The votes were all counted, and Menachem Begin had created an earthquake in Israel’s political foundation. The year was 1977, and I was living on a kibbutz not too far from Ramla. A few years before that historic election, I had attended a kibbutz Ulpan near the development town of Afula. My entire working stay in Israel was colored by one extremely salient fact: the Ashkenazi, Labor-orientated so-called left-wing in Israel was convinced that the Sephardic Jewish masses were backward, ignorant, and without a sufficient understanding of “correct” political reality. They said so openly and in a very condescending way. What they didn’t realize was that on my mother’s side of the Horowitz family, there was a prominent and proud traditional Sephardic family with the surname of Bello. To be quite blunt, I was appalled by their prejudice.
Karl Marx said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy and later as farce. Yes, 1977 was a tragedy for the Labor Party. But there was no tragedy last Tuesday. Once again, on election night there was another in a series of farcical center-right earthquakes. After all these years, the Labor Party has still not learned the two important lessons of post-Golda Israeli politics. First, security trumps all else. Second, if there is ever to be peace with the Palestinians it must include Jordan, in order to appeal to the mass of Israeli voters situated on the center-right of the political spectrum. Both the Sephardic and Russian Jewish communities have a healthy and realistic understanding of Islamic intentions toward Israel. Therefore, they vote center-right. The only way that Labor can capture enough of their votes to win an election is either with a proven security hawk at the top of the list, or with a peace plan that emphasizes a strong Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria and a democratic anchor in Jordan. In other words, a whole new paradigm.
When the Israeli far-right claims that Jordan is the Palestinian state, they are essentially making two correct assertions. First, by any measure of historical reality the territory east of the Jordan River is linked politically and geographically to the West Bank. This is without question in any new peace paradigm. The second assertion is quite simple: an independent Palestinian state in control of a border between the East and West Bank of the Jordan River can only lead to a devastating war. This war will most likely involve all three claimants to the historic Land of Israel — the Bedouins, the Palestinians, and the Israeli Jews. Therefore, if peace is to last, Israel’s presence in the disputed territories must become permanent.
The largest Palestinian community in the world is situated east of the Jordan River in the historic Transjordan region of the Land of Israel. According to international law, the original Mandate for Palestine (it was not called either Israel or Judea by the League of Nations) included territory on both sides of the river. The territory was mandated for the establishment of a Jewish homeland. But before the finalization of the diplomatic project by the victors in WWI, the territory was separated at the river and eventually an Arab state was recognized east of the river. This Arab state was a Bedouin-controlled absolute monarchy set up under the direction of the British Mandatory authorities. Called Jordan, it remains a kingdom within the historic territory of Israel/Palestine to this very day. Unlike what the far-right in Israel claims, Jordan is certainly not a Palestinian state. It is a kingdom, whose ruling family has governed at the expense of the majority Palestinian community since 1949.
But Jordan is a kingdom with very powerful friends. First and foremost of those friends is the American President, Barack H. Obama. The Obama administration has not been either a sincere or universal advocate of democracy in the Middle East. Its atrocious behavior in the midst of a Syrian genocide against a non-violent democratic opposition will go down in history as a permanent stain on its record. Obama’s cynical support for Iranian aggression in the Middle East has enabled the Assad junta to crush the democratic opposition in Syria. Once the world starts to pay attention to the “Caesar Photos” — and the severe nature of Assad’s genocide against the democratic Syrian opposition becomes exposed — many pressing questions will be asked of Obama’s record on democracy and human rights. For instance, how did the nuclear deal with Iran affect Obama’s reticence to challenge the evil perpetrated in Damascus and beyond? But I will leave that question (and others) for a later blog.
The question here is the relationship between the three historic actors in the hundred-year war for historic Israel/Palestine. In this war, the Obama administration wants to see Israel return to the 1949 armistice lines, a demilitarized Palestinian state established on the West Bank (controlling its own border with East Bank), and the Palestinian majority in Jordan (70% or greater) in a permanent state of American and British-sponsored apartheid east of the river. The vast majority of Israelis reject this paradigm outright. So too does the monarchy in Jordan. The Jordanian king desires a permanent Israeli presence on his border with the West Bank. Ironically, it is the Palestinian leadership and their far-left sycophants in Europe and the US who are the most adamant in favor of this dying paradigm. Unfortunately, this includes the American president. What has become clear, since the election of Bibi Netanyahu, is the extreme level of animosity hurled at the Israeli prime minister and the people of Israel by this far-left American president. But why? Why is an independent West Bank state the only viable alternative that the PLO and a far-left US administration are willing to consider?
