The Three State Solution

Once upon a time, I was a strong advocate of the Two State Solution. My reasoning was simple. Israel needs to remain a Jewish state, for the safety of Jews worldwide and in Israel, for the sake of Jewish culture, etc. It also needs to be a democratic state, giving equal rights to all its citizens. With the acquisition of the West Bank (or Judea and Samaria) from Jordan, and the Gaza strip from Egypt, in the 1967 war, Israel suddenly inherited more than 2 million Muslim Arabs… a complicated situation.

If Israel were to annex these territories, as they did the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, it would be forced by its democratic values to grant all of its new citizens full rights, including voting rights. Doing so would leave the Jewish population of Israel with only a slight majority, effectively threatening the Jewish character of the state. On the other hand, leaving Gaza and especially the West Bank would put Israel at great risk, considering the small size of Israel and the proximity of these territories to Israel population centers.

Once Egypt and Jordan relinquished their claims on these territories, the problem became even more complex. Thus, Israel stumbled into the occupation, a stopgap measure that has begun to resemble an endless waiting game.

For a long time it seemed clear to me that the only fair solution would be a two state solution. Thus, I was supportive of the Oslo accords, the Wye River Memorandum, Ehud Barak’s various plans, and the Gaza withdrawal. I have long believed that Yigal Allon’s original suggestion would have been optimum, and I wrote about this in a previous post. Allon believed that Israel needed to annex some of the territory of the West Bank to create a buffer for Israel, and then return the rest to Jordan. Whatever Palestinians were living in the annexed territories would be given voting rights, as the Palestinians of East Jerusalem were.

It seemed to me that the same framework could work for a two state solution, once Jordan was no longer interested in the territory. Recent events have caused me to rethink this.  

The Tunnels – A Total Game Changer

Although there has been much talk about the tunnels, my impression is that many people still have not digested their significance. These were not smugglers’ tunnels. These tunnels were a multi-million dollar, solid cement construction, with electric wiring, that led under the border from Gaza into Israel. There were many of these tunnels—Israel has destroyed most of them—and they led to areas near suburban or rural towns. Inside these tunnels were weapons as well as tranquilizers and handcuffs.

The point of these tunnels was to enable Hamas to carry out the most massive and horrifying terrorist attack on Israelis in the history of Israel’s existence. Some Hamas operatives have disclosed that the attack was planned for Rosh Hashanah. Even without this confession (which one could always argue was taken under duress and therefore meaningless), it is clear, just from their construction, that the point of the tunnels was to break into the homes of rural Israelis, slaughter sleeping innocents (men, women and children) and take a number of captives.

Even if Hamas hadn’t rained even one missile on Israel, there still would have been no choice but for Israel to enter Gaza and destroy the tunnels. If a government doesn’t have the responsibility to defend its population from violent terrorist assaults, then I have no idea what a government is for. This is true of the missiles as well, although thanks to Iron Dome, they didn’t take nearly as many lives as they could have.

(Some people have asked whether Israel could have accomplished their objectives without killing Gazans. I imagine it could have, if Gaza had surrendered unconditionally and turned over the tunnels and the missiles to Israel to be destroyed. Such an eventuality, however, seems to me to have been unlikely.)

The tunnels are a game changer because they demonstrate the kind of danger that a self-ruling polity with a weak or terrorist government so close to Israel can be. Borders are insufficient.

ISIS and the Reign of Islamic Fundamentalism

Iraq has mostly fallen; Syria is halfway there. The spread of the fundamentalist Sunni Muslim group called ISIS is one of the most frightening things this world has seen in decades. This is a group that persecutes Christians, slaughters its rivals, and wishes to create a fundamentalist religious empire in the Middle East and beyond. Already refugees from Syria are running to Jordan and ISIS has already declared that Jordan is their next target. If Syria falls completely—a real possibility—, then Jordan will be surrounded by ISIS, on its northern border (Syria) and its eastern border (Iraq). And then it will fall as well.

If Jordan falls, ISIS will be on the border with Israel. This is almost unthinkable, but there is something even more unthinkable: ISIS in control of the West Bank and only a stone’s throw away from Israel’s capital and a ten-minute drive from Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion airport. As unthinkable as such a possibility is, Israel must think about it and take it into consideration if it wishes to survive.

Luckily, Israel is thinking about it. In fact, this is the very reason Prime Minister Netanyahu offered in a recent speech for why he cannot consider relinquishing military control of the Jordan Valley even if a peace agreement were to be reached with the Palestinian Authority. Now many may claim that it isn’t really sovereignty if the Palestinians cannot even control their own border with its non-Israeli neighbor, Jordan. This may be true, but the existential threat of giving up total control of the West Bank is simply too great for Israel to consider in present circumstances.

Now What?

