The Israeli prime minister went to Washington and said the magic words. He affirmed his solid commitment to the so-called “two-state solution” knowing all along, of course, that such a solution is an impossibility. The reason for this impossibility has nothing to do with the settlements or Jerusalem and isn’t even a problem of left or right-wing politics, Likud or Labor, Republican or Democrat, secular Fatah or Islamist Hamas. The problem is situated squarely on the border between the Kingdom of Jordan and the territory known by Palestinians as the West Bank. Who will control the west end of this border is the crux of the twenty-two year stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians.
Everyone understands that the West Bank is the most valuable piece of military real estate in the world today. Only the most foolish of fools would ever allow it to become militarized by an Arab state. Yet this is exactly the hope and the plan of the PLO. If they can control the border on the West Bank of the Jordan River, then they can eventually break free from the stipulation that their state must remain demilitarized in perpetuity. They could do this either through subterfuge or with the help of an outside power. By first establishing a state, secretly arming that state and then overthrowing the Jordanian king, the Palestinians hope to eventually link the two banks of the river into Greater Palestine — a Palestine with strong connections to Shiite Iraq, Syria, Hezbollah and Iran.
The fact is that there is no such thing as a demilitarized state in the Middle East, and there never will be until the region falls under the reign of G-d Almighty. The prospect for the long-term success of demilitarization is the very reason that the so-called “two-state solution” remains unfulfilled and now, after twenty-two years, has become nothing more than a fantasy. The Oslo process was doomed from the beginning because the Israelis saw it as a way to maintain a necessary security zone within the territory, while the Palestinians saw the West Bank as a springboard for future liberation. For naïve Americans and Europeans with banking and oil interests in the Gulf, Oslo was a triumph of delusion over reality. The same could not be said for Israelis and Palestinians.
Both sides in the conflict understand full well that the hundred-year war between Arabs and Jews west of the Jordan River has a full-fledged East Bank component with its capital situated in Amman, Jordan. Israel and Jordan have been tacit allies since the Balfour Declaration nearly a hundred years ago, and they remain so today. Yet even though there is a peace treaty between Israel and Jordan, the final border between the East Bank and the West Bank has never been stipulated through this treaty. Only through negotiations with the Palestinians can this final border be set.
Israel simply cannot allow Jordan to become destabilized through outside interference or internal revolution. The entire basis of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s acceptance of a demilitarized Palestinian state is the future generational rule of Jordan by the same ruling family that has been Israel’s tacit ally since 1917. Without the Hashemite Kingdom, the so-called two-state solution becomes Greater Palestine.
Israel and Jordan share the same strategic outlook. Even with Oslo nothing really changed, other than a tacit relationship almost formalized through treaty, but not quite. Palestinians, on the other hand, believe in total liberation, both from Jordan and from Israel. This has always been their long-term goal. This goal was codified explicitly with the founding of the PLO, and they attempted to actualize it through blood and revolution during the days of Black September. But Black September failed, and it failed on two levels. Not only were the Palestinians unable to violently overthrow the Jordanian king, but their direct appeal to draw in Assad of Syria (the father, not the son) also failed. And why did it fail? Because Israel under a Labor Party prime minister simply could not countenance a Syrian-Palestinian takeover of Jordan. Israel mobilized and threatened military action.
Flash ahead forty-five years and replace Syria with Iran and then ask yourself, why is it that the Palestinians are really feeling such a sense of utter hopelessness? Yes, by all accounts, the great Palestinian desire for a truly independent West Bank Palestinian state, whereby they control the border between themselves and Jordan, has not been achieved. This is indeed true. This border capitulation, which they had hoped Israel would be forced to give them, has been rejected across the board by all but the most foolish of Israel’s political parties. Not even the Americans could persuade the Labor Party to withdraw from the Jordan River. But the utter hopelessness felt by the Palestinians has more to do with Iran than anything else. That is because, since the US withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 and the start of the Arab Spring, the dynamics of the Arab world have changed completely.
