A view of the ‘Peace Wall’ separating the Catholic and Protestant communities in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Every so often, a brief window of opportunity arises to resolve long-simmering conflicts. Who would have imagined that the seventy-year old Cold War between the great superpowers armed to their teeth with nuclear weapons would suddenly end with the collapse of the Soviet Union during a few short years between 1987 and 1991? Who would have thought that the intractable conflict in Northern Ireland, which had claimed 3,500 lives over a thirty-year period, would be resolved in 1998 after the construction of a “peace wall” separating warring Protestant and Catholic factions? Who would have predicted that the interminable Hundred Year’s War between England and France would end in 1453 when England finally conceded that, after multiple defeats, it had lost the war?
Today we face one of those rare moments in history. A perfect storm of unpredictable events has collided and offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to end the one-hundred year old Palestinian-Israeli conflict once and for all. Two historic timelines have merged to present this singular opening for peace: the total defeat of the Arab forces hostile to Israel and the election of the most Israeli-friendly United States administration in history. But the convergence of these forces will not last forever. At most, the window is open for a minimum of two years and a maximum of six years (the potential remaining time of the Trump Administration). Playing it safe, let’s call this the “Two-Year Solution.”
What are these unique factors that have randomly merged at this point in time? First, like the English in 1453, the Arabs have lost the war. Not just once, but multiple times over the past one-hundred years. They attempted unsuccessfully to drive the Jews from Palestine in the Arab Revolt of 1936-39. In 1948, when the Jews declared their independence in the newly-created State of Israel, five Arab armies (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Transjordan, and Egypt) invaded Israel and attempted to drive its inhabitants into the Mediterranean Sea. Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, made it clear that the Arabs did not intend merely to prevent the birth of the Jewish state, but “would continue fighting until the Zionists were annihilated.” They lost.
In 1967, following the massing of Egyptian forces along its border, Israel launched a preemptive strike on Egyptian air forces in what has come to be known as the Six Day War. Syria, Jordan and Iraq joined the fray once again determined to drive the Israelis into the sea. Hafez al-Assad, then Syria’s Defense Minister, declared: “the time has come to enter into a battle of annihilation.” They lost.
In 1973, combined Arab forces launched a surprise attack against Israel on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Their stated goal was once again to overrun the Jewish State in a war of extermination. They lost again.
Since their humiliating loss in the Yom Kippur war, Arab nations have either made peace with Israel or given up their genocidal attacks. Today nearly two million Arab Israeli citizens live in peace with their Jewish neighbors, comprising twenty percent of the population and serve in Israel’s Parliament, on Israel’s Supreme Court, and possess the full civil rights of any other Israeli citizen.
The Palestinians in the West Bank, however, have continued to engage in terrorist attacks, including suicide bombings, stabbings, and stoning. Although the Palestinians have managed to ruthlessly slaughter many Israeli soldiers and civilians alike, they have not succeeded in furthering their strategic goals. In other words, they too have lost – – time and time again. And they live under a corrupt leadership in the fourteenth year of its four-year term, which diverts foreign aid to pay terrorists to kill Jews, and resides in majestic palaces in Ramallah while the unemployment rate among Palestinians is 27% (among adults under 30 it is at 40 percent) and those living below the poverty line exceed 21%.
A large villa in Ramallah
Not only have the Arabs lost on the war front (and in building a civil society), they have also lost on the diplomatic front, never losing an opportunity to lose an opportunity. They have repeatedly rejected generous offers to create their own independent state living in peace side-by-side with Israel.
In 1937, the British Peale Commission proposed the partition of Palestine and the creation of an Arab State which the Jews accepted and the Arabs rejected; in 1947, the UN would have created an Arab State as part of its partition plan which the Jews accepted but the Arabs rejected; following the capture of the West Bank (which had been illegally occupied for the previous twenty years by Jordan) in the 1967 Six Day War, Israel indicated its willingness to return the territory in exchange for a comprehensive peace – – which the Arabs rejected; the Oslo agreements of the 1990s laid out a path for Palestinian independence, but the process was derailed by Palestinian terrorism, including the Second Intifada in 2000 (which took over 1,000 Israeli lives (the population equivalent of 50,000 American lives)); in 2000, at Camp David, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered to create a Palestinian State in all of Gaza and 97 percent of the West Bank, a plan Yasser Arafat rejected out-of-hand without even making a counteroffer; and, in 2008, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered to withdraw from virtually the entire West Bank and allow East Jerusalem to become the capitol of an independent Palestinian State, a proposal Mahmoud Abbas also rejected.
The consistent history of Arab violence and rejectionism should put at end to the illusory fantasy of a “two-state solution,” the politically correct formula for peace since the Oslo Accords of the 1990s. By now, it should be apparent to any rational person that, based on the historical record, the Arabs do not seek a two-state solution. Rather they single-mindedly seek the destruction of the State of Israel. In today’s parlance they routinely chant for the “liberation” of Israel “from the river to the sea” (from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, which includes the West Bank and all of present day Israel).
