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Go big or go home: A radical new plan for Middle East peace

Egypt gives Sinai to Gaza, Israel withdraws from East Jerusalem, Jordan becomes Palestine and peace is ushered in because whoever dares wins
Detail of the map drawn up in the Sykes–Picot Agreement of 1916 (PD)
It's time for a new map (Detail of the map drawn up in the Sykes–Picot Agreement of 1916 / PD)

My longing for peace in the Middle East began with a bang, not a whimper.

It was July 2, 1990. My wife and I were dining with friends in Jerusalem, our last supper in Israel before flying home to Chicago. It was a nice summer evening, so we chose Ben Yehuda Street, that secular synagogue of outdoor dining and entertainment. We ordered our meals, raised a toast to the wonders of this ancient modern land…and jumped as a bomb exploded just yards from our table.

The sharp, smoky blast came from the mailbox lobby of a small building that faced the open-air mall. Shrapnel and glass wounded three diners, one a 5-year-old girl. Israeli Police swarmed from vans and doorways, guns out, heads on swivels. A man in ultra-Orthodox clothing threw off his robe to reveal an Uzi. That he wasn’t immediately shot made him a cop or soldier.

Police hustled us all into storefronts, rounded up eleven Palestinian Arabs and put them in the back of a truck, then sounded the all-clear. In less than thirty minutes we were back at our tables, ordering doubles to replace our startle-tossed drinks, shaking our heads that Israel’s dinner menus included pipe bombs. As an American born and reared, I’d just gotten my first taste of First Intifada, the PLO’s murder-bomb campaign against everyday Jewish residents that started in 1987. Like the rest of the world, I’d hoped it would be my last…

It’s May 2021. Gaza smokes. Israel seethes. Each buries its dead and prepares to kill more. The American secretary of state flies to Jerusalem to Do Something, but whatever he puts on the table will only confirm the haunting words of Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

It’s not the secretary’s fault. Any plan the United States offers is doomed because it addresses only the Israel-Palestinian Conflict – which, while grim enough, is only a patch of fur on the real 500-pound gorilla in the room: the Hundred Year War in the Middle East, that toxic brew of betrayal, imperialism, rage, and broken promises that started in World War One, never ended, and is fueled not by just Israelis and Palestinians, but by the whole world.

We need to calm that gorilla, not just comb its fur. To do that, we need a peace plan for the entire region, one bigger and more outrageous than anything the world has attempted. I have one to offer. But first, a little about why this is everyone’s mess with which to deal, not just that of the residents of The Land Once Known as Palestine.

The modern Middle East was created by British, French, and other imperialist powers armed with straight-edges, red ink, and too much gin. In their march to win World War One, allied armies crushed the Ottoman Empire that had ruled the Middle East since the 1600s. The victors pulled out maps, uncapped pens, and with more than a few scoops of The White Man’s Burden, turned millions of Middle Eastern acres into a series of Mandates – one for Palestine, one for Iraq, one for Lebanon, and one for Syria, plus the minor Mandates that pockmarked Africa with Western colonies. They handed their work to the new League of Nations to make it official. They gifted two-thirds of Palestine to the Hashemites, the Arabian tribe that ruled Mecca, which promptly called the shiny new holding in which it had never dwelt the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan. Arabia was handed to the Saudi royal family, which named it…wait for it…Saudi Arabia.

Imposition of the most famous Mandate, Palestine (the one-third that remained after the British giveaway of Transjordan), was interrupted by World War Two, but made official by the United Nations in 1947, prompting the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia to join Palestinian fighters and launch a war to eradicate the Jewish residents of Palestine. Jews miraculously beat the mighty Arab Legion and its war pasha, a British Army general named Glubb, to proclaim the State of Israel on the homeland they’d lost to the Roman Empire. Frost that toxic cake with the Holocaust, a writhing global sea of war refugees, Arab nations exiling nearly a million Jews in retaliation for the creation of Israel, hundreds of thousands of Arabs fleeing their homes in Palestine on orders of bragging warlords who’d promised a quick destruction of the new Jewish nation but couldn’t deliver, dooming the runaways to the squalid Arab refugee camps that still exist today, petroleum politics, America’s newfound determination to project global power, czarist pogroms so ferocious that Russia’s Jews invented Zionism to claw their way out of the Pale and move back home to Palestine, Arab nationalism, militant Islam, Cold War politics, Russian-American proxy wars, colonial brutality in Africa, terrorists posing as governments, League of Nations, United Nations, and a thousand other disruptors.

Peace didn’t stand a chance.

Flies lick up blood as survivors lick their wounds in Gaza, Judea/West Bank, and Israel. Can anything end this carnage in favor of a strong and realistic peace? Yes, if we take our inspiration not from Einstein, but from another genius, Daniel Burnham, the renowned Chicago architect who invented the skyscraper and famously said, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and thus will never be realized.”

