At their meeting in the White House, President Obama challenged the Israeli PM that if he didn’t like the administration’s approach to the peace process, he should instead devise an alternative approach to the so-called two-state solution. From Obama’s Peace Now-J Street perspective, there is, in fact, no alternative to the idea of an independent West Bank Palestinian state. From a position similar to the left-wing Israeli political party, Meretz, the US President believes that as long as the occupation continues, Israel must choose between being a Jewish state or remaining a democracy. However, Obama challenges only Israel on the issue of democracy. Let off without a scolding are the kings and other Arab potentates of the Middle East who have been America’s key allies since before Israel was even born.
This idea that only Israel must choose is curious, to say the least. Since when does a country in a state of war with other nations (all Arab states with the exception of Egypt and partially Jordan) find themselves being forced to apply “rights” to the enemy within (the Palestinians)? After all, the occupation of the Arab communities in Judea and Samaria is legal under UN Security Council Resolution 242. Since no official UN sovereignty has ever been applied to the territories, it stands to reason that the League of Nations designation (that all land from the Jordan River to the sea be established as a Homeland for the Jewish People) is the only document where applied sovereignty might be determined. But Israel has never designated the territories as its own. Only through the end of the formal state of war and by direct negotiations can sovereignty be determined (including the future of Jerusalem). And for the most part, that has been the position of both right-wing and left-wing governments in Israel. Only Jerusalem has been annexed, yet its future has been open for negotiation.
Perhaps Obama was referring to Israel’s difficult political situation with leftists in Western Europe and the super-liberal wing of the Democratic Party in the US. Israel’s so-called existential choice has always been favored propaganda for these hypocrites — that is, the choice between a bi-national democracy or a Jewish state. But since when has a bi-national democracy or any democracy, for that matter, ever existed in the Arab world? And when has the US ever supported democracy in the Arab World, with the exception of the invasion of Iraq (an unlawful act without the support of the UN Security Council)? In fact, these left-wingers know that if democracy were ever to come to Jordan, it would be the majority Palestinians who would win the election, and Jordan would in fact become a Palestinian majority state. So, the Left holds to the completely unsubstantiated fiction that the two banks of the Jordan River have historically been separate entities from time immemorial.
Nothing could be further from the truth (just read the charter of the PLO).
Maybe Obama was referring only to the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria. But the US claims that these settlements are “illegitimate” but certainly not “illegal” under international law. This designation is crucial because without UN Security Council support (of at least one permanent member) international law could turn against Israel. But Israel’s rights within the territories (at least with security and through direct negotiations) have been recognized by every administration in Washington since 1967. Any change in official policy would be tantamount to a geopolitical earthquake in Israel. Is Obama threatening the Jewish state? Could the designation “illegitimate” be reversed after the Congressional elections in November of this year? Certainly Bibi must feel that his arm is being severely twisted to accept the president’s framework for peace. When it comes to Israel, Obama’s strength and toughness resemble Putin’s (but only when it comes to Israel).
So how might Bibi respond to the Obama challenge, and is there an alternative to the so-called two-state solution? In the past, before he was PM, Netanyahu was a classic “Likudnik”. Jordan should be the eventual “Palestinian state”, and the Arabs of Judea and Samaria would be offered autonomy without citizenship or the chance to move to the East Bank. But once he became PM, Netanyahu miraculously realized that no one in the Washington establishment was buying into the notion of “Greater Israel”. So slowly but surely Bibi accepted the American plan — three states on both banks of the river — Jordan to the east, Palestine in the center and Israel up against the sea.
It didn’t matter that the Palestinians were the majority in Jordan or that the Hashemite monarchy had never severed constitutional ties with the West Bank. It didn’t matter that the West Bank territory’s Arab residents were still technically Jordanian citizens. It didn’t matter that the PLO had fought a civil war in Jordan in the early 1970’s claiming Jordan as its own and attempting to use it as a base for future attacks on Israel. It didn’t matter that the PLO had developed its “phased strategy” to use the West Bank as a “stepping stone”. First, in order to overthrow the monarchy in the east, and then with the help of outside actors, an eventual bid to liberate all the territory on the west side of the river. It didn’t matter that the PLO had developed excellent relations with both Iraq and Iran. It didn’t matter that the Palestinian Authority (under both Arafat and Abbas) has insisted on zero Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley. The only thing that mattered was for an Israeli PM to appease the Americans. In other words, the Jordanian monarchy was off-limits. Successive US administrations saw that the Hashemite monarchy was protected. Democracy played no role in the kingdom. The US would not allow it.