And yet, some still cling steadfastly to the notion that a “two-state solution” is the “only” solution to the Middle East conflict. Why they do so is beyond me. I imagine some (refusing to even consider alternatives as offered here) genuinely believe it is the “only” solution. Others are afraid to venture off the politically correct formula for fear of being ostracized in their social circles from Santa Monica to the Hamptons. Still others are part of the “two-state solution” industrial complex of progressive Jewish organizations who make a living off the term and fear losing their donors if they cast doubt on its viability. For others, who know in their hearts and minds that the “two-state solution” is dead, they simply put faith in some vague unfounded hope that it is not.
I once had a cab driver in the progressive city of Tel Aviv who told me that, in spite of the fact that his grandfather fought in the War of Independence, his father fought in the Six Day War, he fought in Lebanon, his son fought in Gaza, and he expects his grandchildren to fight in future wars, the two-state solution was the “only” solution to the conflict. I recounted the Arabs’ repeated failures to accept such a solution over the years and he responded: “we can always hope.”
But I ask whether that “hope” has any connection to reality? Can the “two-staters” point to any event in the past one hundred years that makes that hope the slightest bit realistic? When does “hope” become delusional? Or is it simply easier to mouth the “two-state solution” than to face the facts and devise an alternative?
Once one abandons the fantasy of the useful, but illusory, two-state solution, the second historic factor that provides today’s unique chance for peace comes into play: the election of the most Israeli-friendly United States administration in history. Whatever one may think of the election of Donald Trump as President (and I am a lifelong Democrat), there can be no question but that his Administration has been good for the Israelis.
The Administration has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, has almost single-handedly bankrupted the Palestinian Authority’s ability to finance terrorism by cutting aid to that corrupt regime, and, recently, approved of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights – – a move long expected but only made possible with the support of the American government.
These dramatic, historic events, the total defeat of the Arabs and the election of a friendly United States administration, present the perfect storm to end the conflict once and for all. And the solution has been lying before us since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. The Accords provided a government for Palestinians in the West Bank to be run by the Palestine Liberation Organization. It also officially divided the West Bank area into three parts, Areas A & B to be largely under the control of the PLO, and Area C (where most of the Jewish “settlers” live) to be under the aegis of the Israelis.
Although many people do not fully understand this, under the Accords, for the past twenty-five years, the Palestinians have ruled themselves with their own government, their own police force, their own courts, their own schools (and without the presence of a sustained Israeli military force) in Areas A & B of the West Bank. Under the “Two-Year Solution” this framework will remain in force and the Palestinians should be given even greater autonomy in those areas if possible.
As for Area C, where the majority of Israelis in the West Bank presently live in major blocks in close proximity to Jerusalem, Israeli sovereignty should be extended to this area and all of its residents, including Palestinians, should be accorded full Israeli citizenship. Indeed, virtually everyone concerned (including the Palestinian leadership) has long ago recognized that Israel would never abandon its large “settlement” blocs near Jerusalem. Like the annexation of the Golan which was long expected, extending sovereignty to areas in the West Bank where Israelis congregate is also inevitable and the right thing to do. After all, Palestinians in the West Bank live under Palestinian rule, why shouldn’t Israelis live under normal Israeli civilian law (instead of under military rule as they do today)?
No, this will not result in an “apartheid state.” The notion of autonomous regions within existing states is well-recognized in today’s world. For example, there is Azad Kashmir in Pakistan; there are seventeen autonomous communities in Spain; 117 autonomous communities in China; several autonomous Indian nations in the United States; 14 autonomous regions in India; several self-governing Crown dependencies (Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man) which are not part of the United Kingdom but where the UK is responsible for their defense and international affairs; and 13 other British Overseas Territories (including Gibraltar) which have autonomy in internal affairs through local legislatures. Is Gibraltar considered “occupied” territory? Are the British who reside there illegal “settlers?” Is Puerto Rico, a United States territory, whose residents are permitted to vote in local elections, but not for President, an “apartheid state?”
Again, time to implement this plan is of the essence. Newly-re-elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to extend Israeli sovereignty over portions of the West Bank, including Area C. White House officials have responded that President Trump’s long-awaited peace plan is not inconsistent with that pledge.
Even if it is, and includes an offer of an independent Palestinian state, Israel need only wait a few months for the inevitable rejection of the Trump plan by the Palestinians before Israel can justifiably implement the plan proposed here. If Israel implements this last step of the Oslo accord, it is likely, based on its approval of the annexation of the Golan Heights, that the Trump administration will approve of Israel’s initiative, thus, in effect, ending the conflict once and for all. But there are only two (or perhaps six) years to complete this task. After that, another confluence of favorable factors is unlikely to arise in our lifetime. Peace-loving peoples on all sides of the conflict should use whatever influence they have in the time remaining to make it happen.
While this plan will not satisfy everyone and is certain to be controversial, it is the only realistic plan that can begin to put this conflict behind us and allow the parties and the world to move on. Many of history’s long-fought conflicts appeared to be irresolvable. But once they were resolved, either through defeat in war, a peace agreement, or the building of peace separation fences, even if some issues remained unsettled, the conflicts faded from the historical conversation. After all, who today talks about what was once called “the troubles” in Northern Ireland and which dominated the news for decades?
If we don’t take advantage of these unique circumstances now, and allow the status quo to fester, our grandchildren and their children will still be arguing about the viability of the moribund two-state solution one hundred years from now. The time is right to end this conflict which has taken too many lives on both sides. As Rabbi Hillel said: “if not now, when?”