The Road to Peace in the Middle East


Monday, November 9, 2009

Mid East Peace – A Different Approach

The greatest obstacle to a Palestinian Israeli peace settlement today is the notion of a two state solution. Never a good alternative to begin with, the two state solution has monopolized peace making efforts to the point that no other alternative is being explored.


Recent history has frowned on political solutions based on the separation of people along racial or ethnic lines. Apartheid in South Africa, segregation in the U.S., the partition of the Indian sub-continent, the breakdown of Yugoslavia into warring factions are all examples of the long run futility of building fences rather than bridges.


The most compelling argument against the two state solution to the Arab/Jewish conflict is the simple fact that it hasn’t yet happened. The idea has been officially on the table in various versions since the 1930’s. The objective conditions today are such that the likelihood of a lasting agreement of the partition of mandatory Palestine is much more unlikely than any time previously, and with every passing day becomes more unlikely.


The modern history of Palestine is complex, the sources of animosity are myriad. By expending all our energy in a single direction, we’ve lost the ability to cut through the fogof mutual recriminations to isolate the core issues.


The first prerequisite to moving forward is an open mind. Rather than trying to bend the facts to meet our ideological or emotional leanings, we need to be able to identify the sources, recognize the outstanding issues, and create solutions that will satisfy all parties.


The second prerequisite is the recognition and acceptance that justice will never be achieved. Too much blood has been shed, too many lives disrupted and shattered, and far to many chains of horror woven to ever be unraveled. The goal is not justice for all but solutions for all. The accrued debts may never be repaid but the cycle of violence can and must be broken.


Finally, we must recognize that a true peace may not satisfy the desires of all parties but it must address every party’s needs. We live not in an age of majority rule but of minority veto. A single Jewish fanatic with a revolver was able to halt the Oslo peace accords in their tracks. A handful of Palestinian suicide bombers were able to bury the process.

What are the core issues? Can they be addressed without mutually contradicting each other?


On the Jewish side there is an overwhelming concern for physical security. 2000 years of persecution culminating in the Nazi holocaust have led to a situation where the Jews, both in Israel and in the Diaspora will not accept a situation that would enable a repeat of the horrors of the death camps. Along side this history of persecution is the collective memory that the so-called enlightened democracies of the world did little or nothing to aid or save the Jews from Hitler’s hell. Any solution must guarantee both the physical security of the people of the region as well as that of Jews worldwide.


For the Palestinians, the 1948 civil war was a catastrophe, the catastrophe. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced from their homes. The decades leading up to 1948 were years of fear and mistrust, based on both real and imagined threats. Any solution with a chance of success must both provide for their return as well as create an atmosphere of trust and security .

Any conceivable two state solution will either leave sizable, alienated and disaffected minorities in both states or will require the uprooting of tens or hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. Either scenario is a recipe for the continuation of the conflict.


The only realistic outcome that could fill the needs of both peoples is a single political entity between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, based on the following principles:

<!–[if !supportLists]–>1) <!–[endif]–>The land between the Jordan and the sea is the historical homeland of the Jewish People, a people with long history of discrimination and oppression. As such, the new State shall guarantee in perpetuity, shelter to any person, anywhere in the world, persecuted for being Jewish.

<!–[if !supportLists]–>2) <!–[endif]–>The Palestinian refugees from the wars of 1948 and the ensuing conflicts have an unalienable right to return to their homeland.

<!–[if !supportLists]–>3) <!–[endif]–>No new refugees. In the course of over 60 years homes and entire towns and villages have disappeared. New homes and settlements have been constructed in their stead. The Israeli settlement policies of the last six decades have created a situation where in most cases, the return of refugees to their original homes would either be impossible or would require the displacement of the present residents. In most cases, the reparation of Palestinian refugees shall be carried out in the framework of constructing homes and towns as close as possible to their original site without the uprooting of their present occupants.

<!–[if !supportLists]–>4) <!–[endif]–>The political structure of the new state can be decided through negotiations between the elected officials of Israel and the Palestinian Authority or through any number of consultative processes. The structure, important as it may be, is secondary to a basic, unalterable social contract, guaranteeing the basic rights and responsibilities of the citizens. The new state would not be “Jewish” nor “Palestinian”, nor even Bi national. While recognizing the historical significance and encouraging the cultural development of the peoples living within its borders, it would primarily be a state, caring for the common good of its citizens, providing the services and protections necessary for life in our age.

The implications of the above points are far reaching. The first point requires the Arab population to accept and internalize a Jewish connection to the land while banishing fears of displacement or marginalization. Guaranteeing safe refuge to any person persecuted for being Jewish actually provides more protection than the present Israeli “Law of Return”, which offers automatic citizenship to anyone defined as Jewish by religious law, but does not offer protection to those considered Jewish by anti-Semites that do not meet the requirements of Halacha.

The second point should be time-limited and would require massive construction/reconstruction as well as expansion of physical and economic infrastructure. This may seem daunting but so was the absorption of over a million Jews from the Soviet Union by Israel in the 1980’s.

While the Jewish population will have to come to grips with the return of the Palestinian refugees, the Palestinians must accept the status quo of the Jewish settlements, both in Israel proper and in the occupied territories. Proper compensation must be made to all those that lost land to the settlements, but the no new refugee clause implies no wholesale evacuations of civilian population.


The concept of government sanctioned Arab and Jewish settlements must come to an end. While it is natural that people of similar backgrounds, language and beliefs tend to stick together, choice of where to live is individual and must not be restricted on racial, religious or ethnic grounds. Communities have the right to determine their character, as long as they do not impose on the basic rights of the individual.


Peace making efforts have largely focused in the past on trying to build a consensus around the center majority. The key to success will be the drafting of a plan that is acceptable to the extremes of both camps. The above plan addresses the demands of the Israeli right wing to allow Jews to live anywhere in “Eretz Yisrael”. It also addresses the demand for the return of all Palestinian refugees. The status of Jerusalem, another point of contention becomes irrelevant in the framework of a single state situation.


At first the above proposal may seem utopian and unachievable. In addition to putting behind us a century of fear, mistrust and hatred, both peoples will need to redefine their national goals and identities. Zionism and the connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel will need to be rethought and renewed. The concept of the Palestinian national identity will need to be reexamined in light of the new reality. The process itself, the establishment of a political and social order in the new information age is in itself both daunting and exciting.


All that being said, we would do well to remember the words of Arthur Conan Doyle, “When you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.“ as well as the words of Theodore Herzl, “If you will it, it is no dream”.
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