A Proposal Regarding Peace In The Middle East
By Bassam Abu-Sharif
December 11, 2001
The State of Israel defines itself as a Jewish State. The goal of the State of Israel is to serve as a haven for Jews from all over the world and for the majority of world Jewry to find its home in the State of Israel. The State of Israel, its government and its Jewish citizens have consistently rejected the idea that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be resolved within the framework of one state for Jews and Arabs what the Palestinian national movement called a “secular democratic state in Palestine”.
After many years of struggle to advocate the idea of the secular democratic state, the Palestinian national movement in 1988 came to accept the idea of two states for two people Israel and Palestine - living side-by-side in peace. This was a great compromise for Palestinians that was translated into formal agreements in Oslo in 1993 and the exchange of letters of mutual recognition by President Arafat and Prime Minister Rabin. On the basis of these understandings the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization built the Oslo Peace Process that was believed to be an act of historic reconciliation.
The translation of the Oslo Peace Process into reality should have concluded with the establishment of a Palestinian state in the territories of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, land occupied by Israel in 1967. The two sides should have entered into many cooperation agreements concerning water, environment, economics, security, etc. Jerusalem would have become a shared capital for two states with open borders and means for joint management of the city. The Palestinian refugee issue should have been resolved within the framework of the agreement based on UN Resolution 194.
In this way both the State of Israel and the State of Palestine would have become the political manifestation of the principles of the right of self-determination for the Jewish people and for the Palestinian people. The failure of over seven years of the Oslo Peace Process to produce an end of conflict agreement of the nature outlined above has played a major role in the violence of the past 14 months. It is important, however, to point out the main reasons for the failure of the Oslo Process to bring a final agreement.
Since the beginning of the Oslo Peace Process, the succeeding Israeli governments continued to build and expand illegal settlements, reaching an unprecedented pace during Ehud Barak’s term as Prime Minister of Israel. By doing so, the Israeli governments were creating ‘facts on the ground’ despite agreements signed between the two sides and in breach of the Geneva Convention, which forbids settlement activities. The succeeding governments also breached agreements signed between the two sides and delayed the process by setting conditions and pre-conditions that made agreements practically impossible.
The misconception that Barak submitted a “generous offer” to the Palestinians during the Camp David talks, attended by Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Barak, President Arafat and US President Bill Clinton might have led the Israeli public to believe that the Palestinians do not want a solution, or peace. In fact, there are several dangerous and serious misconceptions influencing the public opinion in Israel. If this persists, the escalating violence will mean counter escalation and the result will definitely be more Palestinians and Israelis killed.
Many Israelis are under the impression that the Intifada of 28 September was a planned activity aimed at destroying the State of Israel, unaware that Sharon’s incursion of Al-Aqsa mosque and what followed the next day from killing of Palestinian demonstrators with live ammunition came to set aflame years of frustration and indignation due to continuous settlement activity, land confiscations, home demolitions, humiliation at Israeli military roadblocks in the occupied territories, etc. The Israeli public is not fully aware of what takes place in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, which is why they are under the impression that the Palestinians are the aggressors, and the Israelis are the victims.
Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories became military bases used to attack Palestinians. The Palestinians reacted by an uprising to defend themselves and to end thirty-four years of occupation. Following a bloody year that resulted in the death of over 1000 Palestinians and Israelis, the vast majority of whom are Palestinian civilians, the Israeli government has rejected outright the return to the negotiating table from the point where negotiations ended in Taba and instead continues to carry provocative occupation measures in the Palestinian territories. Palestinian extremists resorted to terrorist acts that are condemned by the Palestinian mainstream and the Palestinian Authority. But the cycle of violence continues in attacks and reaction. The accumulation of mutual grudges will make it more difficult to resume negotiations and to establish peace.
This is a call to the Israelis from the Palestinians to join efforts to restore reason, the vision for peace and to be courageous in making a needed breakthrough. It is time the people of Israel and Palestine became activists for peace, rather than simply observers and absorbers of incitement and misconception.
To overcome this problem I suggest that we draw up a vision of the solution
from the end game and to then work out the means and mechanisms to translate
that vision into reality. The joint Israeli-Palestinian vision must provide
real answers to real Israeli and Palestinian security fears and needs.
Issues of immediate concern to both sides should be clearly addressed and
The vision must provide for each side to fulfill its national aspirations and to achieve dignity for its people. There must be provisions for guaranteeing the full implementation of the agreements reached through direct international involvement on the ground. There must be acceptable means for verification and implementation of mutual commitments.
The vision must create confidence and trust between the peoples of Israel and Palestine and clear misconceptions carried by either side of the other. This process can begin as a public peace process initiated by Israeli and Palestinian public figures. These public figures should sign a document entitled “A Vision for Israeli-Palestinian Peace”. The document would contain the vision for peace outlined above. Israeli and Palestinian public figures would appear together in public and in the media explaining this vision to the Israeli and Palestinian publics.
Furthermore, the public figures will also stress the following:
First: We all condemn terrorism and violence and reject these methods, whether carried by Israeli soldiers or Palestinian extremists. We believe that terrorist activities carried against civilians harm to a great extent peace and the potential agreement. We also believe that through targeting civilians, both sides have destroyed their image in the world and had turned the Holy Land into a bloody one.
Second: We all do not want, seek or plan to destroy the state of Israel or to prevent the Palestinian people from achieving statehood and international legitimacy. We all recognize the State of Israel and the State of Palestine and are committed to the right of both states to live in safe and recognized borders.
Third: We are all committed to the establishment of the State of Palestine in the territories of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
Fourth: Jerusalem must become a shared capital with open borders and free access to all Holy Places by people of all faiths.
Fifth: Both States will enjoy independence and sovereignty and will enter into agreements for real and mutually beneficial economic cooperation, means and mechanisms for security and defense provisions and guarantees and many other cooperative endeavors in environment, water management and sharing, etc.
Sixth: The right of return will be resolved through agreement incorporating an international effort with the involvement of other regional states. The agreement will preserve the demographic integrity of both states.
The Israeli and Palestinian public figures will also call for:
· An immediate Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza.
· A complete freeze of settlement construction, land confiscation and home demolition.
· An immediate ceasefire, in order to create conditions suitable for negotiating, in a short period, regarding the clauses of the peace treaty between the state of Israel and the State of Palestine.
· An International peacemaking and peacekeeping force should be established and sent to the region with a clear mandate to intervene and cease acts of violence be established under the leadership of the United States and the European Union. This force should be accepted by both sides and serve as an immediate buffer between the two sides.
In recognition that it may take quite some time before the official
peace process catches up to the public peace process, ongoing Track II
initiatives of non-officials from both sides will increase the depths of
understandings between the sides. The participants in these efforts will
accept the principle of transparency and will make efforts to create a
public movement for peace on both sides from the ground up. We will all
work together to being the people of Israel and the people of Palestine
to demand from their governments to join the process and sign onto to the
vision in the form of a final, lasting and comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian
peace for this generation and for the generations of the future.
Gershon Baskin, Ph.D.
IPCRI - Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information
P.O. Box 9321, Jerusalem 91092
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Telephone: 972-2-676-9460 Fax: 972-2-676-8011
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