Thursday, January 14, 2010

Regional Alternatives to the Two-State Solution

From THE BEGIN-SADAT CENTER FOR STRATEGIC STUDIES, BAR-ILAN UNIVERSITY Memorandum No. 4, January 2010, by Giora Eiland* (excerpts only - follow the link to download a pdf of the full 46-page paper):

As of the beginning of 2010, it does not appear that an Israeli- Palestinian peace agreement will be signed in the foreseeable future.  ... the objective reality offers no more promise than the previous instances where the “peace process” was set in motion; the signing of the Oslo agreement in 1993, the Camp David peace conference in summer 2000, the Clinton plan for ending the conflict in December 2000, and the Annapolis peace conference in 2007....

...It is hard to believe that the diplomatic effort that failed in 2000 can succeed in 2010, when most of the elements in the equation have changed for the worse.

Currently, there are four possible approaches:

Approach 1 assumes that there is no way to reach a political solution in the foreseeable future, and hence conflict management is preferable to conflict resolution.

Approach 2 tries to achieve a “partial settlement.” According to this approach, an agreement can be reached on establishing a Palestinian state with temporary borders. This will require transferring additional territories to the Palestinians, but will prevent confronting insoluble problems such as permanent borders, Jerusalem, refugees, full mutual recognition, and an end to the conflict.

Approach 3 tries to reach a permanent agreement. Despite past difficulties and failures, the goal is to achieve a permanent settlement based on the two-states-for-two-peoples principle. Proponents of this approach feel this is the only solution and to defer its realization will only increase the difficulties of its implementation and the risks entailed by the lack of peace.

Approach 4 tries to reach a permanent solution, but not based solely on the two-states-for-two-peoples formula (that has failed in the past), but rather by searching for other solutions. This approach will be presented in detail in Part II of this study....


Part I of this document summarized the discussion over the past 70 years, with a focus on the past 16 years (since the beginning of the Oslo process). The discussion has moved between two extremes; euphoria and confidence that the two-state solution is at hand, and total pessimism that sees no political solution to the conflict. Between those two extremes, ideas for interim agreements have arisen. The permanent solution and the interim solutions, however, have three basic claims in common:

1. A solution to the problem is restricted (geographically) to the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

2. The solution lies in the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

3. The West Bank and Gaza will form a single political entity in any solution.

These three assertions have confined the discussion to a narrow space and prevented a real discussion that starts afresh and examines all possibilities for a solution to the conflict without preconceived notions.

The two proposals for a solution presented in Chapters 4 and 5 are not based on the previous three claims, but on a regional perspective that involves additional Arab actors in an attempt to solve the Palestinian issue. At the same time, the two proposals satisfy what constitutes a threshold criterion from an international perspective, namely, that Israeli rule over most of Judea and Samaria will end and “occupation” will draw to a close.

...The first solution proposed is the establishment of a Jordanian kingdom that includes three “states”: the East Bank, the West Bank, and Gaza. These will be states in the American sense, like Pennsylvania or New Jersey. They will have full independence on domestic issues as well as a budget, governmental institutions, laws, a police force, and symbols of independence, but similar to Pennsylvania or New Jersey they will not have responsibility for two issues: foreign policy and military forces. Those two areas, exactly as in the United States, will remain the responsibility of the “federal” government in Amman...

...This solution is preferable for the Palestinians, for Jordan, and of course for Israel compared to the two-state solution.

1. Advantages for the Palestinians
For the Palestinians who live in the West Bank and are not Hamas supporters, this solution has four clear advantages over the two-state solution.

First, it is more feasible, since this is a solution that Israel will be capable of implementing. Many Palestinians, who want to see an end to the Israeli occupation, will prefer this solution (which achieves that goal) to waiting for an Israeli-Palestinian peace that is not likely to materialize.

Second, those same people understand that if a completely independent Palestinian state is established (in line with the two-state formula), it will likely be ruled by Hamas. Many of them would prefer to live under Jordanian rule than to suffer the religious tyranny of Hamas, as now exercised in Gaza.

Third, a solely Israeli-Palestinian solution requires impossible concessions of the Palestinians, such as giving up the right of return and finding an agreement to end the conflict. It is easier to share this emotional burden with an Arab political actor (Jordan).

