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a middle east peace

Page history last edited by Andrew Alder 1 year, 1 month ago

Perhaps a good idea about peace or perhaps just an unpopular essay


2020 Update

Look at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJSQNDQI0bs and turn on the subtitles. Many do hope for a miracle. 


And then look at Isaiah 19:23-25, bearing in mind that both Judaism and Islam regard Isaiah as a prophet.  


2017 Update

Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is obviously relevant.


It changes things, but not much. It confirms the basic logic below. Every passing day is time lost for the Palestinians, and makes any eventual peace likely to be less favourable to them. They should have accepted the original partition plan. They should now accept this one... or probably a rewritten version of it, even less favourable to them. And next year, it will probably be less favourable still.


But the Israelis should also remain interested in this, again perhaps rewritten to accept the reality of the Trump decision. The rockets will not stop permanently until something like this is accepted. It is still worth having, for both sides. 





Some thoughts on recent (as of December 2012) conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and a possible solution.


Do miracles happen? Perhaps one is required. But recently when thinking about what was not possible, an interesting logical possibility arose which I invite you to examine.


I am not a diplomat. But I am a logician. Let us see whether logic can perhaps help.


Terminology: Where I speak below of the "partition plan" I mean the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, approved by the UN General Assembly on 29 November 1947. When I speak of "the plan" or "the proposal" I mean the new proposal developed below. 


What is not possible

There have been any number of middle east peace initiatives, but there has been no resulting peace. And it's not hard to see why. Each has in some way attempted the impossible.


  • It is not possible to bring peace without the support of both sides. 

A clear majority of the Palestinians and the Israelis need to want peace badly enough to accept some very significant and painful tradeoffs in order to achieve it. Any plan that does not achieve this level of support will fail.


  • It is not possible to win the support of the militants on either side for a compromise.

There is a faction that wishes to drive Israel into the sea and another that wants to similarly destroy and/or disinherit the Palestinians. And there always will be. Any plan that relies on eliminating either of these factions will fail.


  • It is not possible to surrender Jerusalem to either side.

Neither Israel nor the Palestinians will ever cede control of Jerusalem to the other side. Both sides have at times claimed exclusive possession of Jerusalem, and if either of these claims is pursued then no solution is possible. Any plan that relies on one side or the other possessing Jerusalem will fail.  


  • It is not possible to give justice to every individual.

There are many competing claims that cannot be resolved at all, particularly of particular pieces of land, including and particularly but by no means only in Jerusalem. There are far more valid claims for compensation than funds to pay them.


  • It is not possible to divide the West Bank.

There have been many attempts, notably the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip also known as Oslo II, but none have looked or proved to be practical.


And of course, it is probably not possible to destroy either side, and not an acceptable solution even if it were possible.


So far as I can see, no plan yet proposed accepts all of these realities. Many do not accept any of them.


A step of faith

Keeping all of those problems in mind let us try some lateral thinking. Let us suppose that there is a solution. This is a logical thing to do, in that this discussion is not about whether there is one. It's rather about what the solution will look like if it exists.


  • We need strong support from both sides.

There is some evidence that this is possible at this moment. Even journalists who are extremely partisan, extremely pessimistic, or both, are reporting that people on both sides are saying "the rockets must stop".

But how are we to turn this into support for a specific proposal?


  • We need this support on each side to be strong enough to resist and overcome the inevitable rejection by the extreme factions on the same side of any plan acceptable to anyone at all on the other side.

How can we build this support? 


  • We need to internationalise Jerusalem.

Neither side can be persuaded to cede it entirely to the other. We are now already looking at some concrete details, and the devil is truly in them. Can either side be persuaded to give up their desire for control?


To some extent both already have. There is no credible move to demolish the Dome of the Rock, nor the various other Islamic and Christian centres that occupy parts of the Temple Mount, or to unreasonably restrict pilgrims from visiting them or Jews from visiting the Wailing Wall. There is the fact of the acceptance of the partition plan which included this internationalisation by the Israelis at the time, and the more recent regret expressed by some Palestinians that this partition plan was not accepted by their side at the time. More on this below.  



Two come to mind.


  • Peace.

As already mentioned, there is a strong desire on both sides for the rockets to stop.


Israeli attacks inevitably cause civilian casualties. Hamas attacks do not even attempt to avoid them. And casualties are casualties whether civilian or military. A dead soldier will not come home for family birthdays and weddings any more than a dead greengrocer will.


