Commentary Magazine


The Stabilization Plan

Since 2002, the so-called “two-state solution” to the conflict between Israel and its neighbors has become the centerpiece of U.S. Middle East policy. From former President George W. Bush’s first conditional endorsement of Palestinian statehood on June 24 of that year to President Barack Obama’s Middle East envoy George Mitchell’s announcement on April 17 of this year that “a two-state solution is the only solution,” the American commitment to Palestinian statehood has steadily grown in scope and intensity.

The Obama administration has made establishing a Palestinian state the most urgent item on its Middle Eastern policy agenda. On April 24, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the House Appropriations Committee that U.S. and Arab support for preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is contingent on the Netanyahu government’s willingness to accept the two-state solution and make the rapid establishment of a Palestinian state a principal goal. “For Israel to get the kind of strong support it’s looking for vis-à-vis Iran,” she said, “it can’t stay on the sidelines with respect to the Palestinians and the peace efforts. The two go hand in hand.”

Moreover, the Israeli media reported that Rahm Emmanuel, Obama’s chief of staff, told an American Jewish leader in mid-April that verbal Israeli support for the two-state formula is insufficient. The Netanyahu government must, he said, demonstrate its commitment to Palestinian statehood by evacuating Israeli communities on the West Bank if it wishes the U.S. to support its goal of preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

Unfortunately for the White House, by making Palestinian statehood the be-all and end-all of U.S. Middle East policy, the Obama administration is setting itself up for failure and fostering a rupture in U.S.-Israel relations. Regardless of the amount of pressure that Washington brings to bear on Jerusalem, and indeed, regardless of the magnitude of Jerusalem’s willingness to surrender land to the Palestinians, the so-called “two-state solution” is no solution at all. To the contrary, it is a recipe for war, bloodshed, and further destabilization and radicalization of the region.

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There is an alternative policy framework regarding the Palestinians that would engender a peaceful and stable future for the Middle East. But before setting it out, we must first try to understand why it is that the two-state paradigm has failed repeatedly and will continue to fail.

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Although U.S. support for Palestinian statehood and the two-state solution has only been made explicit since 2002, both the U.S. and Israel have been advancing this goal since 1993. Since Israel first recognized the PLO in September 1993 with the onset of the Oslo peace process, the primary aim of successive Israeli and American governments has been to establish a Palestinian state. Every U.S. administration and every Israeli government since 1993 have made multiple attempts to achieve this central goal. Not only has every attempt failed. Each attempt has provoked the death of hundreds of Israeli citizens; has engendered a steady radicalization of Palestinian society; has speeded up the integration of the Palestinians into the Iranian power axis; has harmed Israel’s international standing; and has frayed Israel’s alliance with America.

To date, Israel and the U.S. have used six different frameworks to advance the two-state solution. Each has failed in its turn. The Obama administration has now adopted yet a seventh framework for achieving the sought-for solution. These frameworks are: the Oslo process from 1993 to 1999; the Camp David initiative in 2000; the separation plan from 2002; the Road Map plan from 2004; the disengagement plan from 2005; the Annapolis process from 2007; and the Arab peace plan that was first propounded in 2002 and that is now under the Obama administration rapidly becoming the centerpiece of U.S. peacemaking efforts. They all share several fundamental assumptions.

First, they assume that the Middle East conflict as a whole is a function of the Palestinian conflict with Israel, and consequently, once the Palestinian conflict with Israel is solved, the wider Middle East conflict in all its disparate aspects will be resolved.

Second, they all assume that the root of the Palestinian conflict with Israel is the absence of a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River that must include Judea and Samaria (otherwise known as the West Bank), Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip—areas Israel took control over in the 1967 Six Day War.

Third, they presume that it is Israel’s refusal to cede all of these lands to the Palestinians that stands at the root of the Palestinian conflict with Israel and forms the basis of the Arab-Israel conflict and the Islamic-Israel conflict. So long as Israel maintains even a residual presence in any of these areas, it is to blame for the absence of peace in the region. That is, from the Iranian mullahs to al Qaeda, from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood to the Saudi-financed mosques in London, Israel’s size is the cause of angst, frustration, violence, and hatred. Stemming from this view, the two-state solution’s fourth assumption is that the internal pathologies of the Palestinians, the Arab world, and the larger Islamic world are largely irrelevant. The only thing that matters is that Israel is too big.