Fourth, the Palestinians also understand that under a two-state alternative, they will become citizens of a tiny state. Such a small state is not viable and will have security limitations (for example, conceding sovereignty over its airspace). It is preferable to be equal citizens in a large, respected country where the Palestinians will form the demographic majority.

2. Advantages for Jordan
It is well understood in Jordan that if an independent Palestinian state is established in the West Bank, it will likely fall into Hamas’ hands, as occurred in Gaza. A situation where a neighboring state (Palestine) is ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood, taking into account the long border between the states and the threat that already exists from the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, spells danger for the Hashemite kingdom. The only way to ensure a regime’s survival in the Middle East is through effective control of security. Therefore, the way to prevent instability in Jordan, which would be fueled by the future West Bank Hamas regime, would be through Jordanian military control of this territory.

3. Advantages for Israel
From Israel’s standpoint this solution has four clear advantages over the two-state solution.

First, there is a difference in the “story.” No longer is it a matter of the Palestinian people under occupation but rather of a (territorial) conflict between two states, Israel and Jordan. The current international pressure on Israel to concede on every issue would change.

Second, Jordan would be able to compromise on more issues, such as territory. The Palestinians cannot concede on the territory of the “1967” borders. A small Israel needs more territory, but that would make the Palestinian state even smaller. It is “unfair” to ask the weaker and smaller side to concede. This becomes easier when the partner is the sizable kingdom of Jordan. This point also applies to security arrangements. In any settlement, Israel will demand a demilitarized West Bank. In the case of a Palestinian state, that would mean prohibiting heavy weaponry. Such a demand is difficult for a people receiving independence to accept. In the context of an Israeli-Jordanian agreement, the demand sounds more reasonable. All that is required is for Jordan to forswear deploying forces in a certain territory (the West Bank). This will appear acceptable to the Jordanians, just as Egypt accepted the Israeli demand not to deploy substantial military forces on the Sinai Peninsula.

Third – and this is the greatest advantage – is the issue of trust. In the case of the two-state solution, Israel has to give up tangible assets in return for a Palestinian “promise” that the security quiet will be maintained. Israel has good reasons to fear a situation of double risk where it concedes the whole territory and does not receive security. The risk that the Palestinian government will be unable or unwilling to “deliver the goods” appears great and very real. It is different in the case of a Jordanian-Israeli peace agreement. Although here, too, Israel is required to take risks, they are risks similar to those it took in 1979 when it signed the peace treaty with Egypt and gave up the entire Sinai.

The fourth advantage concerns relations between the states. Israel has good reason to fear that if an independent Palestinian state is established, its inherent weakness will create an additional burden on Israel. It is not clear that the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is sufficient for two viable states. The problems of the future state (lack of infrastructure, shortage of employment, division between the West Bank and Gaza, etc.) will fall on Israel’s shoulders. Moreover, the international community will say it is Israel’s “moral obligation” to help the new state after so many years of occupation. Indeed, doing so will also be an Israeli interest since it is to Israel's advantage that the Palestinian state is not beset by despair, poverty, and frustration. That will not be the case if the West Bank is part of the “greater” Jordanian kingdom.

4. Advantages for the International Community
The establishment of a Palestinian state according to the two-state concept will leave many of the problems in the international community’s hands. The new state will have difficulty attaining economic independence, will be divided between two areas (Gaza and the West Bank), and will endure the refugee problem. Above all, the problems between Israel and Palestine will not disappear once the agreement is signed. The international community, and particularly the United States, will be forced to invest further efforts in successfully implementing the agreement.

It is different if the problem becomes one that two existing and stable states, Israel and Jordan, are responsible for solving. Once the agreement is reached, its implementation becomes a challenge for Israel and Jordan while dramatically less will be required of the world, similar to what happened after the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty was signed in 1979.

...It is hard not to see, objectively, the distortion involved in the two-state proposal. On the one hand, Israel and Palestine must fit into a narrow and crowded strip of land; on the other, these two states are surrounded by states with huge land masses and scant population (Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia). The one thing the Arab states have in abundance is exactly the thing that both Israel and Palestine desperately need – more land.

