DISCLAIMER #1: This is an op-ed piece, and I'm not going to pretend this is anything more than my own personal opinion on how to restore a modicum of sanity to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Not that anyone particularly important would listen to a 23 year-old premedical student, but hey.
I'm also not linking to any authority or evidence, because more than enough has been presented in the last two weeks on K5 to back up any side that I feel like taking. If you disagree with me, I have a feeling you wouldn't believe any evidence I present on this particular issue anyways.
DISCLAIMER #2: When I generalize while talking about the "Israeli" side or the "Palestinian" side, I am attempting to discuss the most widely-held, common positions that a great majority of the two sides are taking. Yes, I realize that there are exceptions to everything, including Israelis and Palestinians that hew to the polar opposite of what most of their nation's positions are. I do not mean to generalize to the extent of saying "everybody" or "all", just the most common view, with particular consideration given to those in political power. "Most common" also does not mean "most moderate".
The Current Problem
The current problem that prevents a viable plan of action for Israel/Palestine from being discussed, as I see it, is twofold. The first aspect of the problem is that both the status quo and the former status quo of two weeks ago are untenable, and that most or all of the calls for action on both sides and in the international community do not address this. The second aspect of the problem is that potential mediators and negotiators in this conflict are failing to address the root desires and needs of both sides in their advice and prodding except superficially. Let's start with the first aspect.
The status quo is untenable. By this, I mean that the current Israeli military action in the West Bank, including isolating Arafat, arresting militants and confiscating weapons, will all come to naught unless coupled with the reengagement of the peace process and a timely military withdrawal. Ultimately, isolating Arafat as an end and not a means is going to hurt Israel, because for effective negotiations, only the Palestinian people can choose who negotiates for them. Reoccupation of the West Bank for a lengthy period of time is counterproductive, as it not only does not guarantee Israel's security, but it directly blocks a political settlement from being made.
The former status quo is untenable. I'm referring to the Palestinian belief that they can obtain through military force (gunmen and suicide bombings) what political negotiations have come close to but so far haven't delivered: a nation-state of their own and an alleviation of their living conditions. Just as military action against Palestinians radicalize and inflame them against compromise, military action against Israelis have the same effect, only worse: the Israelis, if pushed hard enough, actually have the military muscle to do something really stupid by imposing an effective military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yes, they could, and no, it wouldn't be pretty or humane.
Why are we rehashing the past and present? The advice currently given freely by the EU, the UN, the US, and every other two-letter acronym out there, boils down to either telling the Israelis to withdraw because what they're doing is wrong or telling the Palestinians to change their ways because they've brought this upon themselves. The former is really a call to return to the previous status quo and the latter is an endorsement of the current one, and no one at all is advocating what is necessary to get out of this mess: a new framework for the peace process, a new blueprint for the future of Israel and Palestine, and a new plan to get there.
Now on to the other aspect of the problem, which is that neither side's root concerns are being addressed seriously. I can say this with certainty because the only two options out there, the Saudi peace plan (which is less of a plan than wishful thinking) and the Mitchell/Tenet plans both fall short of what's needed, one more so than the other. I'll start with an analysis of the Mitchell/Tenet plans.
Mitchell/Tenet commits the sin of getting it half right. The plans' essence is that a ceasefire is of paramount importance to get the two sides back to the negotiating table, and in order to do so, they propose some realistic steps like establishment of security contacts, standardized crises management, buffer zones, and the like.
The problem with Mitchell/Tenet is that it offers no credible alternative to what military action offers the two sides. The Palestinians believe they can win a viable state by wearing down the Israeli public with casualties. The Israelis believe that they can crush the Palestinian terrorists if they unchain their armed forces. Neither side wants to return to a peace process whose goals both sides feel won't give them what they really want - for Palestinians, a sense of justice and national pride, and for Israelis, a sense of real security. Both sides have convinced themselves that they can win what they want through soldiers if they can't win it through diplomats. Mitchell/Tenet gets it half right: it's a plan to take realistic and sensible steps to achieve practically nothing other than a ceasefire, when what's needed is a plan to take realistic and sensible steps to achieve wide-reaching change in the situation. When both sides can look at a peace plan and see an end result worth compromising for, with the added benefit of stopping the bloodshed, then you'll see the two sides sit down at the negotiating table. Until then, neither side sees stopping the killing as worth the risk of putting down their weapons and the other side not doing the same or worth giving up what they think they can achieve through brute force alone.
