Flaws in General Eiland’s Alternatives

By February 7, 2010

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 99

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: In his recent BESA Center monograph on “Regional Alternatives to the Two-State Solution,” General Giora Eiland faults all the currently conventional approaches to Israeli-Palestinian relations – a spectrum that is not restricted to the two-state solution but also extends to the belief in the efficacy of “interim” arrangements as well as the notion that Israel might somehow “manage” the current conflict indefinitely. Instead, he proposes two “regional” solutions. The present article argues that Eiland’s suggestions suffer from several fundamental flaws and that there in fact exists no alternative to an option that Eiland did not examine in any depth: a unilateral Israeli dismantlement of the civilian settlements established since 1967 in Judea and Samaria.

General Giora Eiland divides his recent BESA Center monograph into two sections. The first is diagnostic, and analyzes drawbacks that invalidate the currently conventional approaches to Israeli-Palestinian relations – a spectrum that is not restricted to the two-state solution but also extends to the belief in the efficacy of “interim” arrangements as well as the notion that Israel might somehow “manage” the current conflict indefinitely and thereby keep its dimensions within tolerable bounds.

In the second section of his memorandum, General Eiland presents a prognosis, and tables two alternative courses – both regional in scope.

  • The first is the promotion of a Jordanian-Palestinian “federation” – an arrangement that would require Israel to renounce claims to all but a fraction of Judea and Samaria, but would also prevent the establishment of an independent, and intrinsically unviable, Palestinian state in that area.
  • The second is a three-way exchange of territory between Egypt, Israel and Jordan – designed to upgrade the economic viability of Gaza, to facilitate the marketing of goods, services and raw resources between the Jordanian hinterland and the Mediterranean shore; and, not least, to allow a higher proportion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank to remain in situ.

The present paper presents a critique of those two alternatives. It argues that the soundness of General Eiland’s diagnosis of the reasons for the current impasse in Israeli-Palestinian relations itself undermines the validity of his prognosis with respect to their future “regional” course. Closer examination indicates that neither of General Eiland’s alternatives is as realistic as he would have us believe.

Rather, they suffer from at least three fundamental flaws.

Flaw I: Has Anyone Asked The Bride(s)?

General Eiland details the several benefits that in his judgment will accrue to the Jordanians and the Palestinians as a consequence of their adoption of the Federation scheme (alternative 1). He also itemizes the advantages that he calculates that they – together with the Egyptians and indeed the entire Middle East – will gain as a result of the proposed territorial exchange (alternative 2).

Unfortunately, however, he provides no evidence whatsoever that his assessments are shared by any individual in Jordan, in Palestine or in Egypt. This is especially surprising in view of the possibility, perhaps even probability, that all three partners might turn both alternatives down flat.

In ascending order:

  • Are the Egyptians likely to regard with equanimity the presence of a stronger and perhaps larger Gaza, which for all we know might still be under Hamas control, right on their doorstep?
  • Is it realistic to expect the present rulers of Jordan to agree to a Federation, an arrangement that however construed would augment even further the Palestinian presence in their country and thus endanger the stability of what is already a fragile society?
  • Most important of all, does there exist a single Palestinian leader capable of substituting the aspiration for an independent Palestinian state with the far more amorphous notion of a Federation, in which – as General Eiland concedes – the Palestinians will be granted no greater a degree of independent national recognition than are the residents of New Jersey in the United States?

The expectation of Palestinian cooperation in a territorial exchange (alternative 2) seems even more unrealistic. As proposed by General Eiland, this arrangement would officially concede 12 percent of the West Bank to the state of Israel. Hence, it would require the Palestinians to relinquish all claims not merely to Jerusalem and its environs, but also to Ofra, Kiryat Arbah, and Ariel. The argument that Palestinian residents of the West Bank will pay this price in order to help the inhabitants of Gaza to attain a viable port etc., surely attributes to them a degree of altruistic compatriotism that their history has – thus far – belied.

In brief: Is General Eiland in effect suggesting that Israel play chess with itself – precisely the fault that he identifies in much of the current two-state discourse, which is likewise characterized by the absence of a viable Palestinian discussant?

