Voice

The Three-State Solution

Are we witnessing a historic shift toward Palestinian unity? Don't bet on it.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians rally in Hamas-controlled Gaza to celebrate the anniversary of Fatah's founding. Thousands more in the Fatah-controlled West Bank cheer on Hamas. The Palestinian public yearns for unity -- and once again Egyptians are talking about a reconciliation conclave in Cairo within two weeks.

What's going on? Could we be witnessing a historic shift toward Palestinian unity? Is there finally a basis for a meaningful Hamas-Fatah deal that might bind up the self-inflicted wounds of the Palestinian people and strengthen their leverage -- if not in negotiations with Israel, then at least in the PR battle against it?

Not likely.

Yes, Israel throws up plenty of obstacles to peace -- its settlements expansion in the West Bank is a big one. But on the Palestinian side, the greatest challenge remains the pesky problem of Noah's Ark. Simply put, the Palestinian national movement has been too successful: It has two of everything -- constitutions, mini-states, security services, funding streams, and patrons.

The absence of a monopoly, or anything close to it, over guns, people, and negotiating positions is the single greatest threat the Palestinians face to the fulfillment of their own aspirations.

And here's the kicker. Even if real unity were achieved, it would likely leave the peace process worse off -- in large part because neither Israel nor the United States would likely accept the new parameters of a Palestinian entity that included Hamas for negotiating a two-state solution.

The idea of unity resonates powerfully within Palestinian society. It's a major psychological blow to see your national movement at war with itself while the real adversary -- Israel -- exploits your weaknesses and divisions.

And yet, the Palestinian national movement has always been divided. Yasir Arafat used to tell us that it was really Palestinian democracy in action. And to a degree, given the challenges Arafat faced -- managing a fractious movement that lacked a secure territorial base and was vulnerable to manipulation by Arab states and Israel -- a decentralized structure was inevitable. Unlike other national movements, such as Algeria's FLN or even the pre-state Zionist underground, there was never a watershed moment when one faction imposed its will on the others.

There was a price to be paid for this lack of control. In June 1990, the United States suspended its dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization when a small Iraqi-backed group launched an attack against Israel that Arafat refused to condemn.

But Arafat was able to manage this gaggle through his iconic stature in the Palestinian national movement. Beginning with the 2000 intifada, however, as Fatah began to split and smaller offshoots like the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades and Islamists began to run their own operations, his authority began to wane. His death in 2004, the corruption in Fatah, the inability to end the occupation, and the rising power of Hamas made a mockery of the idea of a unified Palestinian national movement.

The Palestinian Humpty Dumpty had finally fallen off the wall. And since Hamas's 2007 takeover of Gaza, there have been at least four unsuccessful efforts to put it back together again. Here's why unity efforts keep falling short -- even while all Palestinians say they desperately want them to succeed.

Neither Hamas nor Fatah is really serious: Unity is again being driven by tactical considerations, not by a sincere desire to unify ranks. Hamas's successful rocket attacks against Israel and Abbas's success in winning observer-state status at the United Nations allows each to come to the table with some leverage.

But the impulse to do so is driven far more by public opinion and Egyptian pressure than by any real desire to pay the price for what a real merger would entail. Hamas isn't going to give up the gun and recognize Israel -- and Abbas knows that his whole reason for being, not to mention his international support, will evaporate if he signs on to a hard-line program.

The differences are enormous: The Fatah-Hamas reconciliation accord signed in May 2011was never implemented -- nor is it, or anything like it, going to be.

Hamas is the religious manifestation of Palestinian nationalism; Fatah represents a more centrist, secular version. But the issues that divide them aren't just about seats in a parliament or who is the titular prime minister. At its core, the divide is over what Palestine is, where it is, and how its establishment is to be achieved: A secular or religious state? A state on the June 1967 borders, or over all of historic Palestine? Do Palestinians negotiate with guns or without them? Hamas may have pragmatists and hardliners on these issues. But that's the point: There is no real consensus, and given Hamas's own timeline, no urgency to produce one. And now with friendly Islamists rising in the Arab world, there's less of a rush.

