One can disagree with everything the new Israeli prime minster says and does and still admit that he raised an important question during his recent visit to the White House. Benjamin Netanyahu stated “I want to make it clear that we don’t want to govern the Palestinians. We want to live in peace with them. We want them to govern themselves, absent a handful of powers that could endanger the state of Israel.” The same issue was addressed by two leading foreign policy mavens not suspected of a pro-Israeli bias, to put it mildly, namely Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft. Both favor pushing a two state solution on Israel, as they see it as the way to turn around the Middle East (which they define as including Afghanistan and Pakistan). Three elements of the plan the US is to push are well known (no refugee return, a divided Jerusalem, and redrawn 1967 borders), but the fourth is much less often explored. Namely that the Palestinian state be disarmed and that US or NATO troops be stationed along the Jordan river. They pointed to this condition in a new book America and the World, composed of interviews with Brzezinski and Scowcroft, conducted by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. In the book both authors agree that “they [Israel and the Palestinians] need a heavier hand by the United States than we have traditionally practiced” (87). Furthermore, Brzezinski suggests “an American line along the Jordan river” and Scowcroft favors putting a “NATO peace keeping force” on the West Bank. That is, they do not want the Palestinians to have what most people consider a true state, one that is free to arm itself.
There are several problems in this approach. First of all, while the first three conditions are almost impossible to reverse once in place, the fourth one can be changed by a simple order from Congress or future American president, or even the current one. Aba Evan once compared a UN force stationed on the Israeli-Egyptian border, which was removed just before Nasar attacked Israel, to an umbrella that is folded when it rains. The new umbrella is not much more reliable.
Second, the American troops in Iraq and the NATO ones in Afghanistan are unable to stop terrorists’ bombs and rocket attacks in these parts. There is no reason to hold that they would do better in the West Bank.
Third, there are very few precedents for demilitarized states—by force. A two state solution means to practically everyone involved, accept a few foreign policy mavens, two sovereign states. A sovereign state is free to import all the arms and troops it wants. One second after the Palestinian state is declared, many in the Arab world, in Iran, and surely in Europe, not to mention Russia and China, will hold that “obviously” the new free state cannot be prevented from arming itself. And if this not allowed, any therapeutic effect the Palestinian state could have would have on the Middle East is about the same as the end of the Israeli occupation of Gaza: Either too small to measure or a negative one.
A strong case for a two state solution has been made, but it better be based on the Palestinians developing their own effective peacekeeping troops and, arguably, on an Israeli presence on the Jordan river. Neither can rely on the United States, beleaguered as it is, or on the conflicted and casualties averse NATO to show a staying power for peacekeeping that neither has mustered in Kosovo, Bosnia, and Haiti, and which they never provided in Sudan and the Congo.
In short, the Palestinians are surely entitled to govern themselves. However, if the West Bank is not to be turned into one giant terrorist base, part of the solution will have to be a credible way to ensure that the two states will live in “security and peace” with each other. It is a line practically all those who advocate the two state solution repeat—but rarely detail in full.
Amitai Etzioni is a professor of international relations at The George Washington University. For more discussion, see Security First (Yale 2007). For more, go here: http://www.gwu.edu/~ccps/securityfirst.html. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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