A Modest Proposal for a Swift Middle East Peace

The 18th century Anglo-Irish satirist, Jonathan Swift, is famous and best known for his book Gulliver’s Travels. Equally imaginative and ingenious is his essay A Modest Proposal written in 1729.  In this essay he addresses his concern with the heartless attitudes towards the poor that existed in Ireland and with the failure of Irish policy to create better conditions. He ironically suggests that the poor be killed and used to feed the rich. If he were alive today one can imagine he might deliver ironic comments on the subject of peace between the Palestinians and Israel. He would almost certainly have humbly offered a new modest and least objectionable proposal, in the following manner.  

First, he would regard it is as a “melancholy object” to observe the Palestinians so pessimistic, to witness their lack of unity, the quarrels between Fatah and Hamas, the bitter civil war in Syria, the resurgence of al-Qaeda, and would peruse the Palestinian Narrative of Victimhood, the blaming of others for their own condition and the basis for their intransigent unwillingness to make peace with their Israeli neighbors. He would note the even more “melancholy object,” the refusal of fellow Arabs, some of them “failed states,” in neighboring countries to offer them assistance.

Then he would analyze the present situation and attitudes of the Palestinians. Some of them lament their misfortune to be citizens of the State of Israel even though they have full civil and political rights, freedom of expression and religion, the ability to exercise those rights without punishment and to express themselves in their own Arabic language which is one of the official languages of the country. The Palestinians who live in east Jerusalem where they are regarded as “permanent residents,” and have local political rights also complain about their comfortable condition.

Swift would notice that other Palestinians believe they have the good fortune to live in the Gaza Strip, under the benevolence, open minded, and the benign rule of Hamas and its Islamic Jihad ally, the members of which contribute to the art and culture of the area primarily by their advanced skill in timing and coordinating the firing of long range missiles against Israeli children.

Swift would quickly become aware that another group of Palestinians live in what the Jordanian Kingdom, when it illegally controlled the area between 1949 and 1967, named the “West Bank,” the area west of the River Jordan. The Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995, agreements between Palestinians and Israel, which the present Palestinian leaders scorn and against which they express their dislike at every opportunity, sought to arrange their lives in three different administrative areas until the Palestinians felt ready for final status accords.

In area A, from which Israeli citizens are forbidden, Palestinians in towns such as Ramallah and Jericho, happily live under the democratic, efficient, non-violent, fully transparent, and uncorrupt Palestinian Authority led by Fatah and a President now in the tenth year of a four year term to which he was elected in January 2005.  Area B, which includes more than 440 villages and no Israeli settlement, is under joint Palestinian and Israeli control.  Area C, the area under dispute, though more prosperous than the others, is under the jurisdiction of Israel, the despised little Satan.  

Swift would be surprised that some Palestinians, usually referred to as “refugees” and including the great-grandchildren of those who fled their homes 65 years ago, are still sheltered by the UNRWA, to which the United States disproportionately contributes a large part of its funding. These great-grandchildren receive “sympathy” to some extent from their generous fellow Arabs in surrounding countries but which, except for Jordan, are too busy to grant them citizenship, and who usually find themselves “short of funds” to help the Palestinians in any material way.

Jonathan Swift would have made the penetrating observation that Arabs were now even more “melancholy” since the idyllic nature and harmony of the Middle East has been irritated by the continuing success of Jews in the world as well as by the very existence of the small country of Israel. He would appreciate that Arabs find it incomprehensible that Jews, who constitute just over 0.1% of the population of the world, should have been awarded such a disproportionately large percentage of Nobel Prizes, about 21% in chemistry, 26% in physics, 27% in physiology or medicine, and 37% in economics. It is certainly grossly unfair that Muslims, who account for 1.5 billion or 25% of the world’s population, should have received only 2 Nobel Prizes in the sciences. Moreover, everyone recognizes it is particularly unfair that Yasser Arafat, the PLO leader who enriched the art of airplane hijacking, and the science of igniting Intifadas, only shared a Peace Prize, but never gained one for his significant contributions to physics and chemistry.

