Sometime in the late 1960’s it finally dawned on the PLO leadership that, in order to defeat Israel, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan needed to be destroyed. Throughout the long struggle for historic Israel-Palestine, Israel’s tacit ally had always been the King of Jordan. The Palestinian leadership had analyzed both the 1948 War and the disaster nineteen years later in forming their conclusion. With a militant eastern front to compliment an active northern and southern axis — the Syrian and Egyptian challenge — Israel’s vaunted interior lines could be exposed and exploited. The key for the Palestinians was the overthrow of the Jordanian monarchy. But as history shows, the ensuing civil war on the East Bank didn’t go Arafat’s way.
The PLO leadership has always claimed that it is both secular and Arab nationalist. Nothing could be further from the truth. All the various symbols of the PLO have deep roots in Islamic culture. For example, the full name of the organization is Harakat at-Tahrir al-Watani al-Filastini. This translates as the Palestine National Liberation Movement. From this name the reverse acronym, Fatah, was designated as the official name for the largest political body in the PLO (Arabic is read from right to left). The Fatah label has a deep Islamic significance. Meaning “conquering” or “victory”, the word Fatah is used to signify the incredible Arab expansion in the first century of Islamic history. Fatah is also the name of the 48th chapter of the Koran (Sura 48) which details the story of the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah. It was the breach of this treaty by the Prophet Mohammad that triggered the conquest of Mecca. This Islamic precedent was cited by Yasser Arafat as justification for signing the Oslo Accords with Israel.
Without an East Bank base, the PLO needed an alternative strategy. Oslo and “phased struggle” was that strategy. To liberate the West Bank from Israeli occupation was Arafat’s key to roll back the great Israeli victory of 1967. More importantly, a mini-state in the territory could be used as a stepping stone in a “long game” to eventually overthrow the King of Jordan. This could only be accomplished through diplomacy. In other words, war by another means. But once established on the West Bank, Arafat was certain that the East Bank Palestinian majority would once again rise up against the king. This has been the Arafat-Abbas legacy. The East Bank of the Jordan River has always been a part of historic Israel-Palestine. Even the PLO Charter declares this to be the case. Furthermore, the population of the Kingdom of Jordan is majority Palestinian, by at least seventy percent. I’m certain this is what was going on in Arafat’s mind when he famously shook Rabin’s hand on the White House lawn. But Arafat’s Oslo strategy has never really worked. Israel simply refused (over a period of twenty years) to relinquish its primary security concern — the essential Jordan River Valley.
In that same time period, the PLO leadership has been steadfast and true to its “phased struggle” strategy. Within this context, three US-led attempts to finalize a deal have all failed. And the last attempt, the Kerry initiative, failed without even a common statement of principles. Simply put: Israel and Jordan don’t trust the PLO leadership to end the conflict, and a strong case can be built to justify that lack of trust. Israel is certainly not looking for a peace treaty which can easily be abrogated whenever the geopolitical balance would be ripe for abrogation. But this is the essence of “phased struggle”. Always remember — the West Bank of the Jordan River is the most strategic piece of military real estate on this planet. The US Joint Chiefs of Staff said as much in their famous 1968 report. The report claimed that, in order to defend itself from a concerted attack in the east, Israel would need to hold possession of forty percent of the West Bank (not including the air space above the territory).
Since 1968, from a military standpoint things have gotten worse, not better. Advances in anti-tank, anti-aircraft and overall missile technology have meant that the holding of territory (strategic depth) is more critical that ever. Even as a so-called “demilitarized state” Palestine could play havoc with Israel’s pre-1967 width and height. Israel is a mere nine miles wide and lying in a low valley compared to the West Bank. Its major population center rests in that valley. The PLO state would be less than three miles from suburban Tel Aviv. Over the last decade, the Hamas missile infrastructure has shown the entire world that Israel would be completely insane to allow for the possibility of such an infrastructure to be placed above its major population heartland. But this is the Palestinian demand. Both Fatah and Hamas are willing to sign on to such a deal, providing that Israel completely withdraw. Not that either would ever recognize Israel as the “State of the Jewish People”, or that they would even relinquish their so-called “right of return”. No — the deal wouldn’t even encompass a clause which states that the Palestinians would “end all claims to the conflict”. In other words, the deal would be temporary and not final. The bottom line is that the Palestinians, both Fatah and Hamas, are looking for a West Bank State within the context of a long-term truce — something akin to the Prophet Mohammad’s Treaty of Hudaybiyyah.
