As the violence between Palestinians and Israelis continues and the death toll climbs, one ponders if there remains any hope to bring an end to this complicated conflict. Will the future hold anything but more violence and the death of more innocents from both sides? To give up hope and blame the past or particular individuals or groups for the great tragedy that we are witnessing on a daily basis, won’t be the right way to go about. The world community led by the United States should choose a different path, a path towards resolution of the conflict. I say the United States, because I believe no other country in the world is powerful enough and holds enough influence over the sides of the conflict to bring an end to this conflict. Israeli government won’t listen to any other world leaders but those of the White House, and Palestinians know by the past history, that any serious conflict resolution plan should be approved and supported by the United States.
Now what can the United States policy makers do to resolve this conflict? I believe the solution is not so out of reach as some tend to believe. The recent Saudi peace plan with some modifications can become the centerpiece of a workable resolution plan. It should be taken as a great opportunity, especially coming from a country which is believed to be the heart of Islamic world and the symbol of Arabness. Although the premise of the plan is not much different from those which have been offered before (mainly land for peace premise) but it is the first time that almost all influential Arab nations have declared a conditional recognition for Israel as a sovereign state in the Middle East.
For a young country established mainly by European immigrants as a result of victory in battlefields against the indigenous Palestinian people and their Arab sympathizers, this is a great opportunity that should not be missed. It took a long time and leadership of people like Anwar Sadat of Egypt and the King Hussein of Jordan, plus an incredible amount of foreign aid from the United States, to neutralize those two Arab countries. In exchange for the recognition and peace treaty with Israel, Egypt not only regained her lost territories during the 1967 war with Israel, but it became the second largest recipient of American foreign aid after Israel. Jordan was also offered a generous package of aid.
Now, it is the time for another major compromise by the Israeli government and supporters of Israel in the United States. With an even-handed leadership by the White House the problem can be resolved. In exchange for peace Israel needs to withdraw from the territories captured during the 1967 war, namely the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights. Israel needs to allow Palestinians to build a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with a corridor connecting the two. These complications will remain: 1. The security of Israel after the formation of a neighboring Palestinian state. 2. The Israeli settlements built in occupied territories since 1967. 3. The right to return of Palestinian refugees. 4. The future of Jerusalem. These issues can be resolved with some compromises from the two parties involved.
First the question of security is a serious one for Israel. Israel, rightly so, does not want to compromise her security by having an armed and belligerent neighbor which can become a future security problem. The new Palestinian state has to be a state without conventional military forces – like what Japan was after World War Two. After the formation of Palestinian state, at least for a couple of years an international peace keeping force should oversee the process of development of a peaceful new state and supervise the border relations between Palestine and her neighbors.
Secondly, with regard to Israeli settlers, they should be given a choice to either stay or return to Israel. For those who want to return, they should be properly compensated for their land and years of investment in their existing homes. The money for compensation can come from the American government who has been a friend of Israel for so many years. For those who decide to stay, they need to accept the reality that they are now living in a Palestinian country, exactly like Arabs in southern Israel who have accepted the reality of living in the Jewish state of Israel. So, they need to follow the law of the land and live in peace with their fellow countrymen. The new state of Palestine also needs to recognize the human rights of its Jewish citizens and treat them equally.
Third, with respect to Palestinian refugees, Palestinians who live outside of Israel or occupied territories, need to be encouraged to return to the newly established Palestine and help to build the new nation the same way that the new comers built the nation of Israel. An exchange of immigrants between Israel and the New Palestinian state would be mutually beneficial. For each Palestinian family living in Israel who would voluntarily leaves Israel for the new state of Palestine, a Jewish family can volunteer to leave Palestine for Israel. This exchange, if done in voluntary basis, could help both countries to become more ethnically homogenous and perhaps reduce the future ethnic tensions within either states.
Fourth, is the question of Jerusalem. The present city of Jerusalem contains the old city (the holy quarter) and the newly expanded city. The holy quarter where it holds the sacred Jewish, Christian and Islamic buildings, should not become the monopoly of any particular state. It has to be regarded as an international city run by the United Nations and open to pilgrims from all monotheistic religions. It can gradually acquire a sort of status like that of Vatican, mainly a religious entity open to tourists and pilgrims from all over the world. The East Jerusalem where is mainly occupied by Palestinians will become part of the new Palestinian state, and the expanded West Jerusalem remains part of Israel.
The steps mentioned above may sound simplistic to some, but, in my view it is the only way that we can put an end to the ongoing conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. Both sides will greatly benefit from formation of a Palestinian state. Palestinians after years of struggle for a homeland can reach their dream and have their own state (which in reality contains only the 23 percent of the pre-1948 Palestine) and Israelis can demonstrate to the world that they are a fair-minded nation by allowing another nation to build their homeland as they did it half a century ago.
What has become obvious by now is that violence and military might cannot bring peace between Palestinians and Israelis. Emphasizing the military might may win Israel the military battles, but in the long run Israel will lose the demographic battle against Palestinians. Currently Palestinian population is increasing almost three times faster than the Israeli population. Without a Palestinian state, within a few decades, Israeli government will find itself in a position that the White South African government was in prior to 1994, the year it lost power to the black majority of South Africa. This is a situation that a wise Israeli government with the right political vision (as well as the Israeli supporters in the United State) can avoid.
Masoud Kheirabadi, Ph.D.
International Studies Program, PSU