The peace process in a box: Any kind of unity between Hamas and Fatah -- except one that compels Hamas to give up the gun, accept Israeli's right to exist, and defers to Abbas's authority -- will bury an already comatose peace process. Bringing Hamas into the PLO or a unity government with its current positions intact will compel the United States to cut aid to the PA, make it impossible to get negotiations with Israel launched. and give those in Israel who aren't terribly interested in the peace process an unassailable reason to just say no. Unity will make Abbas radioactive, too.

Three states: Like the two-state solution itself, real Palestinian unity is too important for Palestinians to abandon but too complex to realize. And these days, without the prospect of serious Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, it's one of those pastimes -- like the battle to win hearts and minds in the international arena -- that Palestinians will devote more time to.

Another powerful patron, President Mohamed Morsy's Egypt, also has an incentive to keep unity talks alive. After all, Hamas was derived from the Muslim Brotherhood, and looks increasingly to Egypt for support. But Morsy wants above all else to control this often unruly member of the family.

Morsy is no peacenik. He barely can bring himself to utter the words Israel or the two -state solution. But making a run a Palestinian unity, like his work at orchestrating a Gaza ceasefire, is good for his prestige and will keep a volatile issue on the back burner as he deals with pressing issues closer to home.

And if almighty Egypt wants to try, Palestinian leaders can't afford not to play along. Hamas needs Cairo to open up Gaza economically and to exert pressure on Israel. Abbas knows there's no going back to the good old days with Mubarak, but he too wants to stay on Egypt's good side. And so unity talks will start, stop, start again, and perhaps even result in a formal accord.

But beneath this faux process, the players will continue to dig in their heels. And that means further consolidation of Hamas's authority in Gaza, further settlement activity by Israel in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and Abbas hanging on to his fiefdom over Ramallah and a few other towns. He may be facing a terrible economic and fiscal situation, but neither the Americans, the Israelis, or the international community will let him go under.

John Kerry -- a man who really does believe in diplomacy -- will want to do something serious on the Israeli-Palestinian issue because he believes it's important, because others will urge him to, and because that's what secretaries of state are supposed to do. But he'll have to deal with the Noah's Ark problem. Since he's not suicidal, he won't open up a dialogue with Hamas -- but dollars to donuts says he'll start talking to the Turks, the Egyptians, the Qataris (all led by Islamists with influence in Gaza) about ways to influence the organization.

Good luck to him. To paraphrase JRR Tolkien: It will not be one or two states to rule them all, but for now three -- Israel, Gaza, and a part of the West Bank, all trying to manage in the most imperfect of neighborhoods.

To be sure, this fellowship won't last. But from the perspective of three very important powers -- Egypt, Israel, and Hamas's leaders in Gaza -- it sure beats another war or a two-state solution. The first may yet come. And the second? Well, the second is the stuff of which dreams are made.

MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images

Reality Check

Dear John

John Kerry can be a great secretary of state. Here's how.

To: John Kerry
From: Aaron David Miller

So, you probably weren't the president's first choice for the position. But forget that -- it really doesn't matter now. You're going to be secretary of state. The only thing that counts is what you're going to do with the job.

And make no mistake, it's quite a prize -- the second-best job in government, maybe even the best.

Can there be a greater high in government than disembarking in some foreign land from an aircraft embossed with the words "United States of America" on the fuselage and the American flag on its tail?

And could there be more honor and privilege in knowing that -- no matter how tough, even hopeless, the task -- you're charged with representing America abroad? As secretary of state, you are a minority of one in American political life today -- a non-partisan bipartisan partisan, often untouchable in the catty corridors of Washington.

So What Is a Great Secretary of State?

