If I were Prime Minister: my alternative to war

Where to from here?

So, we have just ended the latest round of conflict between Hamas and Israel and we can expect a period of quiet before this war replays itself once again in a year or two or three.

Militarily, Israel partially achieved its objectives. It destroyed the tunnel infrastructure infiltrating its borders and depleted Hamas of three quarters of their weapons. Israel’s new defensive system was tested and surpassed all expectations. However, by the same token, Hamas proved their resilience and were able to fire rockets until the last moment of conflict. They also extracted a heavy price in military casualties and economic costs.

Diplomatically, Israel lost out as the world focused its attention to watching the scenes streaming out of Gaza, the UN went through its usual motions and Israel is now stuck with a Goldstone II. More significantly, Israel’s key ally, the US, was proven fickle, clueless and disloyal in its Middle East stance. Hamas had a diplomatic victory in gaining world sympathy though regionally, the organisation feels the noose around its neck tightening as it loses support of much of the Arab world. It also watches the rise of General Sisi’s Egypt as the local mediator. In the end of the day, Hamas cannot claim a diplomatic victory after signing the same document they were offered when the death toll stood at 70. Those extra 2,000 Palestinians died for nothing – and Gazans will realize that.

It seems in this post-modern world, wars waged leave no victors – only losers or bloody draws. So, where to from here? If I had the unenviable task of standing in Netanyahu’s shoes, this is what I would do.

1) Create a victor!

Israel must create a winner out of this conflict, and if it cannot be the one waving the victory signs, then let it be Abu Mazen, who quelled Hamas’ calls for a third intifada. He has proven his worth but he must now deliver an alternative to Hamas’ violence, something concrete, something stronger than words alone. Israel, having shown its stick to Hamas, would do well to strengthen Fatah and offer a significant carrot to those Palestinians who chose peace over war.  

2) Move to Regional Diplomacy

The international involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has nothing to show, other than further entrenching the two sides in their respective positions. The quartet is dead, having achieved nothing in its lifetime. The UN has lost it legitimacy by being too soft; Russia by being to hard; and the EU by becoming increasingly irrelevant (though I suppose they could always contribute at a donor conference if they feel the urge to get involved). As for the US, Kerry’s disastrous flirtation with Qatar and Turkey emboldened Hamas to reject the Egyptian ceasefire Israel had agreed to – locking both parties in a Prisoner’s dilemma with no option but fight each other. The Obama administration has once again shown how little it understands the region. With friends like that, who needs enemies…

The upshot of this is that for the first time, we saw Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians and Saudis on the same page. While these nations make strange bedfellows, they all see Islamic fundamentalism for what it is and understand the risk it poses in a volatile region. Indeed, one may say, with enemies like these, who needs friends…

The solution, like the problem, must come from the region. Neither Jew nor Arab need any lessons in bargaining, and as long as our interests intersect – and they do! – a bargain can be found. The best contribution the world could make to Middle East peace is to stay as far away from it.

3) The Grand Bargain

It is time to dust off the Saudi Peace Initiative and let the Egyptians help with the fine print. For those who don’t recall, this is the initiative which proposes full regularization of relationship with Israel in exchange for a land for peace agreement. With some modifications, it can create a workable framework.

Let’s start with a regional conference hosted by Egypt. We can work on a high level document such as this:

It was the wisest of men who said there comes a time for peace and a time for war. Having lost too much at war, both sides agree the time for peace has come. There is no time like the aftermath of war to sow the seeds of peace.


Mindful of the racial kinship and ancient bonds existing between the Arabs and the Jewish people and realizing that the surest means of working out the consummation of their natural aspirations is through the closest possible collaboration, the parties recognize the rights of both people to live peacefully side-by-side in their respective national homelands, with Israel to exist as a state with a Jewish majority and Palestine as a state with an Arab majority.


By the end of the conference, the HOA would look something like this:

  1. Israel accepts in principle the Saudi plan as a basis for commencing negotiations immediately.
  2. A regional peace conference to be hosted by Egypt to deal with the establishment of a Palestinian state.
  3. Israel commits to accept, within 12 months, two demilitarized Palestinian states: one in Gaza and another in the West Bank.
  4. The armistice line of 1948 will not be the final border, but shall be indicative of the size of the Palestinian state.
  5. The Arab League is to normalize relations with Israel.
  6. Palestinian Elections are to be held in Gaza and West Bank within six months.

4) Time for the Palestinians to Choose

The people of Gaza have not had a fair election since Hamas took over Gaza and suspended the Palestinian constitution in 2007. Palestinians should be given a clear choice, between peace and its dividends and war and its costs.

Fatah must be seen as viable alternative to Hamas. Israel should do its most to back it economically and politically.It may even be worthwhile to release Marwan Barghouti to ensure a popular and stable Fatah leadership that can inherit Abu Mazen.

The choice in the election should be stark, between more of the same bloody script or a new landscape founded on a regional bargain with the promise of economic growth.

