A 57-State Solution?

Tomorrow’s London Times has an interview with Jordan’s King Abdullah. Abdullah sees events rushing toward a “57-state solution” in the Middle East, with President Obama overseeing a grand bargain in which all 57 Muslim countries will recognize Israel in exchange for…something. The details, as usual, are vague, especially with regard to the most intractable issues. What comes through most clearly is that Abdullah foresees “the world” ganging up on Israel to force a “solution.” Otherwise? More war.

Here are some excerpts:

[Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu’s expected visit to Washington next week will be the turning point. … I think the President is committed to the two-state solution. He is committed to the two-state solution now. He feels the urgency of the need to move today.

A cynic might say, we’ve had the Annapolis peace conference, we’ve had the road map for peace, the Arab initiative, almost a decade with no results. What’s the difference now?

Four or five decades!There are two major factors. We are sick and tired of the process. We are talking about direct negotiations. That is a major point. We are approaching this in a regional context. You could say through the Arab peace proposal. The Americans see this as we do and I think the Europeans. Britain is playing a very vital pro-active role, more than I have ever seen in the ten years of my experience in bringing people together.

What we are talking about is not Israelis and Palestinians sitting at the table, but Israelis sitting with Palestinians, Israelis sitting with Syrians, Israelis sitting with Lebanese. And with the Arabs and the Muslim world lined up to open direct negotiations with Israelis at the same time. So it’s the work that needs to be done over the next couple of months that has a regional answer to this — that is not a two-state solution, it is a 57-state solution. …

This has become a global problem. We are saying to the Israelis that this is an issue that is far bigger than you Israelis and the Palestinians. This is where I think the Obama Administration gets it.

That is to say, the Obama administration has fallen for the risible claim that resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the key to solving the multitude of problems that beset the Middle East and the Muslim world generally.

If you consider that a third of the world does not recognise Israel — 57 nations of the United Nations do not recognise Israel, a third of the world — their international relationships can’t be all that good. More countries recognise North Korea than Israel. That is a very strong statement when we are offering a third of the world to meet them with open arms. The future is not the Jordan river or the Golan Heights or Sinai, the future is Morocco in the Atlantic to Indonesia in the Pacific. I think that’s the prize.

That’s the “prize”? Being recognized by Morocco and Indonesia? So what does Israel have to give up to be eligible for the “prize”?

Netanyahu has a lot on his shoulders as he goes to Washington. I think the international atmosphere is not going to be in favour of wasting time; it is going to be very much “we are getting sick and tired of this”.

Here is one final opportunity. If the only player in this equation between the West, the Arabs and the Muslims that is not being helpful and is against peace is Israel, then let’s call it for what it is. Let Israel understand that the world sees Israeli policy for what it is.

So “the world” will bully Israel. Obama should be helpful there–he’s good at bullying. But what exactly is Israel supposed to do?

How about Jerusalem?

It is not an international problem, it is an international solution. Jerusalem unfortunately has been a symbol of conflict for so many centuries. From the start of this new century what we desperately need is for Jerusalem to become a symbol of hope. How do you encourage the three monotheistic religions to make Jerusalem into a pillar for the future of this century? I am sensing a lot more maturity and understanding in these troubled times of cultural and religious suspicions that Jerusalem could be a binder that we need.

Readers with literal minds may wonder what the heck he’s talking about. Those more accustomed to the region’s traditional circumlocution will recognize that Jerusalem is to become an international city with Arabs ruling over portions of it, if not the whole.

Netanyahu is going to Cairo and Washington. How do you see the process moving forward?

The critical juncture will be what comes out of the Obama-Netanyahu meeting. If there is procrastination by Israel on the two-state solution or there is no clear American vision for how this is going to play out in 2009, then all the tremendous credibility that Obama has worldwide and in this region will evaporate overnight if nothing comes out in May. All eyes will be looking to Washington in May. If there are no clear signals and no clear directives to all of us, then there will be a feeling that this is just another American government that is going to let us all down.

The London Times’ accompanying story on King Abdullah’s trip to Syria adds details that for some reason are absent from the paper’s interview with the King:

The King travels today to Damascus to urge President Assad to join the Arab efforts to seek a settlement with Israel, based on the Arab peace plan adopted in 2002. Brokered by the Americans, this would be the most comprehensive deal attempted since the opening of the Madrid conference in 1991. It would offer Israel immediate benefits, such as entry visas to every Arab country, the right of El Al, Israel’s national airline, to overfly Arab territory, and the eventual recognition of Israel by all 57 members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

In return, the Israelis would have to put an immediate stop to the building and expansion of settlements and agree to withdraw from territories occupied since 1967. The two most sensitive issues — the future status of Jerusalem and the right of return by Palestinians who fled in 1948 — would be negotiated within the framework of the peace plan.

This is the same mulberry bush the Arabs have been dancing around for several decades now. Land for peace–Israel gives up land and the Arabs promise, but do not deliver, peace. And they retain the right to hold out for Jerusalem and the “right of return,” which is to say, the end of Israel. One of King Abdullah’s observations is all too true: Netanyahu does indeed have a lot on his shoulders as he heads for Washington.

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