Editor's note: We present a four-part dialogue on the possibility of fundamentally changing the nature of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. First comes a proposal from Dan Gordon, a response from Richard Baehr, and shorter rejoinders from each author.
1. "A New Direction to Middle East Peace"
By Dan Gordon
King Abdullah of Jordan has opened the door for a new dynamic in the Middle East peace process. Several years before the Oslo Agreements then Congressman Wayne Owens, who was number two on the House Foreign Relations Committee, and I undertook a trip to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, and the West Bank. During that time we presented what Congressman Owens believed was a revolutionary approach to peace in the Middle East. We met with President Mubarak, then Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, King Hussein of Jordan, Shimon Peres, and Bibi Netanyahu in Israel and various Palestinian leaders in the West Bank. All of them expressed considerable interest and even enthusiasm about the overall concept. I believe this plan could lead to a major breakthrough between the Palestinians and Israelis. At the very least it would marginalize Hamas and knock out from under Hezballah and Iran their pretext of being the hope and model for the Palestinians' quest for liberation.
The notion is to create peace within the context of a new BENELUX type of entity, made up of the Independent State of Israel, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and the Independent State of Palestine. That entity would be known, let us say, as the Confederated States of the Near East, or The Confederated States of Palestine.
The area known as Palestine, at the end of World War I, was comprised of what is today, Jordan, Israel and the Palestine Authority. There has always been a link of language, culture, and populations between Jordan and the people of the Palestine Authority. In addition, prior to 1948, when someone referred to a Palestinian they were by and large referring to Palestinian Jews who later became Israelis. My foster father fought in the Jewish Brigade of the British Army in World War II. His shoulder patch was emblazoned with the word Palestine which for him and all those who served with him was a mark of pride.
The majority of issues to be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have already been agreed to. The thorny remaining issues are the "Right of Return" of Palestinian refugees to their homes in pre 1948 Israel and the status of Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. In addition, at the heart of the thorniest of all issues is the Temple Mount and who retains sovereignty over it. For the Jews it is the holiest of all sites. For Moslems the world over Al Aksa and the Mosque of Omer are the third holiest sites in Islam. This plan offers a solution to all three issues.
1). THE RIGHT OF RETURN.
In the fighting leading up to the 1948 establishment of the State of Israel and the Armistice Agreement which ended that round of hostilities, refugees were created on both the Palestinian and Israeli (Jewish Palestinian) sides. Palestinian Arabs lost homes in Jaffa and Haifa and Palestinian Jews lost homes in Hebron, Jerusalem and Gush Etzion. The Right of Return of both sides would be mutually recognized within the framework of this agreement. The implementation of that mutual right however, would be divided into two forms.
Both Palestinians and Israelis (Jewish Palestinians, pre '48) would be afforded compensation for the homes that they could prove were theirs and which were lost as a result of the fighting. The fund to provide such compensation would come both from Israel, Palestine, and Jordan, and more importantly from the World Community. The EU, the United Nations and the United States have all recognized the Israel/Palestinian conflict as the source of discord in the Middle East. It is to all their benefit to contribute to the fund which will knock out forever what many have called the root cause of discontent in that part of the world. Compensation will be given as a means of implementing the mutual right of return of refugees and their descendants on both sides of the conflict.
B). THE PHYSICAL RIGHT OF RETURN
In addition to receiving compensation, all citizens of the Confederated States of the Near East shall have the right to purchase land, settle, and live in any of the member states of the Confederation. However, to treat each side with absolute equality, for every Israeli who is allowed to live in Hebron an equal number of Palestinians will be allowed to live in Israel. They will have equal rights to buy or rent dwellings and property. Thus it will be in the interest of each of the member states to either discourage its nationals from living in another member state, or be prepared to accept nationals of that other member state as residents within their own borders.
In this way the Right of Return of all refugees of each of the member states will have been mutually recognized, both through a process of compensation and the right of physical settlement in any of the member states. More importantly however is the psychological and in a sense spiritual aspect to this mutual recognition of each others' rights. Every Palestinian whether he ever sets foot in Tel Aviv or not, will know he is sovereign there. And every Jew whether he ever sets foot in Hebron or not, will know that he is likewise sovereign there. I as a Californian am sovereign in Arizona. I have no say in the making of their laws, the collecting or spending of their taxes, or anything else concerned with the running of their daily lives including the regulation of their National Guard. But I know that I am sovereign there as well. In this way not only the hopes and aspirations of the Palestinian people will have been fulfilled, but the hopes and aspirations of those Jews, who see in the greater land of Israel their own homeland by divine right.
