Thursday, July 31, 2014

Peace Between Israel and the Palestinians? Let’s Have a Discussion

Let’s step past the current violence between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Let’s instead talk about what comes next. That is, how can Israel and the Palestinians find a way to live together in peace? If there is to be an eventual peace agreement, what will it look like?

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had numerous discussions about the conflict with people all across the spectrum in their views towards Israel and the Palestinians. I hear the refrain “we want peace” from all across this spectrum; however, rarely do those who claim to be either pro-Palestinian or anti-Israel (or anti-Zionist) offer much when I ask them to tell me what a peaceful resolution will look like. And I’m not talking wishful thinking. We live in a (hopefully) reality-based world and must therefore premise any sort of peace plan within the realm of reality. Outside the box is fine, but the box still must be based in reality. Thus, if your answer is that Jews should “go back” to wherever they came from, then you’re not talking about a reality-based solution. Similarly, if you support a one-state solution in which a majority Muslim population could simply vote to ban Judaism or expel Jews, then you’re not talking about a reality-based solution. I don’t expect Israel to agree to commit national suicide; nor do I expect Israel’s Jewish population to agree to simply give up their aspirations for a homeland. Thus, the question is: How do we craft a lasting and meaningful peace?

If you were appointed to be the mediator in charge of trying to achieve that lasting and meaningful peace between Israel and the Palestinians (and the Arab and Muslim world, writ large), what would you do? Here are a few of the things that you’ll need to consider:

  • What will the borders between Israel and Palestine be? If you say “the 1967 borders” please remember a few points:
    • The 1967 “borders” are really just the 1949 armistice lines, rather than an agreed upon international border and Israel has always (perhaps correctly) viewed these “borders” as indefensible, especially at the narrowest point, Israel is only about 9 miles wide.
    • Many Israelis live in the West Bank on the “Palestinian” side of the 1967 border (also referred to as the “Green Line”). Some of these Israelis live in “settlements” (see Are Israeli Settlements Really Such a Problem? A Primer for a further discussion of settlements) while others live in large communities that are essentially suburbs of Jerusalem. Are we going to force Israelis to move from their current homes back across the Green Line? Are we going to adjust the borders to conform to where people live now? Some combination of the two? And what happens to Israelis who don’t want to leave the communities that they’ve created in the West Bank? Will they be forcibly removed or can they remain as full citizens of the new Palestinian state with equal rights to others?
    • What, if anything, then becomes of the Arabs (Muslim or otherwise) who are presently Israeli citizens living on the Israeli side of the Green Line? Do they stay in Israel? Must they move to Palestine? Should the borders be adjusted so that Arab communities are part of the new Palestinian state? Some Arabs may want to be a part of Palestine; others may want to remain a part of Israel. How do we address this? And for those who choose to remain in Israel, would there be any kind of “loyalty” requirement? Would they have to publicly renounce any goal of a one state solution or of a Palestine “from the river to the sea”? Should they be required to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces like most other Israeli citizens?
  • With regard to whatever borders we settle upon, must they be open borders? That is, must Israel allow Palestinians to cross the border to work or attend college in Israel? Must Palestine allow Israelis to cross the border to work in Palestine? Can Israelis own land in Palestine? Can Palestinians own land in Israel? How will this cross-border movement work? How will each side protect citizens of the other country? How will each be sure that citizens of the other aren’t entering for nefarious purposes?
  • With regard to movement and travel, how do we “connect” or allow movement and travel between Gaza and the West Bank? If we create some kind of “free passage” corridor, does Israel have a right to inspect people and goods moving through that corridor or close access during times of unrest?
  • How do we make Israelis comfortable that neither Gaza nor the West Bank will become armed encampments or upon which a military is built up for the purpose of destroying Israel? How do we make Israelis comfortable that they won’t face a new wave of rockets fired across the new international border?
  • How do we make Palestinians comfortable that Israel wants to live in peace without expansionist aspirations to the West Bank or Gaza?
  • What do we do about Jerusalem? Israel claims it as its capital. The Palestinians want it as their capital. The holiest place in Judaism is in Jerusalem (on the Palestinian side of the Green Line) while the third holiest place in Islam is also in Jerusalem. Oh, and those two places are either adjacent to each other or one and the same, depending on your particular definition. Remember that from 1949-1967, Jews weren’t allowed at the Western Wall so will likely be reticent to give up any control of that site.
  • Similarly, what do we do about other holy sites on either side of the border? How do we ensure that each religious group has reasonable and safe access to its holy sites but without the ability to use that access to try to harm the other? And how do we ensure that each side treats holy sites of the other with dignity and respect (again, from 1949-1967, numerous synagogues in Jerusalem were destroyed; similarly, at least one Jewish holy site in the West Bank is repeatedly vandalized by Palestinians).
  • What do we do about Palestinian “refugees” and their descendants? (I put “refugees” in quotation marks because the issue of who is and isn’t or who should or shouldn’t be considered a refugee is a very complex issue, way beyond the scope of this post.) While considering this, we should also be sure to consider what to do about Jewish “refugees” (I’ll be consistent…) from Arab and Muslim countries (not to mention Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union). Are these simply population transfers? Are reparations appropriate? Both ways or just one way?
  • What do we do about water resources in the Jordan River Valley?
  • How do we resolve disputes when they arise? If Palestinians launch rockets from Palestine into Israel, what sort of response is “permitted” to Israel? If Israelis commit a “price tag” attack on a Palestinian car in Israel, what sort of response is “permitted” to Palestine?
  • Should a peace deal address incitement? Should the Palestinians have to forego television programs that incite children to become suicide bombers or to hate Jews? Should Palestinian textbooks be required to recognize the existence of Israel and forego defining Palestine as including the portion “occupied” by Israel? Should Israeli textbooks stop referring to Judea and Samaria and instead be required to refer to that area as Palestine?
  • Should any sort of peace deal include recognition and normalization of relations between Israel and the rest of the Arab and Muslim world, or is that a wholly separate issue?
  • Does Iran’s nuclear ambition factor into the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians?
  • Finally, let me ask one following, sort of catch-all series of questions:
    • What concessions should Israel make to achieve peace?
    • What concessions should the Palestinians make to achieve peace?
    • Are the concessions that you’ve suggested reasonably equivalent in value or does one side have to give more (and why)?

