The Three-State Solution

In 1967, for a second time the Arab world declared war on Israel. For a second time, the tiny Jewish state turned back the goliath coalition, and for a second time the Arab Muslims of Palestine were left even worse off than before. Residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, territories seized in 1948 by Jordan and Egypt, respectively, were now subjected to open-ended enemy occupation.

Since the birth of the Jewish state in 1948, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has dominated international affairs. The United Nations is obsessed with the issue. In a period that has witnessed Stalinist purges, Mao’s devastation of China, South African Apartheid, and myriad horrors inflicted by dictators and warlords from Cuba to the Congo to Cambodia, the UN has condemned Israel more than all other countries combined. The Islamic world, which long tolerated Jews with a sort of Nietzschean master mentality so long as they accepted their subjugation, has been overturned by a wave of borderline-psychotic Antisemitism that would have made Hitler blush. This has accompanied related waves of religious fundamentalism and anti-Westernism that have plunged a once-leading civilisation into a new dark age. And the West, in no small part as the price for supporting Israel, has been subjected to Islamic terror attacks that wreak havoc and destruction, and, perhaps worse, increasingly undermine the liberal values on which the postwar order was founded.

To an outside observer, this must seem ridiculous. The territory in dispute is, after all, smaller than the American state of Vermont. If tomorrow Vermont were taken over by the French, one could reasonably expect the United States to try to reclaim it. If they were repulsed, we could expect a second go at it. But after a series of humiliating defeats, we would hope for a more mature response than a descent into madness in American society, and the elevation to the highest concern of American policy the destruction of the French people and rejection of the modern world as a French conspiracy.

But of course, that outside observer lacks an understanding of the history (both ancient and recent) and mentality of both sides. Let us begin with the Arabs. For Muslims (albeit less than for Jews or Christians), Jerusalem and the Holy Land more broadly is a very important holy place. It was the apple in the eye of Muhammad, one of the first great conquests of the armies of the faithful, and recaptured at heavy cost during the Crusades.

The Jewish occupation, both in Israel proper and the Palestinian territories, is deeply humiliating. Islam is a religion founded on conquest. For over a thousand years the faithful drew justification from the success of their armies. Especially in the early centuries, Muslims were very tolerant toward their non-Muslim subjects, but they were always the ones in power.

Today, the Palestianian inheritors of this great conquering civilisation live under hostile foreign occupation. Every day is humiliation. They cannot move freely, are generally treated like criminals by an occupying army, and see what is left of their land being gobbled up by foreign colonists. And all of this is at the hands of an infidel race they had dominated for centuries, backed by other infidel powers.

Every Palestinian Arab knows someone who has suffered injustice or violence at the hands of the occupation. Conversely, every Israeli Jew knows someone who has been the victim of Islamic terrorism. For two millennia Jews were a stateless people, enduring and flourishing despite prejudice, oppression, and even genocide. Now they finally have their own state, but live under siege from those who would wipe them out.

Zionists often claim that Jews are safer in Israel than anywhere else. Of course, for Jews whose families hail from Islamic countries, this is true. But for those of European origin, who make up about half of Israel’s population, this sentiment is difficult to understand, especially for the white Christians who do most of the talking about this in the West. Certainly, Israelis are in constant danger of random violence. Despite the recent erosion of stigma against nationalist and other potentially dangerous ideas in European and American politics, right-wing and immigrant thugs in well-ordered societies pose far less of a danger than hardened terrorist groups that flourish in the chaos of the Middle East.

As an Anglo-Saxon, I personally try to appreciate the mentality that draws European Jews to emigrate through personal experience abroad. Pretty much anywhere in Britain or America or even continental Europe I feel comfortable and safe. But deep in the countryside of truly foreign lands, in my experience Morocco and China, it is impossible not to feel a bit insecure. Members of the dominant group enjoy a dignity and security that most of us take for granted. But whether we appreciate it or not, we would hardly give up this status in a true homeland, nor should we expect others to do so. Regardless of one’s background or the present situation, there is something disquieting about being in the minority.

Thus, in this debate, both sides are intractable. Given the unique identity of their oppressors, the Palestinians will almost definitely not enjoy the same ultimate victory as other colonised peoples, for whom persistent campaigns of terrorism and complaining ultimately convinced their masters to give up. European colonists in Africa and Asia could go home. White South Africans are in a more difficult situation, and many are stranded in a hostile land ruled by a party whose attitudes have changed surprisingly little since their days as a terrorist group, but they do at least have some hope. If Israel laid down their arms tomorrow, every Jew in the country would be dead by the end of the week, and those who escaped would return to permanent exile.

For decades the goal of a two-state solution, of separate independent states of Israel and Palestine within the 1967 borders, has been the undisputed dogma of the international community. As with most ideas of post-1945 geopolitics, this plan is predicated on the wilful ignorance of the nuances of the issue in favour of geographical idiocy.