  • Opportunity.

The Palestinian President, not so long ago, said that his main goal was now to reverse the rejection of the partition plan, which he now regards as a tragic mistake by the Palestinian side.


That is a start but it does not go far enough. That plan is no longer on offer, which seems at first a shame if the Palestinians now wish to accept it. But it may also be an enormous asset. Despite this promising start, there is no guarantee that the Palestinians as a whole would look more favourably on the plan now than they did when it was proposed, nor that the Israelis would have accepted it then or would now, either.


In fact every time that plan is revived it raises false hopes: "We rejected it before but we can always try it again in the future". We must brutally dash these false hopes if there is to be any sense of opportunity now. And they are false hopes. We do nobody any favours by keeping them alive.


By way of contrast and illustration, the leader of Hamas recently declared his intention to create a Palestinian state on all the land currently held by Israel. As already stated, these hopes will never go away completely. But they can be discouraged. The most discouraging thing surely is that the Palestinian cause has gone backwards as a result of these extreme plans. Or has it? If the Partition Plan is still on offer, as the President's plan implies , then relatively little was lost by rejecting it in 1947. But if it is a significant and tragic lost opportunity, that's a whole new ball game.   


So let us instead suppose that the proposal for which we seek support is, in some senses at least, not nearly so generous as the partition plan in what it gives the Palestinians. And in a sense this is inevitable. Nobody can give back the wasted lives and years that have been lost since this rejection, no matter how willing.


It is easy to be wise after the fact, but that is the stark reality. And Israel is far stronger now than then, so may bargain harder, but that is speculation. The loss of so much in the conflict on the other hand is fact, so that even if the partition plan was to be revived in unchanged terms, the Palestinians would stlll end up having paid heavily for their rejection of it. And if they are now obliged to consider giving up the West Bank entirely, then the 1947 rejection of partition becomes clearly a blunder of immense proportions. Highlighting the magnitude of this blunder is one of the key hopes of peace.


As of course have the Israelis paid a high price for the conflict. The gains they may have made do not balance the tragedies they have suffered since 1947.


This is more of a stick than a carrot. Just as the partition plan is a missed and now unrepeatable opportunity, then so potentially is this one. And for both sides. 


It cuts both ways. If the conflict is to cease or even be scaled down, both sides need to give some ground, and the sooner the better, for both sides.


And they will both need to be prepared to feel that they are giving up far more than the other side. Because in order to meet halfway, you need to be prepared to go two-thirds of the way, Because when you do meet halfway that is what it feels like. Your own concessions always feel twice the size of those on the other side, for both parties.


Are the moderates on both sides prepared to do this? The extremists are already irretrievably lost, remember. The only hope is the moderates.


We must make another step of faith and assume that they are prepared to pay a fairly high price in order to take rather than miss this opportunity. If either side is not prepared to do this, then there is no solution.  



What more details can we fill out?


  • A two-state solution. Two countries, Israel and Palestine, both with seats in the United Nations General Assembly and normal diplomatic ties with other countries. That seems to be assumed by all parties to be part of the solution and is not questioned here.


In particular the two need to have and value a close and mutual security arrangement where each gives a credible pledge to come to the aid of the other in any armed conflict involving third parties. 


  • Jerusalem. An international city. Perhaps a Trust Territory administered under a UN mandate, and under strict conditions.


The international administration of Jerusalem was part of the partition proposal of 1947, which was accepted by the Israelis and is now seen as a lost opportunity by at least some Palestinians. So while it's not an easy option, there's some hope for it.  


Could Jerusalem still be the Capital of Israel, or Palestine or both? It is unlikely to be the main administrative centre of either, see below. So far as being a ceremonial capital goes, that is also doubtful. It will not be the territory of either country, so to have at as the capital has a strong taste of second-rate statehood.


The hope is that although both may initially declare that they will use Jerusalem as their respective capitals, they will think better of it quite quickly. But in any case it is unnecessary and counterproductive to forbid either or both sides from the rhetoric of establishing a formal capital in Jerusalem, just so long as both accept that any armed guards protecting their official buildings there will wear UN insignia and will be paid and commanded by the UN. The forces and officers of Israel and Palestine may attend and even participate in ceremonies there but they will not be permitted to carry even replica or disabled drill-purpose weapons, let alone to carry real weapons presumably unloaded. 