  1. Within 6 months, Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem will hold free an d fair elections.
  2. Elections will be monitored by international observers.
  3. Over the period, leading up to elections, Egypt will guarantee the peace in Gaza; the Palestinian Authority and Jordan will guarantee the peace in the West Bank; and Israel will guarantee the peace in East Jerusalem.

Israel should respect the Palestinian choice. The election of a party that calls for peace shall be met with a stretched hand for peace. Likewise, the election of a party which calls in its charter for the destruction of Israel should be taken as deceleration of war.

5) The Trustless Agreement

Even if the Israeli PM is not struck with visions of white doves flying across clear blue skies, it is clear that Israel gains little from keeping the status quo, since any security advantage is more than offset diplomatically.Israel is far better dealing with the Palestinian issue head-on than stalling for time. The status quo will only ferment tensions in the territories, facilitate the growth of extremism and make the BDS movement grow mainstream.

Israel should be willing to make significant territorial concessions for a genuine peace but it must also have the security that if peace fails, it can fight to defend itself. After all, any land for peace deal will see Israel’s end of the bargain (‘land’) come first, before ‘peace’ is achieved. Much like a bank granting a home loan, it must have security to ensure that failure is not catastrophic. This is especially true when the applicant defaulted twice before.

It is certainly too much to ask for trust between the parties. It may be even too much to ask for hope, but it is not too much to ask for an agreement that promotes peace as the option that best serves each party’s self-interest.

So let us abandon the peace of idealists and create a peace of realists. An agreement that allows for times of peace; tense times; and times of war, with various rights and responsibilities attaching to either party in any stage.

Stage One – Statehood

  1. If a peaceful government is elected in either territory, Israel shall recognize that territory as a State.
  2. The Gazan State shall comprise of 100% of Gaza with an agreed buffer zone which will range from 1 kilometer in times of peace to 3 kilometers in times of war.
  3. The West Bank State shall comprise of Oslo areas A, B and 2/3 of Areas C – totaling 75% of the West Bank and over 90% of the Arab population.
  4. The Palestinian states can be federated under one flag (subject to conditions).
  5. Israel shall annex up to 10% of the territory with 90% of the Jewish population of the West Bank. In exchange, Israel shall offer a land swap of equivalent size from its territory.
  6. The remaining area, equivalent to 25% of the territory, shall be known as the Special Territory.

Two states are better than one. To date, the world has not seen a successful state with its population split between two discontiguous territories (e.g. East Pakistan). To the extent that the Palestinians wish a uniform identity, this can be joined through federation instead subject to certain milestones (e.g. 10 years of peace). Such an approach allows for the very real possibility of one state wishing a peaceful co-existence with Israel while another is at war with Israel. It is therefore imperative, that declarations or acts of war relating to one state do not affect the other. Constitutionally, foreign relations must therefore be managed at state level.

Finally, a federated model could allow for some creative solutions with regards to East Jerusalem. For instance, a protectorate state could be created which forms part of the Palestinian federation but allows for Israeli civil law to operate in its midst, provides for an International security presence and allows for dual-national citizenship.

These issues need not be resolved at first instance. Refugees, final borders arrangements and Jerusalem should be finally resolved in Stage Two within 24 months of Stage One. The following framework could be used as a guide:

Stage Two – Sticky Issues

  1. The formation of Palestine ceases the refugee status of all Palestinians.The Palestinian have a right of return to their newly formed state, but no more.
  2. An independent auditor will assess a compensation scheme for first and second generation Palestinians and Middle-Eastern Jewish refugees in the years 1947-1957 and present a recommendation which will form part of a final settlement agreement.
  3. Once a Palestinian state has been demilitarized and peaceful for two years, it will commence construction of a port (Gaza) or airport (West Bank).
  4. The Israeli and Palestinian education curriculum must promote respect of the other and promote co-existence.
  5. The issue of Jerusalem is to be resolved following a referendum of East Jerusalem residents.

5) Economic stimulus

There is no better guarantee for long term security than economic co-operation. It is in Israel’s interest to ensure that the Palestinian state has a thriving economy with high employment rates, as a hungry populace is too fertile a soil for radical elements. The creation of Special Economic Zone between Israel and the Palestinians will allow the Palestinian economy to expand beyond labor and agriculture. It will allow for a labor market that is not dependent on Israel’s border crossings. Further, the contribution of Israeli technology to such a project would be of mutual benefit.

Special Territory

  1. The Special Territory shall be zoned for peaceful industrial purposes only.
  2. Within 36 months, any remaining residents, Jews or Arabs, shall be relocated and compensated.
  3. The Special Territory will be a free trade zone between Israel and the Palestinian States.
  4. International and domestic tax concessions and special purpose funding shall encourage Israeli-Palestinian co-ownership matched by foreign investment.
  5. The Special Territory shall be governed by a special treaty over the next 25 years.
  6. Following 25 years, the Special Territory (25% of West Bank) shall vest with the Palestinians on the basis 1% (being 4% of the Special Territory) for each year of peace. The remainder shall vest with Israel.
  7. The Special Territory shall be closed at times of war but operative in tense and peaceful times.

