Marc Lynch

Bolton’s zombie idea

Bolton’s zombie idea

John Bolton proposes in today’s Washington Post giving up on Palestinian governance and a two-state solution, instead opting for a "three-state approach" in which "Gaza is returned to Egyptian control and the West Bank in some configuration reverts to Jordanian sovereignty."

If a zombie can be defined as a "reanimated corpse," then Bolton’s proposal certainly fits the bill. This concept reappears like clockwork whenever there’s an Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Some see it as a magic bullet to negate Palestinian nationalism or at least redirect Palestinian ire towards their new/old Arab rulers. Others just can’t imagine the emergence of any Palestinian leadership they find acceptable (probably a safe bet) and prefer the predictable dictatorships to the East and South. Most recently, in October, Israeli Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Giora Eiland’s Washington Institute for Near East Policy paper proposed a "trilateral" solution (more discussion here).

Variants on this idea pop up so routinely, in fact, that it might be more concerning if the dog didn’t bark. So thanks to Bolton for that. But it’s still a terrible idea. Leaving aside all the practical impediments, who wants it (other than Bolton and his pals)?

  • Not Jordanians.  Since severing ties with the West Bank in 1988, Jordan  settled on a consensus position for dealing with contentious issues of Jordanian-Palestinian relations:  "Jordan is Jordan and Palestine is Palestine". There is no Jordan option because Jordanians of all stripes deeply oppose it and the Hashemites see no benefit in it. King Abdullah has stated repeatedly that "the Jordan option is out of the question." 
  • Not Egyptians.  The Mubarak regime has been doing everything possible to separate from Gaza, not to return to it.  As Steve Cook recently pointed out, there is no upside for the Egyptian regime in this crisis. Why would a sclerotic regime obsessed with the "threat" of the Muslim Brotherhood at home and consumed with a difficult transition from an aging President take on responsibility for an enraged and devasted Gaza population which blames Egypt for enforcing the blockade on behalf of Israel? 
  • Not Palestinians. It’s true that a lot of Palestinians are deeply frustrated with both Fatah and Hamas, and despair of their political institutions.  But that does not mean that they are ready to abandon their national identity or will willingly accede to Egyptian or Jordanian rule. In a public opinion survey in September, two-thirds of Palestinians opposed reunification with Jordan… and it’s probably better not to ask Gazans what they think about Egypt these days.  

Bolton acknowledges that neither the Egyptians nor Jordanians are interested, but the opposition of foreigners has rarely been a problem for Bolton (or for neo-conservatives in general, whose misreading of the importance of foreign public opinion has always been one of the more deadly of their numerous Achilles heels). Bolton dismissively suggests that Egypt and Jordan can be persuaded with the offer of "financial and political support from the Arab League and the West."  That rather understates the intense regime survival fears in both countries… and resonates rather too well with the popular Arab complaint that their governments prostitute themselves to the West. 

Watching the walking dead can be fun in George Romero movies or in the Marvel Zombies comic books, but it’s less amusing in the midst of a major regional crisis.. especially if it offers any kind of guide to the thinking of the Israeli leadership, the Likud opposition, or to the remnants of the Bush administration. The Jordan option, the Egypt-Gaza option, the "three-state solution" — these are fantasies which have little to do with the real problems on the ground or feasible solutions to this intractable conflict. Can we just let this idea finally rest in its grave so that more serious options can be considered instead.. and perhaps even liberate some valuable Washington Post op-ed page real-estate?