The Israeli political narrative has failed. The peace between Jewish nationalism and its Palestinian counterpart was an Israeli-American neo-liberal fantasy. The Middle East reality is such that if there is ever to be a true and finalized peace, it will require a primary theological dimension. The Arab mind is first and foremost a religious mind. Until it witnesses the outstretched hand and the sheathed sword of the new religious Jew, it will always perceive Israel as hostile and atheist. The secular Zionist Israeli leadership doesn’t realize this, because secular Jewish nationalism was a complete revolution in Jewish history. But minority religious Zionism could be a bridge from the mind of one enemy to another. This will require a new interpretation of Torah (Genesis 17 — The Covenant of Abraham) and a strong and constant emphasis on Koranic superiority to Hadith (Koran 5-21 over and above the actions and sayings of the Prophet).
In this religious narrative, the integration of equals (the two sons of Abraham) must be emphasized as the only possible solution for the holy territory of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). A proper understanding of the religious and historic geography of the “Promised Land” (including both banks of the Jordan River) is a must in a primary theological solution. There can be no peace without both a mutual religious foundation and a proper understanding of historic, biblical geography. Without a democratic Jordan, shared rule for the West Bank makes little sense. But with democracy east of the river, the Palestinian people can exercise an independent sovereignty that neither side can be allowed to project on the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). If Israel’s independent sovereignty is to be on a sliver of land (the nine-mile wide Sharon Valley), then independent democratic Palestine (preferably with a Hashemite constitutional monarch) must be in the far eastern district.
Shared rule, historically called a condominium, will mean mutual sovereignty for both Jerusalem and the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). This will not be easy, but within a Divinely-structured religious context — The Covenant of Abraham — it has potential. The same cannot be said for the current political status quo. Israel will never accept the PLO’s “phased struggle” conditions. Concurrently, there is no basis for dialogue with the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement other than ceasefire or surrender.
But Plan C is not an open-ended invitation. It can’t last in perpetuity. The window of opportunity is now and in the immediate future. The Middle East is in total sectarian turmoil, and its future is unclear. Without leadership, no one knows how it might shake out. For the Covenant of Abraham to work, religious moderation across the region will be required. As of this writing, moderation is in very short supply. Israel’s relationship with the Hashemite monarchy will continue to remain strong in the face of Islamic fanaticism.
However, if a true sense of religious moderation can begin to take hold within the Palestinian camp, Israel’s dialogue with the King of Jordan will emphasize sustained democratic rule for the East Bank. One way or another, the King will have his chance to be involved. But as unbelievable as it might seem (anything is possible with G-d), Hamas and the Israeli religious Right hold the key to the future. If they were to accept an offer of Covenant –that is, Condominium-Rule for the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) — then statehood within joint sovereignty could become the first step of the new peace process. In other words, a transition into a recognized international status that would allow for a measured dialogue among permanent equals to decide the integrated future of the disputed territories.
The world community in general, and the Palestinians in particular, must understand — Israel will not leave Judea and Samaria in total. It can’t. But there are ideas other than the failed two-state solution. Europe and the US do no one any favors by such desperate adherence to a plan that has been misguided since its inception. It’s time to face up to the facts: Peres and Rabin were wrong. Arafat and Abbas will not accept the Israeli terms of limited West Bank sovereignty in an non-viable state. And Israel will never accept a hostile PLO state on top of its ever-so-thin doorstep.
Condominium, with an East Bank component (democratic federation), is the only answer. But after so many years of war and hatred, a generational process of reconciliation has become a necessity. Religious reconciliation — a theological peace based on Divine injunction — is the way forward. The Covenant of Abraham has been held in abeyance for over four thousand years. It is time for the sons and daughters of Ishmael and Isaac (Jacob, Esau, and Ishmael’s daughter Mahalath, who married Isaac’s son Esau) and all their heirs to fulfill the Covenant promised to their father, Abraham. When Muslim meets Jew and Jew meets Muslim, respect and dignity are the Divine imperative. There can be no other appropriate solution. The Covenant and Condominium Rule — it is up to us to choose, in accordance with our mutual Divine inheritance. Let Jerusalem be a light unto the nations.