Argument

The Three-State Solution

The peace process has failed again, and it's time for Israel's neighbors to shoulder the burden of dealing with the Palestinians.

Yet another attempt to end the century-long conflict between the Palestinians and the Zionist movement has come to an end. Once again, Israel's willingness to go the extra mile over the past nine months has been met with an unwillingness to budge by the Palestinians. Instead of putting forth a genuine effort to resolve this conflict, the Palestinians continuously issued new demands in return for the dubious concession of merely entering the negotiating room. They then essentially sabotaged U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's valiant efforts by entering a pact to form a new government with the terrorists of Hamas -- instead of taking a chance on a peace accord with Israel.

Now is the time to take advantage of this latest failure and shift the paradigm of the conflict in a whole new direction. Since the 1993 Oslo Accords, the onus to resolve the plight of the Palestinians has fallen on Israel. We have engaged in umpteen rounds of negotiations with Palestinian representatives, negotiations that have not moved the two sides any closer to peaceful coexistence. In addition to direct negotiations, Israel also enacted a costly unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and attempted many times to use third-party negotiators to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough. These attempts were also met with failure.

There is no reason that Israel alone should shoulder this burden. Going forward, Jordan must become a full partner in negotiating the final status of the Palestinian Authority. Similarly, a regional agreement must be reached with Egypt recognizing the existing political reality since Israel completely withdrew all military and civilian installations from the Gaza Strip. There is no reason that, in the future, a resident of Ramallah should have to travel to Europe via Israel's Ben Gurion Airport instead of flying out of Amman, or that Gaza's electricity should be supplied by a power station in the Israeli city of Ashkelon instead of Egypt's Rafah.

The relationships between the Palestinians and their Arab neighbors are strong and deep. The ties between the Arab residents of Judea and Samaria and the Jordanians are well documented. Similarly, the Arab residents of Gaza have always enjoyed a close relationship with Egypt. It is through Egypt that these Palestinians have historically furthered their education and conducted business with the international community.

Such an initiative would not be a return to the old "Jordan is Palestine" plan of earlier decades. We have no intention of forcing unwanted change on the Jordanian kingdom. We value our relationship with the Jordanian and Egyptian governments, and we work very closely with them on a variety of matters of mutual concern in our tumultuous region. The ties between our countries are so strong that we have been able to successfully weather breakdowns in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the regional instability of the Arab Spring, and even uncomfortable incidents such as the killing of a Jordanian judge at a border crossing this year.

Instead, it should be up to the Jordanians, Egyptians, and Palestinians -- in agreement with Israel -- to determine the final configuration of their joint entities. A number of possibilities exist that could allow all sides to maintain their own national identities while creating an umbrella framework that safeguards the interests of all parties involved.

It would be unwise at this point to publicly project the desired result of such negotiations. History has shown us that the most successful negotiations in our region occurred when the public was not aware in real time of the topics being discussed. Nevertheless, there are three main parameters that Israel insist on in such a process.

First, Israel must be a full partner in this dialogue. While it should be up to the Jordanians and Egyptians to formulate the exact nature of their relationship with the Palestinians, Israel has too many interests at play to be excluded from the negotiating room. Whether it's regarding water and energy resources or general economic development, Israel's involvement will serve not only our interests but has the potential to greatly benefit our regional neighbors as well.

Second, whatever agreement is reached regarding the political entity to be established in Judea and Samaria, it must be clear from the outset that any new entity that is created in the region between the Jordan River and Mediterranean will remain completely demilitarized. This includes, of course, the Gaza Strip, which now serves as a base for unending missile attacks on Israeli population centers. The security forces taxed with fighting terrorism and ensuring general law and order should be robust, but the number of security personnel and arms in this region must be closely monitored. We cannot allow a return in Judea and Samaria to the days of the Second Intifada, when Palestinian security officials turned against us -- using the weapons we donated to them to attack our citizens.

Finally, while the mechanisms governing the flow of goods and populations across the Jordan River will be decided by the Palestinians and Jordanians, the Jordan Valley must remain fully under Israeli control -- and Israeli security forces will need to retain an active presence at all border crossings. We cannot repeat the mistake of the Gaza disengagement, in which Israel left the border between Gaza and Egypt only to see it become the main smuggling route for missiles aimed our cities. Such a mistake this time would not only result in more rocket fire at Israeli population centers, but would also place strategic targets -- like our only international airport -- under direct threat.

