SOLVING THE MIDDLE EAST PROBLEM

Millions across the globe watched the Obama inauguration as, on 1/20, a new American President promised to integrate a world that had been divided by George Bush on 9/11 into two distinct camps of “them” and ‘us’. The integration came complete with its own catchy slogan of “change”. Not many realized that the slogan was obsolete even as it was uttered. The world had actually changed a long time ago. What is needed is for us to recognize and then adapt to the profound changes that have taken place in the recent past.

These changes are indeed monumental.  Irregular warfare has made military frontiers fuzzy; indeed, the name tells it all. It is a Global War on Terror. Ideological frontiers have become blurred due to cross border religious influences. Cultural frontiers have been rendered meaningless by the ubiquitous Internet which transcends all barriers of race, religion, color, creed and indeed language. Information barriers have been destroyed by an all pervasive media that spans the globe keeping us informed and, in some cases, misinformed. The singular global superpower, America, strives to bring its version of  peace and prosperity to a world plagued by division, conflict, disease and ignorance using the one tool it has at its disposal; military might. That instrument has proven ineffective; worse, it has deepened divisions by causing horrific death and destruction across the world. When military solutions fail, we switch back to seeking political solutions fully aware that political solutions have already failed earlier. If we are to bring peace and prosperity to this troubled world, we need to assimilate the changes that have taken place. We then need to drastically alter our beliefs and actions for only then can we solve the problems that plague the world. The perfect place to start is in the Middle East.    

Karachi, Pakistan January 25th, 2009

Blood is once again being shed in the Middle East. Once again,Israelis on the offensive and, once again, the Palestinians are bearing the brunt of overwhelming force. Once again, an ineffective United Nations passes a resolution and, once again, the United States of America ensures that the resolution is not unanimously accepted. Once again, a solution is promised. Once again a jaded world community expresses its disbelief, frustration and despair. There have been numerous unsuccessful attempts by the world community to solve the Middle East problem, yet the region continues to fester; an ugly sore on the face of this unfortunate world. The current solution being pursued somewhat ineffectively was formulated by the Madrid Quartet in mid 2002 at which time it was visualized that it would bring an end to the conflict by early 2005. Despite the passage of over six years, the world waits resignedly for the implementation of the road map. As the global community seeks that elusive peace, Israel pursues its own, more practical but hugely antagonistic, solution in the form of massive concrete walls, razor wire fences, security towers, precision guided munitions, incursions of armored columns into Palestinian villages and other similarly repressive measures while, on their part the ill equipped Palestinians seek a solution through the rudimentary means available to them, throwing rocks at tanks, launching crude home made rockets towards Israel and recruiting suicide bombers for their largely futile missions.

The Jews have no intention of giving up the land they occupy; indeed, many have aspirations for a Greater Israel. This is the Promised Land, the birthplace of their religion, the burial ground of their forefathers. Jews from across the globe gravitate towards Israel and they shall never relinquish the right to live in this holy land. Settlements continue to sprout and the Palestinian state continues to shrink, its hapless citizens squeezed in by concrete walls and barbed wire fences. A return to the pre 1967 borders is inconceivable as is the return of the evicted Palestinians. A prosperous Palestinian state can never be allowed to develop as it would severely compromise the existence ofIsrael. The Palestinians have, on the other hand, vowed not to rest until the land is restored to them as they perceive themselves to be the rightful owners. They are adamant that they shall not live under Jewish domination or even co-exist peacefully side by side and they continue to seek ways and means of redressing the massive imbalance, both military and political. The residents of the occupied territories elect a militant organization through a verifiable, fair democratic process to lead them. Hamas continues training militants and developing crude weaponry to counter the Israeli military might. They know that they have time and numbers on their side and that they must eventually prevail.

The Israelis also know this alarming truth. This motivates them to take extremely harsh, exceptionally disproportionate and, perhaps, criminal actions to prevent this from happening.

Summits, accords or road maps; call them what you will, have never worked; will never work. Two mutually distrustful states existing peacefully side by side is a geo-political impossibility and shall for ever remain an elusive dream.Gaza and the West Bank shall always remain a source of insecurity for Israel. No government ofIsraelcan ever withdraw to the pre 1967 borders or allow the refugees to return. No military strategist can ever endorse the return of Sheba Farms to a rightful but hostile neighbor. Most Muslim States shall never recognize Israel and shall continue to agitate against the intransigence of the Jewish state. Those that can shall resort to aggression. People across the world shall watch these attempts in horror. Worse, many shall become innocent victims of this violence.

Yet we persist in deluding themselves that a solution can be found. Despite Hebron, Wye River, Geneva, Camp David, Madrid, Oslo, despite these and other numerous failed attempts, we fail to recognize that the problem is intrinsically insoluble. We fail to understand that the Arab Israeli problem cannot be solved because, and this may come as a big shock to some readers, it does not exist. There is no Arab Israeli problem. True, there once was this problem; but not any longer. That problem, thanks to the ineffective response of the world powers, has now mutated into something much more complex, far more sinister. It is now a Muslim – Israeli problem. Worse, it is rapidly acquiring newer, more dangerous dimensions. 11th September, 2001 demonstrated starkly that it had evolved into a Muslim – American problem. The events of subsequent years indicate clearly that it has now morphed into a Muslim – NATO problem and one does not have to be a seer to visualize that it has all the makings of a ‘Muslims – Rest of the World’ problem.