Because of this foundational belief, advocates of the two-state solution have little patience for Israeli objections to transferring additional land or weaponry to the Palestinians. They have little interest in Palestinian breaches of their signed agreements and commitments to accept Israel’s basic right to exist and abjure terrorism. Arab and Islamic Jew-hatred have no relevance. Since Israel alone is responsible for the absence of peace, nothing the Palestinians do can justify Israel not giving them more land.

The fifth enduring assumption of the two-state solution flows naturally from the previous four: Israel is the only actor in the region whose actions have any significance. Only its decisions will influence the course of events. So for the U.S. to advance the cause of peace, it needs merely to put the squeeze on Israel to give up the lands it has controlled since 1967.

Based on these assumptions, it makes sense that those proponents of the two-state solution object to Israeli military operations in Judea and Samaria. Roadblocks, like the separation fence, must be dismantled because they serve both to deflect attention away from Israel’s culpability and toward Palestinian aggression against Israel (which is irrelevant) and to facilitate a long-term Israeli presence in the areas, which must be opposed.

Obviously, as far as the two-state paradigm is concerned, Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria are the greatest obstacles to peace. The settlements inherently assert Israeli rights to the areas, which the two-state solution rules out. Consequently, Israeli communities must be legally criminalized, politically demonized, and physically removed.

Again, these assumptions are shared by all the frameworks that have to date been put forward for implementing the two-state solution. The only salient distinctions between them are the degree to which they pay lip service to the Palestinian requirements to accept Israel’s right to exist and end terrorism, and the extent to which they have spelled out their belief that Israel is the only party that must change its ways to enable the implementation of the two-state solution.

The Oslo framework and the Road Map plan were more assertive than the other frameworks in claiming that Palestinians should accept Israel’s right to exist and fight terrorism. The Camp David initiative, the separation plan involving the construction of Israel’s security fence around much of Judea and Samaria, the unilateral withdrawal strategy, the Annapolis process, and now the Arab peace plan are all far more explicit in their focus on compelling Israel to give up land without regard to Palestinian behavior.

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The Arab peace plan actually goes even further than the other initiatives in focusing on Israel alone. And since it is central to the Obama administration’s Middle East policy, it deserves special mention. The Arab plan outdistances the rest of the two-state pack in two ways. First, it is a take-it-or-leave-it proposal. Either Israel removes itself from all the areas it took control of during the Six Day War (including the Golan Heights, which it is required to give to Syria), and in exchange receives some form of recognition from the Arab League member states; or it refuses to give up all the land and so remains a regional pariah that deserves whatever aggression it suffers from its neighbors.

The second reason that the Arab peace plan is more extreme than any of its predecessors is that it rejects Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state out of hand. The Arab peace plan requires that Israel accept a flood of foreign Arabs—the millions of so-called Arab refugees from 1948-1949—as full citizens before it can expect any recognition of its right to exist from the Arab world. That is, Arab recognition of Israel will only occur after Israel has ceased to be a predominantly Jewish state.

The problem with all of these frameworks for a two-state solution is that their founding assumptions are all incorrect. It is not the absence of a Palestinian state or Israel’s size that prevents peace from emerging in the Middle East. Rather, it is the Palestinian, pan-Arab, and pan-Islamic rejection of the Jewish people’s right to sovereignty in the Land of Israel that prevents a peaceful resolution of their conflict with Israel.

A review of Israel’s diplomatic history shows that from the League of Nations’s adoption of the British Mandate for Palestine in 1922—when the future Jewish state was promised sovereignty over present-day Israel, Judea, and Samaria, and present-day Jordan—until today, Israel has always agreed to share the land with an Arab state. Moreover, Israel’s size has never been a barrier for peace in the region. Israel’s governments, and before 1948, the elected leadership of the Zionist movement, have always both expressed and demonstrated Israel’s willingness to compromise on its size in exchange for its neighbors’ acceptance of its right to exist.

Additionally, Israel’s destruction of its own communities in the Sinai as part of the peace deal with Egypt in 1981; its destruction of its communities in Gaza and northern Samaria as part of its attempt to establish a Palestinian state unilaterally in 2005; its stated willingness to destroy all or some of its communities in the Golan Heights, Judea, and Samaria and give up parts of Jerusalem in exchange for peace with Syria and the Palestinians—all these have shown that Israel is perfectly capable and willing to destroy its own communities when it is convinced that doing so will facilitate the cause of peace with its neighbors.

On the other hand, a historical survey of Arab behavior demonstrates that Israeli concessions for peace have routinely been met by a radicalization of the Arabs’ positions regarding Israel. Several pertinent examples of this pattern as it manifested itself with the Palestinians since 1993 make this point clearly.

