For over twenty years, the Washington establishment has convinced itself that the answer to the riddle of Middle East peace was well-known. Time after time, from think tanks to PBS journalists to White House insiders (both Democrat and Republican), the so-called answer was always certain. Sometimes entitled “land for peace” or “two nations living side by side” or more often, the “two-state solution”, whatever the media tag, everyone in the city of paradigm conformity were true believers in the myth of a West Bank Palestinian demilitarization.
The PLO propaganda machine had done its job well. If only Israel would end the occupation and leave the territories, went the constant refrain; then and only then would peace reign, and all would be well between Arab and Jew. It was the “occupation of Palestinian lands”, we were told, that was the central problem. By returning to the 1967 lines, Israel would be granted “peace” by its victimized neighbors. Time and again, Arafat would raise his inevitable question: “How could a demilitarized mini-state ever hope to defeat a nuclear power”? The whole of the Washington political class, and much of the Israeli Left, had neither the political desire nor the strategic vision to see through the canard. Arafat knew the truth. Nuclear weapons are meaningless when the enemy is either in your attic or in your basement. And that is precisely where the Palestinians are located today.
Gaza is far enough away from Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem to be considered safe for an outside demilitarization inspection regime. But the West Bank, especially after the discovery of Hamas’s underground terrorist network, can never be demilitarized without direct Israeli participation. The very idea of an independent West Bank Palestinian state has now become an illusion. For most all Israelis, from a security point of view, an independent Palestine is now out of the question. Of course for the Israeli Right and the Center-Left security hawks (like Allon, Dayan and Rabin), a truly independent West Bank Palestinian state was never really in the cards. Military security trumps all other concerns, the future of Jerusalem included. Even if the issue of the 1948 Palestinian refugees and their descendants could be solved, the security dilemma involving an independent West Bank state can never be solved, not now. With the tunnels of Gaza, the Liberal bubble has finally burst.
“If only the settlements could be dismantled, peace would be possible”, the Liberal establishment moaned. Never mind that Arafat was time and again (in Arabic) telling his own people a completely different story. “Phased struggle” had always meant diplomacy and even a peace treaty (that could be torn up later). But Israel had to retreat fully from the West Bank, especially from the strategic Jordan River Valley. Palestine needed a friendly non-Israeli border, and Jordan was the key. So after three unsuccessful negotiations, and over twenty years, Oslo had become nothing more than the hollow mantra of an establishment bereft of any new ideas. The so-called “peace process” had been duly transformed from an audacious hope into nothing more than a constantly re-enforced shaft of recrimination.
Of course not all Palestinians believed in “phased struggle”. From their point of view, diplomacy could never work because Israel simply refused to withdraw from the West Bank through negotiations. Only force could command retreat. Enter Hamas and the division of Palestinian society. Victory all at once, or victory through stages, became the debate. But the deadly debate (which morphed into a civil war between Hamas and Fatah) had finally run its course, and diplomacy had lost. No one on the Palestinian street believed that Israel would ever allow them complete independence. It appeared that the Palestinians knew the Israelis (and vice-versa) better than the US Liberal establishment knew either side. But still in Washington the tired, defeated, and hackneyed banalities refused to die. The so-called “two-state solution” was still referred to as “the only game in town”.
But now on the West Bank the flags of Hamas fly defiantly, as “phased struggle” through negotiation has all but lost its cogency. It’s not about the occupation anymore (it never really was). The immediate and total struggle for Palestine now far out-polls “phased struggle”, and by a two-to-one margin. But the unreality of the Palestinian position is more a reflection of the realization that the Arafat strategic vision (phased struggle) has become nothing more than a vain hope, if that. But the Liberal refrain in the US still remains dogma, even as it becomes increasingly incoherent. If only those obstinate right-wing Israelis (especially Netanyahu) had given more ground, perhaps the negotiations would have been more successful, say the Liberals. But in the face of the Islamic war (Iran, IS, and the Muslim Brotherhood) against all of Washington’s long-standing Middle East allies, the failed peace process pales in comparison. In fact, from Egypt through Jordan to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, the Palestinian cause has become a sideshow. Yes, it needs to be solved, but only because the new regional alliance requires its bona fide formalization. If the present idea has become outdated, a new one needs to be brought up, and quickly. All of America’s Middle East allies await its leadership.