After 20 years of failed attempts at reaching a two-state solution, now is the time to try something new. The Arab residents of Judea and Samaria may become full citizens of Jordan and Egypt, with voting rights, or instead the Jordanians and Egyptians may decide to set up some sort of loose confederations with the Palestinians. Either way, the Palestinians' political aspirations will be met via Jordan and Egypt, not through Israel.

I realize that many experts today make the claim that the two-state solution is the only option on the table if we want to ensure that Israel will remain a Jewish and democratic state. I do not accept this hypothesis. Our region is an extremely dynamic one: A few short years ago, none of the world's leading statesmen or academics predicted the turmoil that the Middle East would undergo. Old orders are dismantled and new realties appear on almost a daily basis. Even those who oppose my views now may very well realize this plan's merits in the not-too-distant future.

As an Israeli who has paid a personal price in this conflict and as a father who wants a better future for his children, I firmly believe that this outline for a regional peace agreement must be considered. History has shown that the path of negotiations has offered little of value, and this is unlikely to change. But with a sound strategy and careful diplomacy, this new model can succeed. And with that success, the generations-old hope for peaceful coexistence -- defined by safety and dignity for all the people -- will become a reality.

Photo by CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty Images

Argument

Assad's Hollow Mandate

Syria's presidential election might be a farce -- but that doesn't mean it isn't dangerous.

Foreign Policy and the U.S. Institute of Peace are co-hosting the second PeaceGame on June 18-19 in Abu Dhabi. This article provides background for some of the issues to be discussed at that event. 

On June 3, in a parody of democracy, Bashar al-Assad will be reelected as president of Syria for his third seven-year term. If he serves out this term, Assad will be eligible to run for a fourth term in 2021 that would extend his presidency to 28 years -- two years short of his father's tenure. Syrians may yet be spared almost six decades of direct Assad family rule, but the outcome of Tuesday's vote is a foregone conclusion.

Tuesday's election is easy to ridicule, but it would be a mistake to dismiss it as a meaningless charade. Assad's victory will further weaken international leverage over his regime, will be used by his authoritarian allies to sustain their support -- including in the U.N. Security Council -- and will diminish prospects for a negotiated settlement of the Syrian conflict.

The United States, the U.N., and the more than 100 governments that constitute the Friends of Syria Group (FOS), an alliance of governments opposed to Assad's continued rule, should take steps to thwart the Assad regime's efforts to exploit this phony election, enhance its legitimacy, and validate its self-serving claims to a military victory over the Syrian opposition. A preemptive move by the U.N. General Assembly, in the form of a resolution denouncing the election, rejecting the outcome as illegitimate, and insisting on a negotiated settlement of the conflict under the terms of the U.N. Geneva Protocol of June 2012, would be a small but important step in this direction.

Still, there are far more meaningful measures that can, and should, be taken. The United States and other FOS governments, which include Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Britain, can implement policies to strip the Assad regime of its legal and political legitimacy, transferring elements of sovereignty, including control over embassies, to recognized bodies of the Syrian opposition. On May 12, France closed the Syrian embassy in Paris to protest the June 3 election. Germany and Belgium have denied permission for Syrian embassies to hold expatriate voting. These are useful short-term steps, but longer-term measures to challenge the legitimacy of the regime are needed. In playing the sovereignty card, the United States and other FOS governments will not only make their rejection of the Assad regime's phony election clear, but also gain leverage in their efforts to move the Syrian conflict toward a negotiated settlement.

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Syria's conflict has left 160,000 dead and more than nine million displaced. It has wreaked havoc on the country's civilian population, decimated its economy, frayed its territorial integrity, and fueled sectarian spillover that threatens the stability of neighboring states. That an election is taking place at all in the midst of such conditions underscores the determination of the Assad regime to assert its standing as the sovereign authority in Syria, the outsized importance it attaches in doing so to the kind of hollow, ritualistic displays of legalism and political participation this election represents, and the ease with which autocrats can appropriate and distort the vocabulary and form of democratic politics.

The regime and its supporters have pitched the upcoming election as a major step forward in Syria's democratic development. The June 3 vote has been organized according to electoral regulations approved in a February 2012 referendum to amend the Syrian constitution. Under the revised electoral law, Syria's president will be chosen in a multi-candidate election for the first time since the Ba'ath Party seized power in March 1963. For the past 40 years, Syrian presidents were not so much elected as affirmed through national plebiscites in which the sole candidate was routinely supported by upwards of 98 percent of participants, giving rise to any number dark jokes concerning the fate of the 1-2 percent of dissenters.