I know that there are actually many, many more issues that would need to be on the table. And I know that some of the issues that I’ve included are actually far more nuanced and difficult than I’ve alluded to. But for the point of trying to get a good faith discussion started, these points seemed like a good starting point.

I suspect that some of these questions will draw criticism from one side or the other. Any regular reader of this blog will know that I am a supporter of Israel. Nevertheless, for the point of the discussion that I’d like to have, I hope that other supporters of Israel will try to think through these issues from the Palestinian viewpoint. I’ve tried to write these discussion points to address both sides, though at times that seems a bit ridiculous (how many Jewish suicide bombers have crossed into the West Bank to blow themselves up in Ramallah?). Nevertheless, I really hope that people of good faith, whether pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, or simply pro-peace can make at least an effort to think through the issues. Instead of just criticizing and name-calling, let’s have a real discussion about the issues.

Finally, though I’m a huge fan of Twitter, the conversation that I’d like to have really is better handled via comments to this post than at 140 characters at a time (where it is often extremely difficult to make a nuanced point and where it’s often difficult to keep track of who is saying what to whom). I know that there are many of you out there who have thoughts about the current situation. Well, let’s take those concerns, agree to disagree where appropriate, and have a civil discussion about the way forward.

Oh, and one other point that I should make: If you want to make a historical or factual argument, that’s fine. But please, try to provide links to documents or other materials that support your position. And try to be sure that the documents and materials to which you link are from at least somewhat reputable sources.

(If you try to post a comment and have difficulty, please email me and let me know; I re-enabled the CAPTCHA system as I was getting massive amounts of spam, but I understand that some people have difficulty posting comments as a result.)

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