Each country will maintain its own army, with the Palestinian's military being limited to light infantry along the lines envisioned by previous agreements. Their security would be guaranteed by both the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the State of Israel, but more importantly by the fact that they would now have no enemies.
Jerusalem would be the undivided capital of the State of Israel and the Seat of Government of the Confederated States of the Near East. Just as Western Jerusalem has expanded toward the Mediterranean, far beyond the borders of what anyone would have considered municipal Jerusalem, so would East Jerusalem extend out toward Ramalah. In that extended East Jerusalem beyond the current municipal borders but still within a new greater Jerusalem, there would be both the seat of government of the Confederated States of the Near East (or the Confederated States of Palestine) and the capital of the new Palestinian State. All of the residents of what is today East Jerusalem would be free to take Palestinian citizenship which would enable them to live where they are (within the boundaries of Israel) and yet vote in the Palestinian national elections. They would not be counted as Palestinian refugees who have returned to Israel. Rather they would be Palestinian citizens who are permanent residents of Israel. In this way Israel will not have given up Jerusalem and Palestine will have gained it. Jerusalem the city of peace will be the capital of peace, the capital of the new Confederation and the capital of the Palestinian state. All of the Palestinian Arab residents of Jerusalem will be able to have Palestinian passports and representation in the Palestinian Parliament.
3. AL AKSA AND MOSQUE OF OMAR
Here now perhaps is the thorniest issue, this tiny square of land holy to both Moslems, Jews, and Christians. Israel will not relinquish sovereignty over it and the Palestinians must have sovereignty within it. There is a solution. The Saudi Royal Family and the Saudi government are the protectors of Mecca and Medina. Let them also be the protectors of Al Aksa. The Temple Mount may well be located inside of geographic Israel, but when one enters Al Aksa, just as when one enters a foreign embassy, one enters territory under the sovereignty of, and protected by, the Saudis. Their flag would fly within the mosques and a ceremonial contingent of Royal Saudi Guards would be responsible for protecting the interior of the holy places. Now not only Palestinians but the entire Islamic world could claim that holy Moslem soil was in Moslem hands. At the same time for the Jewish people, the holiest of their sites would not have left them.
This would be a way of recognizing the sanctity of those Moslem sites not only to Palestinians but to the entire Moslem world. Moreover, this regaining of sovereignty within their holy sites would have been gained not by the sword but through peaceful negotiations between Moslems and Jews.
CONCLUSION - THE SULHA
With all of these issues resolved all parties would have to consecrate themselves to a mutual forgiving of all wrongs. The conflict between the Arabs and Jews would be once and for all, and for one and all, over and done with. Even Hamas which has proclaimed a one state solution should be able to embrace this notion. Israel would be one state within a majority Moslem Confederation. For Israel, far from being relegated to a second class status, this would be the ultimate fulfillment of the Zionist dream. The Jews would have a home of their own at last that was welcomed into the family of nations in the Middle East. Should Hamas continue to not want to recognize Israel and not participate in such an agreement then it would be clear to one and all that their only motivation is not liberation of their people but genocide for the Jews.
Either way, its a thing worth knowing.
Dan Gordon is a screenwriter and the author of numerous articles on the Middle East. He served as a captain (Res.) in the IDF in the recent Hezballah/Israel war.
2. Response to Dan Gordon
By Richard Baehr
Dan Gordon has fought for Israel, and cares deeply about its future. His proposal for ending the conflict contains elements of prior peace plans that were offered by Israel and or the United States and were rejected by the Palestinians prior to the period when Hamas took charge of the Palestinian government, as well as a few new wrinkles. Gordon believes he has found the recipe that will finally end the conflict.
My own view is that Gordon's plan is a non-starter, and unrealistic. To begin, his proposed Benelux style confederation of Jordan, a Palestinian state, and Israel, depends upon acceptance of his ideas by the Palestinians. In the year 2000, when President Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Bark and PA Chairman Yassar Arafat met at Camp David, there was a belief that the PA was susceptible to pressure from the likes of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, all supposedly "moderate" Sunni powers in the regions. During the years of the Oslo process, culminating in the Camp David summit, American and Israeli negotiators believed that the Palestinian Authority itself had morphed into a new moderate phase.
