Alternatives to Oslo
The Road Map: Another Folly?
Why the Road Map won't work
The Status of Palestine/Land of Israel and its Settlement Under Public International Law
Rand H. Fishbein|
Is The Elon Plan Viable? An Assessment
|Dr. Rand H. Fishbein
|Former Professional Staff Member, U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee|
|Is The Elon Plan Viable? An Assessment
King David Hotel
October 14, 2003
The events of September 11, 2001 and the overthrow of Iraq’s Ba’athist regime have dramatically altered the Middle East political landscape.
They have led many in the foreign policy community to question a number of the fundamental assumptions that have guided U.S. and Israeli polices in the region for well over half a century. Some of these include the belief:
- that all but a small portion of the Arab and Muslim worlds are committed to peaceful coexistence with the West and, by extension, Israel.
- that despotic regimes will eventually moderate their behavior and place the good of their people over their own self aggrandizement.
- that the borders which have crisscrossed the region since the end of World War I are holy and immutable.
Yet these are the very assumptions that have Balkanized minority communities throughout the Middle East, forged nation-states out of peoples incapable of reconciling their ethnic and religious differences and fueled the animosity and despair of generations.
This is the legacy handed to us by the region’s imperial forbearers and the corrupt regimes that have followed in their wake – regimes sustained on little more than greed, political intrigue, malevolence and patronage – regimes for whom terrorism is a way of life and democracy is but a contagion.
With September 11th, though, we entered a new era, one which allows us to challenge the mantras of the past and examine new approaches to Middle East political organization that are grounded in the realities of the region.
And nowhere is this reevaluation more appropriate, or more vital, than in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Profound change is now afoot in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia each stand on the precipice of social and political upheaval. A regime change for each looms large on the horizon.
Only the Palestine dilemma defies corrective action – that is, until now.
With the collapse of the Oslo process and the Bush Administration’s Roadmap for peace in a state of suspended animation, now is the time for Israel and the U.S. to press for a focused redrawing of the demographic map of greater Palestine.
For nearly a century, the current map has forced Jews and Arabs into both competition and conflict over the same piece of land and brought bloodshed and sorrow to countless tens-of-thousands of innocent people on both sides.
If nothing is done – and if the false hopes of the Oslo dreamers continue to be pursued -- then both Peoples will have missed yet another historic opportunity to redress some of the wrongs of the past and create a more stable secure and prosperous environment in the future.
The first step in this process must be to discard or retool the ill-fated Road Map so that it provides for the eventual separation of Israel from the emerging Palestinian state. In the final analysis, only the Jordan River can serve as the border between the two.
It is my view that the plan put forward by Minister Binyamin Elon comes the closest to fulfilling the vision outlined by President Bush in his landmark June 24th speech of last year.
As a former Professional Staff Member of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, it is my opinion that the Elon Plan embodies many of the essential ingredients necessary for both Palestinians and Israelis to chart their own destinies, free of most social, political or economic entanglements.
Its elegance lies in its simplicity and the obvious fact that rivers, mountains and oceans have for millennia served as mankind’s best borders. A patchwork of isolated villages – or settlements -- spread like islands across the West Bank is not a formula that will ever bring peace.
It is an approach that is doomed to pit Arab against Jew in perpetuity --- one that is provocative, economically unproductive, and ultimately indefensible.
A gerrymandered Palestinian state is no more viable in the West Bank than would be an attempt to link all of the Indian reservations in the U.S. into a single sovereign entity.
In this respect, the Elon plan is a return to historical reality – a reversal of the colonial fragmentation of Historic Palestine.
Now is the time to untie the knot that began with the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 and the Cairo Conference of 1921 and has continued to this day.
The Elon plan is grounded in two fundamental, irrefutable realities:
- First, that the historic paths of Israelis and Palestinians are diverging. Co-existence, together, on the same plot of land, is impossible. Israel’s continued administration of a growing and increasingly radicalized population is unworkable and unsustainable.
- Second, that the demography of the region is working against Israel. The Palestinian birthrate is now an average of 6.2 children per woman while the comparable Israeli Jewish birthrate is only 2.3.
By 2020 the Palestinians will be a majority and as a consequence, victory will then be theirs by default – without bombs, without guns and without U.N. resolutions!
Terrorism, and the absence of a clear political solution that will bring the violence to an end, has transformed Israel into a Middle Eastern shtetl – recreating in the heart of the Jewish homeland many of the same conditions that Jews sought to escape from in Europe.
