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King Abdullah’s 57-State Solution

“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.

“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.”

— Jordan’s King Abdullah in an interview with the Times of London, 11 May 2009.

Seasoned analysts of the litany of Middle East “peace proposals” floated over the years inevitably stumble on one obstacle preventing their implementation: Israel always has another “problem” to deal with before it can resolve its dispute with the Palestinians.

This manufactured excuse regularly cycles among the usual parties and countries – Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, Iraq, Iran etc. One or another invariably constitutes an “existential” threat jeopardizing the nuclear-armed country’s security. By convincing the United States it has more pressing issues to deal with, Israel has successfully managed to delay, postpone or suspend negotiations with the Palestinians for decades.

Doing so allows settlements to expand, additional territory to be expropriated, Arab homes to be demolished and populations transferred. This will continue until the “facts on the ground” become so irreversible that any talk of Palestinian independence or emergence of a viable state is rendered irrelevant.

These machinations were on display this week when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu met with President Obama. The highest priority item on “Bibi’s” agenda was clearly Iran and not Palestinian statehood (words he dared not even mention). The implicit message was that before Israel can talk about that, it must contend with Iran. Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon was more explicit: “The Iranian clock should be measured in months,” he said, while a timetable on Palestinian statehood was “open-ended.”

Obama regrettably indulged Netanyahu when he indicated that outreach to Iran after their June presidential election would extend only until the end of the year, at which time a “good faith effort” in halting their nuclear program must be evident. No similar deadline was imposed on Netanyahu in making progress toward a two-state solution.

So how does King Abdullah’s “57-state solution” fit in? He met with Obama in the weeks prior to Netanyahu’s visit and no doubt discussed it with the president.

We should first recognize that Abdullah is in no position to speak on behalf of any of the 57 member-countries of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) other than his own, let alone stipulate they will all “line up” and meet Israel “with open arms.” It was also presumptuous and ill-conceived to broach the possibility of multiple, parallel track negotiations when the primary and central issue of Palestinian statehood should be the main focus.

Abdullah must know that the Israeli government will seize any opportunity to avoid direct, substantive talks with the only people with whom it is necessary to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Palestinians. Fifty-six others only muddy the waters, diverting the necessary attention and momentum away from the lynchpin of Middle East peace.

We must also not overlook the plight of Palestinians in Gaza. Subjected to a cruel war which saw the use of white phosphorus against civilians, destruction of United Nations schools and warehouses, deliberate targeting of civilians waving white flags, and an 18-month siege which left nearly half of Gaza’s children malnourished, they continue to suffer to this day.

Now, Abdullah says the future is not the Jordan River or the Golan Heights – and by extension not Gaza, the West Bank or Jerusalem? – but “Morocco in the Atlantic to Indonesia in the Pacific.”

Gazans and other Palestinians, with due respect to fellow Muslims between Morocco and Indonesia, have their own exigent circumstances. Palestine is being swallowed, bit by bit and piece by piece. The separation barrier snaking around Jerusalem and the West Bank is but one form of annexation complementing the expansion and building of settlements there. Gaza remains in rubble, with no construction materials being allowed in and continued difficulties in getting the sick and dying out.

Imagine them hearing him speak to Israel about the “prize” of Morocco and Indonesia while their land continues to shrink.

Abdullah’s plan is not an incentive to Israelis, but an insult to Palestinians.

Let us be clear: there is one track that must be solved before any other can even be entertained. It is the outstanding issue of the Middle East which cannot afford to be diluted or marginalized by linking it to agreements with countries on opposite ends of the world.

That issue is Palestine. And King Abdullah’s haughty “57-state solution” does it a great disservice.

RANNIE AMIRI is an independent Middle East commentator. He may be reached at: rbamiri AT yahoo DOT com.

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