In 1993, when Israel recognized the PLO, Palestinian society was the most liberal among the Arabs. But in the years that followed, through systematic indoctrination, incitement, and corruption, the supposedly peaceful and secular Palestinian Authority transformed Palestinian society into a jihadist society allied with Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan. And it cultivated collaborative ties with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hizballah in Lebanon.

When in 2000 Israel offered the Palestinians statehood in some 98 percent of the land the Palestinians claimed they wanted, they responded by waging a jihad in which the Palestinian Authority openly collaborated with Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Iran, Iraq, and Syria to kill as many Israelis as possible.

In 2004, Israel waged an effective counter-terror campaign against Hamas in Gaza that all but destroyed the group as a fighting force. Hamas attacks against Israeli communities in and around Gaza fell to new lows. They rose only after Israel began actively preparing to expel all of its citizens from Gaza and removing its military forces from the region.

Claiming that the terror war it had just lost had actually compelled Israel to run away, Hamas became the most popular terror faction in Palestinian society. In January 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections in Gaza, Jerusalem, and Judea and Samaria.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of Palestinian behavior since 1993 has been the PLO leadership’s refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist inside the armistice lines drawn in 1949 at the conclusion of the War of Independence. Instead of accepting the principle of territorial compromise, the PLO has incited Israel’s Arab citizens to reject their Israeli identity. Moreover, throughout the world, Palestinian leaders have waged a political war against Israel. The clear goal of this warfare is to delegitimize Israel in order to minimize international opposition to the physical destruction of the Jewish state.

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So what is to be done instead?

There is an alternative path for Middle East policy that both Israel and the U.S. would do well to follow. This policy, which I dub “The Stabilization Plan,” is based on two propositions.

The first is that the root cause of the Palestinian conflict is the same as the root cause of the larger Arab and Islamic world’s conflicts with Israel: Simply put, they refuse to accept that Israel has a right to exist. Until they change their minds—and Israel can do virtually nothing to make them change their minds—the conflict cannot be solved, it can only be managed. It cannot be resolved. It can only be stabilized. Consequently, the stabilization plan does not foresee a solution or prescribe a path to achieve a solution of the Middle East conflict. Indeed, it argues that the quest for a solution has blinded policymakers to the true nature of the conflict in a manner that has expanded the frequency and likelihood of war and damned the region to a state of chronic instability.

Second, the stabilization plan asserts that the Israeli and American adoption of the two-state solution has caused them to ignore or undervalue more salient aspects of Middle East politics. And it is these aspects that have done more than anything else to exacerbate the Palestinian conflict with Israel. These aspects, which include the rise of jihadist forces throughout the Islamic world, and Iran’s ascendancy as a regional power, have only grown more threatening since 1993.

Flowing from these propositions, the stabilization plan has three basic pillars. First, it would neutralize outside radicalizing elements that exacerbate the Palestinian conflict with Israel. Second, it would exact a significant price from the Palestinians for their continued belligerence. And third, it would prevent the Palestinian leadership from using the Palestinians as pawns in their war against Israel.

Neutralizing External Actors. Today the most important external actor using Palestinians as proxies to advance its regional power is Iran. Today, Iran is the principal state spoiler in the conflict. So long as Iran is able to exert influence on the Palestinian conflict with Israel by using Palestinian terror groups, it will be able to exploit the conflict to expand its influence in the Arab world, where hatred of Israel is the most popular political sentiment. Moreover, if Iran is permitted to become a nuclear power, any chance of peaceful coexistence between Israel and its neighbors will be lost. Any Arab state or actor—including the regimes in Egypt and Jordan—that considers building or maintaining peaceful relations with Israel will find itself exposed to Iranian nuclear blackmail.

Then there are the institutions that were created to exacerbate and make eternal the Palestinian conflict with Israel. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which is charged with maintaining the refugee status of descendants of Arabs who left Israel during the 1948-49 War of Independence, leads the pack. As long as such organizations continue to exist and thrive, they will continue to radicalize the Palestinians and block all possibility of resolving or even stabilizing the Palestinian conflict with Israel.

