Friday, November 16, 2012

A Three State Solution to Palestine

As Hamas once again threatens Israel's borders, provoking them to defend their sovereignty with retaliatory air strikes, the question arise whether a solution can ever be reached to create a sovereign Palestinian state with defined borders and legitimacy on the international level. The greatest problem as I see it is the lack of a singular authority in palestinian lands, an authority with both popular and international support.

For almost 4 decades negotiatians have used a two state solution as its blueprint for peace. Besides the current lack of a unified voice to speak on behalf of the palestinian people, other practical problems exist that preclude a successful two state solution ever be reached. The most glaring problem is geographic; the West Bank and Gaza Strip lack continuity. The lack of contiguous palestinian territory presents strategic and economic problems for both Palestine and Israel. A look at the world map shows that there is no sovereign nation on earth, excluding Alaska's detachment from the continental US, that has its territory divided into two parts. The military implications are clear for both sides; Israel and a sovereign Palestine would each have the ability to "divide and conquer" their adversary. From an economic perspective, not being contiguous means that goods travelling between Gaza and the West Bank must be transported through Israel, givng the Jewish State enormous leverage should disputes arise.

Besides the difficulties a two state solution presents geographically, the greatest danger to a legitimte Palestinian government is internal; Hamas simply will not relinquish authority to Fatah, and the good will they have been garnering in Hamas controlled land means that the people will in all likelihood support their demand for power. Israel will not negotiate with Hamas, whom it does not consider an honest broker, and I'm sure that Israel is somewhat more comfortable having Hamas' influence geographically and politically isolated in the Gaza region.

The bottom line is this: A non-contiguous sovereign state is not viable. It will fail as surely as the sun rises.

So how do we move forward? One proposition, one that I believe would yield the most viability and stability, would be to have the West Bank and Gaza be integrated with Jordan and Egypt, respectively, into confederations under the sovereign control of those states but with the independence inherant in a confederated state. There are obvious problems here, most noteworthy the reality that neither Jordan or Egypt is enthusiastic about having to be responsible for palestinians and palestinian behavior within their state. Theoretically, this would be the best solution, but from a practical matter there is little chance that the idea would be supported by the people in these lands.

If a two state solution won't work, and a confederation won't work, then what can be done to move this process forward? The most obvious solution, one that seems to jump right out at you with a look at the regional map, is to have a three state solution, creating separate sovereign nations in Gaza and the West Bank. There is so much to be gained by Israel and leaders in the West Bank by even raising the prospect of a three state solution. It would immediately isolate Hamas, it would eliminate the problem Fatah would face having to govern a somewhat hostile and non-contiguous territory, and it would find popular support in Israel; most Israeli citizens are justifiably suspicious of Hamas but would, I believe, be much more willing to negotiate with leaders on the West Bank, especially if Jordan shows  willingness to enter the peace process.

A three state solution would benefit both Israel and the West Bank, isolating Hamas would be in both parties self-interest. It is time for negotiators to "think outside the box" and consider a new path to peace. Proposing a three state solution would be a great strategic shift. From  a practical standpoint, it is really the only way to go. It is time for new thinking in the peace process; how many more decades must go by before we accept the fact thata two state solution simply will not work.

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