The Way Forward

Finally the old paradigm is dead. The Oslo process never had a chance, because the Israeli people understood the Palestinians all too well. They knew that the idea of an independent West Bank Palestinian state was nothing more that a Trojan horse envisioned by the PLO leadership as a long-term strategy for the total “liberation” of the entire territory of the original Palestinian Mandate (both banks of the Jordan River). The real purpose of a West Bank state was never a secret; Arafat and Abbas had spelled it out on many occasions. By forcing Israel to retreat from vital strategic land (land that Israel holds claim to under international law), the Palestinians hoped to undo the disaster that the 1967 war held for all Arabs. The June Six-Day War had been a watershed. Only in 1967 did Israel’s long-term survival become possible. Palestinian and Arab hopes to obliterate the Jewish state were forced across the Jordan River and with this retreat, a new strategy was needed in order to “drive the Jews into the sea”.
The struggle for the land preceded the 1967 war by fifty years, and the so-called “67 borders” are merely old armistice lines without any force in international law. If any country can hold claim to the territories of the West Bank, it would most certainly be Israel. The original Mandate for Israel-Palestine had already partitioned the land into respective Jewish and Arab states (Jordan and Israel) at the San Remo Conference and by the League of Nations in the early 1920’s. To this day, there are no other binding international documents which counter the claims that the Jewish state has on the West Bank. UN Resolution 242 calls for negotiations to determine the final status of these territories without designating sovereignty and only through state-to-state negotiations. This UN resolution prevents a complete Israeli annexation of the territory, while at the same time prohibiting Palestinian or Jordanian sovereignty without negotiations. In other words, unilateral action has been outlawed by international law. However, the right to live on the land by Israelis is indeed guaranteed by the original League of Nations Mandate and Article 80 of the UN Charter.
The idea of a West Bank Palestinian state was first rejected by all the Arabs in 1947. Instead of peace, the Arabs chose war, and they’ve been trying to undo their defeats ever since. After the miracle of 1967 — a one-time- only Israeli preemptive strike which broke the back of the Arab air forces — Arafat and Abbas knew that the armies of Syria and Egypt were unable to defeat Israel anytime soon. Without a far more powerful eastern front to supplement the other Arab fronts to the north and the south, victory was nigh impossible. Israel had never faced a determined Arab or Muslim enemy from all three fronts at once. Even in 1948, the Arab Legion (under the leadership of British officers and under the direct control of the King of Jordan) did not press their attack to Tel Aviv and the sea. Jordan and Israel had a tacit understanding that total confrontation (except in Jerusalem) was not to be exercised. In 1967, the Israeli air campaign was so sudden and thorough that Jordanian forces only had time to retreat, and nothing more.
By 1970, the PLO had decided that to defeat Israel would require a Palestinian takeover of Jordan. By overthrowing the Hashemite royal dynasty, the PLO hoped to create a militant state east of the river. And with the help of Syria, Iraq, Egypt and the Soviet Union, Arafat could finally establish a solid base for Palestinian terrorism and eventually a stronger eastern front. However, in the civil war that ensued the PLO lost, and the Jordanian royal family survived.
Within a few years the PLO had a new strategy–phased struggle. Knowing that to defeat Israel in one full swoop would be impossible, Arafat and Abbas took a far more nuanced course of action. Diplomacy became their long-term strategy (especially in Europe) to undo the legitimacy of Israeli control of the West Bank (UN 242) and the Jewish people’s right to live there (the Mandate). The West had been dependent on Arab oil from the end of WWII onward, and the British and European tilt toward the Arab position was the leverage that the PLO would use to secure its position. Arafat’s aim was to create a base on the West Bank in order to maneuver both east and west. Crucial to this goal is Palestinian control of the strategic Jordan River Valley. Without the valley, Palestine would be forever landlocked and without hope of reestablishing its position east of the river in another attempt at overthrowing the Jordanian monarchy.
