Taps for the Two State Solution


“When the President’s spokesperson, Sean Spicer spoke of Israeli-Palestinian  peace on January third, he neglected to reference the “two state solution.”  That was no slip. It was a policy hint of the Trump Administration just days before the President is to meet with Israel’s Prime Minister, Bibi Netanyahu. But if not two states, then what? Numerous plans have been put forward over the years beginning with the Allon plan, which would have cut the West bank into thirds with Israel taking the eastern third. Allon’s plan was predicated on the hostility of Jordan, but Jordan has since made peace with Israel. And it is now a close partner with Israel and the United States in fighting against terrorism.

Another, more complex proposal was put forward by former Prime Minister Sharon before his death. When I was Ambassador to Israel, he suggested a different idea when we discussed how one could disentangle the Jewish and Palestinian populations. To build a two state solution, we in the State Department had always thought that there had to be two states and real territorial contiguity between the Northern and Southern parts of the West Bank. In fact, former President Bush had talked about the need for territorial contiguity.

Sharon, in his talks with me, however, never spoke of the West Bank as one contiguous Palestinian entity that could form the basis of a State. Sharon spoke of the contiguity of movement - not territory.  His vision was of a series of tunnels and restricted access roads that would tie the various Palestinian parcels of land together. Meanwhile, Israel would dominate the high points and strategic crossing points to ensure Israel’s security in the future. Sharon, who drove the settlement process, placed these Israeli towns and cities as a guarantee against the possibility of terrorist dominated Palestinian State.

Although Prime Minister Netanyahu has never publicly embraced Sharon’s plan, the Israelis, under his watch, built a road around Jerusalem. This road combines two roads - one for the Palestinians to be able to move from the Northern West Bank to the Southern West Bank and back - and one for the Israelis. The roads are separated by a high wall, fences, and no-mans land. For the Israelis, there are a number of exits that allow travelers to go into Jerusalem or down into the Jordan Valley.  For the Palestinians, there are no exits except at the terminal points. The road is not news, nor is the concept.  It is, instead the fulfillment of former Prime Minister Arik Sharon’s vision of the future for the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria.

One of the implications of the road was that the Palestinians neighborhoods of Jerusalem would be increasingly isolated by physical barriers from the rest of the West Bank. In fact, Sharon never contemplated giving any part of Jerusalem up.  From the earliest days, in 1980, when I was working with Sol Linowitz on the Autonomy negotiations, Sharon made it clear to us that we should start with the Jerusalem question because once the Palestinians accepted Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem, then a settlement of other issues and peace would be relatively easy to reach. He never answered the question of how we were to get the Palestinians, let alone the Islamic world, to agree to a solution that ceded total sovereignty over the Jerusalem Muslim holy sites to Israel.

The settlements that Israel has built around Jerusalem are unworthy of the name “settlement.” They are mini cities that are permanent fixtures. Their imposing presence convinced both Presidents Clinton and Bush that the Palestinians would have to accept this fait accompli. And that very acceptance has pointed the way for Israel’s political leadership toward constructing - literally - a unilateral final resolution of the Jerusalem question.  There is still some more building to do to fill in the gaps that exist, but despite the inevitable wringing of hands in the State Department, with the recent Israeli announcement of additional housing in Jerusalem and the West Bank, the Israeli plans for Jerusalem are going forward. This means that, within ten years the Arab parts of Jerusalem will, be nothing more than an isolated islands in the middle of the sprawling Israeli city of Jerusalem.

We have watched and done nothing as the Israelis have built hundreds of settlements all over the West Bank. And we have been particularly passive when it comes to Jerusalem. We have protested occasionally, and sent our Ambassadors in to complain, but the Israelis know full well that we are not going to press the point. With rare exception, it has been inconvenient to press the Israelis on what was seen as the secondary question of the settlements when the more important issue of a final peace agreement was at stake. And yet, it is this very secondary question that has gradually excluded an increasingly large area of Palestinian land from any possible agreement and is putting the possibility of a final agreement on a two state basis out of reach forever.

When I started in the business, my bosses conceded that the Latrun Salient - that small spit of Palestinian land that juts out from the West Bank into the land bridge that Israel had between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem - would be taken off the table and awarded to Israel. Now, we are talking about taking all major Israeli city settlements off the table - over 8% of the West Bank. And very soon, we will likely see the encirclement of Jerusalem completed and Jerusalem too will come off the table.

The Israelis know very well that when the issue is Jerusalem, Congress will go their way and the President, particularly now, will not be far behind.  Objections based on the impact on our interests in the region will melt away in the warm glow of American politics. It is not inevitable, but it is certainly possible, and now more likely. So we had better start to plan now for how we will manage our interests in the region in the long term as Palestinian statehood, the two state solution, and an Arab stake in Jerusalem dissolve in the politics of Israel and America.  AmbassadorNed