Swift would have understood the “melancholy” feelings of Palestinians who are now aware they have suffered grave damage caused them by people who pretend to be friends. The biased bigots who boycott the State of Israel and its inhabitants, such as Oxfam International, Amnesty International, World Council of Churches, American Studies Association, the Irish Teachers Union, the British Cooperative Society, some groups in the European Union, and the other misguided individuals, are all busy preventing the Palestinians from taking advantage of the scientific and technological progress of Israeli citizens, or are anxious to forbid thousands of them from working in the well paid jobs offered them in Israeli settlements and elsewhere.


 Swift may have wished that Palestinians grasp that the boycotters, especially those who claim to be skilled in understanding the complexities of international law, are false friends, perhaps even agents of the dreaded Israeli Mossad. Of course, no one can possibly believe that Archbishop Desmond Tutu or Alice Walker or some mainstream Churches, propagators of the fantasy that Israel is an “apartheid state,” could have been parties to such behavior.  Yet Swift must wonder, on behalf of the Palestinians, if the characterization by their “friends” of Israel as an “apartheid state” that must be boycotted has done anything but harm their interests and their hopes of gaining Nobel Prizes?

Swift would observe that the melancholy condition is aggravated by the behavior of friends in high places. Palestinians must wonder about the extravagant hyperbole of someone like Lord Sheikh (sic), a Conservative member of the British House of Lords, and chair of the Conservative Muslim Forum. In that House on January 20, 2009 he did not make any positive proposal but he did emphasize, “The people of Gaza have been subjected to collective and indiscriminate punishment by the Israelis, some of whose actions can perhaps be considered inhumane.”

Nor can one of his associates, Ibrahim Hewitt, who declared himself a supporter of Hamas, be regarded as any more helpful to Palestinians. Mr. Hewitt apparently did not bother to consult President Bashir Assad of Syria, a person whom he realizes is a world famous expert in the details of international law but is presently too busy slaughtering at least 140,00 of his fellow countrymen.  However, Hewitt somehow without guidance knows that Israel is the only nation in the world that stands above international law and that it acts with impunity.

In his own essay Swift, in putting forward his own proposal, was emphatic, “Let no one talk to me of other expedients.” Wise, and sometimes well-intentioned, persons have over the last seventy years advanced grandiose proposals for peace in the Middle East. However, following Swift, it is time for a more modest proposal.

Though Swift would believe the idea has merit, this is not the right time to suggest that the democratic countries, particularly the United States, should support the admission of Israel into NATO.  The benefits are obvious.  It would provide a collective security arrangement against international threats, including that from Iran. Though Israel could be appropriately admitted as a democracy with a free market, with intelligence capabilities for security purposes, and all would recognize it was more than capable of contributing to the common defense that would make it a useful addition to NATO, this is too immodest a proposal. 

Similarly, in spite of its evident desirability, it is not opportune to favor an application by Israel to join the European Union. Though the EU has not been the strongest supporter of the actions and policies of Israel, it is highly probable that diplomatic and economic cooperation, along  with Israeli participation with its technological knowledge in European research programs would benefit both sides. Nevertheless, it is better at the present time that Israel not strive for this ambitious objective, but should remain tied to Europe in the existing various forms of economic, cultural, and sporting interactions.   

No, the modest proposal, following Swift, would be limited to two different issues: the immediate renunciation of terrorist activity by Palestinians, especially the forces of Hamas now well armed by supplies from Iran, so that provocation can be avoided; and the recognition by Palestinian authorities of Israel as a Jewish state. The first would lead to cooperation, if not total harmony, to the increase in bilateral and multilateral trade, and perhaps to some education about the true history of the Middle East.

The second is imperative because Mahmoud Abbas, “President” of the Palestinian Authority has stated, “We will never agree to recognize the Jewish state.” This is rejecting peace. Our modest proposal would mean accepting the Jewish state, not as a theocracy or in religious terms, but as the home of the Jewish people who want to live there. Not accepting the proposal is the principal obstacle to real peace.  

Is there a glimpse of hope that there will be a “hearty and sincere attempt” to put this proposal into practice?  As Jonathan Swift suggested in his own A Modest Proposal it is time to “maturely weigh” this proposal.

Michael Curtis is author of Jews, Antisemitism, and the Middle East.