It was the decision of the British and the French to divide the Land of Palestine following WWI that brought chaos to the region. Since then, we all have been paying the price for this imperial folly. Two political entities were then created from one contiguous piece of land - the Palestine Mandate and the Kingdom of Trans-Jordan.
In the ensuing decades, this historical and geographical anomaly has permitted the myth to arise that the Palestinians are a stateless people when nothing could be farther from the truth.
My friends, JORDAN IS, and always has been, PALESTINE! In fact, it constitutes the majority of historic Palestine.
With upwards of 65 percent of Jordan’s current population considering itself Palestinian, the country is as much Palestinian as Canada is Canadian, France is French and Britain is British.
An answer, albeit a partial answer to the current malaise, might exist right before our eyes.
Is the Elon Plan viable? The answer is most assuredly YES.
A Palestinian state already exists east of the Jordan River in all but name. A two state solution will reach its full realization only when Palestinians now residing west of the river come under the full administrative control of Jordan. If, as Mr. Arafat would have us believe, the Palestinians are truly one nation, then why not let them come together in a region of this ancient land where today they are a majority?
In the wake of so much suffering on both sides of the Arab-Israeli divide, this is the only approach that in my view has any real chance of gaining traction in a land littered with unrealistic expectations and false hopes.
What we all should have learned from Oslo is that political reconciliation can not be achieved outside of history.
What the Elon plan offers is what the Palestinians do not now have and that is self-determination. And it provides a way to attain this objective that is both compassionate and humane.
At a time when the Palestinians have demonstrated little compassion and humanity towards their Israeli neighbors, this fact alone should make the Elon plan worthy of serious consideration.
What the Palestinians will not gain through the Elon plan is what some in their community desire above all else – the destruction of Israel. If Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem remain the destinations coveted by the Palestinian leadership, then there is no plan, or peace “processing,” that will ever resolve this conflict.
My friends, the suffering of both peoples need not persist forever. Yet, in order to move forward we must discard the failed paradigms of the past – recognizing, as we always must, that the devil is in the details.
The fundamental questions are these: What must be done to win the support of the U.S. Administration and the American public for the core principals of the Elon Plan? And how can this be accomplished while there is still time?
You will have noticed that I have not included the International Community in my formulation. Not only do I believe this is an impossible task, but, more importantly, I don’t believe that a global consensus is necessary to advance Mr. Elon’s vision. The U.S., Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians can themselves engineer the needed change.
So, what must now be done?
First: Israel must take the lead by making it clear that it will no longer accept the status quo.
- Israel holds leverage over jobs, water, electricity, travel and commerce in the West Bank. Instability there causes instability in Jordan. Israel and the U.S. need to make it clear to the King that if he is not part of the solution then, to paraphrase President Bush, he is part of the problem. Israel’s support for the Hashemites over the last four decades has been a principal reason why the Kingdom has survived. It is well known, for instance, that intelligence sharing between Israel and Jordan saved the late King Hussein from assassination on a number of occasions and helped to ensure the stability of his country during the Palestinian uprising in September, 1970, an event remembered by most Hashemites as “Black September.”
However, Israel’s continued support for the monarchy should not be unconditional. It should hinge on the degree to which the new king, Abdullah, cooperates in transforming Jordan into a home for the Palestinians. Jordan must restore Jordanian citizenship to the Palestinian population of the West Bank and immediately open its doors to a voluntary Palestinian repatriation program.
The Elon Plan does not envisage, nor could the U.S. ever support, any forced resettlement of Palestinians. More importantly this is not the Jewish way.
Not so for the Palestinian Moslems who, over the last decade, have engineered the mass exodus of Christians from their homes in towns like Bethlehem and Beit Jalla. This is a fact largely ignored by the international community, but instructive nonetheless.
Second, Jordan must NOT be given the choice of opting out. Every incentive must be given to the Kingdom to go forward – money, technical assistance and political support.
The consequences of not supporting this plan must be spelled out clearly and directly to King Abdullah.
Third, bringing the U.S. on board will require a sweeping educational effort both inside and outside of Washington.
The essential points to remember are these:
- Oslo failed, in large part, because it did not recognize the fundamental incompatibility of Palestinians and Israelis to live commingled and co-dependent within the confines of the Jordan River and the sea. History has imposed a burden on both peoples that neither can escape. Making Jordan the custodian for the Palestinians is a vast improvement on the Oslo paradigm.
