A Plan for Israel's Future
Contrary to popular hysteria, peace in the Holy Land is very much a possibility but it is by no means easy. The reasonable map of lasting peace does not include separate lands of Israel and Palestine. In fact, the most successful solution includes one country with Jews, Christians and Muslims living together in peace and harmony as they had for centuries before this. Israel and Palestine -- Christian, Muslim and Jew are like one body, separating them is like separating the organs.
Jewish control of what is now Israel and the Occupied Territories has been nothing less than a brutal occupation and suppression of the Christian and Muslim Arabs. Ever since its independence, there has been no sincere effort by Israel to embrace the Arab Palestinians as co-citizens with equal rights. It is only recently that Israel even accepted the Arabs of the pre-1967 Israel as citizens but still vastly inferior to the Jews. The Christian and Muslim Arabs of the OT have suffered a collective strangulation, which has de-populated much of the areas Israel covets like Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and environs. Arabs have been forced to run or sell their property after it became impossible to live there because of terrorism, bureaucracy and artfully crafted laws, which affect only Arabs. Such excesses only serve to perpetuate dislike and suspicion that do not provide a climate for any form of enduring peace or for co-existence. As Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador said, "Peace is not the product of terror or fear. It is not the silence of the cemeteries; it is not the result of violent repression. Peace is Generosity. It is a right and a duty".
It may help Israel temper its hubris if the Israelis look at past history of occupations across the world. It would appear that the times an occupier was successful was when the conqueror assimilated with the conquered like some of Muslim invaders in India. The other times were when the indigenous population was slaughtered to insignificant numbers such as the fates of the Native Americans and the Aborigines of Australia. At almost all other times the conqueror inevitably had to leave, like the Muslim conquest of Spain, which lasted almost 400 years and the conquest of India by the British, which lasted about 200 years. The extended Kingdoms of David and Solomon -- which is what Zionists stake their land claims on -- lasted for only about 73 years. According to Ilene Beatty's Arab and Jew in the Land of Canaan, "Even if we allow independence to the entire life of the ancient Jewish kingdoms, from David's conquest of Canaan in 1000 B.C. to the wiping out of Judah in 586 BC, we arrive at (only) a 414-year Jewish rule." In contrast, the vast majority of the people in Palestine have been Arabic since the 7th century - that's over 1,300 years.
With only about 50 years under its belt, Israel would be well advised to seek a more lasting and just agreement with the Palestinians or, risk another mutual catastrophe that will make all the post-independence losses in the area seem insignificant. There is the possibility that the Jews and the Arabs might both use nuclear weapons; without playing coy, we know Israel has numerous nuclear weapons, what we do not know is who else might be developing them or, may already have them. Judging by the unreliability of intelligence reports of the past few decades, one cannot say with certainty, who might have which weapon of mass destruction. Given Israel's belligerent and pre-emptive behavior, it is possible that both sides of an Arab-Israeli conflict might let loose their weapons of mass destruction in fear that they might be annihilated. This is especially true since the controls, which existed between the US and the USSR during the Cold War, do not exist here. If such a war erupts in the Middle East then it will not matter who wins because all the lands will become uninhabitable.
One of the problems of peace negotiations is that Israel has everything to lose and almost nothing to gain by giving up any of its hold on Palestinian territories. With blind support from the rich West, with an unending supply of money and weapons flowing largely from the "honest broker" the United States, and with all kinds of financial and political pressure being exerted upon the Palestinians and the Arab countries, Israel has no immediate incentive for negotiating away parts of what it sees as a limited pie. Even the latest Clinton plan only serves to tear out as many more Palestinians from Israel as possible into a sophisticated Bantustan under the guise of independence. The remaining Palestinians of Israel can then be pressured to make the move to "their own" land, allowing Israel to maintain its Jewish character.
It is time for the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims to give up all desires for an ethnically "pure" or a segregated land. It is time all sides realized that any such desires would only serve to guarantee a future of repeated genocidal attacks by one another. It is time for the three faiths to accept that God created them not so that one might kill off the other but that they might share the good they have been endowed with and help make the earth a better place for all. Moving away from this long-nurtured dream of having their "purified" land is perhaps the single greatest obstacle each side has to overcome.
