When it comes to Israel’s nuclear standoff with Iran, Palestinians and Israelis are in the same boat. More than 12 million Israelis and Palestinians live in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Any nuclear war between Israel and Iran would devastate all 12 million alike.
This mutual-but-unspoken vulnerability underscores Israel’s limited ability to deal with problems in the Middle East. Israel seems to be “negotiating” with Iran by exchanging public threats in the media. Neither nation suggests that there are any direct negotiations between them, but threats of nuclear bombings are strongly implied by both. Israel is about to receive air-fueling fighter jets, which are presumably needed to fly all the way to Iran and back without landing. It is clear that the only option Israel is considering in its dealings with Iran is the military one.
Israel does have another option, but her leaders are unable or unwilling to use it. That option is to ask the Palestinian leadership—which has a good relationship with Iran—to help defuse the tension and join in the negotiations. Like the Iranians, most Palestinians are Muslims. Iranian president Ahmadinejad, who recently visited the Gaza strip and southern Lebanon, is a strong supporter of the Palestinians; he would not want to harm them. Most Palestinians also live among Israelis, with whom they share a common economy and customs; many speak fluent Hebrew. They understand the Israeli culture and the Iranian culture; they can act as brokers between Israel and Iran. Israel can trust the Palestinians to negotiate with Iran because Palestinians have as much at stake as Israelis do in ensuring that no war erupts between Israel and Iran.
When Palestinians and Israelis finally realize they share the same destiny and—like it or not—are looking at the same future, they can turn their animosity into partnership. Israel would bring to the table its excellent relationship with the West, particularly the U.S. The Palestinians would bring to the table their excellent relationships with the Arab world and Iran. Together they could build powerful alliances, virtually unprecedented in human history.
But neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian governments have the vision or the political ability to partner with each other. The political constellation between Israel and the Palestinians evolved in such a way that the existence of each government is predicated on its opposition to the other. As a Jewish state, Israel, almost by definition, is limited in its dealings with its Arab and Muslim neighbors. So far, it has been unable or unwilling to tap the enormous resources it has in its own Iraeli-Arab population to bridge the gap with the Palestinians. It has failed to form an alliance with Palestinians to increase its leverage in dealing with the Arab world. If Israel were able to convert its hostile relations with Palestinians into a partnership, its political and economic security would improve dramatically.
Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians have been able to unite even when it’s in their mutual interest to do so. Instead, they accentuate their differences and ignore their inevitable common destiny. Both Israel and the Palestinian leadership suffer from the same lack of vision, lack of imagination, lack of courage and plentiful pettiness. Neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian publics demand that their leaders cooperate to resolve the conflict with Iran. The people of Israel and Palestine have come to accept the primitive notion that their conflict will remain alive in perpetuity. There seems to be no serious movement on either side to educate its citizens that their destiny is together and not apart.
One way to bring this inevitable and clear destiny to realization is to create a third government—a confederation, which would bring the people of Israel and Palestine together. Such a grassroots government could represent the interests of the Israelis and Palestinian as a unified whole. A confederation composed of Jews and Muslims will be in a far better position than Israelis alone to negotiate an accord between Iran and Israel. A confederation could help overcome Israel’s inability to deal with the Arab world—and with Iran’s and the Palestinians’ inability to deal with the West.