The Assad regime has billed the 2014 election as the first in which the incumbent will face competition. The Syrian, Iranian, pro-Hezbollah, and even Russian media are covering the election "race" with great fanfare. However, the fine print of the new election laws ensure that the playing field is anything but level. Candidates must be approved by 35 members of the regime's tame Parliament and by the Supreme Constitutional Court, and cannot have been convicted of a "dishonorable felony," a category that includes most political acts criminalized by the regime. Candidates must also have been resident in Syria continuously for the past 10 years -- a condition that renders most credible opposition leaders ineligible to run.

It is not procedures alone that ensure Assad's victory. In Syria's authoritarian system, the notion of a credible challenge to Bashar al-Assad is utterly implausible. The scale of destruction and displacement Syria has experienced over the past three years make risible the regime's attempts to exploit the election as a source of popular legitimacy that validate its sovereignty and authority. But none of this has interfered with the regime's efforts to cast the election as an exercise in democracy. Official Syrian media earnestly covers the campaigns of Assad's competitors, two political unknowns who dutifully play the roles the regime has assigned them. The regime has even invited election monitors from friendly governments, including Russia, China, and Iran to observe the voting: Iran promptly agreed to dispatch a delegation of parliamentarians. After the vote, Russia, China, Iran, and other authoritarian allies of the Assad regime will no doubt endorse the results.

Still, as tempting as it might be, it would be a mistake to dismiss the election as a farce -- it has already caused real harm. It has accelerated the resignation of U.N. special envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, who said on March 14 that "holding elections [in Syria] would doom prospects for future talks by negating the need for an interim government." Without a swift and compelling response from the United States and other lead FOS governments, the election will continue to muddle the international case against Assad. Election results will be hauled out at every opportunity to justify regime intransigence, continue to stymie the efforts of the U.N. Security Council to act on issues such as the regime's obstruction of humanitarian assistance, and undermine possibilities for a negotiated settlement based on the internationally-agreed Geneva Protocol of June 2012.

Even as President Obama expands military support for the Syrian opposition, the United States should work with its allies to develop a coherent and compelling diplomatic response to the upcoming election. The most effective strategy available to the administration is to play the sovereignty card: Accelerating the transfer of sovereignty from the Assad regime to its opponents is a powerful tool that the Obama administration has been reluctant to use, but should now add to its Syria repertoire. It not only constitutes an appropriate response to the Assad regime's electoral gambit, but will give the administration significant political and diplomatic leverage and improve prospects for a negotiated settlement. Calculated measures that affirm the illegitimacy of the Assad regime and its principal responsibility for Syria's descent into brutal civil war constitute an explicit rejoinder to those who have abused sovereignty claims, including Russia and China, to insulate the regime from international pressure and reduce its incentives to take negotiations seriously.

Transferring elements of sovereignty to the opposition, including control over embassies and related governmental functions such as renewing passports -- a critical issue for tens of thousands of Syrians who have fled regime repression and are denied citizen services by regime-held embassies -- would also, generate a range of diplomatic and political opportunities for the Obama administration and other leading FOS governments. Such steps would provide legal underpinnings for the view of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon that the U.N. does not require any additional authority from the Security Council to distribute humanitarian aid without the Assad regime's approval. They would provide the legitimacy needed by the opposition Interim Government to become a meaningful presence in the large areas of Syria that are out of regime control -- and likely to remain so for some time -- but lack effective governance. It would empower international and regional organizations to deal directly with the opposition as a semi-sovereign entity. And it would greatly increase the regime's incentives to negotiate, while establishing a more level playing field for any future negotiations between the regime and the opposition.

The United States and its partners have an opportunity to use Assad's electoral farce to strengthen their hand, secure leverage over the regime and its allies, and advance the goal of an end to the violence that has torn Syria apart. To seize this opportunity, the Obama administration has to take its own rhetoric seriously, back up its often-professed view that the Assad regime is illegitimate, and begin the incremental transfer of sovereignty to the recognized bodies of the Syrian opposition. The election is an opportunity for the Assad regime to argue for its legitimacy on the world stage -- and for the world to reject that claim. The United States and its allies who oppose Assad's brutal rule should not let this opportunity go to waste.

LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images