If one bothers to take even a passing glance at a map, a fundamental flaw is evident: Palestine is a divided territory. The bulk of Palestinian land is in the West Bank, across the Jordan River from (you guessed it) Jordan, but there is also the narrow Gaza Strip on the Mediterranean. Citizens of a Palestinian state would not be able to traverse their country without passing through Israel.

Of course, this point is moot, because the Palestinians have no interest in such a solution. In their minds, the whole land is theirs. They cannot honourably accept some truncated, divided state founded upon submission to Jewish occupation and ruled by their collaborators. Israel’s conduct, especially support for Jewish settlements in the West Bank despite the fact much of Israel is sparsely populated, is unreasonable and provocative. But that is beside the point, because the other side will accept nothing short of total reconquest. As long as we continue with the two-state farce, there can be no peace.

At this point, one might throw one’s hands up in despair. Perhaps paying credence to sanctimonious nitwits in New York while Jews and Arabs continue their endless cycle of slaughtering each other thousands of miles away is the best solution, because the issue is so intractable. But there is another way. And it is very simple.

The two territories that make up Palestine were previously occupied by Egypt and Jordan. These are two of the best-governed states in the troubled Arab world. They maintain cold but peaceable relations with Israel. And both come down hard on terrorism, without much criticism because they are themselves Arab Muslims. Handing over Gaza and the West Bank to Egypt and Jordan, respectively, would remedy this issue.

Before addressing logistical challenges, let us dispatch one facile objection: that this would violate the right of “Palestinians” to self-determination and a nation-state. There is no Palestinian nation. For most of the past millennium and a half that territory has been ruled by a succession of Islamic empires (Arab, or, more often, otherwise), but there has never been a Palestinian state. There are Arabs living in Palestine, but until the Ottoman Empire was arbitrarily carved up by Great Britain and France following World War I there was no reason to think of an Arab living on the west bank of the Jordan River as being different from one on the east bank. Palestinians may now have some common national feeling, forged in the past few decades’ hardship, but there is really no reason why they could not be integrated into existing Arab states.

Although the three-state solution differs from the two-state one in that it is feasible, it would still take some work. Egypt and Jordan would need to be convinced to take over troubled, restive territories, whose inhabitants would continue to demand war against the Jews. But it would not be an impossible sell. The Americans and their European partners could reroute the aid that currently goes toward funding the incompetent or malicious authorities masquerading as Palestinian governments to promoting integration. Frankly, if significantly more money were needed to finally resolve this issue, it would be a good investment for the West.

There would almost definitely be some issues with terrorism and violent crackdown thereon by the new authorities. Egyptians and Jordanians, especially the new ones, would resent their governments’ inevitable cooperation with the Israelis to pacify their new territories. But again, this is obviously better for everyone than watching the current cycle of violence continue.

Perhaps the thorniest issue is that of Jewish settlers in the West Bank. A key feature of negotiations is the determination of where the border actually is, but any solution would require the relocation of zealous Zionists out of the territory they consider their rightful home. This would be a seriously hard sell. In the current situation, neither they nor the Israeli government will agree to it. But as a condition for a final peace, even if some obstreperous settlers have to be dragged out, a determined Israel could get their people in line.

Resolving the conflict, even if not to Muslims’ total satisfaction, would remove the single most important obstacle to harmony between two of the world’s great civilisations. For Muslims it would assuage the furour that for the past century has driven so many promising people to fling themselves down the path of death-worshipping medievalism rather than that of modernity and progress. The West would enjoy a peace dividend, which would assuage what is perhaps our societies’ most important modern psychosis.

Of course, the primary beneficiaries would be the long-embattled Israelis and Palestinians. The people of Israel would enjoy security for the first time in their nation’s history. A patriotic Zionist who might have fallen fighting in the IDF or striving to expand Israel’s frontiers could build up his nation free from fear. The people of Palestine would enjoy freedom and dignity as citizens of states that represent and value them. They would trade an identity based on resentment and resistance for proud new ones as heirs to the ancient patrimony of Egypt or subjects of a storied Islamic dynasty. Ambitious young mens’ lust for martyrdom might be transformed into industriousness driving them to improve their communities, or to seek their fortunes in Amman or Cairo. On both sides, those who today sacrifice themselves for causes that under the current approach are irreconcilable could live out happy, productive lives.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is charged and complicated. No solution will totally satisfy everyone. But that which I propose would deliver a peace that will never, ever be achieved if we continue to chant tired, poorly thought-out mantras while banging our heads against a wall. It is possible to bring peace to a region which for a century has known nothing but deception, hatred, and sorrow. All we have to do is take a step back, and start down the path to a brighter future.



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Sam Quillen

Former linguistics student; current investment bank analyst who sometimes thinks about something other than spreadsheets