Yet a negligible territorial concession on these states’ part would enable substantially improving the lot of both Israel and the Palestinian state. Surprisingly, the ones who would benefit even more than Israel and Palestine from such an arrangement are Egypt and Jordan. This chapter, which deals with a “regional solution,” explains how to “enlarge the pie” so that all actors emerge with gains.
B. Main Points of the Proposal
1. Egypt will transfer a territory of 720 sq km to Gaza. This territory is a rectangle built from a rib of 24 km along the Mediterranean coast from Rafiah westward toward el-Arish (but not including el-Arish), and a rib of 30 km from the Kerem Shalom crossing southward along the Israeli-Egyptian border. This addition of 720 sq km triples the size of the Gaza Strip, whose current size is 365 sq km.

2. This area of 720 sq km is equal in size to about 12 percent of the West Bank. In return for this addition to Gaza, the Palestinians will relinquish 12 percent of the West Bank, which will be annexed to Israel.

3. In return for the territory that Egypt will give Palestine, Egypt will receive from Israel a territory in the southwestern Negev (the Paran region). The territory that Israel will transfer to Egypt could reach up to 720 sq km, but given all the other compensations for Egypt (see section d), it could be smaller.

C. Benefits to Palestine
Gaza in its current size is not viable. It does not have the minimal territory to maintain a stable economy. Today 1.5 million residents live in Gaza, and in 2020, there will be an estimated 2.5 million residents. Does anyone really believe that the residents of Gaza in its original size will be able to live in happiness and prosperity in a territory that makes development impossible? Not even a port of reasonable size could be built in Gaza, both because there is not enough space and because its proximity to Israel would cause huge damage to the Israeli shoreline. Comparing Gaza to Singapore is a mistake. Singapore’s economy is based on international trade, advanced banking, and hi-tech industry while Gaza’s economy is based on agriculture and low-tech. In Singapore, the size of the territory is not an important variable; however, the size of Gaza is critical for its viability.

The enlargement of Gaza according to the presented outline gives it another 24 km of shoreline. That entails territorial waters of nine miles (14.4 km) and reasonable chances to find natural gas in this domain. A territorial supplement for Gaza of 720 sq km would enable the building of a large international port (on the western side of the territory), an international airport at a range of 20-25 km from the Israeli border, and, most importantly, a new city that could host a million residents. It could also absorb Palestinian refugees from other countries and provide a natural development area not only for Gaza.

The economic significance of this expansion is enormous (explained below). In return for the transformation of Gaza into an interactive locale with real chances to become an international trade center in the region, the Palestinians should be prepared to concede territory in the West Bank where Israeli settlements and military facilities have existed for decades. This is a painful concession but it cannot be compared to what stands to be gained in Gaza.

D. Benefits to Egypt
In return for its willingness to give (to the Palestinians, not to Israel!) 720 sq km of the “holy” soil of Egypt, Egypt will receive seven compensations:

1. Land for land. Egypt will receive from Israel a territory in the southern Negev. Its maximum size will be 720 sq km, but taking the additional gains into account, this can certainly be bargained over.

2. Egypt is geographically cut off from the main (eastern) part of the Middle East. From east to south is the Red Sea, and to the north is the Mediterranean. To make a land link possible, Israel will allow a tunnel that will connect Egypt and Jordan. The proposed 10 km tunnel will run from east to west (about 5 km north of Eilat) and will be under full Egyptian sovereignty, so that the traffic from Egypt to Jordan (and subsequently eastward and southward to Saudi Arabia and Iraq) will not require permission from Israel. [The proposal for a land link between Egypt and Jordan is an idea suggested by Prof. Yehoshua Ben-Arieh of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.]
 3. In addition to the new airport of “greater Gaza” and the new maritime port on the Mediterranean coast, and the “Jordan-Egypt tunnel” in the south, a railroad, a highway, and an oil pipeline will be built (the route of these will at the same time become the Egyptian-Israeli border on the Egyptian side). These three will pass through the tunnel to Jordan and from there will branch to Jordan and Iraq in the northeast and to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states in the south.This linkage (explained below) has tremendous economic advantages. The gain for Egypt is clear: Egyptian levies will be imposed on all traffic from Jordan, Iraq, and the Gulf to the Gaza port. The route, as noted, passes over Egyptian soil.

4. Egypt has a water problem that is getting worse. The population is growing while clean water sources are
 shrinking. A state approximately 50 percent of whose population lives from agriculture cannot exist for another generation or two without a clear-cut solution to the water shortage. This requires, among other things, huge investments in desalination and purification. These, in turn, require advanced technology and, particularly, large outlays of capital. Egypt has neither, and hence, in return for the Egyptian “generosity,” the world will invest in Egypt (through the World Bank, etc.) in the form of a large-scale water project.

