Friday, December 7th, 2007 https://adamkhan.net/rambles/tony-blair-and-the-four-state-vision
hen I read of Tony Blair’s part-time residence at Jerusalem’s American Colony Hotel, I am moved. I wonder if he’s studying Arabic and Hebrew. He is here to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but there is one and only one formula for doing so, and until he becomes a champion of it, he merely pours his energies into a lost cause.
What’s wrong with the current two-state vision is that it willfully ignores the fact that the Palestinian movement is not entirely a mirror image of the Zionist one, that the Palestinians, for a variety of reasons, despite the huffing and puffing, currently lack the will to a nationstate. When leftists talk about colonialism and imperialism, they conveniently forget that the nationstate itself is a European idea foisted upon the rest of the world.
On the other hand, Palestinians obviously don’t want to be ruled by an Israeli military occupation, as happened from 1967 to 1992 and continues in a somewhat curtailed form to this day. So the solution to the conflict must be some sort of middle ground, a Palestine comprised of most of the West Bank, all of Gaza, and perhaps portions of Jerusalem that is neither a fully sovereign nationstate as we know it nor a territory of Israel.
The paradigm shift required is that the Palestinian issue is not one for Israel alone. Jordan sits on the vast majority of Palestine, and its population is mostly Palestinian. Although this fact has been successfully ignored since the inception of the Palestinian national movement in the 60s, it is nonetheless central to the issue and is necessarily a part of any true solution to the conflict. Israel’s Likud party was ridiculed for stating the notion that Jordan is Palestine, but while this is not fully true, it is nonetheless somewhat true. At any rate, it is at least as true as saying that Israel is Palestine, which is what Palestinian maximalists and European leftists say.
Ownership of the Palestinian issue is also shared with Egypt. Egypt is a giant Arab nation, and apart from Israel, Gaza borders it alone; indeed, Gaza was Egyptian before 1967. And yet Egypt has also been able to wash its hands of the Palestinian issue (which, or at least so I’ve read, Egypt itself forged in the 1950s as a weapon against Israel).
Ariel Sharon’s disengagement policy seems to be based on an understanding of this fundamental point. By withdrawing from Gaza, Israel was essentially telling Egypt it could no longer sit in the peanut gallery; either Egypt steps into this newly-created vacuum, or someone else will (the Iranians, the Turks, etc)—and the prospect of Gaza as foreign-backed Islamist agitator should be even more alarming to Egypt than to Israel.
But whether by deliberately calling Israel’s bluff or being simply unable to choose self-interest over hostility to Israel, Egypt did precious little to manage Gaza’s security, resulting in a coup by Hamas, a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist organization that would overthrow Egypt’s own regime if it could.
So apart from a few public statements from Jordan’s king that He will accept no preemptive moves by Israel on the West Bank, statements so cryptic to Western ears that they made no blip, there has been no movement since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza towards an understanding that the Palestinians are a joint Israeli/Jordanian/Egyptian issue.
But if that understanding were to come about, then a viable and achievable solution would swim into focus: Palestine as a joint protectorate of Israel, Jordan and Egypt. Israelis already living there could perhaps be able to stay and also acquire Palestinian residency cards. Palestinians living there could hold the same cards, together with either Egyptian or Jordanian passports. The administrative and security cooperation required could bring Egypt, Jordan and Israel together as parents, forming a bedrock alliance. And with investment and stability emanating from these three nationstates, backed enthusiastically and materially by the US and the EU, the Palestinians could have it very good indeed. And with time, eventually the protectorate status could simply fall away.
This, it seems to me, is a four-state vision that Tony Blair could come to embrace—and enable.
On this topic
Update 2021 Apr 1: Years later, “A Palestinian Reckoning: Time for a New Beginning” by Hussein Agha and Ahmad Samih Khalidi in Foreign Affairs:
The West Bank’s future cannot be determined in isolation from Jordan and Jordanian interests; history, politics, demographics, and geography dictate that the Oslo agenda on security, borders, refugees, and the status of Jerusalem is as vital a concern for Jordan as for Israel and the Palestinians. Similarly, Egypt was the caretaker administration in Gaza for two decades after 1948, and Gaza’s fate—given its history, location, and population—cannot be determined without Cairo’s consent.
Agha and Khalidi are at St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford, and have been involved in post-Oslo Israeli–Palestinian negotiations.