The expression “two state solution” has taken up residence in Washington as the framing device for yesterday’s White House meeting between President Obama and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It is a handy cliche that assumes that creating a Palestinian state will actually solve something. We beg to differ.
Experiments in Palestinian self-rule have not been auspicious. Yasser Arafat became president of the Palestinian National Authority in 1994 under the Oslo Accords, and he quickly purged any moderate voices among the Palestinian leadership. He erected a kleptocracy that has continued under Mahmoud Abbas that subsists largely on Western aid and shows little sign of political or economic development. Hamas, which seized power in Gaza in 2007, created an Islamic terror state that launches rocket attacks on Israel as a matter of policy, proving the emptiness of the complimentary platitude “land for peace.” While Israel is being browbeaten, the Palestinians are being rewarded for their dysfunctional rule with a State Department pledge of $900 million in new aid. The United States might as well give the Taliban millions to promote peace in Afghanistan.
When the times require innovative thinking, the Obama administration is focused on the failed approach of the 1990s. But the state of play in the region has changed dramatically since the Clinton era. Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons capability is pushing Israel and the Sunni Arab states toward a rapprochement based on the shared existential threat from Tehran.
The Obama administration could seize this historic moment and use Iran as the impetus for comprehensive peace. But one idea being discussed is that there can be no movement on the Iran issue until the Palestinian matter is settled. This approach would give the Palestinians extraordinary and underserved leverage over U.S. policy and allows Iran breathing space to continue its pursuit of nuclear capability. If it looks as though peace may break out unexpectedly, Tehran can always abort the process with more violence from its wholly owned subsidiary, Hamas.
The Obama administration should focus less on creating a Palestinian state and more on helping Palestinians earn the right to statehood. Washington also must realize that countering Iran should be the locus of U.S. strategy. Pressuring Israel to accept a bad deal with people fundamentally unready for self-rule will leave the Middle East with two states and no solution.