The Saudi peace plan is a nonstarter for the Israelis. Nowhere does it mention explicitly stopping Palestinian attacks on Israel (which they're more worried about right now than having "normal relations" with the Saudis), and the 1967 borders are considered indefensible by the Israelis anyways. It was a nice diplomatic gesture by Saudi Arabia, considering Saudi Arabia's diplomatic history, but it still doesn't come close to offering what the Israelis want.
A Possible Solution
So now that I've outlined my perspective on the current problem with peace negotiations in the Middle East, what could be done to address it?
What cannot be done is increasingly clear: the two sides cannot simply "go back" to the Oslo Accords. The Oslo Accords have failed, period. A majority on both sides now feel that the peace process spawned by the Oslo Accords has directly or indirectly led to the current state of violence through failure to come to an agreeable compromise, and they have rejected going back as a path to more failure and consequently more bloodshed. What they want is a way forward - a new source of hope, and a new plan for peace.
Any workable proposal that leads to a lasting peace must fulfill four criteria:
The Ultimate Israeli Goal: guaranteed peace and security for their nation-state in the Middle East, within its borders and outside of them.
- It must be an implementable plan, outlined in small, realistic steps with a clear timeframe and reciprocation on both sides, and not an abstract call for action like the Saudi proposal.
Without this, any plan can be deemed as wishful thinking by either side, and the peace plan will quickly become bogged down in mindless debate over minor details about what is required and what is not. Inaction will sink in as both sides will want "more" from the other side before they take steps of their own, as we are now seeing happen.
- It must have a state of affairs at the end of the peace process for Palestine and Israel, clearly stated, that is desirable for both sides of the conflict. In other words, a final political settlement, unlike the Mitchell/Tenet plan.
Without this, the cycle of events will look something like this: the two sides implement a cease-fire to get back to the negotiating table, negotiations stall over differing desires on an issue, someone on one of the sides becomes unhappy with the negotiations and breaks the cease-fire, retaliation occurs, and the cycle of violence starts all over again.
- It must address all of the major concerns of both sides, and it has to do so in a fair and equitable way. Both sides can be unhappy with the plan to an extent, as long as they feel the other side is giving up just as much. Leaving out a contentious issue to speed settlement in the present will only prepare grounds for resentment in the future.
- It must separate out the basic concerns and goals of both sides from the specific demands by which the two sides wish to see their goals accomplished. It has become increasingly clear that the two sides have become more entrenched and unmovable in their positions on specific demands, such as the Palestinians' insistence on the right of return for refugees and the Israeli demand for keeping at least some of the settlements at the strategic weak points of the 1967 border. It has also become clear that the demands on each side are shifting towards becoming mutually exclusive as well as unmovable, which has led to the uselessness of current political negotiations in the absence of a fresh start. No political compromise on a sensitive issue such as Jerusalem will make either side happy in its implementation; the key to making the compromise viable is to ensure that both sides are ultimately accomplishing their goals.
The Ultimate Palestinian Goal: a viable nation-state of their own, the implementation of which satisfies both their national pride and their sense of justice for the Palestinian people.
Are these goals deliberately vague? Yes. I state them in this form to separate the needs of the two sides from the vehicles that satisfy those needs. This provides room for compromise by allowing multiple solutions to the same problem and makes it possible to attack a problem from different angles to get around negotiation sticking points.
I am outlining below steps that I feel that both sides and major external mediators must take in order for a lasting peace to take hold. These are presented in no particular order; later on I will elaborate on an implementation framework that allows for reciprocal actions to be taken in order to build confidence for all sides in the peace process.
Steps for the Israelis:
Steps for the Palestinians:
- The ceding of sovereignty over what is to become the new nation-state of Palestine.
- Withdrawal of all military personnel and settlers from all or most of the territories gained in the 1967 Six-Day War. This includes all of the Golan Heights, all of the Gaza Strip, and all or most of the West Bank, the only possible exceptions being at settlements contiguous with pre-1967 Israel proper at strategic weak points.
