Long on Criticism and Short on Suggestions

A few days ago, on January 5, former Bush United States Ambassador to the United Nations John R. Bolton wrote an opinion in the Washington Post titled The Three-State Option. Here it is, mostly intact

War in the Gaza Strip demonstrates yet again that the current governance paradigm for the Palestinian people has failed. Terrorists financed and supplied by Iran control Gaza; the Palestinian Authority is broken, probably irretrievably; and economic development is stalled in Gaza and the West Bank. Palestinians are suffering the consequences of regional power struggles played out through them as surrogates.

Israel isn’t a happy place, either. It endures opprobrium from the world’s High-Minded for defending itself from terrorism yet still finds itself subjected to terrorist attacks from Hamas and terrorists based in Syria and Lebanon…

Neighboring countries also suffer. Egypt has walled off its boundary with Gaza; Lebanon remains under threat of a Hezbollah coup enabled by Iran; Syria slides further under Iranian hegemony; and Jordan is trapped in the general gridlock. Other Arab countries search for solutions, but their attention is increasingly diverted by the growing threat from Iran and the downturn in global oil prices.

Given this landscape, we should ask why we still advocate the “two-state solution,” with Israel and “Palestine” living side by side in peace… We are obviously not progressing, and are probably going backward. We continue poring over the Middle East “road map” because that is all we have, faute de mieux, as they say in Foggy Bottom.

The logic to this position is long past its expiration date. Unfortunately, it is hard to imagine a new approach that the key players would receive enthusiastically. If the way out were obvious, after all, it would already have been suggested. So consider the following, unpopular and difficult to implement though it may be:

Let’s start by recognizing that trying to create a Palestinian Authority from the old PLO has failed and that any two-state solution based on the PA is stillborn. Hamas has killed the idea, and even the Holy Land is good for only one resurrection. Instead, we should look to a “three-state” approach, where Gaza is returned to Egyptian control and the West Bank in some configuration reverts to Jordanian sovereignty. Among many anomalies, today’s conflict lies within the boundaries of three states nominally at peace. Having the two Arab states re-extend their prior political authority is an authentic way to extend the zone of peace and, more important, build on governments that are providing peace and stability in their own countries. “International observers” or the like cannot come close to what is necessary; we need real states with real security forces.

This idea would be decidedly unpopular in Egypt and Jordan, which have long sought to wash their hands of the Palestinian problem… They should receive financial and political support from the Arab League and the West…

Egypt no more wants responsibility for dealing with Hamas than Israel does. Cairo fears that Hamas extremism, and its affinity for the Muslim Brotherhood, will increase the risk of extremism in Egypt. Strong ties exist between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, and extremism in Egypt is growing, so already the real issue is finding the best way to control the threat simultaneously in Egypt and Gaza. Keeping Gaza politically separate from Egypt may be optically satisfying to some, but doing so simply increases threats to Egyptian stability, the loss of which would be catastrophic for the broader region. Just ask the mullahs in Tehran.

Without a larger Egyptian role, Gaza will not, and perhaps cannot, achieve the minimal stability necessary for economic development. Moreover, connecting Gaza to a real economy, rather than a fictional “Palestinian economy,” is the quickest concrete way to improve the lives of Gaza’s ordinary citizens. The West Bank link to Jordan, for now at least, is less urgent; the matter cannot be put aside indefinitely, partly because, ironically, long-term Israeli security concerns there are more complex than in Gaza.

For Palestinians, admitting the obvious failure of the PA, and the consequences of their selection of Hamas, means accepting reality, however unpleasant. But it is precisely Palestinians who would most benefit from stability. The PA — weakened, corrupt and discredited — is not a state by any realistic assessment, nor will it become one accepted by Israel as long as Hamas or terrorism generally remains a major political force among Palestinians.

Objections to this idea will be manifold, and implementation difficult. One place to avoid problems is dispensing with intricate discussions over the exact legal status of Gaza and the West Bank. These territories contain more legal theories than land clicca ora. “Retrocession” to Egypt and Jordan may or may not become permanent, but one need not advocate that to get started in the interim.

The Palestinian and Israeli peoples deserve a little glasnost and perestroika from the outside world. Either we do better, conceptually and operationally, or Iran will be happy to fill the vacuum.

Today in the Post, there is a letter to the editor from Marc E. Nicolson which takes John Bolton to task, to wit

John Bolton’s Jan. 5 op-ed, “The Three-State Option,” proposing that Egypt absorb Gaza and that Jordan retake the West Bank as the solution to the Palestinian problem, illustrated why his departure from the State Department was almost universally applauded by current and retired Foreign Service officers, including yours truly.

His reckless proposal would put two friendly Arab governments in the position of neo-colonialists thwarting the Holy Grail of current Arab identity, namely Palestinian nationalism. It also would import aggrieved Palestinian minorities with extremist elements into Egypt and into Jordan, which already teeters on the demographic and political brink given the number of Palestinians it has absorbed. In short, Mr. Bolton’s idea is a formula for the overthrow of two of America’s closest allied regimes in the Middle East and for the conversion of Egypt and Jordan into platforms far more potent than the Palestinian enclaves for terrorism against Israel. A more foolish proposal I have rarely seen.

Mr. Nicolson, apparently a retired Foreign Service officer, illustrates the folly of Foggy Bottom. Mr. Nicolson animadverts on Mr. Bolton who is merely trying to find a solution that breaks from the norm. It’s not like Mr. Nicolson and the rest of our ambassadorial teams (from both Democratic and Republican administrations) has made a rat’s ass bit of difference in the Middle East in the last, what, 40 years? And it seems like much of Mr. Nicolson’s critique is recognized by Bolton. For if not, what would these passages mean?

  • Unfortunately, it is hard to imagine a new approach that the key players would receive enthusiastically.
  • So consider the following, unpopular and difficult to implement though it may be.
  • This idea would be decidedly unpopular in Egypt and Jordan, which have long sought to wash their hands of the Palestinian problem…
  • Egypt no more wants responsibility for dealing with Hamas than Israel does.
  • Objections to this idea will be manifold, and implementation difficult.

Here is a passage in Bolton’s editorial that particularly resonated with me

Moreover, connecting Gaza to a real economy, rather than a fictional “Palestinian economy,” is the quickest concrete way to improve the lives of Gaza’s ordinary citizens.

Believe it or not, this kind of language is considered too blunt by the buffoons at the UN, and is the real reason why Bolton’s “…departure from the State Department was almost universally applauded by current and retired Foreign Service officers”.

But what is wrong with Bolton’s suggestion? Maybe it is time to let some of the Arab states take more responsibility for fixing this mess. After all, they are partly responsible for the mess in the first place, and it is no secret that having the world focus on Israel and Palestine takes the focus off of the dysfunctional governments of neighboring states.

Mr. Nicolson is long on criticism with charges of “reckless”, “formula for the overthrow”, and “foolish”. And he is short on constructive suggestions. I’m sure Mr. Nicolson has had a very successful career.

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