We now return to the original quandary. What should Israel do with the territory it captured (legally and morally in a defensive war) which contains upwards of two million Muslim Arabs? A number of people in the Likud Party and its coalition have begun to tout a one state solution. I understand the attractiveness of the suggestion, but as I described in a previous post, there are serious problems with this.

If Israel grants the inhabitants of these newly annexed territories full rights, as it did in East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, then the demographic problem kicks in. This seems very risky.

On the other hand, what is the alternative? I assume that most Israelis would be uncomfortable with the idea that there can be two kinds of citizens in Israel and that only one group (Jews) would have voting rights. Even if everyone else had full civil rights (i.e. they could do anything but vote in national elections), this feels like a less than ideal solution. It would certainly be difficult to forge an “Israeli identity” separate from Jewish identity, if only Jewish Israelis could vote.

Clarifying the Problems

I’m not sure that there is a good solution to this problem, but it is our obligation as moral human beings to avoid complacency and think out of the box. It is also our obligation not to deny realities like ISIS and Hamas, or Palestinian suffering, and make sure our solutions deal honestly with the problems for all concerned.

Globally speaking, there are three overlapping problems that need to be solved.

  1. There is the ISIS problem, that weak Arab states are being taken over by a fundamentalist group hostile to them and certainly to Israel and the West.
  2. There is the “Palestinian government” problem. The PA (at least under Arafat) and Hamas have led corrupt governments that stole most of the influx of money and pocketed it, and invested little in the economy or people of Palestine. (Salam Fayyad’s tenure was a notable exception.) Additionally, Hamas has taken whatever part of the money the leaders didn’t pocket and used it to build up a terrorist-military complex.
  3. There is the Arab-Israeli problem. Over the years, Israelis and Palestinians have grown ever more distrustful of each other—certainly, after the first Intifada. We hear about unfair treatment of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers, government officials, etc., and we hear about rock throwing at Israelis and moral support of terrorism among Palestinians.

Confederation with Jordan

I suggest that, as matters stand, Israel and the Palestinians cannot solve this problem on their own. We are stuck in a loop. The west cannot help either, since Western leaders seem to have blinders when it comes to what is actually happening in the Middle East, or, at least, they seem unwilling or unable to get involved in a real way. What Israel needs to find is an ally or allies with common interests. I suggest that such a country exists right now, and that is Jordan.

The shelf life of Jordan as a country right now is very short; I would say it has almost expired. There is no way it can fight off a full assault from its Syrian and Iraqi border on its own. But with Israel it could. In fact, Israel is the only power in the Middle East that can stand up against ISIS.

On the flip side, Jordan is uniquely poised to help Israel and the Palestinians. Jordan can be a “big brother” to the Palestinian authority, helping them develop their economy, but also monitoring as a third eye to make sure that money isn’t being stolen or used for military or terrorist purposes. It could be Jordanian soldiers and officials as opposed to Israeli soldiers and officials that deal with issues inside Area A of the West Bank and Gaza. This is not ideal for Palestinians, who want immediate self-rule, but at least the animus will be lowered. It is worth remembering that Jordan is over 80% Palestinian so the government and soldiers would not be “other” the way Israelis are.

The Three State Solution

The endpoint would be three polities confederated: Israel, Jordan, and Palestine; the latter would remain demilitarized indefinitely. Many details would need to be worked out, including borders, though I will offer a general outline of what I am picturing for some issues.

Each state would have its own laws to which anyone living inside them would be subject. Citizens of each country would have a right to live safely in any one of the three countries, but would retain voting rights in their country of origin unless given citizenship by the new country. People living in one of the other countries would be subject to their laws, although in serious cases extradition from one country to another would be legitimate. There would be no central government, although there would be a body made up of representatives of each to deal with joint issues.

My suggested confederation is modeled on a weak form of the American Articles of Confederation. In this model, Jordan and Israel would pledge mutual protection and mutual investment in the formation of the Palestinian polity. This is crucial for Jordan in order to protect it from ISIS and crucial for Israel to help create a buffer between it and the Palestinians. The Palestinians would have a chance to recreate their land and their polity without interacting with Israeli soldiers or the Israeli government more than absolutely necessary.

The Multi-State Solution?

Although my suggestion is meant as an endpoint of sorts, it may be only a first step. There are other places in the Middle East that are threatened by ISIS or other forms of fundamentalist Islam that could be interested in confederating with Israel. What about the Christians in Lebanon? Egypt? Kurdistan? Of course, contiguous land areas are the easiest to picture, and maybe there would need to be levels of confederation, but I believe that Middle Eastern countries who want to be free of a new fundamentalist empire need to think in these terms before they are swallowed one after another by the maw of ISIS. Confederation with Israel may be their last and best hope for survival and would pave the way for a new era in Arab-Israeli relations.

About the Author
Dr. Rabbi Zev Farber is the senior editor of and a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute's Kogod Center.
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