A Small State for Palestinians: A Great Step for the Greater Middle East

by Gidi Grinstein
Common wisdom holds that for someone who has a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When that someone is the world's only superpower that has recently conquered two Middle Eastern states, there is more than a valid reason for concern from those who may fall on the nail side of the equation.
It is clear that the Middle East is in crisis. The Greater Middle East Initiative (GMEI) has accurately narrowed in on the areas key for long-term improvement and well-being: education, politics, women's rights and economics. In addition, the Plan outlined relevant strategies for intervention. What then makes so many so furious about the GMEI? It is obvious why conservatives are concerned, but why so many moderates?
It may be the grave risks the GMEI entails for moderates across the region. An American wham-bam approach based on military and economic superiority might cause a backlash. Conservative forces may converge with nationalistic groups within and across Middle Eastern nations to create an anti-American coalition and a massive setback to the very ideas the GMEI is there to promote.
To achieve its results, the GMEI needs a political surgeon's knife, and not an axe. Each Middle Eastern country is a different case, every society is a different story; the GMEI has to be personalized, localized, sequenced and tailored to each country's specific environment. The challenge is one of nuanced sensitivity and relevance.
Some critics of the GMEI argue that a root cause of the Middle East crisis is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hence, if the GMEI ignores this conflict, as it supposedly does, the entire approach is misguided.
The reality is quite the opposite. The Bush Administration has offered some of the most viable strategies to achieve progress and eventually a negotiated solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict . These policies may not be part of the GMEI but are certainly complementary hereto.
For many Israelis, a root cause for the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the combination of two phenomena on the Palestinian side: First, a large enough number of Palestinians is confident that time is working on their side. Reinforced by the Geneva Initiative, this school argues that the Palestinians are making increasingly better agreements. Furthermore, some Palestinians claim that Palestinian interests would be better served by shifting the goal of their struggle from an independent, viable state alongside Israel to equal political rights within a single political entity, which would bring about the demise of Israel as a Jewish state. Both views create internal opposition to concluding a comprehensive peace agreement with Israel.
The second phenomenon is found in the Palestinians' decision-making mechanism. Galvanized in years of armed struggle from exile, the Palestinian political system seems to require wide endorsement for any big decision, embracing ambiguity while allowing radical factions the liberty to carry on their versions of an armed struggle. Hence, this system surrenders disproportional power to radicals. Compounded by the leadership of Arafat, who has consistently refused to enforce rule of law and unity of command over the armed groups, these patterns undermine prospects for progress.
It is increasingly clear for Israel that it must have a credible off-the-table political strategy to end its control over Palestinians that is not dependent on across-the-table negotiations and, hence, on Palestinian consent. The United States should not make such consent a sine qua non for its policies either.
Disengaging from Gaza and the West Bank and the establishment of a Palestinian State constitute such credible unilateral option. Such Israeli strategy would secure Israel's vital interests, dismantle the Palestinian illusion of the bi-national state and create the space for a more accountable Palestinian leadership to emerge. Furthermore, it may, eventually, reverse the Palestinian notion that time is on their side and, hence, strengthen Palestinian moderates and enhance prospects for a comprehensive agreement. It is only the viable and credible off-the-table alternative that might bring the Palestinian political system to rise to the occasion of future negotiations by fighting terrorism and creating the capacities essential for state-management.
This is why the Bush speech, endorsing the two-state solution, the Road Map, frontloading Palestinian statehood, and the support for the Israeli unilateral disengagement plan are three pillars of what seems to be a unilateralist approach, but may actually move the region toward a comprehensive settlement.
In spite of the outcome of the Likud referendum, the Zionist movement is turning a page and the occupation of Palestinians will soon come to an end. Their right of self-determination will be realized within an independent, viable and contiguous Palestinian state that governs the vast majority of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Risks notwithstanding and in spite of recent setbacks, put together, the changes in Israel and the current US policy create new space for progress toward stability and co-existence.
- The Founder and President of the Re’ut Institute, an Israeli think-tank, and former Secretary of the Israeli Delegation to the Permanent Status negotiations under the Barak Government (1999-01). This article is part of a series of views on the US "Greater Middle East" initiative for reform, published in partnership with the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).
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The Greater Middle East 21st Century Trust—A new partnership
A view from Washington
Reform in the Arab World: Tensions and Challenges
Promoting Reform Efforts in the Middle East
The Greater Middle East Initiative, a Turkish Perspective
Let us be Democratic about Democracy
The Greater Middle East Initiative
The Greater Middle East: Moving Beyond Mutual Refutation to What is Required
Reform in the Arab World Requires that True Intellectuals Speak Out
Difficult but necessary: a joint strategy to promote political reform in the Middle East
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Other articles in this series

The Greater Middle East 21st Century Trust—A new partnership by Senator Richard G. Lugar
A view from Washington by Pamela and Robert Pelletreau
Reform in the Arab World: Tensions and Challenges by Shafeeq Ghabra
Promoting Reform Efforts in the Middle East by Nizar Abdel-Kader
The Greater Middle East Initiative, a Turkish Perspective by Dr. Duygu Bazoglu Sezer
Let us be Democratic about Democracy by Dr. Abdul Aziz Said
The Greater Middle East Initiative by Richard W. Murphy
The Greater Middle East: Moving Beyond Mutual Refutation to What is Required by Hazem Saghiyeh
Reform in the Arab World Requires that True Intellectuals Speak Out by Daoud Kuttab
Difficult but necessary: a joint strategy to promote political reform in the Middle East by Dr. Steven Everts