371. "Consider a New Mideast Option" USA Today (November 15, 2001) p. 15A.
President Bush, in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly this past weekend, said for the first time that the USA was "working toward the day when two states -- Israel and Palestine -- live peacefully together within secure and recognized borders."
Until now, U.S. officials have been careful to refer only to the possibility of a "Palestinian state." But Secretary of State Colin Powell said that the use of the word "Palestine" was deliberate.
The president's quite-open intention is to incur favor with Arab states as a reward for their support of the war against terrorism. But Arab leaders may notice the lack of essential details in Bush's speech, above all about the thorny issue of Jerusalem, which both sides want. And Arab leaders are not apt to be satisfied even if Israel disappeared from the face of the earth. They also want the sanctions against Iraq to be lifted, U.S. troops removed from the holy land of Saudi Arabia and the spread of our secular and materialistic culture stopped.
Bush's vision of a Palestinian state avoided discussing what happens once it is established. There is little reason to believe that such a state, whatever its borders, will satisfy most Palestinians. Unlike Israel, where roughly half the public is still willing to accept a resolution of the conflict along the lines former prime minister Ehud Barak laid out, there never has been a significant segment of the Arab population willing to accept half a loaf.
Indeed, as Palestine Liberation Organization leader Faisal Husseini said candidly in Beirut last April, "Our eyes will continue to aspire to the strategic goal: namely, Palestine from the river to the sea." Nor is he alone. Abdullah Shami of Islamic Jihad told The New Yorker in July, "We must fight Israel until it is gone."
No turning the other cheek
What would U.S. policymakers expect Israel to do if a Palestinian state were created and terrorists launched attacks across its new international border? What would stop Israel from declaring war -- as America just did after it was attacked -- and marching into Palestine, taking us right back to the races?
Worst, there is the unexplored matter of the newly independent Palestinian state admitting heavy weapons and shiploads of Hezbollah terrorists and Iraqi tanks. Could Israel be expected to sit still and wait until these forces were ready to strike? The Oslo agreements provided a convoluted system for border inspections -- but it was one only diplomats desperate to reach an agreement could dream up. If a Palestinian independent state were recognized, there would be very little support for its awkward arrangement.
But there is a possible solution to this maddening situation: an Israeli-Palestinian confederation with Jerusalem as its joint capital.
Together, but apart
In such a confederation, borders would be openly controlled and patrolled by both parties. There would be no borders between the two confederated parts, and free movement of labor and goods would be allowed. Where necessary, anti-terrorist patrols would be conducted jointly by Israeli and Palestinian security forces, as they already have been in some parts -- and quite effectively.
By agreement, certain territories would be governed by one of the confederates in all matters not concerning international relations, in line with their local laws, enforced by local authorities. In effect, this would mean that Jewish settlers would be unlikely to move into areas assigned to Palestinian governance. Some settlements would fold as part of the deal.
Getting agreement to such a confederation would not be easy. But it is a concept that recognizes basic realities and does not set traps for itself from the day it is introduced. And it takes into account that international public opinion glorifies independence, which makes a Palestinian state a dangerous illusion.
Amitai Etzioni served in the Israeli commando unit, PalMach, from 1947 to 1949. He is author, most recently, of The Monochrome Society.