Jon Stewart says the Israel-Gaza solution could be a DMZ governed by an Arab NATO. Some experts say it's a pipe dream.

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Jon Stewart says the Israel-Gaza solution could be a DMZ governed by an Arab NATO. Some experts say it's a pipe dream.
Jon Stewart had a bold proposal for a solution to the Gaza crisis on Monday.Mitchell Leff/Getty Images and ACQUELYN MARTIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
  • Jon Stewart on Monday proposed that a NATO-like Arab group enforce a DMZ between Israel and Gaza.
  • While it could work on paper, making it happen in reality would be a long shot, experts told BI.
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"The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart on Monday evening outlined a bold solution to stop the conflict in Gaza — a demilitarized zone administered by an alliance of Arab nations.

His proposal was the last in a comedic round-up of potential answers to the intense violence in the region (his first two suggestions were to "ask God" or to hold a summer camp for Israelis and Palestinians.)

"All right, here's another one," Stewart said, turning serious. "And heaven forbid, I actually think this last one could work."

"The Arab countries who claim Palestine is their top priority come in and form a demilitarized zone between Israel and a free Palestinian state," he said.

Stewart earlier prefaced that leaders of Israel and Hamas seemed bent on "some idea that one of these groups is going to go away."

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"And they are not. If we want a safe and free Israel and a safe and free Palestine, we have to recognize that reality," he said.

The DMZ would be enforced by an alliance of Arab countries, much like the North American Treaty Organization, Stewart said.

His witty name for this is the Middle East Treaty Organization, or METO. That's pronounced "me too," a likely reference to the "Me Too" movement.

"Let's tweet it out! Tonight, people, let's get this region METO'd!" he said.

Could a 'METO' work?

While tongue-in-cheek, Stewart's solution isn't a new concept, experts on the Middle East told Business Insider. Most said an "Arab NATO" is unlikely to take root — even if it might do wonders for the region.

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"Every American administration going back decades has discussed some version of this. Under Trump, it was the Middle East Strategic Alliance," said Jonathan Lord, director of the Middle East Security program at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington, DC-based think tank.

Lord said that distrust among Gulf nations unwilling to share their military secrets has largely scuppered much hope for such an organization.

"But really, Jon is conflating a Middle East 'NATO' with something else. You wouldn't need a formal alliance of Arab states to do what he is proposing," Lord added.

Forming a "METO" alliance also risks angering Iran, a massive concern for the region, said Anna Jacobs, a senior Gulf analyst based in Qatar for the Belgium-headquartered International Crisis Group.

Jon Stewart says the Israel-Gaza solution could be a DMZ governed by an Arab NATO. Some experts say it's a pipe dream.
A view of a banner hung on a building reading in Persian and Hebrew 'We are stronger and more motivated than ever. Are you ready for 2 million displaced people?' with pictures of Iranian missiles.Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu via Getty Images

"Gulf Arab states are focused on regional de-escalation and building greater cooperation with friends and rivals in the region," Jacobs said. "A NATO-like alliance would send the opposite message."

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The United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt are nations that could consider working with both Israel and Palestine, said William Wechsler, senior director of the Rafik Hariri Center and Middle East Programs at the Atlantic Council.

Yet there's no clear-cut candidate for who would lead such an alliance, which is a key to success for such organizations, he added.

"Multinational military alliances are not common. They are very hard to create and hard to maintain, certainly with any effectiveness," said Wechsler.

NATO, for example, was created in the specific environment of the US emerging as a superpower after a devastating World War II, he said.

"So then the question is, who is in charge? Who is leading this whole effort?" said Wechsler. "It's not going to be the United States, and it's certainly not going to be the United Nations, because Israel has zero confidence in the United Nations for very understandable reasons. Then who is it? Which Arab country is going to step up?"

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Jon Stewart says the Israel-Gaza solution could be a DMZ governed by an Arab NATO. Some experts say it's a pipe dream.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaks during an Arab League meeting to discuss the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, in Cairo on February 15, 2024.AFP via Getty Images

Mohamed Chtatou, a political analyst on the Middle East and a professor at the Mohammed V University in Rabat, Morocco, is for the idea.

"Such an alliance is a must and a viable initiative for the peace and the stability of the region," Chtatou said, urging the US, Europe, and NATO to push for such an initiative.

A "Middle East NATO" would act as a cultural barrier against hate speech, a diplomatic shield to ease communications and avoid crises, and boost the economy in the region, according to Chtatou.

"Israelis and Palestinians have a lot in common to live in peace side by side, but these important features are dwarfed by the insidious language of fundamentalists on both sides," Chtatou said.

No starting point for a DMZ

Could a Korea-style DMZ between Israel and Gaza work? Possibly, Chtatou said.

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"The 'demilitarized zone' has in many ways kept aggressive and war-mongering North Korea under control and the same could be true of this Middle Eastern alliance," he said.

Wechsler said a DMZ could technically be created and administered by a coalition of Arab states, which wouldn't require a permanent alliance.

But it would only work if Israel agrees to a two-state solution.

"The Arab world has been remarkably clear that as a prerequisite to anything that they might do collectively in Gaza, they need to see from Israel a path to a Palestinian state that has a timeframe and is irreversible," said Wechsler.

Jon Stewart says the Israel-Gaza solution could be a DMZ governed by an Arab NATO. Some experts say it's a pipe dream.
Weeks before the October 7 attack, Benjamin Netanyahu presented the United Nations with a "New Middle East" map.Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Yet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has opposed the two-state solution. Ironically, the very concept of the two-state solution could extend his political life, said Lord.

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"A vast majority of Israelis want Bibi gone at the first opportunity, but Bibi can turn to an Israeli public that is shocked and traumatized from Hamas' October 7th attack and tell it that he alone can rebuff Washington's effort to build a 'terrorist Arab state on our border,'" Lord said.

Jacobs agreed. "Some Arab countries might consider sending peacekeepers," she said. "But only as part of a credible political process working toward a two-state solution, but unfortunately, this is something that the Israeli government rejects. "

If Hamas is removed from power and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is left to rule, there are also questions as to whether its unpopular leader, Mahmoud Abbas, can effectively build the path to peace, Wechsler said.

Jon Stewart says the Israel-Gaza solution could be a DMZ governed by an Arab NATO. Some experts say it's a pipe dream.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.Seth Wenig/AP

"It's hard to see, given the lack of support for Abbas through the Palestinian people, how an Abbas-led Palestinian Authority could be part of a two-state solution," Wechsler said.

Still, if Gaza continues to suffer under the heel of Israel's military and policies, Hamas will continue to fill its ranks with desperate Palestinians, Lord said. Creating a "METO" would be a "day-after" solution when governments are concerned with the "day-between" situation, he said.

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"Until someone can produce a viable plan to provide security, services, and aid to 2 million displaced Gazans right now, Israel will not achieve its goal of defeating Hamas," Lord said.

Representatives for Stewart at "The Daily Show" did not immediately respond to a request for comment from BI sent outside regular business hours.

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