I even fantasize of actually compelling the two combatants to provide honour guards in their full national uniforms, but unarmed, for important ceremonial occasions in Jerusalem. It might be a very interesting spectacle, and a potent symbol of peace. But perhaps not. The cartoonists would love it.  


Jerusalem residents will need their own passports or residency permits, issued by the local administration.


The administration could be by Israel, Jordan, or the Palestinian state, or by an organisation set up for the purpose. The plan must be adopted by both sides on the understanding that any of these is acceptable, and that the first administration will not necessarily continue indefinitely. In fact it would probably be good to set a short timescale for a review and possible change, say three years.


Whoever does run this administration, it must be under close international scrutiny, and funded by the UN not by Israel, Jordan or the Palestinian state directly or even jointly. Police and other officers will be largely recruited internationally, and will become long-term but temporary residents. High-level appointments will require UN approval.


The administration will itself have observer status at the UN, similar to the Vatican. It would not be or pretend to be a democracy or have any hope of becoming one. And it would be expensive. A highly desired junket for the senior officials, an interesting and challenging posting for lower level personnel. 


  • Human rights.


Both Israel and the Palestinians must commit to respecting a broad range of human rights. These notably include marriage, a right not currently enjoyed by non-Jewish citizens, let alone residents, of Israel.


This is a major concession to ask of Israel. But the moral capital of the holocaust is exhausted. Israel's discrimination against non-Jews must now end.


  • Right of return.


This non-discrimination must also extend to the Right of Return. But it is not necessary or even desirable for this policy to cease. What is necessary is that all persons who can make a case that their ancestors resided in Israel should be granted this right, whether Jew, Muslim, Christian, Agnostic or other. The question of creed should not even be asked, any more than that of colour.


And a similar right should be extended by Palestine. But they will have little argument with this, while again it is a major ask of Israel.


This is in a sense reversing "an-Nabka", the expulsion of about 700,000 Palestinians from Israel in 1948. Their descendents now number about five million, including about two million in Jordan alone. Compare this to Israel's total 2017 population of fewer than nine million persons (but including perhaps a quarter of a million of those five million), and you get an idea of the scale of what is involved. And these five million are not the the only descendents of displaced Palestinians, just the descendents of the largest and most controversial of many 20th century displacements.  


  • The West Bank.


The West Bank should simply be given to Israel. What! Restrict the Palestinian state to the Gaza Strip? How is that fair?


The package of which this is part is not a fair package, for individuals in particular. It is at best a workable package.


The fence should come down. The right of return, remember, is to be available to Palestinian as well as to Jew. Those Palestinians living in or as refugees from the West Bank must now accept that the rejection of the partition plan is now a lost opportunity. This plan offers them dignity and equality as Israeli residents and/or citizens. This is a new opportunity. And as stated above, it can be lost, just as the opportunity offered by the partition plan was lost.


This is a major win for Israel obviously, and a major sweetener for them. But it is not as one-sided as it may seem. Coupled with the non-discrimination provisions, it is a two-edged sword, and makes these provisions far more important but also far more painful for Israel.


And it makes it all the less likely that Palestine will wish their capital to be in Jerusalem, and that is important, to encourage Israel to think similarly. Which is a major concession for them too. Jerusalem will instead become primarily a city of pilgrimage, and can expect to be a prosperous destination for pilgrims, tourists, international conferences and agencies and the like.


As well as being inconvenient, location of Israeli or Palestinian government functions in Jerusalem will be, and should be, very expensive compared to other options. Supply and demand will achieve this alone if peace is achieved. The administration will reinforce this to some extent by levying charges on its residents and visitors, but these must be kept moderate and simple.


But it is not possible to make these charges seem fair. Which raises a more general question, of the current and recent inhabitants of Jerusalem. How are they to be supported, and to what extent, in a city in which employment opportunities will be limited, and housing and other necessities expensive and can only rise in price in time? How much compensation is reasonable for those who choose to accept it and leave? Where are they to go? Again, it is not even possible to be fair to everyone, let alone to make everyone happy.    


The score


Who is the winner, the Israelis or the Palestinians? Neither and both. The plan has a balance that is not at first obvious but which becomes obvious as soon as you start to tamper with it. Both sides are asked for significant concessions that are vital to having any hope of the other side agreeing. Both are offered security and dignity, at a cost.


