By Ori Z Soltes
In the ongoing discussion of a “two-state solution,” one Israeli and one Palestinian, an obvious, little-discussed issue–at least not publicly–is that even a viable Palestinian state offers a logistical problem given that its two parts, the West Bank and Gaza, will be separated by Israel. One could argue that, under sincere peace conditions, untrammeled passage across that stretch of Israeli territory can in the long run become as uncomplicated as crossing from Germany to France in the aftermath of the shaping of the E.U.
But I would not wait for that long run to eventuate, and would propose a slightly different solution. It is modeled on the experience of India and Pakistan, which were shaped as modern states at around the same time that Israel was being established. Having primarily Muslim Pakistan divided into two parts by primarily Hindu India proved disastrous for decades, until finally the two Muslim states were disconnected from each other, leaving one as Pakistan and the other as Bangladesh. Why not do the same with non-Israeli Palestine? Instead of a two-state solution, I am proposing a three-state solution.
For starters, this proposal would eliminate the main logistical complication pertaining to the communication between the two parts of the Palestinian state. The notion of creating a land corridor between Gaza and the West Bank, with a free flow of people and commerce between the two, seems ill-conceived as an on-the-ground practicality. It effectively cuts Israel in half: how do Israelis then flow from north to south of the corridor? There have been other proposals, for extensive connecting tunnels or bridges, but these, too, are a logistical challenge.
Moreover, two separate states for Palestinians would accord more realistically with a key current political reality: Hamas controls Gaza and the Palestinian Authority controls the West Bank. Creating two separate states would allow each to develop according to its own plans. Moreover, from a psychological viewpoint, at least some of those Palestinian and other Arabs who rankle at leaving an intact Jewish state carved out of the western part of the erstwhile Palestinian mandate might be more effectively persuaded to focus on peaceful building than violent destruction with not one but two states on which to work.
From the perspective of Israeli security, the majority of Palestinians and their PA leaders on the West Bank have expressed readiness to think and act in favor of peace and to move toward normalized relations with both Jordan and Israel–and with the world within and beyond the Middle East–but Hamas, embedded in Gaza, remains more intransigent. The three-state solution would make it possible for Israel to focus toward normalized relations with the West Bank, PA-led Palestinians; and on defense measures with regard to the Gazans. Hamas–and its intransigence–has a greater chance of being isolated and its intentions, if they remain ugly, undercut if Gaza is completely disconnected from the West Bank. The possibility of Hamas being voted out by the Gazan Palestinians themselves would increase. But the potential isolation might also increase the incentive for Hamas to accept peaceful co-existence with Israel.
The notion of a three-state solution neither complicates nor simplifies the mundane issues of garbage collection and mail delivery. It doesn’t further complicate the matter of Israel’s security fence–indeed, should the West Bank relationship move toward normalcy while the Gazan relationship does not, it is simpler to construct or maintain a fence on the Gaza border than in and around the Green Line. Nor does it simplify or complicate the issue of the settlements on the West Bank. I would in any case propose that these not be dismantled, as they were when Israel removed itself from Gaza, but that their inhabitants become citizens of Palestine as there are non-Jewish Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel–even dual citizens of those two states.
Finally, a three-state solution doesn’t affect the issue of Palestinian refugees seeking repatriation to what is Israel in any way differently from how a two-state solution would. If Israel were willing–as for the past decade its leaders, perhaps even Netanyahu, have asserted that they are–to allow a limited “law of return” to apply to some Palestinians, an international court could adjudicate the claims over the next three or five or seven years of those coming forth either to ask for return rights or compensation, as some have suggested. (The number of those claiming to have “always” been in Israel’s part of Palestine may in any case prove smaller than might be assumed, with a close examination of the region’s history in the last 150 years.) Others would be resident in one of the two new Palestinian states, and still others would be finally accorded citizenship in Syria and the other states where they have resided as stateless persons for so many decades.
Now is the time, as President Obama would say, to recalibrate, and to think outside the box, as the United States uses its leverage to help pull the Israelis out of their box of fear and distrust and to push the Palestinians and other Arabs out of theirs. It requires the will of Israelis and Palestinians and of an American leadership committed to long-term peace in the region and not to American hegemony. And that is how the current administration has articulated its role.
Ori Z Soltes teaches at Georgetown University. He is the author of Untangling the Web: Why the Middle East is a Mess and Always Has Been (Bartleby Press, 2010).