This is a frightening truth but sadly, the world is unwilling to accept this. Despite what we have witnessed in Bali, Madrid and  London; despite what we are seeing in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and elsewhere, we continue deluding ourselves that there still is an Arab Israeli issue in the Middle East. Even as we witness a non Arab, Shia Iran professing to wipe Israel off the face of the map. Even as moderate Muslim states develop long range missiles and acquire nuclear technologies. Even as sane, rational, educated Muslims, professionals and upper class citizens of the developed world, rally under the banner of Islam, we fail to assimilate this fact. We underplay the reality that Muslims across the globe have arisen against Israeli intransigence and the blatant US support for the Jewish state. We ignore the reality that the Palestinian cause is now espoused by Muslims worldwide irrespective of color and ethnicity. We do not wish to confront the truth that a vast majority of Muslims believe that the Jewish state is an aberration and it is possible only because America unabashedly supports that aberration. We fail to comprehend why the illogical sentiment of wiping Israel off the map is more and more often being punctuated with the frenzied refrain of “Death to America”.

It is not germane whether these sentiments are valid or otherwise. A majority of Muslims subscribe to this belief; this is problem enough. Militant Islam and Jehad are now household words; this is apprehension enough. The Muslims, the State of Israel and the United States of America are now locked inextricably in a highly emotional and completely irrational struggle. Animosity, distrust, suspicion and religious intolerance reigns. This is foreboding enough.

Worse, as the militant Muslim base continues to expand, the Judeo Christian alliance strengthens to combat this burgeoning threat. Christians and Jews are not devoid of their own brand of fanatics who plan atrocities to enfeeble the Muslims. They espouse the sentiment that Muslims must be eliminated; at least the militant ones and those that are ‘evil’. Predators are launched, Hellfires target remote villages. Weddings are bombed, houses razed, civilians murdered. These actions disenfranchise more and more liberal Muslims the world over. More militancy is bred; more Jehadis recruited, more powerful becomes the belief amongst the Muslims that Israelis responsible for the situation and that America backs the Jewish state without reason or rationale. A ‘liberated’ Afghanistan once again becomes a comfortable hangout for the Taliban. An enlightened, moderate Pakistan realigns itself and becomes a sanctuary for militant Islam. Jehad flourishes in all its forms. The situation spirals out of control as the developed world recoils and takes additional preventive actions. Britain becomes wary of its Muslim citizens. Europe is scared of Islam. America becomes afraid of its own Muslim communities. All these actions do is create fertile breeding grounds where ‘fanatic’ Islamists recruit fresh, educated, thinking, westernized ‘soldiers’ for their holy war.

This happens despite the fact that the Muslims are not supposed to have any religious issue with the Jews or Judaism. For Muslims, the Jews (and indeed, the Christians) are fellow believers; the Torah and the Old Testament are as much the Message of God as is the Koran. The Jews, the Christians and the Muslims are all followers of the same God and the same Message. The Jews have every right to practice their religion and their faith in the manner they do. (If anyone finds this assertion wrong, please consider this. It is a recognized fact that the most vocal opponent of Israel in the Muslim world is Iran. Its leadership has gone on record stating that “Israel should be wiped off the map”. Yet, unbeknownst to many, Iran has the largest Jewish population in the Muslim world and the Iranian Jews live comfortably, free from persecution within this overtly aggressive Muslim state). The Jew-Muslim conflict is, quite frankly, an engineered one and as it rages unabated, an unfortunate world bears the burden of this confrontation. Crude Oil and other commodity prices go on a roller coaster ride, stock markets crumble, there is an economic meltdown and now, a global depression looms large. Hunger stalks many lands, a food crisis is in the offing; poverty is on the rise. Governments and think tanks burn midnight oil trying to figure out how to resolve the present series of crises; they fail. They are bound to go on failing because no one is willing to accept the fact that for the world to become a stable, peaceful place, it is absolutely essential that the core issue, that of Israel and the Arabs be solved.

All solutions thus far have been based upon conventional thought and steeped in emotions.  Not once has any solution been sought by thinking outside the box. Despite an acute awareness that the problem does not have a conventional solution, we fail to look elsewhere. We fail to consider solutions that are innovative; even outlandish but they might enable a win-win solution for everyone. We fail to contemplate a solution where Israel can be wiped off the map and simultaneously, a greater Israel can emerge. A solution where the Palestinians can return to their homeland and yet the Israelis do not become a minority. A method where the region can go back to the pre 1948 borders and yet the Jews do not feel threatened. A means that enables Gaza and the West bank can move forward to prosperity without compromising in any manner the security and quality of life of present day Israel.