- The U.S. public is tired of the incessant warfare between Israel and the Palestinians. A solution to the problem of Palestinian statelessness is essential as we enter the 21st century. As Mr. Elon has aptly noted, nearly 850,000 Jews from Arab lands were absorbed into Israel between 1948 and the present day. Surely, the same is possible for the Palestinians – refugees and non-refugees - seeking to build a new life in Jordan/Palestine.
- It is also a fact that with U.S. military commitments expanding around the world, particularly in the Middle East, a solution to the Palestinian problem now is an imperative. The conflict is draining on the U.S. national will. Its escalating cost and constant political engagement is a distraction from other equally pressing policy concerns such as the emerging threats posed by North Korea, China and Iran and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It seems to me these are reasons enough for the U.S. to reassess its strategy in dealing with the question of Palestinian statehood.
- Next, the implementation of the Elon plan could be one of the beneficial outcomes of the Iraq War. Cooperation between Jordan and Iraq in the reconstruction effort could provide the jobs and needed capital to sustain a Palestinian economic renaissance in Jordan.
For the Elon program ultimately to succeed, the U.S. government and public must embrace the vision, not because it is good for Israel, but because it is good for the U.S.
Israel, though, needs to take the lead in making this a matter of national policy. Members of Congress will not get out ahead of the Israeli Government.
In the end, only the U.S. has the capacity to persuade Jordan that it must assume responsibility for the Palestinians.
There are some specific actions that if unilaterally taken by the U.S. and Israel could advance the objectives of the Elon Plan: These include the following:
- First, continue efforts at reform and institution-building within the Palestinian community.
- Second, remove the CIA from the role of peace monitor and PA trainer. This is a clear conflict of interest that has only undermined the chances for peace.
- Third, the U.S. should immediately recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital as provided for in U.S. law. Free access to all of the world’s religions would be guaranteed.
- Fourth, Israel should assume sovereign control over all of Judea and Samaria while recognizing Jordan as the de facto Palestinian state.
- Fifth, carefully monitored financial incentives should be offered to Jordan for infrastructure development. These would include incentives for water, electricity, schools and industry. They also would support for the establishment of World Bank lending programs and the creation of an international donor stabilization fund.
- Sixth, the U.S. and Israel must end talks with the P.A., disavow its legitimacy as it has Yassir Arafat, and immediately begin a dialogue with Jordan. U.S. talks with the Palestinians should only take place with individuals who have not directly or indirectly been implicated in the murder or other terrorist acts. The U.S. should work for a new Palestinian leadership with no ties to any Palestinian terrorist organization or affiliate.
- Seventh, the Palestinian refugee camps should be phased out and UNWRAA administration ended. The U.N. should consider reallocating UNWRAA funds to Jordan to support Palestinian welfare needs.
- Eighth, the U.S. and Israel should reaffirm support for Hashemite sovereignty. If Jordan rejects the plan, Israel and the U.S. should withdraw their support, aid and protection for the Kingdom.
- Ninth, the U.S. and Israel should pursue a policy which isolates Syria and supports efforts at regime change. The Syrian Accountability Act now pending in Congress which imposes economic sanctions on Syria for its role in aiding and abetting terrorism is a good place to start.
Again, I repeat: The U.S. and Israel must not wait for the international community to buy into the idea of Jordan is Palestine. Rather, Jordan should be handed a fait accompli.
- All efforts at Middle East peace have failed over the last fifty years. Why, because they all have assumed that Palestinian coexistence with Israel is possible given time, money and good will.
Today, all of these things are in very short supply. The radicalization of all elements of the Palestinian population argues for only one thing – placing as much distance as possible between Israelis and Palestinians.
Let’s be clear. Israeli settlements are not the problem, Arab ideology is! It is an ideology that eschews any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute that does not provide for the eventual destruction of Israel. A decade of Oslo concessions proved this point beyond any shadow of a doubt.
The Jordan is Palestine option is the last best option, the most humane option left open today.
Time is not on Israel’s side. Time is not on the side of the U.S.
Delay in implementing this new approach will only weaken Israel and in the process bring about untold suffering on both sides of the Israeli and Palestinian divide.
Delay will only set back the extraordinary gains already made by the U.S. and its coalition allies in its fight against global terrorism.
More importantly, perhaps, our hesitation at this critical hour will stymie our efforts to reshape the political contours of the Middle East along more democratic and peaceful lines.