- The lifting of all restrictions on internal movement and commerce within the new Palestinian state, and the establishment of Palestinian institutions for full governance, civil services, and national defense.
- Generous financial reparations must be given for displaced Palestinian refugees.
- Allowing Palestinian authority of some sort in Jerusalem, whether by declaring Jerusalem a special status jointly-held city with equal representation in its governance, or dividing it in half along the old East/West Jerusalem border, or by giving the Old City to Israel and the rest of East Jerusalem, plus any outlying suburbs, to Palestine. The first option in my view is the best and wisest course of action, as it keeps a unified Jerusalem and allows for a joint Jerusalem security force that can quash violence at the hot spots within the city without unnecessarily inflaming public emotion.
- Sovereignty must be ceded over Muslim holy sites to the new Palestinian state, including but not limited to al-Aqsa Mosque.
- There must be prompt and complete investigation and prosecution of Israeli soldiers and militants that have deliberately targeted civilians knowingly without cause. If the Israelis are serious about demanding that the Palestinians prosecute Palestinian militants, Israel has to take care of its own.
- Security cooperation with their Palestinian counterparts must take place, with appropriate agreements on extradition, criminal prosecution, and border security, to name just a few relevant issues.
Steps for the Americans:
- Drastic modification of Palestinian state-sponsored education and media to remove extreme anti-Israeli bias and propaganda. Part of the cause of the sorry state of affairs that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is currently in stems from the intolerance that is indoctrinated into the Palestinian people, especially the children, by state-sponsored mass media and schools. A lot of the reasoning behind Arafat walking away from Israeli concessions at Camp David II without giving a counterproposal is the fact that he's been hammering home to the Palestinian people for decades the "inviolable" goals of an Arabic Jerusalem and the physical right of return of millions of displaced Palestinians to Israel proper. He painted himself into a corner, which left no room for compromise.
Glorifying suicide bombing as a path of heroism has to go ("the blood of the martyr flows like a waterfall", and other such drivel), as well as indoctrinating kids to believe that all of Israel/Palestine is rightfully theirs. And that's just for starters.
- Palestinian officials, from Arafat on down, must denounce terrorism, as defined as violence specifically targeted against civilians for shock effect, as a means to the end of Palestinian statehood. Hopefully, by the time a new framework for the peace process is implemented, both sides can renounce violence as a means to an end, but this is a bare minimum, and it must be stressed.
- The Palestinian side must give up on the physical repatriation of its displaced refugees within Israel proper. There is nowhere to house them or supply them with the basic necessities, and asking Israel to suddenly grant citizenship to a million Palestinians refugees is akin to asking Europe to suddenly grant citizenship to 200 million North Africans who want in. There isn't any practical, humane way to do it.
- Sovereignty over Jewish holy sites, such as the underground Temple Mount and the Western Wall, must be given to Israel.
- Palestinian officials must Investigate and prosecute everyone directly linked with planning, supplying, and carrying out terrorist attacks. They must also do everything within the new Palestinian state's power to stop militants from attacking Israel. If the Palestinians want a new state, they have to start acting responsibly to police their own citizens' actions, as do the Israelis.
- Security cooperation between Palestinian law enforcement and their Israeli counterparts must take place. Palestinians and Israelis must work together, have faith that the other side will do their jobs, and produce results for the other side when legitimately called to do so.
- Palestinian officials must explicitly recognize the right of Israel to exist within the borders set out by the new peace plan.
Steps for the moderate Arab states:
- The US has to pressure both sides of the conflict to a cease-fire and negotiations and lay out a comprehensive peace proposal like the one I'm submitting. I cannot stress enough the importance of giving the warring parties a credible alternative to fighting. And no, simply putting down their weapons is not a credible alternative right now in the two parties' eyes.
Only the US has any real influence on Israel's actions. And the US still has enough influence with the Palestians that, together with the moderate Arab states, they could persuade the Palestinians to come back to a viable plan for peace.
