Friday, July 27, 2007

Until recently, a “two-state solution” was the almost generally accepted formula for dealing with the Palestinian problem.President Bush had a vision about a “democratic, viable Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel”; the Europeans saw it as a vindication of their long-held support for Palestinian statehood. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni somewhat naively regards it as an all-encompassing solution for the ills affecting the Arab-Jewish relationship.

Judging froma recent speech, Mr. Bush still adheres to his vision, but whether he is confident that it will come to fruition may be another matter. It surely hasn’t escaped Mr. Bush that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, on whom he is now placing all his bets, never met the standards set forth in the American leader’s June 24, 2002, Rose Garden speech — that American support for Palestinian statehood would require the Palestinians to “embrace democracy, confront corruption, engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure.” None of this has happened; on the contrary, Mr. Abbas refrained from disarming Hamas when he still could have done it.

The theory that creating a Palestinian state could resolve the refugee problem was never a sound one. A physically and economically “challenged” mini-state could not absorb more than 10-15 percent of the refugee population anyway; the only practical way to address the problem would be by their genuine integration into the countries in which they have resided for three generations. But the Arab world, including the Palestinian leadership, has always opposed this in order to keep the refugee problem alive and put pressure on Israel. Thus the creation of such a purely symbolic Palestinian state wouldn’t end the clamor for the so-called “right of return” of the refugees to Israel, but would actually intensify it.

There were always some who had doubted the very viability of Palestinian statehood, pointing out that even if the Palestinians were going to be able to create a functioning national society (which in the light of past experience didn’t look probable) it would inevitably be another corrupt, autocratic Arab state like most of the other Arab countries in the “broader” Middle East and a base for terrorist organizations. However, the skeptics and nay-sayers were in the minority — until now.

After the Hamas takeover of Gaza, perceptions were beginning to change — because of the bloody events themselves and the misrule of the Palestinian governments which had preceded them. One hoped-for result of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza was the opportunity for the Palestinians to prove that they could run their own affairs, but the actual results were disastrously different.If that limited experiment had gone awry, why continue with even more risky ones in the West Bank?The main reason why the Gaza scenario may not repeat itself there is Israel’s continued military presence — and the security bulwark created by Jewish settlements in the area.

We now have a radical, Jihadist “government” in Gaza supported by Iran, whose declared aim is to wipe out Israel, while on the West Bank there is what can only be described as a make-believe government under the aegis of Mr. Abbas — whose authority probably doesn’t extend far beyond his headquarters in Ramallah. In order to bolster Mr. Abbas, the international community and Israel have extended to him a great deal of financial and diplomatic aid, but it is doubtful whether this will suffice to strengthen his support among the Palestinian populace.

As an additional inducement, Israel has agreed to free 250 jailed terrorists and to remove 173 other terrorists, most of them members of Mr. Abbas’s own Fatah organization, from the wanted list “if they agree to cease their activities against Israel” and hand over their weapons. But to whom?The weapons would be given to other Fatah members acting in the guise of “Palestinian security forces.”

In all probability those same weapons will one day be turned against Israelis. As for the “peace process,” there are no indications that Mr. Abbas is either willing or able to adopt the imperative compromises on such key issues as Jerusalem, refugees, borders, etc. Nor will the newly anointed mediator, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, be able to make much of a difference in this respect.

Mr. Bush has announced that he will invite the parties concerned — probably some of the Arab states, the United Nations, Russia, the European Union, Israel and the Abbas government — to some sort of international gathering in September in New York. The precise nature of this gathering is not clear, but it is difficult to see, given the weakness of both the present Israeli government and the Palestinian leadership, how anything constructive could emanate from there. Considering the list of invitees, it could even lead to unwarranted pressure on Israel.

Is there no way out? There certainly is no easy way, but not a few Palestinians seem to be reverting these days to the concept of some sort of union with Jordan — or, as one Palestinian expressed it to a foreign journalist: “It would be better if Jordan ran things in Palestine.”The idea is not new, nor is it devoid of potentially troubling implications for all sides concerned. Moreover, Jordan’s King Abdullah has so far categorically rejected the idea of renewing ties with the Palestinians.

But in a situation where separate Palestinian statehood is proving itself an abject failure, one may well agree with a Jordanian columnist quoted in the New York Times recently, who said: “Most people will tell you that the [Jordanian-Palestinian] confederation scenario is going to happen. The only question is when.”

Zalman Shoval is in charge of foreign policy issues for the Likud Party of Israel. A former member of the Knesset, he served as Israel’s ambassador to the United States from 1990 to 1993 and from 1998 to 2000.

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