Despite the various failed peace plans that have been presented with much fanfare in the past, it seems that the one that has the best chance of lasting is the one that requires the most sacrifice from both sides. Perhaps that is why it has not been brought forward.
For an enduring peace, the victor must make the first and the major moves and win over the hearts and the minds of the vanquished. On Israel's part they would have to acknowledge their part in the depopulating of Arab lands, the massacres and the expropriations of Arab properties. Israel should provide reparations in forms of money and housing to the surviving Palestinians and their descendants. The Palestinians need to accept that the Jews of Israel and the OT Jewish settlers are there to stay. It would be unrealistic to expect even the settlers who live on post-1967 lands, to uproot and move into new homes in Israel proper. The better solution is for the Arabs and Jews to live together in a merging environment rather than the strictly delineated Jewish-Arab conditions that exist in Israel and the OT. This means the Arabs must be permitted to become residents within the same neighborhoods as the Jews. Those Arabs, who have had their property taken away in order to build housing for Jews, should be allowed a share of the same housing projects. Compensation for confiscations of Arab properties should be given without invoking clauses, which limit or eliminate the amounts the Arabs could have received under fair market conditions. In the meantime, Israel needs to acknowledge that Palestinians are not synonymous with Fatah or Arafat; that other parties can and do exist. Thus, Israel needs to open a dialogue with Hamas that brings all political parties to equal footing. Any dialogue Israel opens should be based on recognition of mutual needs, not on just how far the other can come towards Israel's desires. Both sides need to recognize that good and evil are not monopolies of a certain group but exist everywhere.
The Law of Return as it applies to Jews must be changed to include all Palestinians who wish to return. As an immediate measure, Israel can turn to its own citizens who are Arabs and allow them to return to the villages from which they had been depopulated between 1948 and 1967. In some cases, these people are living within view of their ancient homes. For the Diaspora Palestinians, Israel can place some safety issues and require that all returning Palestinians swear an oath to live in peace and equality with the Jews a,s citizens of the new state of Israel-Palestine. Then the machinery can get into motion like it does whenever Jews move into Israel, to help the populations integrate successfully. The annual numbers of returning Palestinians could be limited to 100,000 plus the number of Jews who immigrate to Israel each year. There is no reason this cannot work as long as Israel treats the incoming Arabs with respect and equality. Given the universal maltreatment of the Palestinian Diaspora, the Palestinians have as much of a stake in defending an Israel where they are equals, as the Jews do.
Arabs and Jews must change their expectations and coexist without discrimination against Jew, Christian or Muslim. The new rules should not only protect a minority but also give enough checks and balances to ensure that the three main religious groups have parity of representation. This could be achieved in a House and Senate arrangement where the House representation is based on total population and the Senate is based on 35% of seats for Jewish Senators, 35% for Muslim, 20% for Christian and 10% open seats for independent candidates; people who might not wish to be represented by any of the three religions. Any changes in the constitution must require large percentages of each group as well as ratifications by states. Passing of laws too must have a multi-layer approval process to prevent abuse by one side or the other. As secular demands grow the Independent sector could increase while the other three are proportionately reduced.
Clearly, this is only a skeleton of a plan and clearly one must expect some setbacks. Obviously too, the healing process might take a decade or two, but what is that time when compared to the millennia of existence of Arabs and Jews? There will probably be groups of Arabs and groups of Jews who will be unable to accept peaceful coexistence. But as long as the general populations are convinced that they are safe in this new arrangement, the extremist groups will not be able to flourish. All three sides of this issue, the Jews, The Christians and the Muslims must realize that together can they form the greatest nation the Middle East has known in centuries. All that is required to get there is mutual respect and mutual acceptance within the same land "with Liberty and Justice for all".
Jeff Siddiqui is an American Muslim and a human rights activist living in Lynnwood, WA.
Topics: Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Occupation