet Israel cannot sustain the status-quo on demographic grounds which draw us precipitously close to the day when Palestinians will demand a "One-State" for two peoples model and then ask for voting rights on the basis of "One Man - One Vote". I can't really see you opposing that very basic political and civil right. However, Israel cannot afford this nightmare scenario from evolving or even gaining mainstream support. Your point of departure from previous administrations and policies has to include the following elements: Define the resolution or major amelioration of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a US interest. Your predecessors used to say that "The US cannot want peace more than the parties themselves" and that the US was "An honest broker" or "Active intermediary". They were right and that was applicable and suitable at the time. No more. It's still essentially true in principle but have no illusions: left to their own devices, Israel and the Palestinians cannot reach a workable and sustainable accommodation. If you want to ascribe responsibility and blame, it is the Palestinian unbelievable and recklessly irresponsible policy for four decades. That policy led since 1967 and again since the meltdown at Camp David in 2000 to Israeli inaction and paralysis. One attempt to alter the dynamics and unilaterally withdraw from Gaza is now backfiring in that Israelis lost trust in the Palestinians altogether after three years of constant rocket-launching from Gaza into Israel. US interests in the region, broadly delineated, are not limited to oil and short-term stability, but arguably demand a "Pax Americana", shaped wisely through a combination diplomatic means, soft-power and projection of strength and deterrence. Don't be fooled or misled by honest, well-intentioned and do-good previous policies. It's not only about the expert Middle East team you assemble or the number of trips your Secretary of State will make. Guess what, it's also not about changing Bush's unilateralist policy. The US is still the only superpower. The European Union has no unified foreign policy, nor are China and India interested in anything beyond the uninterrupted flow of affordable oil. The only country you need to cooperate with, or at least be considerate to its interests is Russia which has the menacing potential it did not have 6-7 years ago. Think out of the box: Some advisers will tell you to stay away from the Middle East. You have Iraq to contend with, Iran to contain and an economy on the brink of recession. What's in it for you? They will ask rhetorically. The conflict is not threatening to spill-over and anti-American sentiment in the Arab world has more to do with the Iraq war and US unwavering support for the bastion of Jeffersonian democracy called Saudi Arabia. So don't waste political capital you don't even have yet on a futile attempt to re-invent a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Let me tell you something. It's this kind of reasonable, sound and logical advice we in Israel dread. If you are convinced that a Palestinian state is non-viable, don't hesitate to formulate a different policy. The cost of helping set up what will inevitably be failed state may outweigh the benefits of another south lawn ceremony. Don't be afraid to think in terms of a NATO protectorate, an international trusteeship, a coached state-in-the making for 5 years. It seems very complicated and there are 347 reasons people will give you on why it will never work, but neither has anything else that has been proposed and advocated. Some myths you should avoid. The left and the right in Israel have developed some myths that they regard as inalienable and irrefutable truths. They will try and relay those to your administration at all levels. Stay clear of them. The left will tell you that a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the key to regional stability and cessation of hostilities and anti-Americanism. Nonsense. Arabs have been fighting each other for decades, their regimes are a garden variety of dictatorships and autocracies and the source of their resentment is in inherent failure to deal with modernity, disregard for human and political rights and inability to overcome clan, ethnic and intra-faith animosities. The left will also tell you that once offered a genuine and honest deal the Palestinians will not reject it. They were and they did. The right will tell you that Palestinians cannot be trusted, that they will create a terror-state and thus Israel has no choice but to stay in the west bank. If you follow that twisted logic, then the "One State for Two peoples" idea will be on your desk before the end of your first term. Secondly, US policy needs to evolve from the confines of "Global war on terror". The Russians don't care about Palestinian terror nor about $107 per barrel oil. You should. In other words, Mr. President, there is a very simple - and nasty - formula here: Israelis cannot afford to occupy over 2 million Palestinians in the west bank and Palestinians cannot run a state and provide security. The current situation is intolerable and it will be up to you to demonstrate that the US has a vested interest in creating some model of a solution.