Flaw II: Don’t Fix What Ain’t Broke

In a region notorious for its shifting political sands, anchors of stability are precious commodities and hence must be preserved with care. Currently, Israel possesses just two such local anchors, the peace treaties with Egypt (1979) and with Jordan (1994), both of which have survived despite being subject to numerous domestic and international strains.

General Eiland’s proposed alternatives, however, threaten to undo that achievement.

  • The establishment of a Jordanian-Palestinian Federation will clearly require significant modifications in Israel’s existing treaty with Jordan (for instance, in order to cover the de-militarization of the West Bank and allocate water rights there), and hence its re-negotiation.
  • Likewise, and as General Eiland admits, any territorial re-alignment on the Israeli-Egyptian border will require re-negotiating the existing treaty with Egypt (he specifically mentions revision of its de-militarization clauses).

Neither prospect is attractive. At best, re-negotiations will involve protracted wrangling over extremely delicate issues (such as the de-militarization of the Sinai) which, if past experience is anything to go by, will almost inevitably lead to mutual charges of bad faith. At worst, re-negotiations might become so bogged down that they could lead to the suspension of relations. Wherein lies the political wisdom of inviting such risks at the present juncture in Middle Eastern history, when regional stability is being undermined by events in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Afghanistan, and is likely to be buffeted further by the impending departure of President Husni Mubarak.

As far as Israeli-Palestinian relations are concerned, there seems an even greater likelihood that the introduction of new proposals at the present juncture might backfire and defeat the very purposes that General Eiland has in mind. Only last year, Israel’s Prime Minister publicly announced his acceptance of the Palestinians’ right to statehood. To inform them that Israel is now backtracking from that position, and has reverted to the idea of a Jordanian-Palestinian federation (a notion that Israel itself did much to torpedo in the past) is to invite even the most moderate of Palestinians to believe that Hamas has been right all along. Israel simply does not want any agreement with the Palestinians, who hence have no choice other than to resort to a renewed campaign of violence.

Flaw III: If It’s Worth Doing, Then Why Not Do It – Even Unilaterally?

Essential to General Eiland’s prognosis is the argument that both of his alternatives are inherently good for the state of Israel, which is likely to benefit from their implementation at least as much as its neighbors. A Jordanian-Palestinian Federation, the Palestinian section of which will encompass virtually all of Judea and Samaria, will relieve Israel of the onus and stigma of internationally disputed occupation and settlement; a territorial exchange will lead to an improvement of trade and atmosphere, which will likewise redound to Israel’s advantage.

But if such is indeed the case, why wait for the agreement of other parties? The question is especially pertinent where the Jewish settlements are concerned. If, as General Eiland’s diagnosis suggests, the overwhelming majority do need to be dismantled – for Israel’s own sake – then why not do so unilaterally, leaving in Judea and Samaria only an IDF presence, required to maintain Israel’s security needs?

Sadly, Gen. Eiland studiously avoids analyzing this alternative. All he is prepared to say is that although the 2005 disengagement was a good idea in principle, it was mishandled tactically. Mr. Sharon, he argues, would have done far better to have maneuvered others into proposing that initiative. Surely the issue warrants much more attention. How would Israeli public opinion have responded to Eiland’s proposed scenario? Wouldn’t it have been feasible – and politic – to retain a military presence in Gaza, even after the dismantlement of the settlements? Gen. Eiland’s failure to consider these and other questions intimates an uncharacteristic hesitancy to think as openly about future options as his own diagnosis requires.

This is unfortunate. As General Eiland himself points out, unless the present impasse is broken, the inevitable alternative to a two-state solution will be a one-state solution, in which the Palestinians would either be denied equal rights or constitute a minority sufficiently large to imperil its Jewish character. Both outcomes would mean the bankruptcy of Zionism. Hence, both must be avoided, if necessary by action of a drastic kind. The time for half-measures, if it ever existed, has by now certainly passed.

BESA Center Perspectives Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family

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Prof. Stuart A. Cohen

Prof. Stuart A. Cohen is a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University and a former senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.