Bibi vs. The Shepherd

For 35 years I have advocated for a federated, democratic, Jordanian-Palestinian state. I have always believed that without an East Bank component to represent the millions of Palestinians east of the river, stability within this very small region could never be achieved. In this sense I have always believed that the so-called two-state solution, an independent West Bank Palestinian state, would eventually morph into a larger and more dangerous Greater Palestine. Such an entity, encompassing both river banks yet without an Israeli presence on the Jordan River, has been the goal of the PLO since the early 1970s.

I have always believed in a permanent Israeli military presence on the Jordan River. Without such a reality, Israel would be indefensible. This has been well documented by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff in their famous 1968 report to President Lyndon Johnson. The miracle of the 1967 War can never be repeated a second time. Military history doesn’t work that way. Once the element of surprise is gone, it is gone forever. This reality is precisely why I have always advocated for a condominium on the West Bank between Israel and a federated Jordanian-Palestinian state. Israel must never cede the West Bank in total. Such an action would be tantamount to suicide.

But eventual Israeli suicide is precisely what the PLO has envisioned for Israel. Its constant call for an independent West Bank Palestinian state, without an Israeli presence on the Jordan River, has led to nothing but deadlock for the last twenty-five years. Yet, the entire global political establishment remains committed to this so-called two-state solution. The Palestinians want to control the West Bank border with Jordan, while Israel declares that this can never happen. However the majority of Israeli citizens and the leaders of nearly all the major Israeli political parties cling to an alternative vision of a West Bank Palestinian state, albeit WITH a permanent Israeli presence on the Jordan River. Prime Minister Netanyahu believes in this solution.

Then there is the issue of Jerusalem. Although both Arabs and Jews claim the Holy City as their capital, the future of the city has had no impact on the strategic impasse over the control of the Jordan River Valley. For Jerusalem to play a significant enough role to move the peace process forward, the permanent status of the city must become a huge question mark. The US government has never recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, so the Palestinians have never felt the pressure of the permanent loss of the city as leverage toward compromise with respect to their position on the river. But in order for progress to be made, pressure must be exerted from somewhere.

Enter US President-Elect Donald Trump. Trump says he’s going to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, and all indications are that he will. But Jerusalem (in its totality)is an Israeli annexed city. Will Trump recognize the Israeli annexation, leave its status ambiguous, or claim East Jerusalem as the eventual Palestinian capital? If Trump was really smart he would move the US embassy to Jerusalem but leave the status of Jerusalem hanging until the Palestinians made significant concessions on the future of the Jordan River Valley. In other words, Jerusalem could become Trump’s trump card.

There is a crucial tradeoff to be made here. The Palestinians can have a demilitarized West Bank mini-state, with East Jerusalem as their capital, but the Palestinians can never independently control a border with Jordan. In other words, they could accept Bibi Netanyahu’s two-state solution — a mini-state with a token presence in Jerusalem — or they could risk an American acceptance of increased Israeli building in East Jerusalem. What the Palestinians cannot have is both an independent West Bank state and a capital in Jerusalem. If the PLO leadership hasn’t figured this out in the last twenty-five years, it is high time an American president told them exactly what the score is. And Donald Trump is just the American president to tell them.

Of course, the Palestinians could pursue an alternative peace plan. But with Trump as US president, they should expect nothing from the United Nations. Equally depressing for the Palestinian leadership is the fact that the days of an independent EU foreign policy card also appear to be numbered. After the French and Italian elections early next year, there might not even be an EU. So, where could the Palestinians pursue an alternative peace plan? In exactly the same place where Yasser Arafat rejected Kurt Waldheim’s counsel in 1986. The prize winning essay in the MIT published book, How Peace Came To The World, envisioned a federated, democratic Jordanian-Palestinian state in a condominium with Israel on the West Bank with Jerusalem as the capital of both states.

UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim and US CIA Director Stansfield Turner had been the crucial judges of a global peace contest which envisioned scenarios for world peace. The prize-winning essay was written by an ex-Israeli shepherd and included a four-point Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. The plan included: 1) Democratic elections for all East Bank and West Bank Jordanian citizens, 2) Mutual recognition between Israel and the democratically created two-bank federation, 3) Shared rule for the territory of the West Bank between Israel and the Jordanian-Palestinian federation, 4) Jerusalem as the capital of both states, encompassing both banks of the Jordan River. Further credence was given to the essay and the peace plan in the forward to the book — How Peace Came To The World — written by none other than US President Ronald Reagan.

Waldheim urged Arafat to compromise because he understood that the real intentions of an independent West Bank State was the slow, yet steady erosion of Palestine’s West Bank border with Jordan. Waldheim had the prescience to anticipate that such a prospective scenario would never be accepted by Israel. Instead he urged Arafat to accept a condominium with Israel on the West Bank, with a capital in Jerusalem and with an independent democratic federation east of the river. Arafat politely received the book — understanding the hidden endorsement behind President Reagan’s forward message — but rejected the peace plan outright.

Now after twenty years of the failed Oslo process, and with the prospect of a regional Sunni collapse and catastrophe in the northern Levant, the Palestinians might just decide to wait for Iran to liberate them. But in such a scenario, they shouldn’t expect much support from the other Sunni Arab states. Even if Trump decides to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, he would probably make his move in coordination with a tough US policy directed toward Iran. This would quiet all the Sunni Arab states, especially if the policy was packaged with Bibi’s conditional support for a Palestinian mini-state with a token capital in Jerusalem and Hashemite Jordanian control over the Muslim holy sites.

When the Trump administration begins to get really tough on Iran, and also moves the US embassy to Jerusalem, the essential tradeoff on the mini-two-state solution — and the key to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — will become a reality. That essential tradeoff is this: The Palestinians can have a capital in Jerusalem, but they can never become an independent actor on the West Bank. The PLO will either accept this reality or choose to remain rejectionist. If they continue to choose a militant path or a Hamas Islamist posture, in today’s Sunni Arab context, they will become more and more isolated.

However, if the Palestinians choose peace with the Jewish State, they must also accept that once a mini-state is created that is totally surrounded by Israel, the future of Jordan will be out of the West Bank’s hands. Therefore, if the Palestinians choose peace, they must also decide what kind of peace they want: Do they want to be separated from Jews, yet surrounded by Israel in a West Bank mini-state? Or do they want to be integrated with Israel on the West Bank yet directly linked to the Arab world through a democratic federation east of the river?

Israelis must make a similar choice; do they want separation with the Palestinians on the West Bank and in Jerusalem, Bibi’s plan? Or would they accept integration with the Palestinians on the West Bank and Jerusalem through a political condominium, the shepherd’s plan. Either way — or even without progress toward peace — Israel will remain a powerful mainstay within the Middle East, G-d’s Plan.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).