There Is No Plan

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Bush Laterals to Obama. Mid-East Peace

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don't fumble my legacy, dude

don't fumble my legacy, dude

Among all the other total disasters Bush is handing over to Obama is the small matter of finding peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the current attacks on Gaza are part of an old school of thought. The future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will have a completely new landscape.

Benny Morris, a prominent historian of Israeli History wrote a superb primer on Israel’s current predicament in the New York Times. To sum it up, Israel faces unconventional enemies in both Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza, as well as the looming threat of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and the demographic ticking time bomb of the increasingly radicalized and fast growing Arab-Israeli population that is likely to outnumber the Israeli Jews by 2040 or 2050.

These days Palestinians might just be playing the long game. They could try to simply wait out the Israelis, keeping up the pressure, sustaining the kind of damage and degradation that will keep their populations radicalized, and then force the Jewish State into either apartheid or a single-state solution, which would be a stepping stone in their eyes to the destruction of Israel. For the Jews, a single state solution would not be a solution at all. Jews would be the minority in an Arab State which would most likely dismantle the trappings of Israeli democracy after securing power, and attempt to assert its power over the Jews perhaps to the point of revenge. It’s hard to imagine Israel giving up its military power, nuclear weapons, and liberal democratic traditions without a fight, even if democracy in its purest form has to take a back seat to their self-preservation.

Israel will do everything in their power to scuttle a single state solution. They have no choice but to seek a two-state solution while there is still time. The Two state approach is a huge advantage for Israel. A Palestinian state is likely to be a client of Israel’s before long, wholly reliant on them economically. Arab states will no longer be able to use anger at treatment of the Palestinians as a cover for suppressing their own populations, and Israel’s demographic problems will be solved for once and for all. They will drop the Palestinians very fast. Not only that, but the inevitable power struggle between Fatah and Hamas for control of the new state (and whether it’s merely a stepping stone to the destruction of Israel or the end of the conflict) will severely weaken the nascent state. With new found peace, Israel can unleash the potential of its technological and economic power.

But the closer the demographic race in Israel becomes without the creation of a viable Palestinian state, the less likely the Palestinians will be to opt for one. By 2020, the year zero of Israeli Democracy might only be twenty years away and the two state solution might seem like second best for the Palestinians. They may be more likely to just stall the idea. It’s an approach that won’t look much different to the one that they use now.

Obama will likely be President until 2016, and it will be on his watch that the defining diplomacy in the region will take place. At its heart, the issue is simple. Can the Palestinians be convinced that a two-state solution is their best bet, or will they hold out for almost certain chaos by waiting for a single state approach?

American Foreign Policy will be far better served if a Palestinian state sits alongside Israel. A single state trajectory is fraught with unpredictable and unpalatable scenarios for the US. But the longer the Palestinians stall, the sweeter the two-state deal will have to be to tempt them, and the more likely the Israeli public will oppose the idea.

Unless the Israeli government succeeds in introducing the threat of a single-state solution as a way of moving the voting public in favor of two-state approach, Obama and his team will have to help to refocus them. And the only serious way to do that is with tough love. It would be a risky move, but removing US military and financial support for Israel might just make Israel realize that its future lies in accommodation.

Among other concessions, Israel will have to share Jerusalem, it will have to link the West Bank to Gaza, it will have to resettle its West Bank settlers in Israel proper (unless they wish to live under Palestinian rule), and it will have to support and supply the new Palestine. It will never agree to the Palestinian right of return – which would be tantamount to capitulating to a single state solution voluntarily.

Israel will be forced to make concessions. Many will regard them as unfair, but the demographic realities trump everything else. Obama has to convince the Israelis and Palestinians that their best deal is now.

Abba Eban, the father of Israeli Foreign Policy, once said famously that “Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” For many years those words rang true, but it’s frightening possibility that Eban’s wisdom may no longer be relevant. Perhaps the Palestinians’ best opportunity now lies in continuing to miss them.

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