Netanyahu's Two-State Illusion

By Joel Gilbert

The Illusion at the White House

Once upon a time at the White House, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thought he saw a two-state solution that would achieve peace in the Middle East. "President Abbas, you are my partner in peace," declared Netanyahu in his opening remarks on September 1st.

Netanyahu not only thought he saw peace with Palestinian Arabs, but recognition and acceptance of Israel by the entire Muslim world. Or was it only an illusion?

Non-Representative Peace Partners

While Netanyahu was the duly elected leader of his country, three strange characters who did not represent their people were standing next to him at the White House - Jordan's King Abdullah, Egypt's President Mubarak, and the former Palestinian Authority President, PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas.

Beginning in 1983, support amongst Palestinians for the secular Palestinian Liberation Organization steadily declined as an Islamist Palestinian leadership emerged. By the end of the nineties, the PLO was irrelevant to most Muslims. In January 2005, Palestinians made their choice official when the Islamist group HAMAS won a decisive victory over the PLO, capturing over two-thirds of the vote in free elections. Abbas' term as President of the Palestinian Authority quietly expired in January 2009.

In his statement at the White House, Abbas declared his hopes for successful negotiations "in the name of the PLO." He did not even pretend to represent the Palestinian Authority, the Muslim world, nor anyone other than the PLO, a defeated and corrupt organization now despised and mistrusted by Palestinians, and propped up only by Western dollars and the Israeli government.

Next to speak was the President for Life of Egypt, the 82-year-old Hosni Mubarak who assumed power following Anwar Sadat's assassination in 1981. Mubarak spoke of "the question of Palestine." Mubarak, whose military backed government ruled as a one-party state since Egypt's independence from Britain in 1953, was in his 29th year as undisputed leader of Egypt. Mubarak had overseen numerous crackdowns and arrests of the Muslim Brotherhood while his government carefully regulated elections in order to remain in power. But, what of the question of Egypt? What of the 80 million Egyptians who do not have a voice?

Also in Bibi's illusion was one of the few remaining feudal monarchs in the world, King Abdullah of Jordan. Abdullah's grandfather was an Arabian clansman who in 1922 was appointed by Great Britain to rule its arbitrary partition of two-thirds of Palestine East of the Jordan River. King Abdullah also spoke at the White House and exclaimed, "For too long, too many people of the region have been denied their most basic of human rights." King Abdullah is the unelected, third generation monarch reigning over a population comprised of 70% Palestinian Arabs. Et tu, Abdullah?

It was then the Israeli prime minister's turn to speak. Netanyahu invoked with great reverence the example of former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, declaring "I'm prepared to walk down the path of peace, salaam, shalom." For Westerners, the word "peace" conjures up liberal and romantic images of love and harmony between nations. However, in Arabic, the modern definition of the word "salaam" simply means an absence of conflict, more like the word "truce" in English. The Arabic word "sulha," defined as "reconciliation," is much closer to the Western concept of "peace." Were Bibi to rub his eyes, he would have recalled that even Sadat never called for "peace" or reconciliation with the Jews. He only proclaimed, "No more war." In fact, Sadat's agreement with Israel was nowhere near Israel's concept of "peace."

Can genuine Western peace be achieved with unelected rulers of millions of Muslims? What if Mubarak and Abdullah are removed by a military coup, an Islamist takeover, or by way of free elections - just as Abbas had been defeated in 2005? By definition, Western peace can only be achieved through the free will of free peoples. Therefore, both by Western standards and according to the Islamist position, agreements with non-representative one-party rulers, feudal monarchs, or ousted leaders like the PLO's Abbas are both illegitimate and irrelevant.

Islam is the Solution

Throughout the Islamic world, millions of Muslims are ruled by secular, non-representative regimes. These governments are despised by the majority of Muslims who view them as oppressors, reigning in injustice, as rich elites hoard oil wealth and illegitimate rulers preside over rubber stamp parliaments.

Despite the fervent hopes of Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu, there can be no denying the central part of the equation of the future of the Middle East - the movement for Islamic Revival or "Islamism." Islamism is an indigenous, grass-roots movement championed by both poor and educated Muslims that seeks to return Islamic law and principles to government throughout the Muslim world. Shortly after taking office, US President Obama spoke in Cairo where he declared "Islam is the solution!" to a cheering audience, repeating the Islamist call to action against oppressive governments in Islamic lands that provide the masses with little hope or future. Islamists have taken power in Turkey, Gaza, Iran, and Sudan and are poised for victory everywhere free elections are held in the Middle East. Meanwhile, Islamist insurgencies rage in most Middle Eastern countries, with Islamist forces readying themselves to seize power in Iraq and Afghanistan following US withdrawals scheduled for 2011.

Toward Political Reality

Should Israel negotiate territorial concessions with Abbas and the PLO? Would it make sense for the United States to negotiate nuclear arms reductions with former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev and his defunct Communist Party?

For Israel to be secure, Israel must deal in Middle East realities, rather than the illusion of Western peace with illegitimate rulers. As a precondition to negotiations, Israel should call for immediate free elections in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Libya, and the Gulf states. Once true representative governments emerge in Muslim countries, Israel can seek true Western peace and reconciliation, sulha, with Islam. If new, representative Islamist governments reject reconciliation with the Jews, then Israel can continue to maintain the truce, salaam, through a strong military and from a position of strategic depth.

However, just as Israel's Shimon Peres and the Oslo Accords with Yasser Arafat in 1993 sent Israel spiraling into 17 years of conflict, so too does Netanyahu appear poised to lead Israel down a dangerous path where territorial withdrawal will make Israel vulnerable to a militarized Palestinian state. Equally dangerous, Netanyahu has committed to a one-year time frame for negotiation with Abbas. This neutralizes Israel's ability to act militarily against Iran's nuclear program, allowing another full year for Iran's nuclear capability to reach a fait au complis, as Israel would be loath to stand accused of not "giving peace a chance."

Western Security Compromised

In order to prosper in the world, the United States needs countries sympathetic to Western democracy, and US security requires a global environment that includes a friendly and secure Western Europe, Japan, Israel, and Australia. For decades, Israel has been a strong, democratic Western ally in the Middle East that has enhanced Western security. However, with more territorial withdrawals and concessions to the PLO, Israel would no longer be a strategic asset for the United States, but instead a security burden, unable to defend itself. The security of the United States and its Western allies would thus be harmed by a weakened or defeated Israel.

Once upon a time at the White House, Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu saw a "two state solution," but it was only an illusion, it existed only in his own mind. When Israel arrives at Netanyahu's solution for "peace," it will reveal itself to be only a mirage in the desert, and Israel may quickly disappear into the quicksand of Netanyahu's two state illusion.