Apr 24th 2010

The Secret Condition

by Amitai Etzioni

Amitai Etzioni served as a Senior Advisor to the Carter White House; taught at Columbia University, Harvard, University of California at Berkeley, and is a University Professor at The George Washington University. He served as the President of the American Sociological Association, and he founded the Communitarian Network. A study by Richard Posner ranked him among the top 100 American intellectuals. He is the author of numerous op-eds and his voice is frequently heard in the media. He is the author of several books, including The Active Society, Genetic Fix, The Moral Dimension, The New Golden Rule, and My Brother’s Keeper. His latest book Security First: For a Muscular, Moral Foreign Policy was published by Yale University Press in the Spring of 2007. His regular blog is Amitai Etzioni Notes.

The White House is hinting broadly that it is considering imposing a peace settlement on Israel and the Palestinians. 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 rarely discussed in public: namely, that the Palestinian state be a disarmed state and that US or NATO troops be stationed along the Jordan River -- to ensure that Palestine will not turn into a Hamas-stan, a terrorist state.

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 Korea and -- during the Cold War -- in Germany. At least it should be publicly aired and explored, so all the parties involved will be clear where this particular peace move is headed.

The fourth condition is most clearly laid out by two former national security advisers, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, who participated in a recent small group meeting in the Obama White House, to discuss the peace move under consideration. They spelled it out in America and the World, a book composed of interviews conducted by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.

In the book, both national security advisers agreed that "They [Israel and the Palestinians] need a heavier hand by the United States than we have traditionally practiced." However, both recognize that Israel has a legitimate concern that if a Palestinian state is established, Iran and Syria will rush to load it with weapons and armies of Jihadists, or that Hamas will extend its policy of seeking to destroy the state of Israel to the West Bank. Brzezinski suggests "an American line along the Jordan River," and Scowcroft favors putting a "NATO peacekeeping force" on the West Bank.

Most recently, the rarely-discussed demilitarized Palestine was granted a few lines in a Washington Post op-ed by Brzezinski and Stephen Solarz. In a summary of the proposed peace plan, they mention "a demilitarized Palestinian state with U.S. or NATO troops along the Jordan River to provide Israel greater security." (The fact that this would include Israeli control of the Palestinian airports may be too hot to even be mentioned).

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, 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 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 states that are demilitarized 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.

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.

Above all, unless all involved candidly discuss this rather unique conception of the Palestinian state -- and the reasons they favor such a setup -- the likelihood that it will be accepted by the Palestinians, and the much of the world, is less than nil.

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