There is No Plan B for Mideast Peace (and Why We Need One)
Stephen Walt thinks that the latest spat between Israel and the US is grounds for bringing back up a topic that very few want to discuss: what plans/solutions/options remain if (and when) the two state solution fails?
His ideas on that subject (which are worth the read) are here.
Obligatory preface on Stephen Walt–I didn’t find his Israel Lobby book persuasive. I do find his questions about the future of the two state solution very important and worth consideration. (i.e. The second link above).
The Two State Solution, which as Walt correctly notes was only official policy at the extreme terminus of the Clinton administration, was officially endorsed (from the beginning) by George W. Bush (but never really followed up on) and is now the de facto position across the board, reflected by the Obama administration’s outrage over the recent Israeli decision to start construction on 1600 (1600!!!) houses in East Jerusalem. East Jerusalem being of course at the center of the Two State Solution as the planned capital of the (hypothetical) Palestinian state.
The Two State Solution I believe is an extension of the earlier successes of US, Arab, and Israeli diplomacy–the so-called Land for Peace paradigm. Israel gave back land captured in the Six Day War to various Arab states who in turn recognized the legitimacy of the state of Israel and end the state of war between the two countries.
This basic format worked in the case of The Camp David Accords with Egypt and formed the template for the later Israeli-Jordanian peace agreement, which President Clinton helped negotiate. It’s also the deal that President George H. W. Bush offered (via Sec. of State Baker) to the Syrians (and by extension at the time their proxies Lebanon) and continues to this day to be on the table–which the Syrians have yet to take the Israelis up on.
This framework, however, worked because the states in question already existed as states. Applying this model to the Palestinian process appears to have put the cart before the horse. The failure of the Oslo Accords looms large in this scenario. If you take a more pro-Israeli position, the failure occurred because the PLO/Fatah never really led in the fashion of true statesmen. If you take the side of the Palestinians, Oslo failed because the deal offered was not a viable one that any group (including Fatah) could have claimed domestically as a win and thereby cemented their legitimacy.
In other words, the PLO wasn’t a state and therefore couldn’t negotiate under a paradigm presuming its existence existence as a state. [Even PM Rabin more or less unilaterally declared the PLO the rightful spokespersons for the Palestinian Authority.]
Here is Walt on the options remaining if (as I believe looks increasingly likely) the Two State Solution dies:
There are only three alternative options at that point. First, Israel could drive most or all of the 2.5 million Palestinians out of the West Bank by force, thereby preserving “greater Israel” as a Jewish state through an overt act of ethnic cleansing. The Palestinians would surely resist, and it would be a crime against humanity, conducted in full view of a horrified world. No American government could support such a step, and no true friend of Israel could endorse that solution.
Second, Israel could retain control of the West Bank but allow the Palestinians limited autonomy in a set of disconnected enclaves, while it controlled access in and out, their water supplies, and the airspace above them. This appears to have been Ariel Sharon’s strategy before he was incapacitated, and Bibi Netanyahu’s proposal for “economic peace” without a Palestinian state seems to envision a similar outcome. In short, the Palestinians would not get a viable state of their own and would not enjoy full political rights. This is the solution that many people — including Prime Minister Olmert — compare to the apartheid regime in South Africa. It is hard to imagine the United States supporting this outcome over the long term, and Olmert has said as much. Denying the Palestinians their own national aspirations is also not going to end the conflict.
Which brings me to the third option. The Israeli government could maintain its physical control over “greater Israel” and grant the Palestinians full democratic rights within this territory. This option has been proposed by a handful of Israeli Jews and a growing number of Palestinians. But there are formidable objections to this outcome: It would mean abandoning the Zionist dream of an independent Jewish state, and binational states of this sort do not have an encouraging track record, especially when the two parties have waged a bitter conflict across several generations. This is why I prefer the two-state alternative.
None of those options look particularly promising. I agree with Walt that of those options #3 would be the best, but does have the potential for serious problems and is also not very viable in my opinion. Option #2 seems to be where we are headed at the current time and will only isolate the Israeli state further. In fact, if it continues down the path of #2, the foundation of Israel as a liberal democratic society will be called into question–or at least will risk creating a doppelganger militarized autocracy (apartheid state?) on its backside.