5. The 1979, the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty greatly benefited Egypt, but also forced it to accept limitations on the deployment of military forces in the Sinai. As part of the compensation for Egypt, Israel will agree to make certain changes in the military addendum of the treaty. This is vital so that the Egyptian leadership can proclaim domestically: we are indeed giving up 1 percent of the Sinai, but this concession will enable us, after 30 years, to more fully impose our sovereignty over 99 percent of the territory.

6. Egypt, like many states in the region, is interested in nuclear capabilities (for peaceful purposes). As part of the compensation for Egypt, European states (particularly France) will agree to build nuclear reactors for generating electricity in Egypt.

7. The peace agreement that is described here will put an end to the 100-year-old conflict between Israel and the Arabs.

No one will have any doubt that this agreement was concluded first and foremost thanks to the Egyptian president. From there the way is short to a Nobel Peace Prize, an international peace conference in Cairo, and, in general, to Egypt’s return to the international status it enjoyed until 1967.

E. Benefits to Jordan
Jordan reaps the greatest benefits of this settlement without having to pay a price (it is, admittedly, possible that removing the wedge that Israel currently constitutes between Jordan and Egypt is less than desirable for Jordan).

The plan offers Jordan two major advantages:

1. A network of roads, a railroad track, and an oil pipeline that will connect the international port of greater Gaza, via the Jordan-Egypt tunnel to the Persian Gulf. Jordan receives a convenient "free" egress to the Mediterranean (the new port in Gaza) and, through the Mediterranean, to Europe. Moreover, the eastern side of the tunnel is the “bottleneck” through which goods will pass from Europe to Iraq and the Gulf, entailing economic advantages for Jordan.

2. Jordan is concerned about demographic problems; it has a clear and growing majority of Palestinian citizens. This phenomenon will only intensify as long as life in Jordan is more comfortable than life in Gaza and Egypt. The moment “greater Gaza” is established, the new city, port, and airport will create numerous employment opportunities and the trend will reverse. Palestinians of Gazan extraction (there are 70,000 iin Jordan) will prefer to “return home,” as will some of the refugees who now live in the West Bank and Jordan.

F. Benefits to Israel

When one compares this arrangement to the “usual” two-state solution, four clear advantages emerge:

1. The territory in Judea and Samaria that will remain in Israel’s hands (about 12 percent) is substantially larger than what could be obtained in the “usual” solution. This number is the percentage of the territory that Ehud Barak defined as vital to safeguarding Israel’s interests when he went to Camp David in 2000. When the original fence was demarcated, it left about 12.5 percent on the Israeli side. The logic was similar (since then, under pressure from the High Court of Justice, the fence has moved westward and today only 8 percent of the West Bank lies to the west of it). This territory enables Israel to dramatically reduce the number of Israelis who will be forced to leave their homes – from 100,000 to about 30,000 to retain places of religious and historical importance such as Ofra and Kiryat Arba. It will also enable keeping Ariel in Israeli territory and under comfortable conditions.

2. A more balanced allocation of territory between Gaza and the West Bank gives the Palestinian state a better chance for viability and thus increases the chances of reaching a stable settlement.

3. The involvement of the Arab states, and particularly Jordan and Egypt, in the solution is significant and binding. This involvement creates stronger “guarantees” for the upholding of the agreement.

4. This regional settlement does not eliminate the need for a “safe passage” between Gaza and the West Bank but lessens its importance (and the extent of the traffic on it). The “safe passage” will remain a route for Gaza-West Bank traffic, but the rest of the traffic in goods and people between Gaza and the Arab world will move along the new route.

G. Economic Advantages (for Everyone)
Most of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states’ trade with Europe is carried out via ships that pass through the Suez Canal or, because of their size, must go around Africa. Although these two routes are not efficient, in the absence of a modern port on the Mediterranean coast and of an efficient transportation network, there is no choice but to use them.

If a modern port with technology similar to that of Singapore is built on the Mediterranean coast, an efficient network of roads and a railroad lead southward and eastward, and an oil pipeline is laid, then commerce will be significantly more efficient and costs will be reduced.

