Editorial, May 19, 2009.
The expression “two state solution” has taken up residence in Washington as
the framing device for yesterday’s White House meeting between President
Obama and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It is a handy cliche that
assumes that creating a Palestinian state will actually solve something. We beg
Experiments in Palestinian self-rule have not been auspicious. Yasser Arafat
became president of the Palestinian National Authority in 1994 under the Oslo
Accords, and he quickly purged any moderate voices among the Palestinian
leadership. He erected a kleptocracy that has continued under Mahmoud Abbas
that subsists largely on Western aid and shows little sign of political or
economic development. Hamas, which seized power in Gaza in 2007, created
an Islamic terror state that launches rocket attacks on Israel as a matter of
policy, proving the emptiness of the complimentary platitude “land for peace.”
While Israel is being browbeaten, the Palestinians are being rewarded for their
dysfunctional rule with a State Department pledge of $900 million in new aid.
The United States might as well give the Taliban millions to promote peace in
When the times require innovative thinking, the Obama administration is
focused on the failed approach of the 1990s. But the state of play in the region
has changed dramatically since the Clinton era. Iran’s quest for nuclear
weapons capability is pushing Israel and the Sunni Arab states toward a
rapprochement based on the shared existential threat from Tehran.
The Obama administration could seize this historic moment and use Iran as the
impetus for comprehensive peace. But one idea being discussed is that there
can be no movement on the Iran issue until the Palestinian matter is settled.
This approach would give the Palestinians extraordinary and underserved
leverage over U.S. policy and allows Iran breathing space to continue its pursuit
of nuclear capability. If it looks as though peace may break out unexpectedly,
Tehran can always abort the process with more violence from its wholly owned
The Obama administration should focus less on creating a Palestinian state and
more on helping Palestinians earn the right to statehood. Washington also must
realize that countering Iran should be the locus of U.S. strategy. Pressuring
Israel to accept a bad deal with people fundamentally unready for self-rule will
leave the Middle East with two states and no solution.