However, the Palestinian street is bitter, and the cause of Egypt and the monarchies are the furthest thing from their minds. Whoever shows up on their doorstep (in Jordan and Syria) will be welcomed. With the future of the region in doubt, Obama and the Liberal establishment were told repeatedly that now is not the time for the dubious machinations of a PLO. No, Abbas was not an appropriate partner for a long-term peace, because the so-called two-state solution had become a prospective military nightmare. And G-d knows who would show up in close proximity to the West Bank in order to turn this nightmare into a full-fledged invasion.
But now with the rampages of Hamas and the discovery of an underground terrorist infrastructure that could be dug (literally) under suburban Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem, the prospects for a two-state solution are beyond dim. Yet the Liberal establishment (to this very day) shows no sign of retreat. From the Washington Post to the New York Times, columnist after columnist on the Left scorn the tactics of Hamas but fail to envision their strategic implications. But when it comes to the Middle East today, the game has become far too complex for a simple solution. As said many years ago, from an Israeli security dimension, the easy partition of the land west of the Jordan River is all but impossible. In 1968, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff studied the situation and determined that for Israel to be safe, it needed to retain at least forty percent of the territory. Within the context of the current underground war in Gaza, that West Bank percentage has increased dramatically.
So how long will the Israeli occupation of Palestinian cities, towns and villages continue? As long as the Palestinians decide to struggle toward liberation, the occupation of the population will continue. But as far as the disputed land goes, Israel will never leave the West Bank of its own accord — not now, not after the tunnels of Gaza. If you believe in the old two-state paradigm, you simply fail to understand the new reality. But how could you not understand — unless, of course, you would like for Israel to be forced to accept the “suicide borders” of 1967. Then, of course, you are no longer in the Liberal bubble but have chosen to go over to the other side. One way or another, the American Liberal bubble has burst. Either you force Israel to retreat (exposing all your other allies to the prospect of a Muslim Brotherhood surge in the West Bank and Jordan), or you accept that the new reality requires a paradigm shift (condominium or shared rule with a Jordanian component).
President Obama must decide how to deal with the new reality of the Middle East. The nuclear negotiations with Iran are part and parcel of a larger whole. From Cairo to Riyadh everyone will be watching these negotiations very closely. Dramatic shifts have happened before in the Middle East, and who’s to say they can’t happen again? The ball is now in the Liberal American court. The comfortable old way of thinking has been bypassed by the Iranian-inspired tunnels of Gaza. No one in the Sunni Arab world (with the exception of the Palestinians) trusts Iran. Obama must show grit and resolve. It’s time for him to exhibit some famed Chicago toughness instead of his typical passive Hawaiian cool.
In the meantime, while Obama ponders, the Supreme Leader of Iran continues to call for Israel’s destruction. The NATO Muslim Brotherhood leader in Turkey continues to support Hamas and compares Israel’s actions against terrorist provocations with the Nazi Holocaust. The far-Left in Europe and the US demonizes Israel and the Jews with a vicious combination of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. President Obama needs to respond forcefully to these outrages, or he risks totally alienating his strongest ally in the Middle East.
It’s time for a new American narrative for the region. It’s time for a new Israeli-Palestinian (Jordanian?) political initiative. It’s time for a new geopolitical regional understanding that places Washington’s traditional allies first. It’s time to get tough with Iran, on both Syria and the nuclear negotiations. It’s time for President Obama to lead, and for him to stop trying to maneuver with the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar and Turkey. It’s time to understand the new Israeli reality. Washington’s bubble has burst.