“Israel is the solution, not the problem.”
To have expressed this as a young Palestinian twenty years ago, or even come to realize it, as I did, was an unforgivable heresy deserving a gruesome death before a stone-throwing mob. And yet here we are these twenty years of hatred and strife later with a new reality set in motion by the Abraham Peace Accords that can make those treasonous words even become an accepted truth.
Long in the works, the plan is to have Arab states announce their signing of the accord one by one with the ‘enemy’ Israel, with Saudi Arabia to be the last and most important signatory. The road to peace turns out to be not about land, but about economy. Isaac and Ismael can work together to open a new era of prosperity in a region without borders.
Why is this possible now? What are the current facts on the ground?
–Israel is by far the most powerful military and economic power in the region.
–Some Arab states, notably Saudi Arabia, have, because of their oil wealth, extensive global influence and command large amounts of capital.
–Seventy years of attempts to bring peace to historic Palestine have all failed.
–The Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian leadership, has utterly failed the Palestinian people while living lives of luxury, awash in corruption, creating a death cult of martyrdom sacrificing young Palestinian generations. As I stated before the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, the Palestinian Authority is “The greatest enemy of the Palestinian people.” Their very existence depends on the existence of the conflict and they cannot think outside it, fearful if the conflict ends, they will end with it.
–The mendicant Palestinian culture and economy is dependent on European, American and Arab donors. Begging is neither healthy nor sustainable especially when the beggar sacrifices his children to engender donor sympathy.
–The jihadist movement is in full retreat, the dream of a restored caliphate, proved to be a horrific nightmare rejected by the vast majority of peaceful Muslim populations.
–In the twice-promised land, the opposing mirror visions of the future have proved not simply unrealistic but bankrupt: the extreme vision of Hamas of forcing the Jews into the sea and creating an Islamic state, and the extreme vision of far-right Zionists expelling all non-Jews from historic Israel.
This is the reality. In my view, the Abraham Accords offer the opportunity for us to break free from the assumptions that have locked the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into two irreconcilable dogmas. Every radical change requires first that we imagine what is possible, and then take that dream and strive to make it a reality. Some dreams succeed, many do not. The Zionist dream succeeded, the restored caliphate did not.
What then is my dream for what the Abraham Accord offers as a possibility to finally achieve peace?
Now Israeli technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship can combine with Arab capital and labor. The key change with the lowering of borders is the possibility of travel. This is not a dream, it is happening. The first El Al flight recently overflew Saudi Arabia and landed in Abu Dhabi where congenial elbow bumps were exchanged. It is difficult to exaggerate the value of travel. I, like so many of my people, was a virtual prisoner, either in Gaza or the West Bank. I’ve had the good fortune to travel the world encountering all its diversity and magnificent potential.
The million and a half Arab Israelis can now travel to some Arab countries holding Israeli passports. They are exploiting this vast opportunity for business as they share language and culture. Just recently the Saudi government approved Israeli passport holders to make the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. This new potential business collaboration offers possibilities for new economic zones housing industry and research in the Palestinian territories. For decades these Arab States have been contributing tens of millions to the Palestinian Authority only to perpetuate a corrupt system. Why send money to fuel a conflict, why not invest those tens of millions in the territories in enterprise and infrastructure.
Let us take an example that can be done right away without waiting for the political aspects of the Accords to be worked out. The Jordan Valley is an ideal location to produce solar energy. The UAE, which is developing this technology would invest in a solar company. Palestinians are desperate for work as are Israelis today. Palestinians work in Israel but only with a special permit as the fear is Hamas would exploit the opportunity to send in terrorists. Hamas would not intervene with this Arab enterprise where Palestinians and Israelis would work together on an equal basis. The managers would be accountable to the investors, the funding would not go through a Palestinian Authority.
This model could be repeated over and over, building bridges between the two communities. And this model can encourage European and American donors to channel their funds directly into enterprises accountable to them without a middleman.
But hold on, what about the six and a half million stateless human beings, the Palestinians? The way the agreement was presented, the Palestinians received nothing, only the postponement of annexing the Jordan Valley, already a de facto annexation. It seemed all the benefits went to Netanyahu and the Israelis. True, but the agreement offers considerable possibilities for the Palestinians, breaking a logjam.
Palestinian politicians can virulently protest about Arab betrayal, but support is fast slipping away as a new Arab League is forming. The donors are either cutting funds or demanding stricter accountability. A third intifada would be totally self-destructive. The geriatric Palestinian leadership either has to work within this new reality or they will be replaced by younger more progressive leadership.
What assets, then, do Palestinians have in this changed world? They have an educated and entrepreneurial class. Like the Jews, they have a diaspora that has succeeded abroad and whose expertise and finance can be drawn upon. They also, again in the Jewish case, enjoy wide sympathy abroad for their plight and this support could be enlisted for constructive enterprise.
Then there is tourism, not terrorism, which offers significant income potential, starting with the millions of pilgrims that come to the Holy Land each year. Palestinians in effect have control over some of the holiest sites for the two major world religions; Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, the third most important for Muslims; and Bethlehem and Nazareth for the Christians, with the Church of the Nativity being second only to the Vatican. In 637 Caliph Umar, when he captured Jerusalem, allowed the Christians to freely worship on the Temple Mount and allowed the Jews to pray on the Temple Mount and the Wailing Wall when the Byzantines had forbidden it.
In my vision of a future peace, the Palestinian leadership would be wise to let the Jews build their Third Temple on the Temple Mount, where you would have the three Abrahamic religions.
Israel is a beautiful country offering a great deal to the Arab tourist, its Mediterranean beaches, the Dead Sea, the Red Sea. Casino gambling is not permitted in Israel and the Moslem faith outlaws it, yet a Las Vegas on the West Bank would be a cash machine allowing investment in schools, hospitals, infrastructure. Building an airport on the West Bank and another one in Gaza would mean it’s a brief flight for the money bag sheiks: A package tour starting first with sin and then off to the Al Aqsa mosque to cleanse the soul before flying home.
The Holy Land should be a playground not a battleground. Let the rivalry be fought on the football fields of Tel Aviv and Jeddah. Add to that cultural exchange with artists performing in both countries. Is that really so hard to imagine?
A Palestinian passport
But what about a Palestinian State? A state where the West Bank and Gaza Palestinians would have for the first time the dignity of holding a legitimate Palestinian passport accepted by the world community? I knew what it was to travel on a tattered refugee document as a member of the largest stateless community in the world. It wasn’t that I was treated as a second-class citizen: I wasn’t even a citizen.
Given the reality that we as Palestinians finally have to face, I envision a situation like the Vatican, a state within a state. This jurisdiction would cover the West Bank and Gaza Palestinians as well as religious sites in Jerusalem. With time and the development of a prosperous economic life in the territories based on business and the rule of law, not charity, the checkpoints and the wall, as in Berlin, will come down. So, adopt the American way, let people worship freely, let them gamble, let them be free.
So it is a momentous bet that creating economic opportunity, meeting the needs of people, will prevail over a system dependent on hate and strife. The eternal battle between fear and hope. Both communities now live in fear of The Other.
Let this next generation grow up without the toxic burden of their forebears. They should never have to carry the debt and sins of the old generation.
With this new opening, this new vision, give peace a chance.