6) Plan B

Security presence in the new state will vary depending on the level of security in place. By treaty, three phases shall be declared by an independent arbiter: a state of peace; tense times; and a state of war. The mechanisms for triggering these states should be left to military experts and hardwired into the agreement. The message should be clear: the Palestinians have control over their destiny. If they choose the path of peace, they will get freedom. If they choose the other path, they will get war – but this time, not as poor refugees but as a belligerent state.

  1. Following Stage One, any remaining issues between the parties shall be resolved by peacefully, with none of the remaining issues justifying armed resistance.
  2. Israel maintains the right to self-defence if subjected to attack. The force used force shall be limited to that required to quell the threat.
  3. Israel will not otherwise attack the state. If it does, the Palestinians have a right to retaliate against military targets.
  4. By treaty, Israeli military presence may be allowed in certain holy places and agreed territories.
  5. Israeli presence in the Special Territory and other parts of the Palestinian states shall expand in times of war and diminish in times of peace.

Israel should not fear this option. While returning land and not getting peace will be a fundamental breach of the peace treaty, Israel would be no worse off than it currently is. Indeed, to date, Israel fared much better in its nation-to-nation combat than it has done in guerrilla warfare.

7) International Support

This agreement should be viewed first and foremost an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians; beyond that as a regional charter; beyond that as a matter for its sponsors (US, China and India) and beyond that, its global backers – who may provide funds, troops and diplomatic support to facilitate implementation.

If Israel is to make serious concessions for peace, it must do so with the assurance that such action will will cease its international isolation. History has not provided a good precedent. Israel withdrawal from Lebanon and Gaza did not not stop condemnations from the international community when peace did not follow. It is therefore appropriate that Israel conditions it acceptance of peace on the international community doing its part of the bargain.

The Peace Plan is subject to:

  1. a UN resolution accepting this agreement as complete satisfaction of prior resolutions.
  2. the Palestinian states undertaking not to become an ICC member state for 10 years.
  3. the disbandment of the UNRWA with its funding to be allocated to the fund below.
  4. the UN Human Rights Council to repeal standing agenda item 7. Further, any agenda item relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to be first approved by the Security Council .
  5. Any nation or organisation promoting the boycott or divestment following the implementation of Stage One of this agreement shall itself be subject to boycott or divestment by the sponsors and backers of this agreement.
  6. An international peace fund be set up to be funded by international parties.The fund should aim to rebuild Gaza; invest in major infrastructure projects; and promote an industrial complex in the Special Territory.
  7. If peace is not maintained, Israel will be able to claim defensive (but not counter-offensive) costs against the fund.

 8) Human Rights

The issue of human rights will dog Israel until it deals with it directly.

Let’s be clear the UN Human Rights Council is a club of dubious membership with a long history of bias. They have no productive role to play in the rectification of this conflict. The same can be said, vis-a-vis Israel, for the UN, ICC or the EU.

Nonetheless, the importance of the preserving human rights on all sides in times of conflict is vital. Israel must make it loud and clear that it has no interest in harming Palestinian civilians, and while it maintains it right of defense, it must play by the rules of war. However, some rules, written for wars between nations need re-writing in the context of modern warfare. Israel should genuinely seek to play a role in developing and implementing the world’s best practice.

  1. Israel is to host a conference of leading jurists and military experts
  2. The conference shall examine appropriate rules of engagement in an era of modern weaponry; stateless terrorism and urban conflict zones.
  3. The conference shall determine: any international legal frameworks requiring amendments; an acceptable civilian casualty rates for urban conflict; define world best-practice in minimizing civilian harm.
  4. A special committee of respected jurists, agreed on all the parties, be set up to investigate complaints by the parties.
  5. During any conflict, a special committee of respected military generals, agreed on all the parties, be set up to supervise the conflict, coordinate activities with NGOs (such as the Red Cross) and ensure that civilian casualty rates remain at acceptable rates.
  6. The sponsors of the Israeli-Palestinian agreement agree to be themselves bound by these standards in their engagement in international conflict.

 The Fight against terrorism 

First. let’s be clear:

Any purposeful targeting of civilians to inflict fear or apprehension is indefensible in any circumstance.

Putting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to bed will allow Israel to join forces with new allies, such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and hopefully Palestine to ensure that the threat of groups like ISIS or the various Al Qaeda offshoots are contained. A co-operative regional effort could achieve a lot more than Israel can on its own or for that matter, the US and Europe. However, as long as the Palestinian issue is outstanding, the Arab nations who are most threatened by the expansion of fundamentalist terrorism cannot fight side by side with Israel. Ultimately, those hawks are right in saying Israel has much to fear and must put its security interests first, but that Israel’s biggest threat will not come from the Palestinian people but from outside. A tactical withdrawal is necessary to wage the next battle – and wouldn’t it be nice if we could fight that war no longer alone – but with new-found friends – or at the very least, with enemies of enemies.

About the Author
Eli Bernstein grew up in Israel and now resides in Perth, Australia. Among other things, he is a commentator on Middle Eastern affairs and politics.