In situations as complex as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which often seem insoluble, one sometimes envies the ancient Greeks, who invented deus ex machina — that artificial device that solved the entanglement of the dramatic plot.
No wonder, then, that many in Israel cheered recently when Israel Army Radio announced that Egypt’s president, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had offered Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a 625-square-mile are in northern Sinai, adjacent to the Gaza Strip, where the Palestinians would be able to establish their state and where the Palestinian refugees would be resettled.
Like the ancient Greek theatergoers, Israelis sighed in relief: A deus ex machina at last. Instead of a tiny Gaza Strip, which is a socioeconomic time-bomb, erupting in frustration against Israel like a Yellowstone geyser, the Gazans would have an area five times bigger than what they have today, complete with a port, an airport, a thriving economy and a new homeland for their refugees.
From now on, many Israelis dared hope, Gazans would invest in their future and leave us alone. Alas, this euphoria was short-lived. The Egyptian offer turned out to be a hoax.
It might be that someone in Presidential Palace in Cairo leaked the recent story as a trial balloon, in preparation for al-Sisi’s trip to America this week. At the U.N. General Assembly and elsewhere, the Egyptian president is hoping to showcase his country as a symbol of stability, worthy of outside investing. Portraying Egypt also as a source of creative ideas that could help the otherwise entangled U.S. policy in the Middle East might make al-Sisi the darling of the administration.
One way or another, what really deserves attention is the haste of Israelis to embrace any solution, unrealistic as it may be, in order to avoid the painful necessity of dividing the land between them and the Palestinians.
This is not entirely new: Following the Six-Day War, there were prominent Israelis — including Ariel Sharon — who promoted the idea that, “Jordan is Palestine.” In Jordan, they reasoned, the growing Palestinian population will eventually topple the Bedouin minority regime, and Palestinian Jordan will then satisfy the Palestinian national aspirations.
Even more far-fetched was the plan in 1982 of Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Defense Minister Sharon to make the Christian minority the rulers of Lebanon, a country totally divided between Shiites (the majority), Sunnis, few factions of Christians and Druze.
Perhaps the boldest idea was that of the founder of Israel, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. On Oct. 22, 1956, he met secretly in Paris with French Prime Minister Guy Mollet, in preparation for Operation Musketeer — the Anglo-French-Israeli plan for the invasion of Egypt to capture the Suez Canal. According to the biography of Gen. Moshe Dayan, then the military chief of staff, Ben-Gurion stunned his host with a plan Ben-Gurion himself called “fantastic, or at least naïve.”
“Jordan has no right to exist,” stated Ben-Gurion, “and should be divided: The area east of the Jordan River should be annexed to Iraq, which will make a commitment to absorb the Arab refugees; the area west of the Jordan should be added to Israel as an autonomous region. Lebanon should rid itself of some of its Muslim regions, in order to enhance its stability based on its Christian segment,” and so on.
Needless to say that in reality, unlike in ancient plays, these acts of deus ex machina always fail. As a matter of fact, already in antiquity, Greek philosopher Aristotle warned against that trick even in drama: “It is obvious that the solutions of plots,” he wrote in his Poetics, “should come about as a result of the plot itself, and not from a contrivance.”
No deus ex machina, then, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If Israel is to remain both Jewish and democratic, the two-state solution is the only realistic solution.
(Uri Dromi is executive director of the Jerusalem Press Club.)