I've written about what it takes to do the job well, to be consequential, even great. So how do you measure up?

The right presence: You've got the physical persona. And while it may be politically incorrect to say it, no secretary of state in the modern period -- with the possible exception of Dean Acheson -- does a better job in looking the part. And trust me, presence, charisma, and image count. When Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, James Baker, Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and Hillary Clinton walked into the room, people noticed. It often had nothing to do with physical size, gender, hair, or clothes. Each had a certain presence, persona, spark, moxie, and spunk that made an impression. 

You've got that exterior. But what's on the inside? Do you have the persona -- the combination of charm, guile, and toughness that's required for real success? The latter is really critical. Applying honey is required too, but that's easy. Using the vinegar is the hard part. Shultz had his stare and glare that could cut an interlocutor to the bone, Baker had his "I'm out of here" slammed notebook routine. Albright was plenty tough when she needed to be, especially in the Balkans and with Benjamin Netanyahu and Yasir Arafat. 

Bottom line: Are you a son of a bitch with an instrumental and manipulative edge? Are you prepared, as Kissinger and Baker did, to trash the Arabs in front of the Israelis and vice versa in an effort to gain the confidence of both? Or are you a diplomat's diplomat -- nice, balanced, and always coloring between the lines? If it's only the latter, you'll bag a lot of frequent flyer miles but not much else.

The negotiator's mindset: We really don't know what kind of negotiator you'd be. You've had more experience than some of your predecessors in the Senate, and as a kind of shadow envoy for the president, you've undertaken missions to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

We already know you're well-versed in international relations, pragmatic, non-ideological, and patient. Above all, you really do believe in the power of engagement and diplomacy -- perhaps to a fault. Kissinger and Baker -- the two best negotiators and manipulators in recent times -- never felt quite the same.

Whether you have the intuitive skills to see how the pieces fit together and the sense of timing, theatrics, and leverage to assemble them is another matter. You won't know until you're in the middle of a hot negotiating moment. Indeed, to paraphrase Kenny Rogers, do you have the sense of when to hold ‘em, fold ‘em, or threaten to and actually walk away from ‘em if need be?

Luck and timing: The bitter truth is that the next two elements are the most important to your success -- but are the ones over which you have the least control. Woody Allen was wrong: 90 percent of life isn't just showing up, it's showing up at the right time. If the world doesn't cooperate, it doesn't matter how smart you are.

You can make your own luck...up to a point. But if the mullahs don't want a deal on the nuclear issue or Netanyahu isn't interested in moving with the Palestinians, you really will be blocked from big opportunities and successes. And there really won't be much you can do about it.

Kissinger negotiated three disengagement agreements in 18 months because Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Syrian President Hafez al-Assad -- to just about everyone's amazement -- opened the door by attacking Israel. Baker got to Madrid because Saddam opened the door by invading Kuwait and Bush 41 had the courage to push him out. As a result, the regional pieces were scrambled enough to afford a willful and skillful secretary of state the chance to move.

Of course, there's little doubt that a crisis will break out on your watch. But as we've seen in Syria, it might not be one that can be solved by American persuasion, manipulation, or military might. 

A president who supports you: Sure the president likes and respects you greatly, as he did your predecessor. That doesn't mean he's prepared to empower you to own some of the really important issues facing the United States. Will you really be his foreign policy strategist -- charged with creating and shaping policy? Or will you be his implementer-in-chief, charged with executing policies decided on in the Oval Office?

Can You Be a Great Secretary of State?

Like your able and talented predecessor, you're going to be constrained by numbers three and four.

It's a really tough world out there. You are going to face deeply rooted -- some might say intractable -- conflicts, such as the festering dispute in Israel-Palestine. You will be faced with headaches from nuclear powers or wannabes like Iran and North Korea, who aren't preparing to roll over. And you'll be confronted by big powers such as China and Russia, who will challenge you as much as cooperate. That's before you even open up the Pandora's Box of other assorted problems, such as political turbulence in Iraq, Afghanistan, and across the Arab world, which will not be terribly responsive to American power. Can you identify any low-hanging fruit?