It is a plan that could be accepted now. Or at least, it's not attempting anything that's obviously impossible in the fashion of every other proposal to date. But it may well cease to be possible in even a short space of time. It will succeed only if now both sides are heartily sick of the waste of the conflict.


If so, and only if so, then perhaps there is hope for an end to it. A miracle? We have had miracles in Ireland and South Africa. Perhaps the time is right for one in Israel and Palestine.


Perhaps even for several miracles. Because several of the details above seem to need miracles to achieve support. But it is not obvious how to avoid this need. The difference between the miracles proposed above and the impossibilities rejected is perhaps not obvious, but again, the more I tamper with this proposal, the stronger the conviction that there is something inevitable about it.




  • It will be a miracle if Israel agrees to grant and respect the rights of non-Jews. This is a very big ask.


With this achieved, however, and only then, does it become reasonable to give the state of Israel control of the West Bank. 


  • It will be a miracle if the Palestinians trust Israel and the international community to guarantee their human rights in Israel.


Similarly, then and only then does it become reasonable for Israel to control the West Bank.


  • It will be a miracle if either side agrees to any concessions at all regarding the long-term future of Jerusalem.


But there are signs of hope. Both sides would now be better off had the Partition Plan been agreed and implemented. Both sides know this. This plan included the provision that Jerusalem would belong to neither.


  • It will be a miracle if Israel and the Palestinian state form a workable military alliance.


Israel will not disarm. The Palestinians will need to be armed too, in order to enforce the rule of law and to prevent radical elements, which will not disappear, from shelling Israeli civilians as they have in the past. Both need to be strong enough to resist invasions from neighbouring countries, remembering that both have been invaded in the recent past by Egypt, Syria and Jordan, and Israel by Lebanon. Which is of course a complete list of their neighbours.


So both sides have the right to be nervous. Unarmed neutrality does not work (just ask Lebanon, who tried it with tragic results) and will not be accepted by either side in any case.


The future


This proposal if accepted does not guarantee stability. It must be further developed after its acceptance.


The biggest challenge would be not to the viability of Palestine or Gaza, but to Israel. Giving full human and citizenship rights and right of return to Palestinians threatens the Jewish majority in Israel.


The obvious solution is to give up the West Bank, and I predict that would happen fairly quickly in response to this threat. Israel could become a federation of two states, the southern one Jewish (the name Judah comes to mind) and the other one (perhaps Samaria) secular. Both need to fully respect human rights, but to be a resident or citizen of one would not automatically imply citizenship or even residency rights in the other, so the right of return would be different in the two territories, with the Jews likely to remain a majority in the southern state.


Perhaps Gaza (or the traditional name of Palestine comes to mind) might eventually become a third state of this federation, or they might prefer to remain at a further distance. But the reunification with Samaria would be a strong incentive to join.


And finally, and as another carrot, if Gaza, Judah and Samaria eventually became a three state federation, then control of the trust territory of Jerusalem could be logically and permanently given to this federation, and its capital established there. And assuming that this federation was named something other than Israel (perhaps Canaan might get the nod, or again Palestine might if it's not already taken by Gaza, but it has some extra baggage) then Judah would probably reclaim that name for themselves. 


A little challenge 


I claimed above that each side needs to be prepared to feel that they are going two-thirds of the way, and giving up twice what the other side is called to concede.


Let us put that into practice in a thought experiment. You can only participate in this if you are prepared to admit some support for one side or the other. Most of us I think would admit this if we were honest, but if you can't, that's fine. You just can't do this particular exercise.


Now, having decided that, the second question is: Which side do you think is being asked to give up the most in this proposal?


I am hoping that you will feel that the major concessions are coming from your favoured side. If so that is good, and congratulations. You have just provided another small piece of evidence that the balance is about right. 




This proposal is not just a proposal for reviving the partition plan of 1947, although it bears many similarities to it. It is a new proposal based on that one but also based on the propositions


  • that the 1947 partition plan is no longer on offer
  • that the more thoughtful members of Palestinian society now bitterly regret this
  • that both sides now wish peace


and also the assumption that peace is possible.


I do not claim that it will work. What I do argue above is that nothing else will work at this moment.


And I think it's time to have a go. 


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