A How Many State Solution?

The Strategic Interest

By Yossi Alpher

Published January 28, 2009, issue of February 06, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The Gaza war ended with Hamas losing militarily but surviving politically. It is now clear that Hamas is here to stay in Gaza.

Hamas’s survival and the concomitant issue of delivering reconstruction aid to Gaza will probably provide the focus for the early months of new Mideast envoy George Mitchell’s mission. For broader undertakings, Mitchell will have to await Israel’s February 10 elections and the long weeks of coalition negotiations that follow.

Sometime around April, Mitchell will then confront a post-war reality of a new Israeli government as incapable (or uninterested) as its predecessors in making the painful sacrifices required for a solution, and not one but two Palestinian entities flanking Israel: a Palestinian Authority too weak to engage in serious state-building and a Hamas-run Gaza not on direct speaking terms with the P.A., Israel or the United States.

This emerging reality poses a serious challenge to traditional strategies for achieving a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In light of this state of affairs, a growing number of peace-seeking Israelis recognize the urgency of looking for alternative approaches that might afford an opportunity to manage or even partially solve the conflict in the foreseeable future. Many of the advocates of these alternative approaches are prominent Israelis who should be taken seriously. The list of proposals is intriguing, if not always compelling.

First, there is what might be called a “three-state solution”: Israel negotiates a peace deal or some sort of interim arrangement with the P.A. in the West Bank, and a long-term cease-fire, or hudna, with Hamas in Gaza. The best that can be achieved with Hamas is a hudna, because at least for now there is no chance for a peace accord and mutual recognition of sovereignty with the militant Islamist movement. An extended and stable cease-fire would be a big improvement over the current volatile situation. Hamas’s current conditions for a hudna are unreasonable and unacceptable to Israel; then again, so are the P.A.’s current conditions for a two-state solution. These are not reasons not to try.

This option is increasingly supported by Israelis who see no chance of restoring P.A. rule in Gaza. It will gain little traction, however, unless and until the Israeli and American governments begin speaking directly to Hamas — and Hamas agrees to negotiate directly with Israel.

An alternative to the three-state solution is the “Egyptian-Jordanian solution”: Egypt takes Gaza off our hands while Jordan takes over the 90-plus percent of the West Bank that we have offered but that the P.A. is too weak to accept. This is the retro pre-1967 solution.

This option appeals to right-wingers and others who have awoken to the Palestinian demographic threat but have no faith in the Palestinian capacity for state-building, now or in the future, and deem Jordan and Egypt to be far more reliable neighbors. The biggest problem with this idea is that Jordan and Egypt reject it out of hand: The Palestinians, they insist, are Israel’s problem, not theirs.

Egypt and Jordan (and Syria!) are candidates for another option that makes them even angrier. Egypt will cede the Palestinians territory in northeastern Sinai to enlarge the Gaza Strip and accommodate its burgeoning population. Israel will compensate Egypt with land in the southern Negev and a passage across or under it to link up with Jordan. In one variation, Jordan will cede land to Syria along their common border so Israel can hold onto all or part of the Golan, and Israel will compensate Jordan territorially in the Arava.

The Rube Goldberg nature of this solution (who isn’t tempted to redraw the map?) is not its only drawback. It totally ignores Middle East realpolitik. Jordan, surrounded by stronger neighbors, doesn’t want to be linked territorially to yet another, Egypt. Nor does it have reason to reward Syria, an unfriendly neighbor, with territory. And one reason Egypt currently keeps the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Sinai closed is precisely its fear that the Gazan masses will colonize Egyptian territory. Advocates of this option insist the United States could eventually force it upon the Arabs. Tell that to Mitchell and Obama.

The proposals, of course, do not stop there: There is the one-state or bi-national solution that many Western radicals and some Palestinians advocate — a total non-starter with the vast majority of Israelis who insist that Israel must remain a Jewish state. Avigdor Lieberman of the Yisrael Beiteinu party wants to redraw the Green Line separating Israel from the West Bank to move Israeli Arabs into a future state of Palestine. Meanwhile, the Arab peace initiative tempts Israelis to believe there is an “Arab solution” out there that somehow neutralizes Palestinian obstinacy.

And then there’s the status quo. We might be stuck with it for a long time. We’d better look for ways to make it more humane and less violent.

Yossi Alpher is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. He currently co-edits the bitterlemons.org family of Internet publications.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.