You're also working for a president who tends to dominate on foreign policy, not delegate. Spoiler alert: He thinks he's smarter than you, too. I think that not delegating is bad for him and America, particularly in a second term where stumbles are legendary and where domestic issues are likely to take much of his time. But the president has run a pretty competent foreign policy, and may see no real reason to change

So Mr. Secretary-Designate, if your goal is to be a truly consequential secretary of state, I'd respectfully offer a few pieces of unsolicited advice.

Don't contract out the big issues: There's nothing wrong with using special envoys. As of last year, the Obama administration had created a record number of 24 of these positions, of which about half report to the secretary. There are advantages of using these "specials" - they provide more substantive focus and attention to a specific issue, and can raise the issue's political profile. And in some cases, when you've got the right envoy and the crisis provides an opportunity, the model can be very effective. Just look at what late Dick Holbrooke was able to accomplish in the Balkans during his time there.

But on other big issues, it hasn't worked so well. Take the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Unless you're looking to run away from it, that's something you'll need to manage with a hands-on approach. You can't do that by finding some high profile envoy (see: Bill Clinton) to run it. You run the team yourself, handing off day-to-day supervision to someone who reports directly to you. That's how Kissinger and Baker did it. And guess what? Since then, we haven't had much success -- at least on the Israeli-Palestinian issue -- with any other model.

Own an issue: You want to be a truly consequential secretary of state? Own an issue that normal human beings regard as really hard and significant -- and make it better. This is only partly related to ego. It also has to do with efficiency and results. The challenges America faces require full time effort. They can only be solved by a team of professionals -- overseen by you.

This is the nature of your new job. A bold and successful foreign policy can't be run out of the National Security Council or by the president's political advisors, nor should the State Department's careerists control it. You and the national security advisor need to work closely together to make sure the right balance is found.

Don't misunderstand. The president is the boss. But you need to make clear what you want to own relatively early. Secretaries of state -- the really good ones -- aren't just implementers. They often fashion the strategy, sell it to the White House, and run with it -- coordinating with the Big Boss and his team every step of the way. You run the traps and shoulder the risks and responsibilities. If it's a negotiation, then you do the legwork, bring the president in when necessary, and set the table for him to close, as required.

Get a team to help you: You're going to need a really good team of professionals to help you. Don't shut the State Department out -- use your ambassadors and the assistant secretaries for serious work. But don't become a prisoner to the building either. Draw outsiders whom you trust from the Hill into the system, and don't be afraid to ask the universities and think tanks for their best and brightest. Don't get caught up on political affiliation: Republican vs. Democrat isn't the dividing line here. Smart vs. dumb is.

And most important, let your advisors debate openly -- if at times noisily -- in front of you. Encourage it. Don't let any single individual control the information flow. In the end, it's the adult supervision you exercise -- the intuitive capacity to make the right decisions -- that's the key to having a chance to succeed.

I don't envy you. You're not Henry Kissinger, who served under a president who was preoccupied with domestic scandal and who really did -- however grudgingly and jealously -- respect and admire his top diplomat's brilliance. Nor are you James Baker, who had a closer personal bond with his president than any of his predecessors.

And that's your main challenge. You won't get the diplomatic breakthroughs unless you can achieve a breakthrough of your own with the president, creating a close bond with a guy who thinks he's a lot smarter than you and who's used to running everything.

If you can get him to stop dominating and start delegating, and if the world cooperates a little, who knows? While the odds may be against it, you might even be headed for the Secretary of State Hall of Fame.

If not, don't worry. You'll have a fine time, and probably do some good. But you might as well hang a closed for the season sign on any chance of doing bold and historic diplomacy -- let alone emerging a secretary of state we'll all want to remember.

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images