I am visiting Israel to deliver some lectures. I note a sense of helplessness; Israelis have kind of accepted that every few years there will be a war, people will be killed, but there is nothing Israel can do to change that. That is the belief I detect. I believe the causes for this helplessness are: the Israeli government attributes the problem to external factors, there is no Palestinian trusted partner to realize peace, and for the religious people, there is nothing to do because, like in the past, God will save Israel. I believe another cause is that to survive, for two thousand years, the Jewish people learned to live with problems so unless it is a major crisis that threatens their survival here and now, they do not act. Furthermore, the other alternatives are less attractive.
There are only five potential scenarios that might remove the problem of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
1. Israel disappears from the map; the problem becomes non-issue 2. All the Jews go back to where they came from (reverse history) 3. One state for all 4. Two states 5. Keep the status quo, the default solution. There are no other scenarios.
In scenario #1, whether Iran attacks or there is a devastating war, Israel will suffer but not disappear. Israel has nuclear armaments and can defend itself.
Scenario #2, returning six million Jews back to the countries they came from, is not possible to execute.
The one state solution is the end of the Zionist dream of having a Jewish state, and in fact might even make Israel an apartheid state or Israel might end up resembling one big Belfast.
In the two states alternative, thousands of settlers with a religious-messianic ideology will have to be removed from the land. They will not be removed without resistance. Maybe armed resistance. It could lead to a breakdown of Israeli society. And in the present state of animosity between the Israeli and Palestinians, there is a perceived danger that the west bank Palestinian state might become another Gaza, showering Israel with rockets. Thus, this solution is not driving Israeli strategic initiatives either.
This leaves us with the status quo, the solution by default.
What is so bad with keeping the status quo?
For one, Israel has no strategy regarding what TO DO. Only what NOT to do and Israel is perceived as being against peace, causing Israel to be increasingly ostracized by the family of nations. But more importantly, the situation does not freeze in a status quo. The situation either has to be better or IT WILL BE worse. And the situation is getting worse. Both the Israeli and the Palestinian populations are turning more extreme in their posture and if this prolonged status quo continues to deteriorate, which it has to, it will end in a major crisis.
It does not have to be so and that is the purpose of this post. Israel can unilaterally create a climate where peace negotiations can produce results. In the present climate of animosity and mistrust, no solution, whether it is status quo, two state or one state, will work. None.
What needs to be done is to create the conditions for finding a solution and only thereafter have peace negotiations which could be for one or two states or keeping the status quo. The conditions are:
1. Pass a law forbidding any expression of intolerance towards Arabs or any immigrant group or against the settlers in the so called occupied areas. Force tolerance and mutual respect by law.
2. Announce that Israel will stop new expansionist construction in areas Palestinians consider as part of their future state IF and WHEN the Palestinians stop the hate literature in their schools, and legislate and enforce a law that forbids expressions of hate against Israel. Trust building initiatives have to be mutual.
3. Bring the Arab political party into the governing coalition.
I believe they support the survival of Israel, as long as they can feel like equal members of Israeli society. If Palestinians win the war the local Arabs will, one way or another, be punished as collaborators. Furthermore, in Israel they have better standards of living and more political freedom than the Arabs in neighboring countries. They will lose it all if Israel disappears. As evidence I submit, when it was suggested that Um El-Fahem, a big Israeli Arab settlement, would be part of the potential Palestinian state, the residents rejected the plan. 4. Pass a law requiring that an Israeli Arab be elected Vice President of the country.
5. Announce that xyz sum of billions of dollars will be put in escrow in a Swiss bank for the Palestinians as compensation for the land they lost in all the wars, without Israel admitting guilt. Show empathy for their suffering and a willingness to help them rebuild their lives.
The money would be given to those who agree to cede their right of return, and the money must be assigned only for building industry or commercial enterprises in collaboration and co-ownership with Israeli or foreign entities. Build their economy so that in case of war they have something to lose.
6. To overcome what I think is a subconscious fear of assimilation in time of peace or a general fear or rejection of the Arabs, Israel has to feel strong spiritually and religiously. Make the study of Jewish traditions and philosophy mandatory.
7. Finally, make knowledge of spoken Arabic and the study of the foundations of Islam a requirement for graduating high school.
Do all of the above before going to any negotiations for peace.
To sign a peace agreement without at least some mutual trust and without minimal mutual respect is only to have it on a piece of paper. In reality, peace will not happen. Cannot happen.
As of now, Israel has no strategy one can identify, that is positive and leading anywhere short of an incoming disaster. Since there is no partner who can sign a real peace agreement and carry it through, the strategy should be one which Israel can do on its own. A strategy to give hope, to have a peace initiative that can hopefully initiate a movement in the right direction.