Will there be a UN initiative on the so-called two-state solution sometime after the US election in November? Or will Israel choose to shift the dialog toward a Moscow-based negotiation and accept a direct role for Russian President Vladimir Putin? A positive answer to the first question (without a US veto) would certainly be a harsh slap in the face to Israel. However, a Putin-directed summit could very negatively affect relations with Washington for the next four to eight years.
Since the failure of the last American negotiations, the Israel-Palestine issue has been driven by the EU and France. Nothing has come of this leadership, but now it appears as if President Obama might allow for a UN Security Council resolution to clearly delineate the parameters of the so-called two-state solution. Enter Vladimir Putin. The Russian president has been especially active in the Middle East. His motives are both domestic and global. He wants his home-based constituency to feel the pride of a big-power player on the world stage, while at the same time entrenching his country more deeply into a region (the Middle East) which had been the sole hegemonic territory of the Americans in the aftermath of the Cold War.
The Russians are deeply embedded within the Syrian civil war. They have tilted their regional policy toward Iran and have staunchly defended Assad and his inner circle. However, at the same time they remain very much open to an increasing dialog with both Israel and the Sunni Arab states. Now this dialog has directly impacted Israel’s strategic concerns with regard to the future of the West Bank, and whether or not there will be an independent Palestinian state situated on the Jordan River and extending into the suburbs of Tel Aviv.
Depending on your perspective, Israel is either being independently boxed into a corner by Russia and the US, or Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is playing a brilliant diplomatic maneuver in order to assure a Russian veto on the PLO-driven Security Council resolution. However, Bibi might just have been outsmarted. Because Putin has warned Netanyahu that without an Israeli commitment to a Moscow summit, Russia will not veto any prospective UN resolution. Putin wants to show the world that Russia can’t be taken for granted in the Middle East, Europe or as a naval power (in conjunction with China) on the Pacific Ocean. Putin needs to show Europe and the Sunni Arabs that Washington’s leadership in world affairs is being strongly contested. Netanyahu will have to go to Moscow or suffer the consequences with Obama and the UN.
Will the Palestinians follow along with Putin’s game? Certainly they would much rather reap the rewards of a UN Security Council resolution — a resolution that allows them an international status that no Israeli government could ever independently agree to within the tight parameters of the so-called two-state solution. But Abbas and company also risk a Russian veto if they decide not to come to Moscow. Putin is playing a tough game of hard-ball, and all the players (especially Obama) could end up feeling the sting of the Russian president’s tactical genius.
However, a Russian summit would in all probability lead nowhere in strategic terms. The so-called two-state solution has become a non-starter. After twenty-three years of the Oslo process, the concept has begun to stink like a Norwegian dead herring. Therefore Putin (like Kerry before him) runs the risk of a failure to reimagine a new global paradigm. Multi-polarity will never replace NATO. And Russia alone doesn’t have the wherewithal to remake the Middle East without American, European and Asian cooperation. Politicians around the world will begin to seriously wonder about the scope of the Russian leader’s vision. Tactical brilliance without a long-range strategic plan can eventually lead to miscalculation and military escalation.
But what if the Moscow summit led to the overthrow of the so-called two-state solution? Both Putin and Netanyahu could place the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within an entirely new context. That, in itself, could lead to a major paradigm shift and therefore be perceived as a very innovative and successful event. Israel could declare (with Russian acceptance) the concept originally conceived that within the territory of the Mandate for Palestine (Jordan, Israel and the West Bank) there should be only one Arab state and one Jewish state. Israel could also declare that the so-called two-state solution is in reality an unworkable and unstable three-state conclusion (with two partitions) for that original territory.
In this context, the future of the West Bank would become a negotiation either with the Hashemite Monarchy of Jordan, or within the conceptual framework of a democratic federal republic centered within the Palestinian leadership encompassing both banks of the Jordan River. Or, the King of Jordan in cooperation with these same democratic forces could alter the Jordanian constitution to become a true constitutional monarchy mirroring the British model. However it is eventually accomplished, the concept of two states within the original mandated area of Palestine would become the essential new paradigm for a solution to the hundred-year-old conflict between Arabs and Israelis.
Simultaneously, Israel could propose mutual autonomous regions within a shared-rule sovereignty (a political condominium) for Jerusalem and the disputed territory of the West Bank-Judea and Samaria. Jerusalem could eventually become the capital city of both Israel and the democratic Arab state to emerge from within the new political community of Palestine-Jordan. Russian support for the new paradigm would complicate UN action by the US and force a complete new evaluation of an historic concept — the independent West Bank Palestinian state — that has become a diplomatic failure and an anachronism.
Israel should go to the Moscow summit with the intention of reimagining its long-term relationship with both the Jordanians and the Palestinians (essentially the same people). Israel should also use the summit as a vehicle to put forward the regional idea of a secondary conference for the eventual establishment of a Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone in the Middle East. This will work to enhance the chances of success for a new Palestine-Jordan paradigm, because it will also address the crucial regional issues of war, peace and non-state terrorism within a generalized nuclear-free umbrella. This regional vision can only draw in further Sunni Arab state support. It will also enhance Moscow’s role as the Middle East peacemaker, perhaps leading to a more far-reaching understanding between Russia and its European neighbors, especially Germany.
The Iran nuclear deal was not conceived as the final answer to the question of nuclear weapons proliferation within the Middle East. On the contrary, seven years from now Iran will be allowed advanced centrifuge testing which could alter its nuclear breakout time to a matter of weeks. Iran is already working on advanced missile guidance systems. This makes the nuclear deal nothing more than an interim agreement. This is not in anyone’s interest, especially Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation. Russia borders Iran, and the last thing Moscow would want would be for Tehran to become a nuclear power.
Russia understood perfectly well that the US used the Iran negotiations as a mere stopgap to avoid a third Middle East war. Russia also knew the deal had serious flaws. But Russia needed Iran as an intervention tool in a global game to alter US-NATO hegemony within Europe. Putin understood that Obama’s nuclear deal was not meant to be a serious long-term project. Israel should use the Moscow summit to spell out its vision for a peaceful, prosperous and nuclear-weapons-free Middle East.
The whole world awaits a genuine prospect for peace. But without a reimagining of the fundamental nature of the Israel-Palestine-Jordan triangle, Israel will continue to be isolated and diplomatically endangered. Both Netanyahu and Putin need a strategic vision. Tactical brilliance alone, in the long run, is a dead end.