There should be no such illusions today. Hamas won the Palestinian elections with a sweeping majority last year. President Mahmoud Abbas is a figurehead, and Hamas largely controls the streets of Gaza, and parts of the West Bank. Gaza has become a new terror central, seething with Islamic radicalism, and hosting Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Al Aksa, and Hamas operatives, all committed to the destruction of the state of Israel, not a two (or three) state solution. It is Iran, and not Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or Jordan that is calling the shots in the territories.
At this point, Hamas and Fatah cannot agree on a coalition government. The Western nations which had funded the PA and its corruption and militias for years, slowed the funding with Hamas' election victory. Now the money is coming back though Hamas has made no effort to meet any of the original conditions that were established by the funding nations when the aid was cut off. Hamas, in other words, see things going its way, without a need for cooperation with the PA, and or conciliatory gestures to Israel.
The summer war in Lebanon gave strength to the rejectionists in the region, and gave hope to many in the Arab and Muslim world that the "cancer" that they see in Israel's presence in the region, can finally be eradicated. Despite the presence of tens of thousands of Lebanese and UNIFIL forces in South Lebanon since the war ended, Hezbollah has re-equipped, with arms smuggled from Iran through Syria. Hezbollah is Iran's proxy army on Israel's northern border. Iran gains strategic benefits from seeing the Israeli Palestinian conflict or Israeli Hezbollah conflict on full burner, and would disrupt any serious peacemaking effort just as Hamas did during the Oslo process. These conflicts serve to distract any Western nations which might venture to challenge Iran's nuclear program, now nearing completion.
For years, Middle East specialists have written about the enormous gulf between the two principal branches of Islam- Shia and Sunni. But during the Lebanon war, Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah was a hero on the Arab and Muslim street among both Sunni and Shiite populations alike. Those who fight Israel win the hearts of the Arab nation, regardless of what cooler heads, and more rational diplomats might want. When President Clinton contacted major Arab leaders in the year 2000, to ask them to lean on Arafat and get him to say yes at Camp David, none were willing to be seen as doing the American or Israeli bidding.
If peace, a two or three state solution, and better lives for Palestinians, were the goals of the Palestinian national movement, or of their Arab allies, they would have been realized long ago. It is not the lack of a creative solution that has kept the conflict going, but Israel's refusal to collapse. Regrettably, Israel still faces enemies who see the destruction of the Jewish state, as a much more important goal, than better living conditions and greater freedom for Palestinians . There is a reason why hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are still in refugee camps almost 60 years after the initial war when most of their ancestors abandoned their homes. There are no such refugee populations in camps today from much more recent wars, when many more people were displaced- in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo for instance, in the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Many of the so-called refugees (today only about 5% of those classified as refugees or their descendants by the UN ever lived in pre 67 Israel) keep the hope alive of reversing the results of the 1948 war. And the reversal that is sought is not for a Benelux, but for a final victory over the Zionists, and their elimination from the region. The Gordon approach will not work, because it relies on rationality triumphing over emotion, and for a spirit of compromise triumphing over visions of victory.
Gordon does not address how to bring Syria into the peace process (by surrendering the Golan presumably), or Iran, or Hezbollah. It is naive I think to believe that these parties would just accede to the Palestinians making peace with Israel (assuming Hamas even allowed it to happen). It is far easier for rejectionists to destroy a peace process than for its architects to thread the needle and get a deal done.
Gordon argues that while his proposal might not be accepted or implemented, just by agreeing to it, Israel will win propaganda points, and isolate Hamas and other rejectionists. But in fact, Israel only gets points for deeds, not proposals, And even for deeds (e.g., withdrawal from Gaza), the public relations victory is usually short lived. Israel made serious end of conflict type offers to the Palestinians at Camp David and Taba in 2000 and 2001, but what is remembered is its tough response to the intifada, not the generous offers. Who remembers the original UN partition resolution that Israel agreed to in 1947, or the Peel Plan, or even the offers to Arab nations that followed the initial Camp David agreement with Egypt?
What sticks in the craw of the Arabs and Muslims around the world is Israel's continued existence and success- both economic and military. What the Palestinian national movement has successfully accomplished in the past half century is to make their cause (the destruction of Israel), and their grievance against Israel, a pan Arab and a pan Islamic cause. And that cause will not be sated by Gordon's three state solution.