The Oslo Accords can only be understood in this context. But of course the Palestinians and the Israelis have never been on the same page. Israel needs the West Bank because she understands that the moderate Hashemites face more militant enemies throughout the Arab world; their future is uncertain. In order to defend itself against a strong eastern front, Israel depends on the West Bank for its security. Under UN Resolution 242 Israel is entitled by international law to secure and recognizable borders. The Palestinian goal has been to use Oslo to overthrow UN Resolution 242 and establish the crucial Jordan River Valley as a Palestinian bridgehead in a diplomatic struggle for a militant West Bank statehood. The PLO leadership understood that the vast majority population on both banks of the river far outnumber the supporters of the king. If Jordan were to become a democracy, a Palestinian government would most certainly be established east of the river. For the PLO, two states with Palestinian majorities are equal to one large state called “Greater Palestine”.
The essential truth of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that a tiny West Bank state cannot be managed (the Israeli conception) and that the Jordan River Valley will never be diplomatically wrestled away from Israel (the Palestinian conception). The only logical future for the West Bank is shared rule by both Israelis and Palestinians. And this should be the goal and the plan of the US government, whose investment in solving this conflict has been massive and without precedent. But President Obama has been ill-served by a small army of so-called Middle East advisers who have all failed to recognize that three individual and separate states between Amman and Tel Aviv has simply never been possible.
Now the Palestinians are determined to use their European and Muslim nations’ diplomatic clout to overthrow UN Resolution 242 and the League of Nations Mandate in a breakout attempt to isolate Israel, unilaterally alter the true designation of the territory from “disputed” to “Palestinian” and force Israel’s evacuation from the West Bank. Everything now depends on Washington’s approach and its creation of a new paradigm. America’s soft power, its values and its adherence to democratic norms must become the basis of that new paradigm. The US and Israel are strong allies, and so too is Jordan. But the time is now ripe for the Hashemite monarchy to alter its course and begin the process of constitutional change necessary for true democracy. Jordan must become a constitutional monarchy under the pluralistic regime of one-person with one-vote. The king can remain the head of state and the head of the armed forces, but a true democratic government has to be achieved. The Palestinians east of the river must be given political voice. Democracy must be on the march in the Middle East. Jordan must become an example to both Syria, the West Bank and Egypt. This is in everyone’s vital interest, including the US and Israel.
The Muslim Brotherhood must understand that only political parties who recognize both the Jordanian and Egyptian peace treaties with Israel can be allowed to participate in any new elections. Democracy must not be a vehicle toward war. On the contrary, democratic freedoms are more likely to succeed in a regional atmosphere of peace with economic development. For without a warm peace and true pluralistic democracy, Arab economic development has shown itself to be shallow and filled with only empty rhetoric. The new US paradigm must encompass jobs and rising income for all the countries of the region. Poverty breeds hate, and hate is far too plentiful in the Middle East.
First and foremost, the US must stand behind UN Resolution 242 and not allow its European allies to abandon it. As a true friend of Israel, Washington must understand that the West Bank cannot be allowed to become the sole property of either people. This is precisely why Oslo failed. In these disputed territories, the US position must be one of shared rule through direct negotiations. Elections leading to a new government could be extended to include potential statehood within the strict concept of political condominium (shared rule). The basis for this shared rule is to be determined through direct negotiations by the parties themselves. Palestine can exist as a state, but only in direct cooperation with Israel. It is vital that Israeli-Palestinian security coordination continue throughout the course of the new peace paradigm. The future of the two Arab democratic polities, on the East Bank and the West Bank, must be determined by the citizens of Jordan and their counterparts west of the river. This can be achieved through constitutional referendum.
The continued US support for absolute monarchy in the Middle East must end. Political rule by kings is not an American value. Too many have died for freedom (from 1776 on) for the US not to support rule by the people. The president of the United States must challenge his good friends in the Arab world to stand up for liberty. The future of the entire region can still be a spring of hope. President Obama must be at the forefront in order to convince the Jordanian monarch to take the lead. Democracy is the only way forward. King Oslo (the failed paradigm) is dead. Long live the new paradigm.

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).