Duly inspired, I crafted this plan for peace in the Middle East. Because faintheartedness guarantees failure, the plan is bold, and not a little outrageous. But the inevitable cries of “I gotta give up what???” is offset by the certainty that every party will get something better in return for their sacrifice: security, prosperity, and elbow room. Not just for the region, but for themselves. Just like Burnham envisioned a grand plan for Chicago and against all odds and naysayers made it stick, this Middle East peace plan can be realized. Here’s how:

  1. Egypt abandons claim to the Sinai Peninsula.
  2. Palestinians abandons claims to the Gaza Strip and Judea/West Bank.
  3. The royal family abandons claim to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and turns it over to residents, eighty percent of whom are of Palestinian.
  4. Sinai and Gaza merge into a single land.
  5. Hashemites pack up and leave Jordan, become the sovereigns of the newly merged Sinai Gazi, and name it the Hashemite Kingdom of Gaza.
  6. Palestinians become sovereign of a nation three times the size of Israel. They change the name of former Jordan to the State of Palestine. They invite Palestinian brothers and sisters throughout the region – Gaza and Judea/West Bank in particular – to pack their bags and move.
  7. Palestine renames Ammon to “Jerusalem” and declares it the capital of the State of Palestine.
  8. Israel helps its new neighbor build its new capital to create the Twin Cities of Jerusalem, one ancient, one new, each sovereign to its respective nation but with free visitation by all. Both parties build a highway and rail system to link the Twin Cities of Jerusalem so there is easy access for all. The United Nations declares the tourism and archeological giant the first Wonder of the Ancient and Modern World.
  9. Israel maintains sovereignty over the Old City of Jerusalem, and Palestine replaces Jordan as guardian and manager of all Muslim holy sites in the Old City.
  10. Together, they create an integrated Old City Police Department to keep the peace.
  11. All religions are guaranteed free worship at any religious site, including the Temple Mount.
  12. Saudi Arabia, the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Turkey, the United Nations, and other powers who helped created the mess by sticking their noses in places they didn’t belong, kick in hundreds of billions of development dollars to build infrastructure and the new capital cities.
  13. Israel becomes formal sovereign over the River Jordan and all land west of it.
  14. Palestine becomes formal sovereign over all land east of the River Jordan.
  15. Gaza becomes an old-new nation with a Hashemite majority population, stable neighbors, seaports on the Mediterranean, and access to the Suez Canal.
  16. Egypt retains ownership of the Suez Canal, and as thanks for its critical role in donating the Sinai to the cause of peace, global funders widen and modernize the Suez Canal. That prevents future ships from being stuck and makes global trade even more efficient, giving Egypt huge revenue increases from canal tolls.
  17. Because there is plenty of elbow room everywhere, people move wherever they want to live. Every state offers citizenship to anyone who’s in a chair when the music stops – and there’s a chair for every player because every nation has so much land now. Saudi Arabia pays to relocate any Arab still stuck in a refugee camp, then burns the fetid camps to the ground. All refugees are absorbed in any state they wish to live.
  18. The right of return and compensation for homes and businesses taken in war are considered settled. Arab nations kicked nearly a Jews out of Arab lands and stole their homes and businesses when Israel was declared. Nearly a million Arabs left Palestine in 1947 at the urging of the Arab Legion, and when Israel won the war instead, lost their homes and businesses and were forced into Arab refugee camps. One debt cancels the other.
  19. Saudi Arabia orders an end to all jihads and fatwas against all parties in the Middle East and declares the new map consistent with Islamic law.
  20. The newly knitted blanket of nations asks Iran to participate. The ayatollahs agree, knowing a big stick comes with the peace carrot: the Arab-Jewish consortium is now a Middle Eastern NATO, with an attack on one member considered an attack on all.
  21. Other Mandate nations – Lebanon, Iraq, Syria – fall in line to leave their colonial roots behind and rid themselves of ruinous pests like Hezbollah. To eliminate reasons to wage war, each nation agrees to preserve and protect all cultures’ architectural and religious sites within their borders.
  22. Saudi Arabia and Iran quit funding terrorists. Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic State, and other death cults gasp “What? I gotta get a real job?” The world replies, “Yup.”

And the War to End All Wars, which started with a gunshot in 1914 and killed and displaced hundreds of millions of people across the planet, finally ends, not with a bang but a cheer. The pipe bombs of Jerusalem fall silent, because who dares, wins.


Additional reading: 

A concise history of the building of the modern Middle East

More on Daniel Burnham, the visionary architect who planned Chicago, downtown Washington, D.C., and Manila; invented the skyscraper; and birthed hundreds of buildings from the Flatiron in Manhattan to the sprawling White City for the World Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. His full comment on how to get things done:

“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty. Think big.”

About the Author
Veteran journalist Shane Gericke, a former news editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, is the bestselling author of The Fury, Blown Away, and other crime novels. He lives in the Chicago area. He appreciates the rich irony of yet another White European American offering advice to residents of the Middle East—yet offers it anyway, because anyone who contributes to the continuation of the Hundred Year War should also contribute to its end.