The following is an open letter to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He is one of several individuals who I believe could broker a deal similar to the one described below.
Open Letter to the Right Honourable Tony Blair, Quartet Representative to the Middle East
Dear Mr. Blair,
I am writing to you as an ordinary citizen, a father of a one-year old Israeli-born daughter whose infant sized gas mask sits in my closet. I am appealing to you as the Quartet Representative to the Middle East and in your capacity as a world leader, with a proposal that I have devised after many discussions with friends and colleagues on all sides of the political divide.
You are in a unique position as an individual who could gather the leaders of the different parties involved and leverage them to reach an agreement. My life and the lives of my family could depend on whether the current rounds of negotiations succeed or fail. For me, peace between Israel and its neighbors is not merely political or academic.
You are in a unique position as an individual who could gather the leaders of the different parties involved and leverage them to reach an agreement.
What I am about to say is bold, but I believe that what you will find written here is a formula for brokering a resolution to the Israeli-Arab conflict, one that could realistically be accepted by all sides and would resolve all outstanding issues. My Palestinian contacts have indicated to me that this proposal could be accepted by the “Street” and it is my opinion that it would be acceptable to many who identify with the Israeli right-wing as well.
The proposal is called the Abrahamic Jewish-Arab Peace Initiative: the 181/25% Plan. It is a modification of the Arab Peace Initiative. The current alignment of interests among Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States vis-a-vis Iran’s nuclear program, provides a very strong incentive for all parties in the region to work together to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and get a deal done.
The strength of this proposal is that it is based upon principles that have already been agreed upon by the parties. Additionally, it utilizes a common religious symbol to provide a unifying thread through the entire process.
The strength of this proposal is that it is based upon principles that have already been agreed upon by the parties.
There are two significant points that have been publicly agreed to by Palestinians and Israelis that are the foundational aspects of my proposal:
- Palestinians have already agreed, in principle, to what they call the Historic Compromise to accept 22% of the land of British Mandatory Palestine (plus Return).
- The Israelis and the Palestinians have both also agreed, in principle, to UN Resolution 181 of 1947, which called for the establishment of a Jewish State, an Arab State, and special status for Jerusalem. Indeed, President Abbas has said that the Arab rejection of 181 was a mistake.
Borders and Settlements
The key stumbling block to achieving a solution in the recent round of negotiations has been 1967 borders and settlements. But the conflict is not about 1967. It is about 1948.
A retreat to 1967 borders, even with mutually agreed upon land swaps, would not necessarily resolve the conflict. In a region where sacredness is an important factor to consider in negotiations, it should be emphasized that the Green Line is not holy. It is merely the armistice line of 1949.
In a region where sacredness is an important factor to consider in negotiations, it should be emphasized that the Green Line is not holy.
Palestinians contend that they have already made territorial compromises by their willingness to accept 22% of what was Mandatory Palestine until 1948. Based upon my conversations with Palestinians, it is the percentage compromised that is the essential point. Which part of Mandatory Palestine that 22% would come from is less significant.
I therefore suggest that we redraw the boundaries and, effectively, “gerrymander” the map. Since this would be a concession for Palestinians, an incentive could be provided to attain their agreement, such as an offer to increase the territory for the Arab State from 22% of what was Mandatory Palestine to 25%. The condition for the increase would be that the boundaries of the two states would be redrawn to reflect the demographic realities on the ground of 2013, rather than those of 1967 or 1947.
In the new technological world in which we live, national and communal identities are no longer necessarily bound by geography. A map that reflects these new realities would allow for the maximum number of Jews in the Jewish State under the Israeli flag, and the maximum number of Palestinians in the Arab State under the Palestinian flag. While it may not be the most aesthetically pleasing map, a resolution to this conflict is much more important than aesthetics.
What this means is that no further people will be expelled from their homes. Aside from the logistical difficulties, political opposition and national trauma that would result if Jewish communities were uprooted from places like Beit El, Hebron and Shiloh in the Biblical heart of the Jewish homeland, we must consider whether peace could seriously be achieved by throwing more people out of their homes. We need to be focusing on healing historic traumas rather than creating new ones.
We need to be focusing on healing historic traumas rather than creating new ones.
Security and End of Military Occupation
By redrawing the map in such a manner, it would also be possible for Israel to maintain its security needs in the Jordan Valley without necessarily impinging upon Palestinian sovereignty or territorial integrity. Bridges and tunnels should be planned and built to allow for free movement within the Palestinian state.
Most importantly for Palestinians, this would also mean the end of the Military Occupation. Palestinians should no longer have to look down the barrel of an M-16 being held by a 19 year old in military uniform just to go about their daily lives. Freedom of movement rather than lawlessness is the objective.
Palestinians should no longer have to look down the barrel of an M-16 being held by a 19 year old in military uniform just to go about their daily lives.
Security responsibilities should be transferred to civilian law enforcement and joint security cooperation should be pursued wherever possible. Uniformed, trained professional officers in police cars would replace soldiers and tanks. Further, civil legal rights and due process must be ensured for any individual who comes into contact with law enforcement officials.
