Commentary: Peace or war?

By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at Large  |  May 12, 2009 at 10:15 AM
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WASHINGTON, May 12 (UPI) -- Jordan's King Abdullah, in his 10th year on the Hashemite throne, warned that either a Palestinian state is created this year -- or there will be another war in the Middle East in 2010.

If the king's either/or prognostication proves accurate, war will come again next year because there isn't a snowball's chance in the Negev desert of a Palestinian state in the West Bank in 2009 -- or 2010. The creation of such an entity would cost tens of billions of dollars that the United States would be expected to pay. The repatriation of some 300,000 Jewish settlers, now in 160 settlements, would entail billions more. And after what happened in Gaza in 2005, where 8,000 settlers who had occupied 40 percent of the 130-mile strip for 38 years were forcibly evicted by some 50,000 Israel Defense Forces troops and Israeli police, few, if any, are willing to be uprooted again.

The Arab peace plan -- which calls for pre-1967 war frontiers in exchange for normal diplomatic and economic relations between Israel and 21 Arab nations -- would also have the endorsement of the world's 57 Muslim nations, the Jordanian monarch said. Seldom prone to hyperbole, the Western-trained Abdullah said Israel is being offered "one-third of the world waiting to meet Israelis with open arms. ... The future is not the Jordan River or the Sinai; the future is Morocco in the Atlantic and Indonesia in the Pacific. That is the prize (for Israel)."

For Israel, a Palestinian state would bring Ben Gurion airport within Palestinian rocket range. Such a state would also have to be governed by a coalition team that would include Hamas, seen by Israel as a revanchist organization whose objective is a Palestinian state with the Mediterranean Sea as its western frontier -- sans Israel. And Hamas's loyalties are to Iran's Revolutionary Guards. Their common objective is the destruction of Israel.

Even with territorial adjustments to the 1967 border in Israel's favor, which the Arab peace plan allows for, Israelis would begin to feel that the purely Jewish state concept is condemned by history to a short shelf life. Underlying the current geopolitical equation is the growing belief among Palestinian intellectuals that a one-state solution is preferable to two states. This school now argues it would be wiser in the long run to become an underprivileged, downtrodden minority within the state of Israel and the occupied territories, whence they could campaign with Israel's 1.2 million-strong Arab minority for equal rights. The overwhelming majority of these Israeli Arabs say they want to remain part of Israel. Demography, many believe, will eventually deliver a Lebanon-style hybrid state.

While running for the American presidency, candidate Barack Obama argued it was unrealistic for a U.S. president to "suddenly snap his fingers and bring about peace in the region." That was -- and still is -- a correct assessment. But national security adviser James L. Jones, heartened by his own achievement last year when he got Israeli and Jordan-trained Palestinian security personnel to work together in the West Bank city of Jenin, is convinced his boss can still make things happen in the Middle East.

Jones, a former four-star Marine commandant and NATO supreme commander, now senses "an expectation around the world that we are in a moment when we can make progress" in the Middle East, provided America offers "leadership," he told ABC News.

Next week, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will have Obama's ear, followed by Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas, before the president heads to Egypt on June 4 to address the Muslim world and its 1.4 billion people. There is little doubt Obama will be tougher on Israel than his predecessors. Vice President Joe Biden told the annual convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee what it didn't like hearing: Don't build more settlements, dismantle "existing outposts," and let the Palestinians move freely. The "outposts" comment only referred to recent clandestine expansion, not to the 160 Jewish enclaves in the West Bank.

Words alone will not change Israeli policy. Netanyahu has stated flatly Israel is not bound by any previous commitment to a two-state solution for the Palestinians. For the Palestinians, the capital of a sovereign state has to be Arab East Jerusalem, where the Israelis have already settled 200,000 Jews.

Making aid to Israel conditional on the creation of a Palestinian state in 2009 would be a thunderclap heard around the world. But a sense-of-Congress resolution would quickly drain such a warning of substance.

Israel's main concern at this geopolitical crossroads is Iran's nuclear ambitions and the existential threat it poses to the Jewish body politic. Diplomatic scuttlebutt has White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel dropping hints to major donors behind AIPAC's closed doors last week that "thwarting Iran's nuclear program is conditional on progress in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians."

As part of a humongous peace plan that would cover all Middle Eastern bases, the Obama foreign policy team has also been trying to detach Syria from its principal benefactor, Iran. Syria's government dailies riposted with targeted anti-Semitic articles. Columnist Jallal Kheir Bek said the Jews sucked the blood from Jesus' wounds during his crucifixion and called for the Arabs, Muslims and Christians to unite to defeat them. Hard to break bad habits in the Middle East.

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