Solving the “Palestinian Problem”

Israel Has a War to Win

How Israel Can Win


Israel‘s Strategic Incompetence in Gaza

by Daniel Pipes   Jerusalem Post   January 11, 2009


Commentary on the Israel-Hamas war has tended toward partisan pleading, making the moral case for or against Israel. That’s a crucial debate but not the only one; there’s also a need for a cool strategic assessment; who is winning, who is losing?

Hillel Frisch argues that Hamas (which he calls “a small isolated movement that controls a small strip”) has “grossly miscalculated” by antagonizing the Egyptian government and making war on Israel. He concludes Hamas has embarked on “strategic suicide.”

Perhaps, but scenarios exist in which Hamas gains.

Khaled Abu Toameh notes the powerful and growing support for Hamas around the Middle East.

Caroline Glick offers two ways for Hamas to win: a return to the status quo ante, with Hamas still in charge of Gaza, or a ceasefire agreement whereby foreign powers form an international monitoring regime to oversee Gaza’s borders with Israel and Egypt.


As this suggests, an assessment of Hamas’ war record depends primarily on decisions made in Jerusalem. Those decisions being the real issue, how well has Israel’s leadership performed?

Disastrously. Jerusalem’s profound strategic incompetence continues and heightens the failed policies since 1993 that have eroded Israel’s reputation, strategic advantage, and security.


Four main reasons lead me to this negative conclusion.


First, the team in charge in Jerusalem created the Gaza problem. Its leader, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert immortally explained in 2005 the forthcoming unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza: “We [Israelis] are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies.”

Olmert had a vital role in (1) initiating the Gaza withdrawal, which ended the Israel Defense Forces’ close control of the territory, and (2) giving up Israeli control over the Gaza-Egypt border. This latter, little noted decision, enabled Hamas to build tunnels to Egypt, smuggle in matériel, and launch missiles into Israel.


Secondly, Olmert and his colleagues failed to respond to the barrage of rockets and mortar shells. From the Israeli withdrawal in 2005 until now, Hamas has launched over 6,500 missiles into Israel. Incredibly, Israelis endured nearly eight attacks a day for three years; why? A responsible government would have responded to the first rocket as a casus belli and immediately responded.


Thirdly, a committee of the French parliament published an important technical report in mid-December, establishing that “there is no longer doubt” about the military purposes of the Iranian nuclear program, and that it will be up and running in 2-3 years.

The waning days of the Bush administration, with the current president nearly out the door and the president-elect yet in the wings, offers a unique moment to take care of business. Why did Olmert squander this opportunity to confront the relatively trivial danger Hamas presents rather than the existential threat of Iran’s nuclear program? This negligence has potentially dire repercussions.


Finally, from what one can discern of the Olmert government’s goal in its war on Hamas, it seems to be to weaken Hamas and strengthen Fatah so that Mahmoud Abbas can re-take control of Gaza and re-start diplomacy with Israel. Michael B. Oren and Yossi Klein Halevi captured this idea in a recent article title: “Palestinians need Israel to win: If Hamas gets away with terror once again, the peace process will be over.”

Bitter experience, however, invalidates this thesis. For one, Fatah has proven itself a determined enemy intent on eliminating the Jewish state. For another, Palestinians themselves repudiated Fatah in 2006 elections. It strains credulity that anyone could still think of Fatah as a “partner for peace.” Rather, Jerusalem should think creatively of other scenarios, perhaps my “no-state solution” bringing in the Jordanian and Egyptian governments.

More dismaying even than Olmert’s ineptitude is that the Israeli election a month from now pits three leaders of his same ilk. Two of them (Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak) currently serve as his main lieutenants, while two (Barak and Binyamin Netanyahu) failed badly in their prior prime ministerial stints.

Looking beyond Olmert and his potential successors comes the worst news of all, namely that no one at the upper echelons of Israel’s political life articulates the imperative for victory. For this reason, I see Israel as a lost polity, one full of talent, energy, and resolve but lacking direction.





Israel’s war against Hamas brings up the old quandary: What to do about the Palestinians? Western states, including Israel, need to set goals to figure out their policy toward the West Bank and Gaza.

Let’s first review what we know does not and cannot work:

  • Israeli control. Neither side wishes to continue the situation that began in 1967, when the Israel Defense Forces took control of a population that is religiously, culturally, economically, and politically different and hostile.
  • A Palestinian state. The 1993 Oslo Accords began this process but a toxic brew of anarchy, ideological extremism, antisemitism, jihadism, and warlordism led to complete Palestinian failure.
  • A binational state: Given the two populations’ mutual antipathy, the prospect of a combined Israel-Palestine (what Muammar al-Qaddafi calls “Israstine“) is as absurd as it seems.

Excluding these three prospects leaves only one practical approach, that which worked tolerably well in the period 1948-67:

  • Shared Jordanian-Egyptian rule: Amman rules the West Bank and Cairo runs Gaza.

To be sure, this back-to-the-future approach inspires little enthusiasm. Not only was Jordanian-Egyptian rule undistinguished but resurrecting this arrangement will frustrate Palestinian impulses, be they nationalist or Islamist. Further, Cairo never wanted Gaza and has vehemently rejected its return. Accordingly, one academic analyst dismisses this idea “an elusive fantasy that can only obscure real and difficult choices.”

It is not. The failures of Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, of the Palestinian Authority and the “peace process,” have prompted rethinking in Amman and Jerusalem. Indeed, the Christian Science Monitor‘s Ilene R. Prusher found already in 2007 that the idea of a West Bank-Jordan confederation “seems to be gaining traction on both sides of the Jordan River.”