- A mutual-defense treaty for Israel. The US has defense cooperation agreements with and supplies a lot of military aid to Israel, but in order to make Israelis feel secure about withdrawing to the pre-1967 borders, something a lot stronger is needed, a rock-solid guarantee of American military might to back up Israel in a worst-case defensive war. This will mean a full-time carrier battle group presence in the Mediterranean Sea near Israel (the current force rotation has a carrier in the Med for half of the year) and the placement of some sort of small US tripwire force along the Israeli border in the West Bank (the strategically weakest section of Israel) a la South Korea for at least a few decades while the notion of peace sinks in for the region. This will drastically increase the stakes, the cost, and the commitment for the US in the Middle East, but I believe that the costs are worth the benefit.
- Constant pressure on the Israeli and Palestinian sides to adhere to security cooperation agreements in the peace plan, and to let the other side's law enforcement do their job. This is very important to prevent reprisals to isolated incidents and a subsequent downward spiral of new violence.
- US peacekeepers must take part in the international monitoring force once a comprehensive peace plan has been agreed upon, mostly to assure the Israelis that the force will be evenhanded.
A Possible Implementation
- They, along with the US, have to put pressure on the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table when a viable peace plan is proposed. Moderate Arab governments giving unified approval to such a peace plan will give the Palestinian leadership the political cover they need to return to the negotiating table and eventually crack down on the violence.
- They must denounce violence used by all sides, including pressure on the Palestinian side, once the new peace plan is put into effect.
- They must contribute peacekeepers to an international force of monitors once an agreement on a new, comprehensive peace plan is reached.
- They must agree in the new, comprehensive peace plan to recognize the state of Israel and its right to exist within the borders set out by the plan, as well as open full diplomatic relations with Israel. Israel in return recognizes its neighboring countries' borders and pledges mutual nonagression pacts with the Arab states.
The specific steps, once the peace plan is proposed to and agreed on by both sides, should be carried out in a series of linked, reciprocal actions to avoid the "they should do more first" syndrome that is currently plaguing Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.
I can't pretend to know even where to begin elaborating on all of the small details about implementation that should be worked out before hand. A rough timeline, though, of the major events to occur would be as follows:
- The new framework for the peace process is agreed upon. The US and moderate Arab states give their approval for the peace plan, and pressure the two sides to carry out its conditions in a timely manner.
- Israelis withdraw military forces from Palestinian-controlled areas (Area A) and adopt a purely defensive posture (ie no attacks into Palestinian-controlled areas). Palestinian officials and moderate Arab states official declare their opposition to terrorist attacks (attacks targeting civilians), and begin working to stop all militant attacks from happening.
- Israeli and Palestinian investigations into violence against civilians begin. Both sides will present lists of incidents to be investigated, and the final lists will be moderated by the US and other international mediators. This will be a long, ongoing process.
- Security cooperation agreements must be drawn up and take effect. Both sides must publicly renounce violence and call on their fighters for peace and quiet. Both sides must actively and stringently enforce the peace in its own area.
- Israel lifts all internal travel and commerce restrictions on the Palestinians. The Palestinians cease broadcasting inflammatory propaganda over government-sponsored media.
- International peacekeeping force arrives to oversee the rest of the peace process.
- Negotiations for the make-up of the joint government institutions of Jerusalem and financial reparations to displaced Palestinians begin. US begins drawing up mutual-defense treaty with Israel and it is ratified. Palestinian state institutions for governance created and implemented.
- Israel begins withdrawal from territories gained in 1967. Palestinians revise state-sponsored education and mass media and recognize Israel's right to exist. Arab states recognize Israel and open diplomatic relations once the withdrawal has been completed. US tripwire force is put into place.
- Phased reparation payments by Israel begin. Jerusalem joint government created.
- Israel transfers sovereignty to the new state of Palestine. Sovereignty of holy sites are given over to the respective parties.
I realize that the devil is in the details, and that approximately one thousand things could go wrong with mine. I do believe, however, that my basic premises in the four conditions of a viable plan for peace are correct. There are tons of little details, like water arrangements and overflight agreements that I haven't even touched on here, but hopefully I've included all of the priority issues. I'm really interested in getting feedback from K5's readers in Israel about the US defense treaty and a tripwire force idea. I was looking for a solution to the fact that most Israelis would feel really uncomfortable in withdrawing to the 1967 borders, and wondering if such a security guarantee would help.