I'm not a politician or a person of influence, but whenever the question of what we should be doing in Gaza and Judea/Samaria comes up, people always say "so what would you do". Here's my attempt to answer this question.
These are my own ideas, they are not represented by any political party or movement in Israel. I'm sure that there are many many issues that I haven't considered, and if you have any thoughts, suggestions, criticisms. please feel free to leave a comment or email me.
This is a very rough first draft that I wrote in a single sitting, if I get feedback or additional ideas, I may expand these ideas (and fix the spelling and grammar), or maybe not. Right now I'm trying to put down my first draft in writing to see if it looks as interesting on paper as it does in my head.
The ProblemIn a nutshell, the problem is that Jews and Arabs share a tiny peace of land and have to learn to live together.
The reality is that there are no quick or simple solutions to this problem. If anyone says they have a solution for "Peace Now" or we have a "Small window of opportunity to create a new Middle East", they are probably mistaken. To solve this problem will not be quick or easy, it will take decades or generations for Jews and Arabs to break down the mistrust and hatred and learn to live together.
Currently in Israel, there is very little interaction between Jews and Arabs, and the amount of interaction over the past few years is getting less and less.
In my opinion, the solutions that have been proposed until now are part of the problem. The Oslo Accord started a process to separate the two populations, making it almost impossible for Jews and Arabs to interact.
The terrorism that followed Oslo and the counter-terrorism measures that followed lead to further alienation between the two peoples.
Similarly, solutions on the far right (such as "Transfer") are another way of increasing the problem; instead of looking at how we can get along with each other, this solution is an attempt at how we can separate or disengage from one another, this can only lead to additional hatred.
I think that we have to realize that government negotiators locked in secret discussions deciding exactly where a border should or not be drawn is not going to get us to love one another, rather it encourages extremist positions. Especially as the negotiators believe that a compromise will have to be reached somewhere between the two opinions. This encourages each party to go to the bargaining table to adopt as extremist opinion as possible so that the compromise will be closer to their actual demands. For example, if in reality a Palestinian negotiator would be prepared to accept 90% of Judea/Samaria, if that's his opening position he's unlikely to get anything close to that. Rather he should be clear that he wont accept anything less that 120% as well as a right of return and be adamant that he wont settle for less. That's the way business is done in a middle-Eastern market.
The solution is to leave the political process for now, and instead work on mutual understanding at the personal level. It will take many years to get back to the level of personal interaction that existed before the Oslo accords, and decades beyond that to reach levels of trust that would make real peace even a possibility.
However, if we really do learn to trust and live with one another, the exact nature of the political solution, whether it's an independent state, semi-autonomous regions, full annexation with citizenship of the Palestinian minority, or another solution will be immaterial.
Border disputes between the US and Canada don't lead to mistrust or hostilities, they just sit down and work out a solution. I don't really think that the Jews and Arabs will have the level of understanding the Americans and Canadians have, but we should at least be working in that direction.
A Note About Gaza
Before I go on, I should say that I think we are too late to ever create peace with Gaza. The withdrawal by Israelis in 2005 and the subsequent takeover by Hamas was the nail in the coffin of ever learning to live together.
It is possible that if in a generation or two we do have real peace with the Palestinians in Judea/Samaria, maybe the Gazans will be more open to living with us, but I fear that this is no longer possible in the next 30 years.
In the mean time, we should pursue a different solution which I don't want to go into, maybe Daniel Pipes' Egyptian solution, or a UN imposed solution, or a solution imposed by the threat of serious Israeli retaliation to any attacks - but none of these "solutions" are "Peace", they are at the most a lull in hostilities. This essay is addressing Judea and Samaria, where I believe that if we start moving in the right direction, peace is possible down the road. Maybe our children or grandchildren will live to see it.
The basis of my concept is to build interaction between Jews and Arabs where they interact with each other on a personal level as equals or partners.
Right now, almost the only Arabs I see on a day-to-day basis are construction workers or menial labourers. It is almost inconceivable that I would have an Arab doctor, lawyer accountant, business partner, or close friend. It just doesn't happen to ordinary Israelis. This is the type of interaction we have to build.
There are a few organizations working in this direction, such as the "Peace Orchestra", but these organizations are a drop in the bucket.
Interaction has to be built simultaneously at a variety of levels, for example:
- Health Care
These interactions would lead to more personal contact, which would lead to more trust and understanding on a personal level which would lead to the chance for us to really get along.
If a businessman in Modi'in has a business partner in Ramallah (a fifteen minute drive), there is no way that either party would want a border between the two offices. Unless of course it was an open border where they could travel freely between the two countries without fear.
Right now, any Jew going into Ramallah will almost certainly be killed, possibly lynched by an Arab mob, not exactly conducive to building a business relationship.
The key to building understanding must start with education.
One of the biggest failings of the Oslo accord was that there was no attempt to enforce the clauses about education.