The funding for this project will come not only from the states in which the infrastructure will be laid but also from Western states. At present the world pays billions of dollars every year to sustain the Palestinians; according to this plan, the money will serve for investment rather than consumption, investment that will economically pay off within a number of years. The economic momentum will be enjoyed by Egypt and Jordan directly and by other states indirectly.

Unlike in the past, when solutions to international problems were achieved bilaterally on a political-strategic basis, today the international community prefers to seek multilateral solutions with an economic basis. The establishment of the European Union is the most notable example. The proposed regional solution achieves precisely with this approach.

This solution will give the Palestinians a real opportunity to become the “Singapore of the Middle East.” No such achievement is possible within the current narrow confines of Gaza.


...The path to progress for each of these solutions depends on three main variables:

The first is awareness by the US administration that the conventional solution is neither sufficient nor attractive to the sides. Even if an agreement of this kind is signed thanks to international pressure, it is doubtful that it can be implemented and even more doubtful that its implementation would lead to stability.

The second variable is that it is important to find an actor – definitely not Israel – who is prepared to propose this solution to the relevant sides. ...The initiative must come from a side that is both “neutral” and perceived as important and influential.

The third variable is that an opportunity be created.  ...An important actor in the US administration to whom the regional plan was presented said, “Wait for Mubarak’s successor.”

The two plans – the Jordanian-Palestinian federation and the territorial exchange  ...are presented separately  ...however, can become part of a single solution that combines the advantages of both. In this combination of the two solutions, a Jordanian-Palestinian federation will be established as described in Chapter 4, but the territorial arrangement will be based on Chapter 5, with Gaza tripling its size and Israel retaining a more substantial part of Judea and Samaria.

An additional possibility within the regional approach is based on this combined plan but takes a further “step forward.” In this improved plan, the Jordanian federation is only between Jordan and the West Bank. Gaza, whether in its current size or as described in Chapter 5, will become a patron state of Egypt.

This linking of the West Bank with Jordan and of Gaza with Egypt is natural and appropriate. This is not just an Israeli view; Arab states also viewed them as such until 1967. The connection between the population of Nablus and the original residents of Gaza is no greater than the Nablus population’s connection with the residents of Damascus. The Palestinian ethos of a single people living in the West Bank and Gaza is a product of Yasser Arafat's skillful cultivation over the last 40 years. Until recently one could not speak freely about the possibility of a political division between the West Bank and Gaza. Any foreign or Israeli actor who raised the idea was immediately accused of creating a linkage that entailed driving a wedge into the Palestinian nation. Over the past two years, it has been clear that such a wedge actually exists, not because of the acts of others but because of the Palestinians' actions. Since Hamas’ violent takeover of Gaza in June 2007, Gaza and the West Bank are detached not only geographically but also politically.

Today it is difficult to imagine mending this rift. The situation leads to two conclusions. First, the conditions for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on a final settlement do not exist because the Palestinian Authority does not rule Gaza and is not authorized to speak in the name of its population. Second, it is appropriate to seek solutions in which the West Bank and Gaza are not necessarily a single political entity. Under these circumstances, a third solution such as connecting the West Bank with Jordan in some sort of federal arrangement, or similarly connecting Gaza with Egypt, must also be seriously examined.

...Whoever is prepared to consider the situation without being beholden to the two-state concept will likely arrive at two conclusions. One is that the Palestinian government will probably lead the Palestinian entity into becoming a “failed state.” The establishment of an additional “failed state” in the region (Lebanon, Yemen, and Somalia) will only aid instability in the Middle East. The second conclusion is that there are alternatives to the two-state idea. Two of them have been presented in detail here; the third, which involves a linkage between Gaza and Egypt and between the West Bank and Jordan, was presented in brief. Possibly there is also a fourth or fifth way whose advantages, in turn, surpass those of the proposals set forth here.

If an outside actor concludes that an alternative path to political progress is possible, then there is a chance for a new international initiative.......The moment a more attractive solution is presented, overcoming the fundamental conflict is possible. Finding a solution for another side’s narrative is easier once a practical solution has been found. The practical solution must be worth the price and the risk. The two-state solution in its conventional form is not.

*Gen. Giora Eiland was the former director of the National Security Council and former head of the Planning Department of the Israel Defense Forces. Today he is a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).

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