Gordon also repeats an argument that appears in the Baker Hamilton report- that the Israeli Palestinian conflict is the key to regional stability. It would be more accurate to state that the Israeli Palestinian conflict is one part of a much broader war between Western and Islamic radical interests. The Israeli Palestinian conflict did not produce the current crisis in Lebanon, or the Iraq war, or the slaughter in Darfur, or the many wars that occurred in the region in the last few decades- from the Iran Iraq war, to the Lebanon civil war, to Al Qaeda's attacks against American interests. The border of the Muslim world with the non-Muslim world is an arc of conflict and instability on many continents. If only bringing peace to Israelis and Palestinians would resolve all these other conflicts, we would truly live in a far simpler world than we do.
As to the specifics of Gordon's proposal, there are also many problems. To begin, he counts among Jewish refugees only those who lived in the West Bank and were driven out in the 1948 war. But that is a very small number compared to the over 600,000 Jews who were driven out of Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Tunisia and other countries after the state of Israel was created. Where is the equity in a plan that considers a few thousand Jews as refugees, but hundreds of thousand of Palestinians, many of whom left of their own free will, or at the suggestion of invading Arab armies?
So too, his plan for a physical right of return is bizarre. He says that any citizen of Jordan, Israel or the new Palestinian state could choose to live in another of the states of the federation. But if he or she did so, it would create a right for a national of the country in which another nation's citizens chose to reside, to live in that other country. Gordon gives the example of an Israeli Jew living in Hebron, , which creates a right for a Palestinian national to move to Israel. But what of the reverse formulation? Say two million Palestinians wisely chose to live within a successful modern state of Israel. Well that would give two million Israelis the right to live in the Palestinian state. But why would two million Israelis want to do that? Gordon's formulation would allow a right for Israelis which would not be used and a right for Palestinians that would be used.
In total the non-Jewish population of the new confederation would be about double the Jewish population in Israel including the two hundred thousand Jews in the West bank. Clearly the chance of being overwhelmed by new residents is far higher in one direction than the other. Though Gordon does not explicitly state this, my assumption is that those who move to Israel could not vote, and would become permanent residents. But what of their children? Would they become nationals of the state in which they were born?
So too, Gordon says that under his formulation, no Israeli would be required to leave their homes in the West Bank. But think about this one for a moment. After a Palestinian state is created, the Israeli defense forces would no longer operate in the Palestinian territories. What Israeli would choose to live in a Palestinian state without IDF protection? So in essence, his formulation would lead to an evacuation of the settlements, the demand that has always part of the Palestinian list, along with a return to the 67 borders, with a right of return added on. So Israelis would return to Israel, and Palestinians would swarm into Israel.
Gordon also argues that a citizen of any of the three states who traveled to any of the others would feel that he was sovereign in all of them. He provides an analogy of a Californian visiting Arizona. But both Californians and Arizonans are citizens of the United States. A Palestinian visiting or moving to Israel would not be a citizen of Israel. So how is he sovereign there?
Finally as to Al Aksa, Gordon adopts the Arab designation, and suggests bringing in the Saudis to administer the small disputed area. The Saudis have a history of administering Muslim holy sites, in both Mecca and Medinah. And tolerance for the other has not been the key to their dominion. Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter either city. Nowhere in Saudi Arabia are Christians or Jews (if they even manage to get into the country), allowed to display any religious symbols, or have organized religious services. Sure it would be a feather in the Saudis' cap, and a bit of a boost in image in the Muslim world for the Sunni side in the internal Islamic conflict with the resurgent Shiites of Iran. But while the Wakf merely administers the site, Gordon would make it sovereign Saudi territory. It is hard to see how that would improve the atmospherics. While the Sauids may have been rooting for Israel to knock down Hezbollah this past summer, and strike a blow against Iran, the Saudis have never recognized Israel, and refuse to ever be seen with Israelis in public. Despite Tom Friedman's shameful shilling for the Saudi "peace plan" in 2002, that document amounted to an Israeli surrender to all Palestinian demands.
In a world of rational people seeking a creative solution to thorny problems, Gordon's approach would be worth considering. In the current world of the Middle East, I think it will have a very short shelf life. Peace is not in the air. The war drums are beating in the rhetoric coming from Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran, whatever their actual intentions. Islamic radicalism is a worldwide phenomenon that has impacted Muslims wherever they live, and won a steady stream of jihadist recruits, and new faithful. The Islamic radicals' war against Israel is broader than a struggle that involves negotiations over land, and sovereignty or even refugee rights. The Arab moderates who would sign onto Gordon's plan would be signing their death certificates much as Anwar Sadat did at Camp David. Courage in the face of the ferocious heat coming from the radicalization of the Muslim world, is a character trait in short supply.
