The Middle East
Governments in this region, which has seen a great deal of violence and death, have recently all found themselves faced with a common enemy - radical insurgent groups. Political Islam in particular can be seen as a virus, much like Communism and Nazism decades ago, and studied epidemiologically. Idealistic young men are the vector by which this virus spreads, first through violence, then through political control.
The ideas of ISIS, originally born in Saudi religious schools, have found fertile breeding ground in political quagmires of Syria and Iraq. Places with no political stability always attract insurgents, funded by one or another group, and serve as incubators for violent revolutionary movements. We can now see young men even from the US and Britain joining up for Islamic conquest reminiscent of Saladin or the Crusades of the 11th century. And just like Nazism and Communism led to alliances between countries like the Allies and NATO, so does Radical Islam lead to previously unlikely alliances involving countries in the middle east. The Saudi regime, concerned about its stability, has allied with Egypt’s new government against the Muslim Brotherhood and other Political Islamic groups, as countries against terrorists.
Israel and Palestinians
This new climate offers a surprise opportunity to solve the other major conflict that had galvanized the Middle East for decades - the conflict between Israel and local Arabs now known as Palestinians.
This conflict, in one word, is about governance. All the other issues - security, water, labor - are consequences of who governs what. The Israeli right wing, following ideas of revisionist Zionism, believe that Israel must be a sovereign Jewish state extending from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean sea. The Israeli left wing has always supported a two-state solution, with a home for Palestinian Arabs and and an Palestinian-Israeli peace process.
In recent years, the right wing has come to dominate Israeli politics, deflating hopes for a two-state solution. Much of the support for right-wing politics in Israel can be attributed to militant supremacist groups like Hamas operating in Gaza, who brand themselves as “armed resistance to occupation”, and who call for Islamic Sharia rule from the river to the sea. Hamas itself was helped along by Israel in its early days (as a counterweight to the PLO), and took advantage of the political vacuum in Gaza to seize control. Since coming into power, their unwillingness to compromise or honor any prior agreements has caused sanctions from US, EU, UN and Russia, and later a blockade by Israel and Egypt, causing hardship to the 2 million residents of Gaza, half of whom are children. Over the last 7 years, the blockade and smuggling economy empowered Hamas similarly to how the war on drugs has empowered Mexican drug cartels to the point of infiltrating governments.
Today, with governments around the world concerned about radical Islam, there is suddenly an unprecedented consensus about disarming Hamas, both in the West and in the Arab world. It should be said that Gazans themselves overwhelmingly oppose ISIL. However, when it comes to disarming their own Sunni militant groups, they are even more strongly opposed, considering “armed resistance” a vital part fighting for their rights as a people. Meanwhile, the Shiite Hezbollah in Lebanon, which considers itself a “resistance movement” as well, has flaunted any UN efforts at “disarmament”, has gone on to build 1000 military facilities and currently possesses a huge arsenal. Formed to fight against Israel, they too are now too busy fighting the Radical Sunni Islamists in Syria.
Solutions that won’t work
Anything involving mass deportations, since many Palestinians are tribal, loyal to the land and won’t agree to lave. Anything where Israel annexes all Palestinian cities in the West Bank - that’s been tried by Jordan, whose occupation of the West Bank led to civil war that its government described as “life or death” for Jordan. (A one state solution also failed when the British tried to fulfill their mandate for over 20 years.) Any “one-state” solution risks a heavy loss of life in civil war and violence. And this is not specific to some ethnicities - consider what’s happening in Ukraine right now between Kiev and the separatists, or the war in Vietnam. If the problem of governance will be solved, it has to respect the demographic realities as they are today.
First, the governments of Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Saudia Arabia and the UAE should join forces to solve the situation in Gaza, where 2 million Palestinians live. Today there exists an unprecedented, remarkable consensus that Gaza should be demilitarized. They can greatly minimize the loss of life by joining together and speaking with one voice to the masters of Gaza. A roadmap should be put together, which involves the lifting of the blockade, and active involvement in reviving the economy in Gaza. UAE can help develop Gaza’s beachfront into a lucrative tourist destination. The Saudis and Israelis can help Gazas extract their natural gas and become energy independent. Disarmament of Hamas can be then coupled with takeover by the Palestinian Authority, something that Hamas had already agreed to anyway before this whole bloody summer.