The Jordanian government, which enthusiastically annexed the West Bank in 1950 and abandoned its claims only under duress in 1988, shows signs of wanting to return. Dan Diker and Pinchas Inbari documented for the Middle East Quarterly in 2006 how the PA’s “failure to assert control and become a politically viable entity has caused Amman to reconsider whether a hands-off strategy toward the West Bank is in its best interests.” Israeli officialdom has also showed itself open to this idea, occasionally calling for Jordanian troops to enter the West Bank.

Despairing of self-rule, some Palestinians welcome the Jordanian option. An unnamed senior PA official told Diker and Inbari that that a form of federation or confederation with Jordan offers “the only reasonable, stable, long-term solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.” Hanna Seniora opined that “The current weakened prospects for a two-state solution forces us to revisit the possibility of a confederation with Jordan.” The New York TimesHassan M. Fattah quotes a Palestinian in Jordan: “Everything has been ruined for us -­ we’ve been fighting for 60 years and nothing is left. It would be better if Jordan ran things in Palestine, if King Abdullah could take control of the West Bank.”

Nor is this just talk: Diker and Inbari report that back-channel PA-Jordan negotiations in 2003-04 “resulted in an agreement in principle to send 30,000 Badr Force members,” to the West Bank.

And while Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak announced a year ago that “Gaza is not part of Egypt, nor will it ever be,” his is hardly the last word. First, Mubarak notwithstanding, Egyptians overwhelmingly want a strong tie to Gaza; Hamas concurs; and Israeli leaders sometimes agree. So the basis for an overhaul in policy exists.

Secondly, Gaza is arguably more a part of Egypt than of “Palestine.” During most of the Islamic period, it was either controlled by Cairo or part of Egypt administratively. Gazan colloquial Arabic is identical to what Egyptians living in Sinai speak. Economically, Gaza has most connections to Egypt. Hamas itself derives from the Muslim Brethren, an Egyptian organization. Is it time to think of Gazans as Egyptians?

Thirdly, Jerusalem could out-maneuver Mubarak. Were it to announce a date when it ends the provisioning of all water, electricity, food, medicine, and other trade, plus accept enhanced Egyptian security in Gaza, Cairo would have to take responsibility for Gaza. Among other advantages, this would make it accountable for Gazan security, finally putting an end to the thousands of Hamas rocket and mortar assaults.

The Jordan-Egypt option quickens no pulse, but that may be its value. It offers a uniquely sober way to solve the “Palestinian problem.”


Jan. 7, 2009 update: The National Post cleverly dubs my plan (in its title to this article) the “back-to-the-future option,” but I like best the name bestowed on it by blogger Mary P. Madigan: “the no-state solution.” Perfect.

Jan. 8, 2009 update: Some readers interpret this column as an endorsement of Jordan-is-Palestine – the idea that Palestinians can have Jordan as their state. Two responses:

  1. I argued at length against Jordan-is-Palestine back when that was a live issue. See my full-scale article on this issue from 1988 at “Is Jordan Palestine?” and a shorter one from two years later at “President Arafat? [and the Jordan-Is-Palestine Issue].” My views have not changed in the interim decades – I remain opposed to this gambit for all the reasons expressed there.
  2. My idea in the above column is that Jordan – the Hashemites in particular – rule the Palestinians, not the reverse. And the same goes for Egypt, obviously. Call it, if you will, Palestine-is-Jordan.

Other readers have asked what implications the Jordan-Egypt scenario has for Israeilis living on the West Bank – specifically, does it mean their forced evacuation as happened to their counterparts in Gaza? No, and again two points:

  1. The boundaries between Israel and the West Bank are more fluid than those between israel and Gaza. I assume they would not return to those that existed in 1967.
  2. My idea concerns the Israeli government not ruling the Palestinian population; it says nothing about control of territory.

Jan. 12, 2009 update: The Jordan-Egypt solution is emerging of its own accord, however unwelcome it may be, Michael Slackman implies in “Crisis in Gaza Imperils 2-State Plan.” Some excerpts:

With every image of the dead in Gaza inflaming people across the Arab world, Egyptian and Jordanian officials are worried that they see a fundamental tenet of the Middle East peace process slipping away: the so-called two-state solution, an independent Palestinian state coexisting with Israel.

Egypt and Jordan fear that they will be pressed to absorb the Palestinian populations now living beyond their borders. If Israel does not assume responsibility for humanitarian aid in Gaza, for example, pressure could compel Egypt to fill the vacuum; Jordan, in turn, worries that Israel will try to push Palestinians from the West Bank into its territory.

In that case, both states fear, they could become responsible for policing the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel, undermining their peace treaties with Israel. …

In Egypt, where leaders have been castigated for refusing to keep open the Rafah crossing to Gaza, officials have argued that they are bound by the agreement on border security that followed Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza. But there is an underlying subtext to their message: that Gaza is not Egypt’s problem.

“Gaza is no longer Egypt’s responsibility, and Egypt is determined not to take it back,” said Abdel Raoud el-Reedy, a former ambassador to the United States who is the chairman of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs. …

According to Slackman, Jordanians, too, are anxious, but I do not believe their proclaimed lack of interest in returning to the West Bank.

“It is a real concern in Jordan,” said Adnan Abu Odeh, who was an adviser to King Hussein. While the prospect of having to absorb the West Bank may be remote, Jordan does not want to have to do so, fearing it would destroy the fabric of society in the country, where about half the population is of Palestinian origin. “This kind of formula means a Palestinian loss of their land and a Jordanian loss of their identity,” Mr. Odeh said.