The rule of law and not men must be primary. Individuals should have a right to counsel in the language of their choice. Security personnel must also be trained to be as bilingual as possible. “Ulpan”-style courses must be developed for Israelis to converse comfortably in Arabic and for Palestinians to converse comfortably in Hebrew. English should be the default language whenever there is a conflict.
Jewish State of Israel, Arab State of Palestine
Earlier in this article I used the terms “Jewish ” and “Arab” States in place of Israel and Palestine. This was intentional because those are the original terms used in UN Res. 181 of 1947. In 1947 neither state was given a name. Let us recall that both sides have publicly agreed to 181 “in principle”. What this means is that both sides have already explicitly expressed willingness to accept a “Jewish State”, an “Arab State” and special status for Jerusalem. It is the borders that have not been resolved.
What this means is that both sides have already explicitly expressed willingness to accept a “Jewish State”, an “Arab State” and special status for Jerusalem.
This approach would resolve the problem of recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. That Israel has already expressed willingness to accept an Arab State is further emphasized by this argument and it can be used to counter criticism from the Israeli right-wing. Each state may call itself what it pleases and the matter ceases to be a deal-breaking issue.
Refugees and “Return”
By drawing the boundaries to reflect demographic realities, we also begin to resolve the questions of Refugees and Palestinian claims for Return. Anyone who fled his/her home as a result of the War of 1948, is today at least 65 years old. As a sign of good faith and a show of good will, Israel could build retirement communities or neighborhoods in or near places like Ramle, Lod, Jaffa, Acre and Haifa for such individuals.
It should be emphasized that this arrangement would only be for people who were alive in 1948. Should their descendants desire to take up residence, they would become citizens of the Arab State. This approach allows for the maintenance of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, while also providing an equitable approach to the issue of Refugees.
Regarding financial compensation, an independent 3rd party should be involved in determining qualifications and eligibility. Responsibility should be borne by the international community, including, but not limited to, the Arab League states and Israel, the UK, France, Germany, the US and Russia. If the goal is to reach peace and heal wounds, it must be recognized that all parties involved in this conflict over the past century bear a degree of responsibility for ending it.
If the goal is to reach peace and heal wounds, it must be recognized that all parties involved in this conflict over the past century bear a degree of responsibility for ending it.
Jerusalem and the “Holy Basin”
The most significant issue pertaining to Jerusalem is the symbolism of the “Holy Basin” of the Old City/Mount of Olives. Jewish West Jerusalem would fall under the jurisdiction of Israel, Arab East Jerusalem under Palestine, and the Holy Basin would be corpus separatum.
Models to examine for such an arrangement are Vatican City and Washington DC. Administration of the Old City would be joint and would include international advisers trained in sensitivity to religious matters. Sovereignty over the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary should officially be declared as belonging to God. For administrative purposes, the status quo would be maintained. I also suggest the UN build headquarters for international peace outside the walls of the Old City, opposite either the Jaffa or Damascus Gates or another appropriate venue.
Sovereignty over the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary should officially be declared as belonging to God.
The Hashemites, who, for centuries (until 1924) were the official Protectors and Guardians of Islam’s holy sites in Hejaz (Mecca/Medina) can play a unique role as official Guardians of Jerusalem’s Muslim holy sites. Because King Abdullah II and the Hashemites are directly descended from the Prophet Muhammad, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan can play an important part in bringing peace to the region. They are viewed as peace makers within Islam and have a measure of popular authority and respect within traditional Muslim society.
Abraham as a Symbolic, Unifying Thread
Resolving this conflict ought to be likened to the settlement of an inheritance dispute rather than a formal divorce. Israelis and Palestinians are destined to be each others’ neighbors. I have argued elsewhere in favor of the term “Commonwealth of Abrahamic States” (see my article here). What is needed is a political entity that allows both the Jewish and Arab states to each have as much independence as possible, yet still be linked by a unifying symbol. Symbols are powerful. So long as there is a symbolic sense of a common past and shared destiny, details can always be negotiated.
Many places in the world have symbols of historical and even mythical figures in their names such as Rome (Romulus), Alexandria (Alexander the Great) and Washington, DC (both Washington AND Columbus). Perhaps the only thing Middle Easterners can agree on is respect for the Patriarch Abraham/Ibrahim. “Abraham as a Solution” has been hiding in plain sight. Why have we failed to make use of our common Father Abraham as a means of providing a unifying thread and symbol for peace?
Why have we failed to make use of our common Father Abraham as a means of providing a unifying thread and symbol for peace?
Despite the fact that Abraham is understood differently by each of the three major Abrahamic faiths, they all can agree that he is their source. These are Orthodox religious positions, not liberal ones. We must utilize religion as a means to resolve conflict rather than viewing it as something that simply exacerbates it. Westerners must understand that people in the Middle East regard religious issues as much more significant than those in the West. Religion is in fact the only thing that can make any comprehensive peace agreement a reality in peoples’ hearts.
“Some people look at the world and ask why? I dream of things that never were and ask, why not?”
“Some people look at the world and ask why? I dream of things that never were and ask, why not?”