Bibi’s Two Nightmares
Nightmare number one: Bibi is embraced by his right-wing base for abandoning the idea of a two-state solution, but without providing a diplomatic alternative.
Nightmare number two: Bibi is rejected by his right-wing base for clinging to the idea of a two-state solution, while Palestinian support for Hamas rises to over two-thirds.
To most observers (since the Gaza war), the idea of a two-state solution now appears dead. Unbelievably, however, the notion of its viability still holds sway within many diplomatic circles — including in the current US administration, with the PLO leadership, and at the UN General Assembly. With Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s popularity dropping, the PLO leader needs to show his people that his organization still has relevance. And since the PLO has long adopted the diplomatic road as its preferred route to rolling back any semblance of Israeli strategic depth, the lack of success of the peace process has severely limited Abbas’s ability to continue with direct negotiations. In fact, the PLO has completely ruled out any more direct negotiations with Israel. They have chosen instead to take their demands directly to the UN and/or the International Criminal Court.
This scenario places PM Netanyahu into quite a bind. In order to appease his American allies (that he is still on-board with a negotiated two-state solution to the conflict), Bibi must continue to adhere to the fiction of this so-called “solution”. The US will certainly expect Israel to “toe the line” in exchange for its near-certain UN Security Council veto on any unilateral PLO move. And Israel will expect the same of the US. The deal appears pretty straightforward: An American UN Security Council veto in exchange for continued Israeli support of the two-state solution.
But where is any of this leading? The answer is: nowhere. For Abbas, an American veto will certainly be the end of the road. Not a single Palestinian on the West Bank can possibly believe that the diplomatic process (negotiations) could ever lead to the complete and total withdrawal of Israel from the West Bank. And this is the false scenario that the PLO has been espousing since it first signed on to the Oslo Accords in 1993. In the Palestinian mind, Oslo was supposed to be the first stage in a “strategy of stages” that would eventually culminate in the military defeat of Israel. Arafat had devised the strategy in the early 1970s. But the US State Department never acknowledged that Arafat might have tricked them. They believed his duplicitous Western-audience rhetoric. And in the final analysis, three American administrations, two Israeli Labor governments, a centrist Israeli government, and even a Likud PM (Bibi Netanyahu) were persuaded to continue with the fiction that the PLO’s “strategy of stages” was only simple rhetoric.
Now, however, both Bibi and Abbas are trapped. Abbas doesn’t care because his UN moves will most likely be his swan song, his legacy. But Bibi wants to continue on. He wants nothing more than to politically outlive Obama, survive as PM in the next election, and see a Republican in the White House by 2017. But will he survive as PM after the next election? Not with nightmare number two, he won’t. With Hamas on the rise, the very notion that Israel could withdraw even one inch from the West Bank is for now (and perhaps forever) political poison. Hamas, unlike the PLO, doesn’t disguise its true intentions. Everyone on the entire planet knows that the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood (Hamas) wants to annihilate Israel. Another proposed fruitless attempt at a negotiated two-state solution cannot possibly help any Israeli politician (Are you listening, Mrs. Livni?). For Netanyahu, to be forced into this political corner will mean his near-certain overthrow.
But what about nightmare number one? Bibi (like the Americans) needs an alternative diplomatic route. In other words, both allies need a new peace plan. But after twenty years tied to the same worn-out paradigm, is either country prepared to offer up a legitimate alternative? In the case of the US, the foreign policy establishment appears to have accepted the British/Hashemite-inspired fallacy that Jordan is somehow separate from the West Bank (at least since 1988 and King Hussein’s about-face).
Similarly, the Americans lean toward the erroneous UN view (against Article 80 of its own UN Charter) that Israel has no claim to the West Bank. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no legitimate sovereignty over the West Bank other than what can be negotiated (UN Security Council Resolution 242). But the legitimate idea of an integrated solution to the disputed territory (shared rule), with a democratic Jordanian and Israeli component, has become simply out of the question for Washington. But why, and where does that leave Bibi? For that matter, where does the archaic US view (the two-state solution) lead to?
The answers to these questions are simple. The two-state solution paradigm has become totally deadlocked and has failed. It is now the cause of Hamas’s popularity and the Palestinian delusion that only armed resistance will work against Israel. This turn of events, along with everything else in the Middle East, works to push the Israeli body politic further to the right. As Israel moves to the right, the Palestinians move toward Hamas. Meanwhile US policy forces Bibi to stand pat. And to what end? Washington certainly doesn’t know.
Bibi needs to wake up. He should examine his old belief (that Jordan must be a part of the solution) and merge this belief creatively within an entirely new peace plan. He should take the bull by the horns and come up with an exiting new synthesis that could appeal to both the enlightened right and the vast Israeli center. Thanks to Hamas, this vital center now includes most of the left (even perhaps the Ha’aretz crowd who have no other place to go).
To avoid his two nightmares, Prime Minister Netanyahu needs to unite Israel behind an integrative solution for the disputed territories. He needs only to look to his past for a new peace plan which includes shared rule for Jerusalem and the disputed territories, along with a democratic component east of the river. If he hesitates, somebody else is certain to pick up on the idea. The great Israeli center and its myriad of potential leaders must be interested in an alternative vision to Oslo. Now with the rise of Hamas, all of Israel’s citizens and supporters throughout the world are searching for an alternative to Oslo. Maybe even a cautious American president, in search of a legacy, could be persuaded to change course. This would be far more likely if a serious (and long standing) center-right Israeli politician was willing to partner with an enlightened center-left coalition. Wake up from your nightmares, Mr. Netanyahu, and partner up. It’s the best way forward in order to win the next election. It’s the best way forward to present to the world that Israel (unlike Hamas) is truly interested in peace.