A rocket fired by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza is seen stuck in the ground in Sderot.
During an off-the-record meeting in Washington, DC on November 10, one of Obama's senior foreign policy advisers stated that pushing a two-state solution on Israel and the Palestinians had to take place with great urgency, as it was the best way to turn around the Middle East (which he defined as including Afghanistan and Pakistan). Three elements of the plan the United States 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.
I suggest that this fourth condition is a dangerous trap, despite the fact that such troops played a very salutary role in the DMZ in Korean and - during the Cold War - in Germany. Before I proceed I should note that I am free to quote what was said at the meeting, but not to mention who said what or the name of the organization that hosted the meeting. I should also note that the same ideas are found in a new book America and the World, wholly composed of interviews with Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, conducted by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. In the book, both interviewees agreed that "They [Israel and the Palestinians] need a heavier hand by the United States than we have traditionally practiced." Brzezinski suggests "an American line along the Jordan River," and Scowcroft favors putting a "NATO peacekeeping force" on the West Bank.
HOW CAN I count the ways the fourth condition is a dangerous trap? 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 act of Congress or an order by a future American president, or - the current one. Abba Eban once compared a United Nations force stationed on the Israeli-Egyptian border, which was removed just before Nasser attacked Israel, as 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 terrorist bombs and rocket attacks in those 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, except 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, 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, whatever it says on some parchment or treaty. And if this not allowed, whatever therapeutic effects the creation of a Palestinian state may engender will be about the same size as the ending of the Israeli occupation of Gaza had - 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 forces and an Israeli presence on the Jordan River. Neither can rely on the United States, beleaguered as it is, or conflict- and casualty-averse NATO to show the staying power for peacekeeping which neither mustered in Kosovo, Bosnia, or Haiti, and which they have never provided in Sudan and the Congo.
The writer is Professor of International Relations at The George Washington University. For more discussion, see his book: Security First (Yale, 2007) or www.securityfirstbook.com
The Jerusalem Post