A practical and pragmatic solution is needed to end the lingering Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Such a solution must serve to end suffering on both sides, restore a sense of pride and dignity among Palestinians, reduce radicalism and hatred directed against Israel and repair the image of the United States in the region.
At present, five options are being analyzed. The first is for neither side to make compromises, permitting the status quo to persist. However, from an Israeli perspective, this may be the worst scenario. Asher Susser, Professor of Middle Eastern History at Tel Aviv University, argues that time does not favor the Israelis and thus it is in Israel’s best interest to end the conflict. Contrarily, “Time favors the Palestinians; they have demography and worldwide sympathy on their side.”
“Israel must detach itself from the Palestinians in order to sustain its majority Jewish, democratic character,” adds Susser.
The second option is for the Israeli leadership to continue negotiations solely with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA). This option seems flawed for both parties, as the negotiations neglect participation from the 1.3 million Gazans who elected Hamas. This approach has not received sufficient encouragement and support from the United States, whose administration does not show the will or the way to effectively find a political solution. The Arab states for the most part, too, have shown little public support for Israel-PA negotiations and have failed on numerous occasions to unite the warring factions of Hamas and Fatah.
The third option is for Israel to grant citizenship to Palestinians living in the Territories and incorporate them into a bi-national state. This proposal has received some praise from academics, Marxists and intellectuals, mostly living outside Israel. Libyan leader Mu’ammar Gadhafi has called for a one state solution based on Yugoslavia and Lebanon (examples of failed models) and calls it “Isratine.” Hamas and Islamic Jihad could never support this because Palestine would lose its “Islamic” character and most Israelis could never support this because Israel would lose its “Jewish” character.
The fourth option, which was first raised forty years ago, is the linkage of the West Bank and Gaza Strip into some type of federation or confederation with Jordan. This plan, advocated by some in Israel’s Likud Party, assumes that the Palestinians would be happy and willing to live under Jordanian rule. Palestinians might prefer this option as long as they themselves were the rulers of Jordan, not the Hashemites. However, Palestinian nationalism is too strong of a force today to be assimilated into Jordanian society. Moreover, an additional four million Palestinians could destabilize Jordan, which is already sixty percent ethnic-Palestinian and has already granted asylum to more than one million Iraqi refugees.
The fifth and perhaps best option available is the Arab Peace Initiative. First proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002 and revived in 2007, the peace plan is endorsed by all twenty-two Arab League states and offers full diplomatic and normalized relations with Israel in return for Israel withdrawing to its June 4, 1967, borders. A Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital could presumably end not only the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Israel, however, rejects the “right of return” demand in the literal sense, but there could be room to negotiate a compensation package for Palestinians displaced during the 1948 war. Jerusalem is no doubt a sensitive issue for Israelis, but it is no longer taboo. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered most of East Jerusalem to Yasser Arafat in 1999, approximately 95% of the West Bank, 100% of Gaza, plus $30 billion to repatriate Palestinian refugees. If Barak was willing to offer an early blueprint of the Arab Peace Initiative, why not accept the offer in principle and negotiate the final status issues to satisfy both sides?
These actions would end the state of war and usher in a new era of stability, security and hope. Fulfillment of the Arab Initiative would also isolate, undermine and delegitimize the rejectionist camp, which includes Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. Their modus operandi is not to reach a peaceful settlement to end the conflict, but to promote a continuation of war and chaos. These instigators thrive on the lingering Israeli-Palestinian conflict and exploit it by inciting, indoctrinating and radicalizing Muslims into believing that Arab and Muslim weakness is a result of an Israeli-Zionist plot backed by the West (mainly the U.S.) to humiliate Arabs and destroy Islam.
Still, Israelis and Arabs could realize their full potential and embark on social, cultural, political and economic reforms. Arab ingenuity and oil-power combined with Israeli capitalist and technological expertise could radically transform the Middle East from a war-torn, conflict-ridden, unstable region, into an advanced, progressive and economically powerful market on par with the European Union.