I was teaching in an Israeli public school when the accords were signed. The classes were all given projects where they drew "peace" showing Jews and Arabs arm and arm, drew Israeli and Palestinian flags etc.
Unfortunately, at the same time, when the PLO took over the Palestinian school system, they replaced the Israeli textbooks with old Jordanian texts which literally wiped Israel off their maps. Haifa, Acco, and Jaffa were all listed as Parts of Palestine, and Jews and Jewish history were no where to be seen.
I believe that we have to develop a curriculum for both Jewish and Arab students that includes the following:
- Language: Arabic and Hebrew (and English) should be compulsory at a high level at all schools. Currently Israeli and Palestinian kids are literally unable to speak to each other as they often lack a common language.
- History: Both Jews and Arabs have a long history in this land. All schools should visit and learn about King David brining the Capital to Jerusalem, Solomon building the Temple, as well as more recent Jewish History, visiting Har Herzl and Atlit, and Gush Etzion.
At the same time, all kids (Jewish and Arab) should visit historically significant sites to the Arab community, maybe even including Arab villages that were destroyed or abandoned in 1948. This is part of our shared history, we can't ignore half of it.
- Personal Interaction: This is by far the most difficult but I believe the most important. We need to set up sports leagues, choirs, hiking clubs, debating teams that include both Jewish and Arab participants.
- Higher Education: This is crucial, we need to build high-level freely accessible schools for Jewish and Arab students.
For example, right now there is a case before the Supreme court regarding land between Modi'in Alit and the a neighbouring Arab Village (Bilin). Instead of using that land to build hostilities and mistrust between the parties, why isn't the land used to build a high-tech university, and the Arabs claiming ownership compensated heavily the for their loss of land (i.e. buy it at well above the market value).
This school would be open to and give an opportunity to both the Haredi Jews of Modi'in Alit as well as the Arabs living n the area.
To be successful, the school would have to by of a very high standard of education, maybe some of the top academics in the World who are so outspoken on the Palestinian cause could be encouraged to come and actually work toward coexistence.
There could also be a synergy between the needs of the Haredi and Islamic community, e.g., separation of the sexes and arrangements for time for prayer.
I'm sure that there are donors who would be happy to have their name associated with a school that builds coexistence between Jews and Arabs. Hopefully this would allow the school to be heavily subsidized to give an opportunity to all.
The school would have to be 100% free of violence and extremism. All students would have to have careful background checks to show that they have no affiliation with any radical groups. This would allow students to learn in an environment free of threats or fear, and encourage local Arabs to distance themselves from radical groups as it would cost them the opportunity to advance academically and financially.
An outcome of the higher education schools I mentioned above could be joint Jewish-Arab business ventures.
I'm sure that we could find a venture capitalist or donor that would subsidize hi-tech startups on the condition that the management team includes both Israelis and Palestinians.
As I said above, if a business has offices in Janin as well as Kfar Saba, the last thing that employees of either office would want is a closed border between the 2 offices.
When our baby, Amichai, was born 3 months ago, one of things that impressed me was the number of Arabic speaking male nurses in the Surgery recovery room.
This type of interaction needs to be encouraged.
Also, if we invested heavily in health care in Judea and Samaria, building world-class state of the art hospitals staffed by both Jewish and Arab doctors, and catering to both Jewish and Arab patients, it would encourage the type of mutual interaction necessary to building peace.
Unfortunately today the only interaction many (most?) Jews and Arabs have with each other is through the barrel of a gun. The only Arabic phrase that many Israelis know (myself included) is "Stop, Stop or I'll shoot" - hardly a good icebreaker in a friendly game of cards.
This interaction is unfortunately necessary. Right now Israel cannot dismantle the checkpoints or disarm, that would be a suicide pact.
What we can do is try to diminish the hostilities in these interactions (as much as that is possible). For example, the check points are necessary and have saved hundreds of lives, however instead of manning the checkpoints by 20 year old recruits, why don't they sub-contract the manning of the check point to specially trained Arabic-Speaking mature Jewish Israelis who can treat the Arabs with as much respect and assistance is possible, without compromising security.
They could have electronic passes (maybe palm scan similar to at some airports), for Arabs that need to regularly cross and have the required permits.
They should increase communication -for example if there is a security alert and a check point is closed, make an electronic sign or a website with clear information available such as who is able to cross and who they should contact in case of special circumstances.
The checkpoints should also all have Arabic speaking medical professionals who are able to assess the seriousness of all emergency cases that are brought to the checkpoint.
As I said, Peace Now, or even peace within 10 years is not possible. However, if we introduced some of the recommendations above, or other similar ideas, I believe that within a generation we could have a population that are really interested in making peace and living together.
If Israelis are able to travel freely and securely in Ramallah, and citizens of Ramallah have equal access to Israeli universities and hospitals, exactly who rules Ramallah, whether it is Israel, the PA, the UN, or a Bi-National state would be of secondary importance.
I'm very keen to hear all the problems with my plan, and I know that there are many - please feel free to leave a comment or email me directly.