When the PA takes control in Gaza with support from Egypt, Israel, Saudis and the West, Gaza can be turned into a demilitarized state not unlike Monaco. Having rebranded itself last year into the “State of Palestine“, the PA is the most recognized entity in the world to run Gaza. The meteoric rise of Gaza’s economy (it can only go up at that point) will take the wind out of the sails of any “resistance” movements, as young men will once again have jobs to provide for their families, and children will have an education to prepare them for the 21st century.
The model in Gaza can then be replicated in the West Bank, also known as “Judah and Samaria”. Gaza was the simpler case of the two, as the West Bank is now full of Jewish cities, in which over 300,000 people live. But, with the success of the operation in West Bank, and the resulting boost to morale and interests of Israel, Egypt, and Fatah, not to mention a successful precedent in Arab countries working together in Israel, will go a long way toward overcoming any political roadblocks that are currently in the way.
Gaza and West Bank can become autonomous regions, not unlike the Kurdish regions of Iraq and Turkey or US protectorates of Haiti and American Samoa. Their constitutions would limit their sovereignty by requiring them to be demilitarized and abide by agreements with their neighbors when it comes to security, army basing rights, water, and other things — agreements which would probably be updated as technology improves.
Most importantly for this to work, the State of Palestine (née Palestinian Authority) must adopt in its constitution equal protections for Jews and Christians, similar to what Israel has for Arabs. Jewish-settler cities in the West Bank such as Modi’in_Illit must not be discriminated against in favor of Palestinian cities like Jenin. The PA is a secular organization whose President and Prime Ministers have won praise from Israeli politicians and army for how their achievements in both security and diplomacy. Fatah, its leading political party, is a secular movement and is not interested in restricting rights of minorities based on religion or race. Thus, it is quite likely that such an agreement can be formed.
Israel should stop insisting on solving all this on its own. The world should stop calling on Israel to solve the situation by itself. Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE should take advantage of their common position on Hamas, join into a coalition, and produce a roadmap, which accomplishes the following things in Gaza:
- Lifting of the blockade
- $100+ Billion international investment into Gaza economy
- Tourism industry with help from UAE
- Gas and energy independence
- Takeover of government from Hamas by the State of Palestine
- Gradual disarmament of Hamas and other militant groups
- * This part should be de-emphasized in negotiations with Hamas but eventually accomplished
- Establishing Gaza’s status as a protectorate of Israel and Egypt
- Demilitarization and treaties with Israel and Egypt
- Going forward, frameworks concerning security, labor, army basing rights, water, etc.
- * Civil rights
- * Constitution of Gaza
- * Clearly spelled out protections for minorities and freedoms similar to Israel’s
After this is successfully done in Gaza, the model can be followed for a similar approach in the West Bank. Although thornier due to the presence of Jewish towns and cities, the precedent would have been set in Gaza. Instead of agreements with Israel and Egypt about water, etc., the West Bank will contract with Israel and Jordan.
Netanyahu’s concerns about security from the east can be resolved in terms of army basing rights in the West Bank, which is vastly different from a military occupation, and is fully compatible with having the West Bank be an autonomous republic. With a demilitarized protectorate, issues such as immigration for families of West Bank residents will then not affect the governance or security of Israel.
With so many countries united against Radical Islam, now is the time to use all this to achieve something positive like the improvement of life for people in Gaza, and subsequently use that as a model in the West Bank. I’m sure that along the way, things will not go exactly as I’ve laid it out here. But to ignore the opportunity, to let it pass by, would be a real shame. For once, the issues are not Israel vs the Arab World, it’s Countries vs Terrorists. Let’s use this opportunity to improve the lives of millions of people, and bring political stability to a region that’s galvanized the Middle East for almost a century. And in the process, forge new bonds and set new precedents for middle eastern countries by accomplishing good things together. As an old Russian proverb goes, “Appetite comes with eating.”