The answer lies in the fact that the Palestinians know that once they can achieve an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, the time for an East Bank democratic revolution against the Jordanian king will be at hand. The PLO doesn’t desire a West Bank state. It desires “Greater Palestine” on both sides of the river. In other words, the first step would be the removal of Israel from the Jordan River Valley, the second step would be a successful democratic uprising against the Bedouin monarchy in Jordan, and the third step would be an invitation to the Iranian military to help secure the destruction of Israel (the liberation of Palestine in total/PLO). If this sounds far-fetched to you, you didn’t vote for the center-right. And of course your side lost the election. After all, what do Sephardic Jews and Russian Jews know about “correct” political positions? These citizens don’t live in Tel Aviv or read the left-wing press. And they certainly don’t listen to Obama’s political operatives hired by the Labor Party.
But these are the people who win Israeli elections, time after time. And if there is ever going to be peace in the Holy Land, it will require these people, and hence an entirely different paradigm than what the Left is offering. Jordanian democracy (or something worse) is going to happen one way or another. The question is whether this budding democracy (or something worse) is going to be established within the peace process or outside the peace process. The PLO wants it to happen outside the peace process. Their motives are clear (Greater Palestine). Therefore, the Jordanian democratic process must happen within the peace process. But a democratic result in Jordan must be supervised in such away that Hamas will not even be allowed to participate without their full commitment to the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty. Also, full recognition of Israel’s right to exist as the Jewish state in the Middle East must be secured before any political party would be allowed to participate.
This will require a 100% royal Jordanian shift of its political direction to a democratically-orientated constitutional monarchy. The king can remain head of state and, of course, he should remain the guardian of the Islamic holy places in a shared and united capital in Jerusalem. But only an elected parliament and a prime minister can be the head of a government which reflects the true democratic will of the people.
Once Jordan is democratic, the Palestinian majority (70% or more) will be free to connect with the Palestinian communities on the West Bank. This now true for Israelis living on either side of the green line, and it should be true for Palestinians living on both sides of the river. The only question is: who will control the sovereignty for the West Bank/Judea-Samaria? And after all these years, there can only be one answer: neither side will be in complete control of sovereignty, and sovereignty will be shared. In other words, an East-Bank constitutional democratic monarchy whereby all current citizens of Jordan and all the Arabs of the West Bank and East Jerusalem will become citizens of Palestine/Jordan. And these Palestinians will be living literally side by side as equals with the Israelis of the territories. They will not be citizens of the same country, but they will have the exact same rights as permanent residents of the same shared territory.
Negotiations over the condominium relationship within the West Bank and Jerusalem can be held as part and parcel to the peace process. These negotiations will be between the two democratically-elected heads of government and their respective teams. All issues of joint concern will be on the table including security, water, infrastructure, legality, community autonomy, electricity, economy, land use, and military-to-military cooperation. Jerusalem will remain an open city, the capital of two nation living in peace. Its city council and mayoral leadership will also be decided through negotiation.
Until the majority of the Israeli people feel that the structure and direction of the peace paradigm is balanced both geographically and politically, and that it reflects the true nature of the composition of forces in the Middle East, peace will not be possible. At this point in history, there must also be a regional dimension to any hopeful new Israeli/Palestinian peace initiative. This will take a global effort of cooperation and coordination on the part of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. In order to be successful, the major powers must decide that international peace is their strategic goal, and the abyss at the center of the Middle East must be secured before a dangerous escalation leads to either a regional or global nuclear showdown.
The collapse of the Middle East into an Iranian-Sunni-Jewish war has now made the old two-state solution a cliché and an anachronism. For the most part, Oslo was a desperate measure by the PLO to remain relevant and to keep their “step-by-step” strategy from completely eroding. After twenty years, the erosion process has finally made the ground sterile for this unworkable paradigm. As the region now heads into a nuclear arms race, only the most out-of-the-box thinking can save it from complete ruin. Israeli-Palestinian peace must become couched in a much broader regional structure — a zone of peace — in order to be achievable. In the final analysis, peace between Jews and Muslims will require a narrative of Divinely-ordained reconciliation. On this, I believe, there is a distinct case for agreement between Torah and Koran. But without traditional and religious Jews, Israelis of Sephardic and African background, Russian Jews and nationalist settlers, all of whom are on board with the total package, peace cannot materialize. This is the time for new ideas and new inclusion. It is also the time for the Labor Party to wake up and realize that Menachem Begin is still in charge. What is needed is a center-right peace plan that not only inspires the entire world Jewish community, but also offers the Palestinians a viable state in half of the real and historic Israel/Palestine.