A Last Chance, Fresh Proposal For Israeli-Palestinian Peace
As Israel marks the 20th anniversary of the 1967 war, and as quiet efforts continue to establish a new framework for negotiations toward peace, the time has come for a fresh look at some of the basic elements of a future Middle East agreement.
Much has changed during the last 23 years, most notably the removal, in large measure, of the psychological barriers that existed between the two sides. The agreement for peace between Israel and Egypt in 1979, the continuing (de facto) peaceful relationship between Israel and Jordan and the development of a tentative, though guarded, cooperative relationship between Israel and the Palestinians, both in Israel and the West Bank, have all combined to create a political dynamic where peaceful coexistence is possible. The problem today is to fashion a framework for peace that would satisfy the national aspirations on both sides; guarantee mutual security; and maintain economic and social prosperity.
Any visitor to the Palestinian cities, towns, and villages of the West Bank is struck by the economic prosperity in evidence everywhere, as measured by consumer goods, housing, health care and social services. Approximately 100,000 Palestinian workers regularly cross the Green Line to work for good wages in Israel's private sector. Yet, while recognizing the advantages of coexistence with Israel and enjoying the abundance that economic prosperity has brought about, the Palestinian aspiration for self-rule has not changed at all. In fact, the opposite is true: The Palestinians remain bitterly defiant against Israeli authority. Their disenchantment is expressed in a continuing cycle of violent acts; the generation of people born after 1967 is even more prone to violence and more committed than its parents to restore lost national dignity.
Tragically, while most Israelis recognize this mounting problem, no consensus on a solution has emerged in Israel itself. The vast majority of Israelis reject out of hand the creation of a "new" Palestinian state in any part of the West Bank or Gaza areas. Beyond that, however, Israelis differ greatly on how to approach the Palestinian issue. The Labor Party still holds to a position of territorial compromise. In contrast, the Likud — with the general support of the religious parties – calls for retaining all territories captured in 1967, and granting the Palestinians limited self-rule. Polls suggest that nearly 60 percent of the Israeli population opposes any kind of territorial compromise, yet outright annexation is also rejected by a majority of Israelis. Even the Likud does not view annexation as a viable policy option. Israeli leaders of the left, center and right are all committed to maintaining the Jewish character of the state, and nearly all of them realize that the annexation of 1.25 million Palestinians would jeopardize this most fundamental of tenets.
Neither Likud nor Labor has found a formula that would reconcile the desire to maintain a Jewish and democratic state with holding onto West Bank lands indefinitely. The one fundamental point that many Israelis and Palestinians fail to understand is that both have an inherent right to the territories in question. The Palestinians have every right to live and prosper on land where they lived for centuries. The Jews also have an inalienable right to settle throughout their ancient homeland of Judaea and Samaria. Neither territorial compromise, annexation nor continued administrative control can replace the need for recognizing each other's legitimate territorial rights.
Coexistence is the only viable option for both sides. Israel and the Palestinians cannot and will not be separated either by artificial political boundaries or fortified military lines. The interaction between the two sides transcends such barriers; both sides are historically, geographically and emotionally linked. Past Arab-Israeli experience, fraught with distrust and suspicion, will make the peace process difficult, slow and frustrating. However, if the Palestinians accept an Israeli Jew's right to live and buy land in Judaea and Samaria, and if Israel is prepared to offer Palestinians political autonomy in confederation with Jordan, then the basis for lasting peace may indeed be at hand.
Those who argue that the Palestinians will never accept Jewish settlements in their midst must realize two realities: the presence of 100,000 Jews in Judaea and Samaria; and the fully legal presence of 900,000 Palestinian Arabs in Israel proper. These two minorities have every right and intention of staying where they are. Neither can, nor will, be forceably expatriated. Both sides must accept their already existing intertwining relationships. If both sides are willing to grant dual citizenship and full constitutional rights to their minority populations, and if future immigration is regulated by natural agreement, a modus operandi for peaceful coexistence could be established.
The United States can, and indeed should, play a principal role in the implementation of this framework for peace. The United States has long demonstrated its readiness to meet Israel's security needs, but on the issue of Jerusalem, the U.S. must move unequivocally to support a unified Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty. Full guarantees of civil and religious liberties would, of course, be continued by Israel.
How would the above general peace formula be implemented? First, the Palestinians must be able to establish political autonomy over most of the West Bank and Gaza. Then, after a five-to-sevcn-year transitional period, some sort of confederation with Jordan would be established. During this period, minor border adjustments would be negotiated as well as the status of Israeli settlements already in place. To avoid compounding the difficulties involved in these negotiations, a freeze would be put on construction of further Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
The entire West Bank would be demilitarized, and only domestic security forces under a joint Israel-Palestinian authority would be allowed. After the transitional period, internal security would be the responsibility of Palestinian Jordanian authorities. Though the status of Jerusalem is not negotiable, the status of Palestinians in Jerusalem may be. For example, Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek has proposed a modified borough system for Jerusalem, which would give the city's Arab communities administrative autonomy. The above proposal offers much of what both the Israelis and the Palestinians need and want: It gives the Palestinians total political autonomy within a confederation with Jordan (whose population is already 60 percent Palestinian); it guarantees Israel's security; it fulfills the Jewish right to settle and live in their ancient homeland; it expands the important natural ties between Israel and Jordan; it guarantees universal freedom of worship; it provides for the equitable sharing of mutual resources, especially water supplies; and, finally, it offers the hope of an unprecedented political, economic and cultural renaissance for the entire region.
Clearly, the choices today are limited. The imposition of indefinite Israeli rule will not be tolerated – not by this generation of Palestinians, and certainly not by the next. Nor will excluding a Jewish presence from their ancient home be accepted by a country that has sacrificed the blood of its best young men and women in realizing a 2,000-year-old dream. An intelligent middle ground must be sought. Only time will tell if Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian leadership have the vision and courage to pursue this last best chance.