A 21st Century Agenda for the Middle East

The deadlock that resulted from the last peacemaking attempt between Israel and Palestine, made by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, has only encouraged a skeptical outlook in regards to the two-state solution. The optimistic perception achieved after the Oslo Accords is now far gone, leaving very little time for reaching peace. Furthermore, the continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem may soon generate an escalation of violence1, risking the achievements made so far.

These recent negotiations were deadlocked by Palestinian refusal to accept the following Israeli demands2,3: Israeli military control of the Jordan Valley, the control of Jerusalem and the recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people. In addition, the Palestinians demanded the cease of settlement incursions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

At first glance, the demands from both parties seem to be mutually exclusive, making the negotiations fall into a prisoner’s dilemma favoring the maintenance of the status quo. This essay will try to persuade the reader that it is still possible to break the deadlock, by tieing the bilateral negotiations to a wider long-term stabilization plan for the region.

In order to do so, this essay will discuss and suggest a step to move past the deadlock on each of the issues that halted the recent negotiations. Each suggestion is complementary to the others, making this essay an intricate arrangement of arguments that hopefully would result in a peaceful alternative resolution that takes into account both local and regional perspectives.

The Jordan Valley issue

Israel demands military control over the Jordan Valley based on the following strategic security arguments4:

    * An Israeli military presence is necessary to prevent the possible use of sophisticated weaponry by terrorist groups in any terrorist strike against Israeli territory from the area.
    * The presence of Israeli military force prevents the smuggling of weapons and inhibits terrorists from crossing the Jordanian border and launching attacks within Palestinian or Israeli territory.
    * An Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley enhances the stability of neighboring governments in the region, such as the Jordanian government.

From the perspective of the Israeli and Jordanian governments the current activities of terrorist groups in the region precludes any option of a militarized Palestinian state or the removal of the Israeli military presence. Their argument for a demilitarized Palestinian state is to prevent a possible sharing of weapons and other collaboration between legitimate Palestinian security forces and terrorist groups.

At first sight, the deployment of a multilateral military force like NATO seemingly could address this dilemma. However, the decision-making bureaucracy of such a multilateral force tends to favor cautious and risk-averse behavior5; opponents of this plan point to the recent Crimean crisis in Ukraine as a confirmation of such fears, and thus rule this option out. The alternative plan is to rely on a temporary national military presence in the Jordan Valley to challenge the activities of terrorist groups and stabilize the region.

While the terrorist groups in the region were perceived to primarily threaten the security of Israel and Jordan, the move from Afghanistan to the Middle East of the dissident al-Qaeda group currently identified as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is presenting new challenges to counterterrorism efforts in the region. The ISIS has a more organized structure to manage resources and a more advanced military capability; it is arguably just a matter of time until other local terrorist groups recognize the advantages of joining forces with the ISIS. The seeds of the founding of an Islamic fundamentalist state, if not quickly contained, will potentially grow into a regional threat to the sovereignty of Israel, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Iran and even Palestine. Since such an Islamic fundamentalist state would facilitate the recruiting and training of terrorist cells, the ISIS is also a potential threat to nations further abroad that were formerly targeted by al-Qaeda, like the U.S. and Europe.

The replacement of the Israeli military in the Jordan Valley by a temporary U.S. military deployment, capable of air and land operations, and working in cooperation with the other regional governments, could be an effective means of reducing instability at the local and regional levels. The U.S. military has a history of cooperating with the Palestinian Authority government and security forces and can provide the benefits of its experience and expertise in fighting a more expansive and sophisticated terrorist organization. The U.S. government also has closer relations with most of the governments of the region (i.e. Iraqi government) than does Israel.

Such a deployment would be a first step towards a permanent alternative security arrangement that would satisfy concerns at both the local and regional levels. However, this regional security arrangement would involve the inclusion of the Arab League in a broader fight against terrorism, and this proposal will be addressed in a following section of this essay.

The Jerusalem issue

Both Israel and Palestine claim national sovereignty over the city of Jerusalem, based not only on interests of political sovereignty but also on cultural and emotional bonds with the territory. This issue is seen as “a matter of life or death” for both parties and neither party is prepared to give up their claim in favor of the other side. Inflammatory remarks and sweeping affirmations of sovereignty made in the past by both parties6 foreshadow any hopes for compromise.

The Oslo peace process, which was open to a negotiated division of the city between the two parties, is no longer feasible because of a growing socio-psychological barrier: 79% of Jewish Israelis do not trust the Arabs and the Palestinian7. Also with continued Israeli incursions in East Jerusalem, it is plausible to assume that this collective sense of distrust and suspicion is reciprocal; both parties are afraid that any concession might lead to an irreversible cultural and political loss.

U.N. General Assembly resolutions 181 and 194, which proposed that Jerusalem be administered as a kind of city-state managed by the U.N., may in fact be the best way to secure the diverse cultural heritage of the city and solve the current impasse. However, such a proposal currently would lack the strength to make Israel and Palestine abdicate their dreams of making the city their exclusive national capital.

