My two favorite headlines of the past year - the headlines I have had the pleasure of gracing Haaretz.com with at least twice a week, regularly - are "Mideast peace deal possible by 2009" and "Iran vows not to halt its nuclear program." These statements are made by various officials - Rice, Blair, Bush, Olmert, Ahmadinejad, Khameini - and for the most part, I believe the second, but not the first. Never mind that these are potentially mutually exclusive proclamations.
The Iran nuclear program is a scare factor I prefer not to consider. I am convinced, in all the conspiratorial nature of the world, that something very shady indeed is happening up there on the axises of good, evil and otherwise, and I would not even know where to begin. The prospects are frightening enough, so the nukes I will leave as just another threatening headline until further notice.
But this peace deal, the Middle East settlement everyone is talking about, and rushing to promise for the end of Bush's term - just another headline? True, Egypt is mediating a truce between Palestinian militants in Gaza and Israel, and true, Abbas is gaining some sort of security stronghold throughout the West Bank, but after 60 years, and 39.5 years, and eight years, and however else you want to count, does it really seem likely that a two-state solution, with borders and all, can actually be set in the next eight months? I suppose if a fetus can grow from nothing to human in just about that amount of time, anything is possible, but a peace deal seems a little harder to cultivate.
These promises can be seen as little more than lip service, because the accompanying factors are too great to ignore. Cairo's proposal for truce has been met with tentative, conditional acquiesence from both sides - Israel insists Shalit be included in the deal, that rockets stop, and so forth, while the Gazans insist the siege end, the air force attacks end, and borders be opened - and so forth. Meanwhile, Gaza and the West Bank have never been so divided. Talk of a truce with militants in the West Bank is not even up for current deliberations. First we work out our issues with Gaza, and then we move on to Abbas' territory. All in just eight months.
Israel, which has never had definitive borders, must demarcate its territory "once and for all," Rice said earlier this week. This is much harder said than done, as I'm sure the powers that be already know. The Palestinians in both territories, not to mention Israelis of all different religious and political camps, must agree to these demarcations or we will surely face another war the moment these lines are drawn.
While the wheels are still in motion, let me propose a third solution, one perhaps as futile as all the others now on the table. Rather than a two-state solution, of Palestinians and Israelis, perhaps what we need to aim for is a three-state solution: Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.
Regardless of how a future Palestinian state looks, the Arab citizens of Israel will find themselves in a quandary. Many are already so disillusioned with the government, which promises them equal rights and benefits but rarely follows through. Most of my Israeli Arab friends say they would not want to be a citizen of a Palestinian state with an unstable infrastructure, wrecked with violence, but their ties to the Palestinian people is unquestionable. They are Palestinian Arabs themselves, just on this side of the border. Another arbitrary demarcation, that is bound to change or be up for consideration once a Palestinian state has been created.
A three-state solution would be as temporary as the two-state solution now being prepared. Israel lies smack in the middle of two Arab authorities, one run by Hamas and the other by Fatah. Fatah, whose violent offshoots have been responsible for some of the bloodiest attacks of the Intifada, has realized that the only way to gain international legitimacy and appreciation is to curb its violence. Hamas and the other groups continue to fight as guerillas. The difference between a guerilla and a soldier is all a question of international recognition. So long as an organization is shunned by world powers, it will remain a resistance group (in modern terms, a terrorist organization), while the moment it promises to reign in the violence, it becomes recognized on an international level as a legitimate political authority. Look at Fatah. Look at Hamas. Both elected democratically in their respective territories, but one is the Palestinian Authority and the other is the Islamist Movement the U.S. and Other Western Powers Consider to be a Terrorist Organization.
As long as negotiators are working through a peace settlement with Gaza on the one hand and West Bank on the other, why should we believe that those two authorities can ever be melded into a single state. Israel will always be situated right between them and is hardly likely to allow the Negev to be carved up to allow Palestinins access from one province to another. Jerusalem is an issue that has been brushed off the table more times than can be counted. Israel refuses to even speak to Hamas - but in eight months they plan to let them into Jerusalem?
By January 2009, when Bush steps down and a new administration takes its place in Washington, only a provisional agreement is possible. Israel itself is likely to have a completely different government by then, and there is no way to know which ways the Palestinian electoral powers will have tipped at that point. A two-state solution is a foolish plan because there are at least three entities that need to be considered here. Before any kind of borders are drawn, we must first reach a deal on Gaza and a deal on Jerusalem and a deal on West Bank settlements.
Borders must be set between the Negev and Gaza, and between West Bank authorities under the respective control of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Hamas must be granted some sort of authority to control its own frontier - in cooperation with Egypt and international monitors. Palestinians must stop attacking Israel and Israel must stop attacking Palestinians. We must stop thinking of the West Bank and Gaza as one state until both political and geographic stability have been implemented. That project seems a more likely possibility for 2019. For 2009, let's work on a three-state solution, one step at a time.