Richard Baehr is chief political correspondent of American Thinker.
Rejoinder by Dan Gordon
First let me say how very much I appreciate the tenor of the response to my proposal. All too often today when one dares to suggest altering the status quo regarding the Middle East the first response is to impugn the motives of the one offering the suggestion. Such was not the case here and I deeply appreciate the civility as much as I do the intellectual integrity of his arguments.
The truth is I agree with almost everything he says: Hamas will never agree to this, the time is not ripe for peace, Islamist extremism rules the day and chances are that any Arab leader expressing support for such a document would do so only at great risk.
Why then put forward such a proposal? Not because it gets us some sort of brownie points in either the International Community or the Muslim world, but because it changes the dynamics of the conversation. Israel is in a long term war with those who would destroy it. Part of this war involves public support for either side in both the International Community as a whole and within the Muslim world. This summer's war with Hezbollah was a perfect example. This was Hezbollah's war. They planned it and prepare for it for six years. Their killing of eight Israeli soldiers and kidnapping of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, and their rocket attacks of Israel's civilian population were meant to provoke an armored charge into Southern Lebanon. They not only wanted this to happen, the success of their battle plan depended upon it. They had amassed thousands of anti-tank weapons, mined their roads, set their traps and ambushes. This was to be their Six Day war victory. Six days of rocket attacks would break the Israeli homefront and chewing up Israeli armor would make the IDF sue for a cease fire. It didn't work. Israel not only did not take the bait but by every military measure soundly defeated Hezbollah. The only part of their battle plan that worked was their manipulation of the media. And it is all that mattered. They won the war of perception. Nothing else counted.
That is why Israel should put this plan forward. Right now the Hamas narrative is that the Palestinians were driven out of their rightful land and Hamas will not stop fighting until they have enabled the refugees to return to their homes. Their raison d'etre has shifted from land to refugee rights and return of Al Aksa. In the face of this narrative Israel offers up a narrative which says we will make compromises for peace but we will never allow the right of return and we will never give up Jerusalem. Thus in both the International Community and the Muslim world our narrative will always lose. Indeed we cannot even compete. Why? Because we are reacting to their narrative and their narrative always leaves problems needing to be solved, to which our answer is "We will never..."
By putting forward this plan, or one very much like it, we put forth for the first time an alternative narrative which offers a real solution to all of the most emotionally charged issues. The right of return? We recognize it! And we implement it through mutual compensation and a formula that says for every Palestinian who "returns" to us, a Jew will be returning to you, not necessarily as an isolated apartment dweller but as a member of an ever larger settlement town inside your borders, just as we know that for every settler who goes to our remains in Palestine, a "refugee" will be coming back to Jaffa." It immediately says Palestinians weren't the only refugees. There was a war and war displaces people by its nature. Here is a plan which finally addresses the issue on a completely equal basis, which by the way specifically doesn't address the compensation due Jews of other Arab lands who had to leave their homes after the '48 war. For once let us be the ones who still have issues which the other side must address.
Only two things can happen if we put forward such an alternative vision. Either they will refuse it or they will accept it. If it is refused then it will be the other side for once having to respond to our narrative which addresses all of their issues. It robs them of the mantle of perpetual victimhood and bestows upon them the name only of rejectionist. It robs them of the most potent weapon they have in the war of perception.
On the other hand it may begin to eat away at their own narrative, the one they tell themselves; the one that says we prefer Israel's death to our own life. Either way, it changes the conversation. And that's a good thing because this one, not our enemies, but to our friends, is getting old.
Rejoinder by Richard Baehr
The question for Dan Gordon is whether a proposal such as his could change the "media dynamic" that he admits worked to distort the events in Lebanon so harshly against Israel. I think that however creative his approach, it would receive little serious attention, and become a footnote to other failed peacemaking attempts, such as the Geneva conference, or Taba and Camp David in 2000-2001, which have now become the subject of of Jimmy Carter's lies and distortions.
Palestinians continue to be seen as victims by a clueless collection of media elites, some of whom who are not merely guileless or uninformed, but advocates against Israel. It will take more than a new proposal, however creative, to change that perception or media behavior. I also believe that any such proposal by Israel would confirm to the worst elements among the rejectionists of Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and Syria, that Israel is operating from weakness (which is the belief that Israel's enemies took away from its inconclusive summer war with Hezbollah) and is desperate for a face saving deal. This is precisely the wrong signal for Israel to present to such determined foes at this time.