So complete has this transformation been that it is the Palestinians — whose search for total liberation has long been the essential driving force of the Middle East — who have now become nearly irrelevant to their Sunni Arab neighbors. Israel has arrived as the crucial balance against Iranian power in the Middle East. The Palestinians now understand that to achieve their long-term goal, they must completely align themselves with Iran in order to be successful. In other words, the days of either Arab nationalism or pan-Islamism as a regional project to achieve the elimination of Israel are over. The Gulf states, Jordan and Egypt have now achieved a degree of hegemony over the Sunnis within the region. The rejectionists of the old Levant, Assad of Syria and Hussein of Iraq, have now given way to Iran, Hezbollah and a Sunni-Shiite military stalemate. And even with Iran, Shiite power in Syria has waned dramatically as Assad has had to be propped up through the use of Iranian proxies and Russian air power.
For Palestinians, the very dynamic of the region has been so completely altered that their old strategy of declaring “peace” on the West Bank, while all along arming themselves surreptitiously, has now become an anachronism. If the Middle East nation-state system is to survive, and Syria and Iraq are to be rebuilt, the region will have to involve a new Arab Spring dynamic of democracy through constitutional pluralism. This also means that all the current monarchies within the Middle East will need to adjust to this new Syrian democratic framework. Jordan has a vast majority of Palestinian citizens who most certainly will wish to be enfranchised. If and when Syria achieves a democratic political settlement, it will become a magnet for the entire Middle East. Iraq’s political future is the same as Syria’s. For either country to survive whole, a democratic solution becomes a necessity. Once there is a democracy in the Levant, the Arab population east of the Jordan River will most certainly follow suit. Then the international pressure on Israel to completely withdraw from the West Bank will lessen sharply, if not totally evaporate.
But the if and when of a democratic outcome for Syria could take a very long time. Israel cannot afford any risky moves until the regional balance of power becomes established. The Arab Shiites in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon will depend on Iranian power far into the future unless the global powers (US, Europeans, Russia, India and China) can guarantee that they will be protected. Until such time (and it may never come) Iran will continue to arm their allies conventionally with hopes that within a decade, there will be an Iranian nuclear umbrella. It all depends on the Great Powers and whether or not they have any real power. One way or another, the vacuum in the Levant will be filled by some country or another. If that country is Iran, nuclear proliferation and continued warfare is a certainty.
Palestinians must decide which side they are on, either Sunni Arabs or Iran. If they choose Iran, they have decided that Iranian hegemony and their desire for the complete elimination of Israel is far more important to them than Sunni Arab freedom. If they choose to be a part of the Sunni world, they will be living with Israel for countless generations to come. Is it any wonder that the Palestinians feel a sense of hopelessness? Because throughout their entire history (the last one hundred years) the Arabs living west of the Jordan River have never really accepted that a Jewish state in the Middle East was a legitimate project.
However, their difficult choice remains, and it is theirs to make. They can either accept certain Israeli rights on the West Bank, or they can seek to create a treacherous new triangle in hopes of achieving liberation. This new treacherous triangle would directly involve Iran as Palestine’s outside power, and eventually another war could be waged in Jordan against the Hashemite Kingdom. Jordan would then be facing a new Black September. In other words, there could be a third front in a sectarian Arab-Persian war that would engulf the entire region and would probably draw Israel directly into the fray.
The treacherous triangle means years and years of fighting ahead. Syria and Iraq must remain stalemated politically for such an expanded scenario to become reality. Hopefully, new ideas within a democratic framework will be established through Great Power action. As of now, that is only a hope. However, for Israel and Palestine to achieve peace, a new paradigm needs to emerge to replace the “two-state solution” and the Oslo fiasco.
As of this moment (on the verge of the Vienna Conference on Syria) everything remains undecided. Palestine could choose Iran, or it could choose to share the West Bank and Jerusalem with Israel. But it eventually must choose. The entire Sunni Arab world will be watching Palestine very closely. The entire Sunni Arab world needs to integrate Israel into the region in order to isolate Iran and to roll back Iran’s revolutionary and expansionist program.
The balance-of-power dynamic in the Middle East must now include Israel as a bulwark against Iranian hegemony. If there is no such thing as a demilitarized state in the Middle East, then there can’t be a West Bank Palestinian state. The territory will either be shared or be conquered in a new war with far greater consequences than 1967. The choice of peace or war is up to the Palestinian people. They can either choose Israel or a new triangle with the Persians. Either way, their step-by-step approach to liberation through the use of an independent West Bank state is now defunct and only of interest to historians. Their choice now is either a Sunni Arab-Israeli partnership or an axis of total war through an alliance with Iran. I pray they choose wisely.