Eventually the Americans came around to the idea of a West Bank state. Rabin and the Oslo Accords had convinced them. But the Palestinian state would be demilitarized, and somehow its political linkages to the east would be kept under control and managed (never mind that after twenty years the Oslo process yielded nothing, and evidence of Arab democratic yearnings now remain high). The US had discovered a new paradigm (Oslo), and even the Israeli Likud was forced to buy into the concept. Jordan would not be a part of the equation. The East Bank was off-limits, and to suggest any other alternative was to be ostracized in Washington. That was US policy then, and that’s what it is today.
In other words, the choice for Bibi or any other right-leaning Israeli leader was: Take it or leave it, because we’ve got the ultimate leverage — your dependence on our strategic relationship. Also, for the last twenty years Israel has been locked in by Oslo. One way or another, Oslo is now coming to an end. In the final analysis, Israel’s right-wing can always be pressured, and Bibi feels the pressure now.
But while Bibi has moved to the Center ideologically (with US prodding), his political party has moved further to the Right. Whether the “new” Likud will accept the Obama framework is doubtful. So the question becomes: Will Bibi destroy the Likud and fuse a vastly reduced rump party with the Center, the Ultra-Orthodox, and the Left, or will Bibi present Obama with a surprising alternative? Obama opened the door when he challenged the Israeli Right by suggesting “Okay guys, what’s your peace plan”? But Netanyahu doesn’t have to accept the challenge,; he could move to the political Center (like Sharon did). So where would that leave the Right, especially the religious Right?
I believe this is the great moment for the religious Right to redefine its mission and its narrative as a holy search for true peace between the Jewish state and Islam. It appears to me as if G-d has eliminated the idea of conquest in the Holy Land from the grasp of human history. In its place, the new narrative of the religious Right in Israel should become peace through mutual sovereignty in Judea-Samaria and Jerusalem — the West Bank and Al-Quds. Israel should offer the Palestinians of the West Bank immediate statehood with a capital in Jerusalem under the concept of condominium or shared rule for the territory. This condominium should be based on the exact equality of these states and within the specific geographical framework of two states for two peoples on both banks of the river. This could include the Jordanian monarchy in a constitutional form (like England) as one federal Arab state. Or the Arab state could exclude the monarchy and be a two-bank Jordan River republic. The choice will belong to the Arabs. However, on the West Bank and Jerusalem, sovereignty will be equal between Israel and the Arab state. It will be shared, as all political decisions involving the territory as a whole will be decided on a state to state basis.
State to state negotiations over the terms of the condominium could begin immediately. They could proceed through the offices of Amman or Ramallah or both. Equality over all aspects of the condominium would be the watchword, while autonomy within specific communities would most likely be the best path forward during the early stages of both the negotiations and the actual peace. Everything would be on the table–water, electricity, urban and rural jurisdiction, holy places, roads, sewage, security, justice, economy, money, and even eventual military to military relations. The future of the Jordan would only concern Israel to the extent that its future linkage to the West Bank-Judea Samaria condominium is democratic and that the new federal constitutional monarchy or republic upholds its formal 1994 peace treaty with appropriate amendments for the new border relationship. Enshrined in this peace concept is the fundamental idea that only two states (not three) make logical political sense within the geographic territory of historic Israel. This territory includes both banks of the Jordan River, from the eastern desert to the sea.
In June of 2009, fifty-three members of the Knesset signed a draft resolution sponsored by the National Union Party calling for “two states for two people on two banks of the river”. One signatory was Ehud Barak of the Labor Party. If Bibi was really smart, he would go to Ehud with this new peace alternative and ask for his support. If Ehud agrees, Bibi should appoint him as Israel’s special new peace envoy to the Obama administration. With Ehud on board, Obama could’t pressure Netanyahu any more. Perhaps even the entire Labor Party could agree to the alternative new plan. From the far-Right to the moderate Left and beyond, Israel could be united. Then the true test will come: Are the Palestinians and their left-wing allies really willing to make peace with Israel? Or will they cling to the incitement of ridiculous accusations like the apartheid blood libel and Zionism equates to racism (among others)?
If the left-wing of the Democratic Party in the US truly believes in peace and democracy in the Middle East, Bibi’s true two-state alternative will be accepted. If the religious Zionists of Israel truly believe in a Torah of peace, they will need an appropriate political alternative to conquest. If the Palestinians want Israel to share Jerusalem, they’re going to have to come to the realization that they must share Judea with the Jews. Which ever direction the peace process takes, Jordan is not all of Palestine, but it is certainly a vital and an integral part. Whether the Obama Administration likes it or not, the East Bank of the Jordan River is going to be the crucial element of any eventual peace solution, whichever it is– three states or an alternative two.