On the eve of potential new peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, it is important to remember that to be successful, the talks must inspire something beyond the prosaic issues of security and borders. Indeed, any resolution must present a positive vision as a replacement for the conflict. For many reasons this is an immense challenge. At its most basic, the conflict means so much emotionally to so many people that giving it up would be tantamount to giving up their sense of purpose. How can you pour all of your identity into a mission of national birth (or rebirth) and then be satisfied with half a loaf or even less? The only way is to create a canvas that is larger than the original mission for those people who are still willing to be swayed. At this same time those forces that cling most stubbornly to a maximalist position must be neutralized. Both parts of any possible solution are necessary. What I am proposing is a approach that can suggest at least one potentially larger vision. It is by no means the only path, but those who support the idea of peace would do well to try and come up with alternative solutions that supply that vision.
The Union of Abraham
Underscoring our joint parentage through Abraham by way of Isaac and Ishmael has frequently been heard as a lament from those who do not understand the conflict. I would suggest that this theme be harnessed in the service of an economic union between three polities, Israel, the Palestinians and the Jordanians. These three states combined together economically can form a canvas large enough to inspire the more progressive parts of each of the respective populations. By adding Jordan to the mix, the overall sum of the economic pie can be drastically increased; through drastically increased aid from Western and Gulf States (think $50 or $60 Billion) who wish to stabilize Jordan as well as Israel. Additionally the entire map of tourism can be expanded. Imagine a future where Hebron is a must see destination for people of all Abrahamic faiths or where Petra is a stop for every tourist. With Jordan as part of the economic union, Israel could push its theoretic defense strategy further east. Moreover, there is land aplenty for development, with the right water resources, resources which Israel is now ready to provide through its desalination and water purification technologies. To Palestinian progressives I say the following: You do not need to accept a small consolation prize, you can become part of an advanced economic union with joint large scale development plans which will provide jobs and homes and a much bigger picture future. To Israeli progressives I say that you will have a chance to leave boycotts behind and build your economy with a new local market in place, one that can benefit from your technologies and your development expertise. To Jordanians I say that the economic union and aid can help achieve a transition from an isolated water-poor state on the edge of a sea of instability to an advanced growing economy based upon technology and trade which can provide a possible development model for the entire Arab world.
Not a Political Union
Economic union makes a lot of sense. Political union does not in this context. Each party to the Union of Abraham would have their own self governing federal style state. Each state would have different characteristics as defined by the local will. The mission of the states would be to advance the culture of the local majority while at the same time providing for minority rights. This is especially important in the case of the proposed Palestinian state. I do not espouse the removal of any Jews from their homes in the West Bank except by choice just as I do not espouse the removal of Palestinians from their homes in Israel. I would propose that the states’ borders may include Jewish permanent residents on one side of the border and Palestinian permanent residents on the other. I believe that keeping people in their homes will provide a balance to the equation. Each side will have to figure out how to maintain a secure life for those people who choose to live beyond the borders of their own state. Those people would do well to figure out how to act as go betweens for economic cooperation rather than as sources of trouble. If they choose to be difficult, a process can be set up for their return to their countries of origin. A system of non-permanent limited term agreements should be set up allowing people to live temporarily across borders in all three proposed states.
Neutralizing the Naysayers
There are parties on both sides who will never accept the permanent abandonment of their land rights; some for religious reasons and some for nationalist reasons. As a result, I propose a solution that does not require them to make these concessions. Basically I call for a series of unilateral interlocking treaties which do not make any permanent change to the status quo. For the Israelis, I propose that they unilaterally grant the Palestinians a 100 year use of a defined piece of land; the Palestinians would grant the Israelis a similar unilateral use. We think it would be helpful to include the Jordanians in this process since Jordan was part of the original mandate, but it is not imperative. By granting the other party a usage treaty, it will present a mechanism by which the world can recognize their actions while not implying that they are giving up on their permanent rights either religiously or otherwise. Rather it could be described by the most extreme people as a kind of Hudna.
Jerusalem and Refugees
Some of the most intractable aspects of the conflict include the permanent status of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Refugees. For Jerusalem I propose a continued united city, but one which recognizes the rights of the other states to a voice in the ongoing economic development of the city. The city could be policed by a new force which contains members of Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian persons who have been given the specific task of maintaining the peace. Such a solution would be complex and hard to maintain but could work if the right people are chosen. There is no reason that the unilateral treaty framework could not determine how Jerusalem would function although other special considerations on the right of worship etc. would be necessary.
With regards to refugees, I would propose a jump ball where aid dollars would be apportioned specifically to the states that take in Palestinian refugees. This will provide an incentive for the states to take in refugees as well as the means to provide for them. There would be a time period for the solution to this problem after which point, all rights of the refugees would be dealt with within the Arab states in which they choose to reside.
These are just some basic parameters of how a larger vision might be formulated. It is clear that much more work must be done to come up with something comprehensive. It would have to deal with tough subjects like Jerusalem and refugees, but I believe that those subjects can be dealt with through economic inducements and other long term temporary arrangements of the kind briefly outlined above. The three parties, Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians are well positioned to receive a bonanza of development aid; aid which will allow the respective political states to claim a big win for their constituents, advance a much larger and inspiring agenda while at the same time taking the wind out of the sails of extremists.