The question I have with Walt’s formulation (in #3) is what exactly are full “democratic rights”? The Palestinians, by Middle Eastern Muslim majority country standards, have one of the strongest small ‘d’ democratic cultures, along with Iraq (brought in by invasion) and Iran (prior to their internal coup and nullification of last year’s election). It just so happens the West and Israel refused to recognize the results of their (by all accounts) free and fair election in 2006 in which Hamas won–an election that the US pushed the Palestinians to hold for what it’s worth.* This refusal to recognize the results was on the grounds that Hamas was an illiberal group, which would have been a legitimate argument had the Palestinians enjoyed corresponding liberal rights .
So I think there could be and/or needs to be some thinking about a possible fourth option (somewhere in between 2 + 3).
The fourth option argues that in the end two states are still the best way to go. In the interim, however, there is no Palestinian state with which to have an accord. The advantage (among many others) of this view is that it routes around the whole “Whose to blame?” endless game that so hampers any forward movement on this question.
A Palestinian state has to be built first before a Peace Process can occur on the present model–since the current Peace Process model assumes the existence of a Palestinian state (which of course there isn’t one). As everyone says, the outlines of the deal are accepted by all sides. Everybody basically knows what the eventual 2 state deal will look–Israel back to pre-67 borders with some land swaps. The problem is there is no way to get there from here.
There is a Roadmap for Middle East peace, but the road doesn’t actually exist as of yet. What we need now is a (State) Construction Crew.
This is why I flagged full democratic rights. Now what I’m about to say will be very controversial (and I’m just throwing out ideas here) but what if there were a smaller, more focused package of rights to begin within for the Palestinians? (I’m guessing the first way this would work would be in the West Bank.)
The Palestinians wouldn’t be receiving full democratic rights within the state of Israel (option #3, i.e. bi-national state which as Walt says has inherent instability) but a larger package of rights within a state-let or demi-state. Obviously, there needs to be a better term–something like autonomous region. In the old days this may have been called a principality, but that won’t work in Arab culture because they still have kings throughout the region.
While there’s a definite part of me that thinks the international community should just declare a Palestinian state, there needs to be something to cushion the steep learning curve of citizenship and statehood and I don’t see much currently in existence on that front. Again, anyone who wants to is I believe free with some validity to “blame” both Palestinian leadership and Israeli leadership for reasons why this cushion doesn’t exist. Nevertheless, an endless argument about who is to blame “more”, however accurate, doesn’t help move the situation forward from its current seriously deteriorating context.
So since that option (option #5 I guess) is out of the question, we are back to this in-between-state-to-eventually-grow-into-a-Palestinian-state idea.
In this “zone” or “region” or whatever we’re calling it, the Palestinians are given: 1. freedom of economic access and 2. political rights.
This would of course require the buildup of political institutions (instead of more democratic proceduralisms) that foster classically liberal rights as well as increased access to markets.
This would require the dismantling of the settlements and over time the checkpoints. In the meantime, however, it would mean Israeli (or perhaps joint Israeli-Jordanian if that were possible) security over the area.
This idea would likely bring howls from the left as it would be seen as “3rd class” citizenship for Palestinians. Third class in relation to first class Israeli citizenship, (with 2nd class being the status of Israeli Arabs). The howls from the (American-Israeli) right would criticize (I imagine) the Palestinians as a people incapable of building a state or ever living with Israel.
But compared to other countries in the region (minus Israel), this would be a major step up politically, economically, and socially for the Palestinian people. This would go in fits and starts. It certainly would be no smooth, linear progression. It might even require in the short/medium term taking away some “democratic” elements from the Palestinian political process, as excessive democracy (as in voting, not liberal values) can result in illiberal and destabilizing political movements.
Generally, the pattern in human history is economic rights–>political rights–>democratic expressions of political adjudication.
The ability for economic and political rights of course to be exercised requires “security” (or if you, like “security rights”) which lies at the nub of this whole problem for both sides. For all of the “security”–in terms of less bombings–the settlements, walls, and checkpoints have created for the Israelis, it has made the country far more insecure relative to the rest of the world. On the other side, the continued and increased insecurity of the Palestinian people leads to more security for old-line politicos like Fatah–more aid money flowing to their corrupt coffers, etc.
This is the negative feedback cycle that has to be broken. The US I think is within its rights to be currently pissed at Netanyahu & crew, but that in the end isn’t going to get at this deeper issue.
* If it’s worth anything, my position on the time was that the election should not have been held and then having been held and with Hamas winning, the international community should have accepted the results and recognized the legitimacy of Hamas.