For us to consider these probabilities, we need to recognize that there can never be any meaningful two state solution and therefore we should stop continuing down this unproductive path. Instead, we need to seek a new solution which is, strangely enough, very possible. It is a ‘one state’ solution and, to be perfectly honest, it is the only solution. For peace to prevail in the Middle East, there has to be one singular state where the Palestinians and the Israelis can live together in harmony.

Conventional wisdom states that this is a political impossibility. However it is very much possible if one is bold, brash and outrageously innovative. There does exist a solution that is elegant, simple and practical. It does not embody any complexities or convoluted, intricate arrangements backed by unenforceable UN resolutions. It does not require multi-party, multi-lateral negotiations conducted over years. It can be implemented relatively quickly and without any blood being spilt. The Muslim-Israeli conflict can come to end in a manner that is acceptable to both the Muslims and the Jews. All that is required is for the world’s only superpower, the United States of America to become fully involved and committed, not as a government but as a nation. Instead of trying to act as an honest broker (which, incidentally it is not perceived to be by the Muslim world in particular); instead of trying the impossible balancing act between Israel and the Arabs at a political and diplomatic level only, the entire American nation has to get involved in the Middle East. Fully and inextricably.

If there is any country in the world that has clout over Israel and the Arabs, it is the United States of America. If there is any nation in the world that can implement its decision forcefully and effectively, it is the United States of America. The United States of America is also one of the few countries in the world where Muslims, Jews and Christians co exist peacefully, side by side without fear, protected by law, free to practice their religion and their way of life. And therefore, it is only the United States of America that is capable of solving the problem of the Middle East. The solution is profoundly simple. America has to acquire a fifty first state. This 51st state of the Union shall be the territory that today constitutes Israel,Gaza, the West Bank and the Sinai; it shall be the region’s map of pre 1948.

Do this and you wipe Israel off the map. Do this and you create the greater Israel that the Jews yearn for.

Do this and you free the Palestinians from the oppressive yoke of Israel. Do this and you guarantee the Jews a level of security that has eluded them historically. Do this and you create the Palestinian state that can never be created otherwise. Do this and the refugee camps disappear, the obscene misery and squalor of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip become things of the past. Do this and the Jewish settlements become legitimate; the Arabs and Israelis can go about their business without fear or worry. Muslims, Jews, Christians; all can pursue their faiths fully and freely in the land which is holy for all. Do this America and you can put this fragile planet back on a saner, safer, more peaceful course.

It is essential to emphasize that this creation of the 51st state shall not have any practical impact on homeland security or mainland demographics. The only change that would be felt is that mainland Americans shall be able to travel to the new state and back without any visa formalities. On paper, the US population shall increase by about 12 million; approximately 6 million Jews and another 6 million Muslims and Christians. Movement of residents of the new state to mainland America shall not be allowed until each single person has been vetted and security cleared. Both Palestinians and Israelis have their share of unsavory characters that would require identification, documentation, tracking and, where necessary, quarantine. This entire process would obviously be very closely supervised and controlled for a fairly long period and may even take a generation or more to evolve. “New” Americans would only achieve full US citizen status after having being thoroughly screened and security cleared. This shall ensure that the security of mainland America is not compromised in any manner whatsoever.

The military dimension of creating this new state is equally beneficial.America would drastically cut back expenditure on maintaining forces in the region and financing the Israeli military machine. The need for tenuous military bases in the region would be dispensed with. So too would the need for America to provide and then justify the aid and assistance it gives to Israel. The undisclosed Israeli nuclear weapon stockpile would also become meaningless and, once absorbed into the US inventory, the region could start moving towards a nuclear free zone in a realistic manner. US troops could be brought home and yet stay in the Middle East!

The crowning glory of this plan is that with the American flag flying over this territory, it would guarantee that Jews, Christians and Muslims are able to live their lives securely and worship freely, exactly as they do in the other 50 states. Indeed, one of the major beneficiaries of this proposal would be the Christians, particularly those that are US citizens as they too would then have the option of relocating to the holy land. Instead of only Jewish settlements and Muslim refugee camps, the new state would become a wholesome mixture of residential areas where believers of the three major religions of the world coexist in a security environment guaranteed by the American Constitution. The world’s holiest city, Jerusalem, would no longer be a bone of contention and shall acquire its rightful eminence and return to its former glory. Indeed, this could be the name of the new state. (The name would have to be acceptable to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike).

The plan obviously needs US public acceptance which, although not easy, could be forthcoming given the inherent American characteristic of fair play and a genuine desire to share their good fortune with others. More difficult would be the decision that needs to be taken by the Jews. They need to decide whether the state of Israel was created to give Jews religious freedom or make them a political entity. If Israel was created to ensure that the Jews are returned to the Promised Land to pursue their religion freely and live their lives in peace, then the solution will work. If the aim of the Jewish community is to rehabilitate the land of the three great religions of the world, then this solution has a chance; it can work. If however, the Jews believe that they need a territory to govern and rule more than they need religious freedom, then this plan is nugatory. In that case the world can look forward to unending tension and strife. Our future generations can look forward to more anguish, more wars.