A possible way to increase the attractiveness and feasibility of the historical U.N. resolutions to make Jerusalem a “corpus separatum” or city state could be the physical relocation of the various U.N. headquarters and major support facilities around the world to Jerusalem. The U.N. would then administer the city of Jerusalem, not unlike the “special international regime” as originally proposed in UN 181, as the sovereign district of the United Nations where the General Assembly and the Security Council meetings would take place.

The physical relocation of buildings, embassies and diplomatic personnel as a consequence of this plan would permanently boost the Israeli and Palestinian economies with the advantage of increasing the political importance of the city on the global scale, surpassing the loss of the dreams of national sovereignty from both parties. In addition, both populations would feel their cultural heritage protected and the access to and security of their respective important religious and cultural sites guaranteed by the international community.

The newfound security of the city and the region that this plan would bring would also boost not only local but also regional Arab economies due to new business opportunities and an increase in tourism. However, it is worthwhile to consider whether the costs of the international effort to build new embassies and reallocate already established diplomatic personnel would be disproportional to the political and economic benefits the entire Middle East would experience. Consequently, there must be a wider peace-process benefit at a regional level; the U.N. relocation must depend on:

    1- The ratification of a Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD*) Free Zone by all actors (Arab League, Iran, Israel, Turkey, etc.).
    2- The ratification of a regional anti-terrorism accord promoting the effective engagement of those states in combating regional terrorist groups recognized by the U.N. Any violation of this accord, such as the case of a state supporting a terrorist group (with weaponry, financial, training, etc.) would result in political and economic sanctions by the other members at a regional level.

*The term WMD is defined according to the U.S. Department of Defense8: chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapons capable of a high order of destruction or causing mass casualties and exclude the means of transporting or propelling the weapon where such means is a separable and divisible part from the weapon.

Some years after the full relocation of the U.N. facilities to Jerusalem, and when the terrorist threat is eliminated, the last move would be the replacement of U.S. forces with a post-intervention stabilization operation (economic, political and military), possibly a NATO force working in cooperation with the Palestine Authority. In at the time of the post-intervention operation the Palestinian state is already stable, as measured by the standards of western democracies, the NATO force will be removed earlier or not deployed at all if it is not necessary.

The identity and settlements issues

The Israeli request for Palestinian recognition of Israel as the official state of the Jewish people is closely related to issues of national identity. The Palestinians see the request as pointless or even as a hostile agenda; nevertheless, it is also an opportunity for recognition of identity for the Palestinians.

The Palestinian recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people must be bound to a recognition from Israel that the West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements are an illegal occupation. The acceptance of Israel of this request would also break a psychological barrier, since 55% of Jewish Israelis see the settlements as liberated territory8, thus making it domestically easier for Israeli politicians to justify the cease of settlement incursions and the withdrawal of the illegal occupation. A bilateral committee would discuss future border negotiations, based on the 1:1 land swap principles established at Camp David I,


This sophisticated local-regional alternative resolution is a feasible path for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and stabilizing the Middle East. In order to achieve peace, the Israelis must be willing to negotiate their claims to land in a bilateral committee, while the Palestinians need to accept the permanence of an American military base in their territory for an extensive time period. In addition, both states have the hard task of abdicating their national dream of a capital in Jerusalem in favor of a “global capital”.

In order to relocate the U.N. to Jerusalem, all actors need to ratify a regional nuclear and WMD free zone. Furthermore, the players in the Middle East must engage effectively in a cooperative fight against regional terrorist groups, or be subjected to regional sanctions by the other members.

Beyond providing for the security of all states in the region, the suggestions presented in this essay have the additional advantage of permanently boosting the Israeli and Palestinian economies, further helping to stabilize the situation. Simultaneously, the costs of this plan would be a burden shared by all nations.

1.AbuZayyad, Ziad. (2014): Israel And Palestine – Last Chance for the Bilateral Process. Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture, 19 (3).
2.Khoury, Hind. (2014): Challenges Set in Stone: The Iron Wall and Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process. Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture, 19 (3).
3.Shaath, Nabil. (2014): Final Status Agreement: Possibilities and Challenges. Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture, 19 (3).
4.Dayan, Uzi (2011): “Defensible Borders to Secure Israel’s Future”. In: Diker, Dan ed. Israel’s Critical Security Requirements for Defensible Borders: The Foundation for a Viable Peace, Jerusalem: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, pp. 22-33.
5.Amidror, Yakoov (2011): “The Risk of Foreign Peacekeeping Forces in the West Bank”. In: Diker, Dan ed. Israel’s Critical Security Requirements for Defensible Borders: The Foundation for a Viable Peace, Jerusalem: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, pp. 80-89.
6.Baskin, Gehrson. (2001): The Jerusalem Problem: The Search for Solutions. Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture, 8(1).
7.Bar-Tal, Daniel and Halperin, Eran. (2014): Societal Beliefs and Emotions as Socio-Psychological Barriers to Peaceful Conflict Resolution. Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture, 19 (3).
8.Carus, W. S. (2012): “Defining Weapons of Mass Destruction”, Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction Occasional Paper, No. 8, Washington D.C.: National Defense University Press.