Exacting a Price. Today, the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria live under the tyranny of the Fatah terrorist organization. In Gaza, they live under the tyranny of the Hamas terror group. Because the two-state paradigm places all the blame for the absence of peace on Israel, and so places all the pressure for behavioral change on Israel, leaders of both Fatah and Hamas have felt free to deny their subjects basic freedoms as they pursue their war against Israel through terror, political warfare, incitement, extortion, and general thuggery—all in the name of the Palestinian people. This should change. Israel, the U.S., and other relevant actors should adopt policies that will make it impossible for Palestinian leaders from Fatah and Hamas alike to continue to feel that they have nothing to lose—and everything to gain—by maintaining their current belligerent positions toward Israel and by forcing Palestinian civilians to follow their bellicose lead.

Among other things left largely unaddressed in recent years is the Palestinian Authority’s systematic indoctrination of its public to wage jihad against Israel and seek the annihilation of the Jewish people. Additionally, Palestinian laws that block Palestinians from carrying out normal, peaceful relations with Israelis are ignored. Such laws include the Palestinian land law, which requires the execution of Palestinians who sell their land to Jews, and the law against collaborators that requires the execution of Palestinians who are found guilty—often without a shred of evidence—of assisting Israel in its counterterror operations. So, too, in the two-state-solution world, in which Israel is perceived as the only significant agent, the demand that all lands transferred to Palestinian control must first be cleansed of Jews is seen as legitimate.

There are no elected Palestinian leaders today who are not also the heads of active terrorist organizations. It should be clear after sixteen years that until alternative Palestinian leaders who abjure terrorism and accept Israel are permitted to arise, there shall never be peace with Israel, regardless of the amount of land a government in Jerusalem is willing to surrender. Consequently, the stabilization plan foresees Israel, the U.S. and other relevant actors taking various steps to weaken the terror forces and leaders in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza and to strengthen and empower potential leaders and parties that oppose terrorism and seek peace.

Ending the Use of Palestinians as Pawns. During his visit to Washington in late April, Jordan’s King Abdullah reiterated the assertion of advocates of the two-state solution that improving the day-to-day conditions of life for ordinary Palestinians should be set aside in the interest of Palestinian political empowerment. As Abdullah put it in a speech at the Center for International and Strategic Studies, “Any Israeli effort to substitute Palestinian development for Palestinian independence cannot bring peace and stability to the region.”

The final pillar of the stabilization plan rejects this view out of hand for two reasons. First, since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, the subordination of Palestinian welfare to Palestinian statehood has destroyed the welfare of the Palestinian people by diverting international funds that were supposed to stimulate economic prosperity to secret bank accounts used to raise terror armies and purchase illicit terror weapons.

Second, by impoverishing Palestinians and denying them individual rights in favor of collective rights against Israel, the Palestinian Authority and advocates of the two-state solution have destroyed the Palestinian middle class, which in Palestinian society as in every other society formed the backbone of the pragmatic political and business class. In so doing, they left the ground clear for radicals to rule the roost. Moreover, they have denied Palestinians the basic rights and freedoms that advocates of the two-state solution claim they wish to guarantee by compelling Israel to withdraw from Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem.

The third pillar of the stabilization plan calls for Israel, the U.S., and other interested parties to put an end to this state of affairs. The Palestinian Authority, whether led by Fatah or Hamas, should no longer be permitted to hold the Palestinians hostage to its political and military campaigns against Israel. Policies that can be adopted to end this state of affairs span the gamut from the political to the military to the legal spheres. For instance, Israel could consider gradually replacing its military law, which currently governs Judea and Samaria, with its far more liberal domestic law. There can be little doubt that granting the Palestinians the rights of a liberal democratic legal code would afford them protections and guarantee freedoms they are currently denied as hostages to the conflict with Israel.

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For the past sixteen years, captivated by the two-state solution, Israel, the U.S., and the international community have turned their backs on the actual sources of the Palestinian conflict with Israel, and indeed on the sources of conflict and instability throughout the Middle East. By denying these true sources of war, conflict, and instability, they have exacerbated them.

The stabilization plan offers Israel, the U.S., and the international community a framework for contending with the dangers. Instead of ignoring the true causes of the Palestinian conflict with Israel, the stabilization plan focuses on them. It offers a cognitive framework for formulating policies that can successfully isolate and disempower radicalizing elements operating both inside and outside Palestinian society; can make the prolongation of the conflict a less attractive option for Palestinians than it has been under the two-state paradigm; and can free the Palestinians from the shackles of collective rights advanced in their name, at their expense, by terrorist groups.

The stabilization plan and the policies it engenders cannot solve the Palestinian conflict with Israel. Today, the Palestinian conflict has no solution. What the stabilization plan can do, if wisely followed, is embark Israel and the Palestinians on a path to security, prosperity, and stability, which when you think about it, sounds a little like peace.

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