Peace between Palestinians and Israelis? National borders thrown open in a manner similar to the EU one day? Is it possible? As the grim gruesomeness of the nightmare in Gaza winds down, many understandably have doubts of a lasting peace, let alone open borders. However, if a new era of peace can be envisioned and be carried out in an innovative manner, there is hope for a permanent shift like never before.
For too long we have seen the absence of progress and hope. Far too much tragedy has occurred indeed since my initial visit to the Holy Land in 1999. Over the years I have seen the divide widen evermore between Palestinians and Israelis in its reduction to name calling, sloganeering, stereotypes, racism, and horrific violence. When a collective desire evolves to end the endless bloodshed, perhaps one day peace will come and will be sustained.
Regardless of the minutiae involved in whatever politicking and deal-making that may come to pass in any subsequent peace negotiations, I continue to hope, for the broader sake of peace, that one day there will be an internationally planned and supported, Palestinian-led expansion into the Sinai Peninsula.
There is not much there now in northeastern Sinai, save the small city of Arish. Much in the way of sustainable development could be undertaken from the Gaza Strip until Arish’s outskirts. Envision a new Palestine with a gorgeous Singapore-like capital on the sea dipping down in a shape resembling Florida. It stretches into southern Sinai and the Gulf of Aqaba. Taba and south of it some: all are Palestinian territory. It would be an independent, democratic Palestinian state with unrestricted access to the present West Bank and East Jerusalem.
As far-fetched and incredulous as it sounds now, the Israelis may well one day invest in such a Palestine’s development, as might Egyptian, Palestinian, Jordanian, and other international counterparts. The Union for the Mediterranean may also be compelled to spearhead sustainable development in partnership with other agencies as well as increase the call for foreign direct investment. The results could be amazing.
Imagine an underground tunnel someday, train and vehicle capable, from Gaza to the West Bank south of Hebron, under joint Israeli-Palestinian control. (Quite hard to fathom now I know, due to reality of the events on the ground as I write, in this most bellicose summer of 2014). From the south of Hebron, there could be transportation links to the greater West Bank and East Jerusalem. Such infrastructure would provide a major economic boost to Gaza and to the West Bank in confluence.
In pursuit of a new vision of Palestine, the West Bank and East Jerusalem would formally become Israeli territory and be multicultural in character. Freedom of movement would be allowed to and fro for those Palestinians who remained as permanent residents; if they so chose, they could also accept Israeli citizenship. In either scenario, they would be free to travel to, develop, and contribute to Sinai Palestine culturally, politically, and economically.
The overall development of Gaza and greater Palestine would be an opportunity for many. The West Bank, as Israeli territory, would ostensibly increase the wealth of the Palestinian residents there as development grew due to Israeli migration, allowing those residents to grow the economy of greater Palestine in turn due to that wealth accrued. Israel would have strategies, incentives, as well as investments in place to foster the success of such a Palestine. What major risks, other than financial, exist in this scenario? What threats abound? Hamas?
It is simply not true that a democratic Palestinian state in Sinai would by its very existence pose an existential threat to the Israelis. With freedoms given to the Palestinians and no punitive restrictions of movement between East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and greater Palestine, the risks would become acceptable and worth taking. Risks could be furthermore mitigated as Israel proper would still have secure borders in place.
Controlled immigration into greater Israel, in preservation of its largely Jewish identity and character, while having a more multicultural district in East Jerusalem and province in the West Bank, is my essential outlook. There would be freedom of movement for Palestinians, as presently exists for tourists visiting Israel from abroad. While passport control would be required for a time, envision at heart an EU model with open national borders gradually. Can it work, especially in light of Israel’s security concerns?
The short answer is yes! I am convinced the terrorist attacks will greatly subside when Israel takes the initiative to grant Palestinians comprehensive freedoms and rights. Palestinians, however, must be willing to concede East Jerusalem and the West Bank as Israeli territory in exchange for a new vision of Palestine. Taking such steps will not be easy. Gaza and Ramallah, as seats of power, must take the case to the people. There has to be grassroots support. Otherwise, all is a house of cards.
Questions of course remain. Would the immense level of opportunity available in Gaza and greater Palestine compel many in the current occupied territories to relocate there on their own accord? Palestinian permanent residents might take additional homes in the new Palestine as they increased their wealth, but it could be a tough sell initially. Most likely Gazans and those motivated by a vision would spearhead the expansion process into the Sinai Peninsula.
The lingering question is how could the Egyptians be convinced of a Palestinian state on land now theirs? Without Egyptian support, all is moot. One answer is that Egypt would be given billions of dollars for the land in eastern Sinai from various sources and nations, particularly from Israel, Palestine, and other Union for the Mediterranean member countries. Egypt would receive additional aid to sustainably develop the Sinai Peninsula overall, which at present is very much underdeveloped. Arish could expand westward, for example, and become a wonderful and prominent resort city; deserts could be transformed into oases.
All parties, in conclusion, could effectively obtain what they want. The Israelis get to expand to the Jordan Valley and unify the territory into greater Israel. Palestinians get to have a state from the Mediterranean to the Gulf of Aqaba as well as permanent residence in East Jerusalem and the West Bank; they may also individually decline Palestinian citizenship in favor of Israeli. The Egyptians, lastly, make out like bandits, and get to sustainably develop Sinai’s further appeal.
During my first visit to Israel and the West Bank in 1999, roughly a year before the Second Intifada, I came to know, appreciate, and have love for both the Israeli and Palestinian people. As cynical and unhopeful as many there have become for a meaningful peace in the years since (particularly in times like these), I still believe that with the right vision, innovative thinking, and leadership, peace is not only possible in the future but will be sustainable.
I ask all Israelis and Palestinians in particular to please begin envisioning a new era of collective harmony where you are. Remember that if a future of peace is at all believable, it is also conceivable and obtainable.