Two-State Solutions and Double Standards

Why is it only the Jewish state, and not Iraq or Syria, that is pressured to split into parts?

The Assads in Syria and the Sunni-Muslim Saddam Hussein (now deceased) are examples of minorities ruling over majority populations not of their own ethnic or religious branch. The fall of Saddam’s Iraq was like Humpty Dumpty: once broken, it cannot be put together again.  In the Syrian civil-war, the Sunni-Muslim majority is determined to end the Assad dictatorial rule through unprecedented violence and mayhem. Atrocities are perpetrated by both the Assad regime and the Islamic State. It has resulted in fracturing Syria. Millions of Iraqis and Syrians are now displaced, streaming toward European shores. It is fair to ask why the U.S. and the West in general are not openly supporting the new realities in the Levant.

The George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama administrations have displayed double standards toward Israel with respect to the “two-state solution.” One can legitimately ask why not apply the three-state solution to Iraq and the five-state solution to Syria? Why is it that, according to Obama, the Jewish state can be split into parts (two states), while the artificial colonial creations of Iraq and Syria must remain unitary states? In the case of Israel, the territory it occupies from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean was recognized by the League of Nations as the historical homeland of the Jews.

British Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill wrote in June, 1922 that the Jews are “in Palestine as of Right and not on Sufferance.” The text of the League of Nations mandate (July 24, 1922) entrusting the Mandate to Britain reads: “Whereas recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country; and whereas the Principal Allied Powers have selected His Britannic Majesty as the Mandatory for Palestine…”

Charles Krauthammer summarized in the National Post (March 20, 2015) the reasons why a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is impossible at this time. “The fundamental reality remains: This generation of Palestinian leadership – from Yasser Arafat to Mahmoud Abbas – has never and will never sign its name to a final peace settlement dividing the land with a Jewish State. And without that, no [Israeli] government of any kind will agree to a Palestinian state.”

Israel is being surrounded by jihadist forces in Gaza (Hamas) and in Lebanon (Hezbollah). In the Sinai Islamic state affiliates are attempting to destabilize the government of President al-Sisi of Egypt, and King Abdullah’s Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. In Syria, both the Islamic State and the Assad regime with its Iranian allies threaten Israel. Should Israel vacate the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) to satisfy the Two-State solution, it will likely fall into Hamas’ hands. Israel’s population centers and industrial infrastructure will then be within range of Hamas’ rockets. Moreover, the Palestinian Authority ruled by Mahmoud Abbas is tottering and with little legitimacy. The two-state solution can only work if the Palestinians accept Israel as a Jewish state, take off the table Palestinian “right of return,” and only when the Middle East finds a modicum of regional stability that might allow Israel to take risks.

It is a different story in Iraq and Syria. Following the bloodbath in Syria that killed 250,000, few, if any, would want to live under the Assad dictatorial regime or the murderous and intolerant Caliphate of the Islamic State. The Kurds, after Kobane, want independence and perhaps a merger with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Erbil (Northern Iraq). The Alawis (10-15% of the population of Syria) whose base is in northwestern Syria, expect the Sunni majority to exact revenge for the deadly attacks the Bashar Assad’s regime perpetrated against them. They too, would like an independent state or some form of loose federalism. The Sunni-Arab majority wants to rule Syria again, but that Syria would have to be without approximately 1.8 million Christians, or 10% of the population who would rather join their co-religionists in an expanded Christian Lebanon. The Kurds, Alawis, and Druze (the smallest group) would likewise not want to live in a fundamentalist Sunni-Arab dominated state.

One can easily envision five states (or statelets) in Syria: a large Sunni-Arab state in central-eastern Syria, bordering Iraq’s Anbar province (which contains some of the same tribes); a Kurdish state in the Northeastern corner of Syria bordering the KRG in northeastern Iraq; an Alawi state in northwestern Syria along the Mediterranean Sea; a new Christian state that would bring together the diminished Christians of Lebanon (who at one time led Lebanon and for whom the state was created in 1943 by the French) and the suffering Syrian Christians, in a territorially expanded region that would stretch from Beirut northeastward, including the Mount Lebanon area. Also, the Druze would prefer a small independent state around Jabal Druze in southwestern Syria.   

Salman Shaikh, Director of the Brookings Doha Center, had this to say about Syria (January 6, 2015): “We have to recognize that Syria is now a broken, fragmented, divided state.” A regime change in Damascus and the demise of the Assad regime will inevitably bring an end to a unitary Syria.

Jeffrey Goldberg (January/February 2008) writing in The Atlantic pointed out that 

[i]t was Winston Churchill who, in the aftermath of World War I, roped together three provinces of the defeated and dissolved Ottoman Empire, adopted the name Iraq, and bequeathed it to the luckless branch of the Hashemite tribe of West Arabia. Churchill would eventually call the forced inclusion of the Kurds in Iraq one of his worst mistakes ­­- but by then, there was nothing he could do about it. The British, together with the French, gave the world the modern Middle East. In addition to manufacturing the country now called Iraq, the grand Middle East settlement shrank Turkey by the middle of the 1920’s to the size of the Anatolian peninsula; granted what are now Syria and Lebanon to the French; and kept Egypt under British control.

The situation in Iraq has been clear since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Only a brutal dictator could keep Iraq together. Appearing on PBS News Hour, David Brooks of the New York Times (May 30, 2015) opined, “I give Joe Biden credit. He’ll renounce it, but years and years ago, probably 2006, 2007, he had an idea for a loose federal Iraq. And that, in retrospect – that looks to me like a smarter and smarter idea. We have tried to keep this country together, but the Shias are not really sharing power with the Sunnis. They’re not willing to give the Sunni forces the weapons and other things they need to defeat ISIS. The political system is still fractured. The soldiers clearly do not believe in that country[.]”

Recent U.S. administrations have pressured Israel to negotiate for an impractical two-state solution. They have, at the same time, insisted on maintaining Iraq and Syria as unitary states when it is clear that these artificial states created by the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement are collapsing and are ungovernable. The time has come for the U.S. to support the hopes of the Kurds and others for independence, while supporting Israel’s historical rights to Judea and Samaria and its genuine security needs.