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Sixty years ago the Palestinians suffered their Nakba (catastrophe), which led to many fleeing or being expelled to neighboring Arab countries, but they continue to nurse the dream of returning home and of having a state of their own. Upon the devastation of Palestinian lives, the Jewish people realized their own dream with the creation of the state of Israel, their deliverance from persecution in Europe and their return to their land after 2,000 years of exile, according to the biblical tradition. So far, the Palestinians, Jews, Arabs and the international community have failed to make peace and stability prevail in the historic land of Palestine. Five wars have followed the 1948 war and dozens of resolutions have been passed and as many negotiations projects set in motion, but these only brought more destruction and exacerbated the hatred and rancor on both sides. A major reason for this failure is the fact that these negotiations and agreements have been dominated by vested interests and the balance of power, ensuring the continuation of Israel's occupation of the whole of historic Palestine and leaving the Palestinian people without so much as full autonomy.

Historic Palestine was the property of its people: the Palestinians - Muslims, Christians and Jews who lived together in peace and harmony. However, the Zionist movement inspired religious nationalist Jews to exercise total sovereignty over the land of Palestine - not only for purposes of worship - to the extent that many believe the land of Israel extends from the Euphrates to the Nile. The religious Muslims and the nationalist Arabs, for their part, dream of the liberation of the whole of historic Palestine from the river to the sea, denying any right for the Jews there. What solution could then bridge the chasm between these two extremes without leading to further bloodshed and suffering? Any just and peaceful solution must be firmly anchored in respect for human rights as well as respect for the national aspirations of both sides to the conflict.

The Historic Land of Palestine

It is a given that freedom of religion cannot be denied either on religious grounds or by international charters. Thus, the Muslims' belief that the land of Palestine is Muslim and a Muslim waqf cannot be disputed; by the same token, the Jews' belief in the biblical land of Israel cannot be disputed, either. Even the geopolitical concept that Palestine is Muslim or the biblical land of Israel cannot be contested because it, too, springs from the same religious conviction.

Political Sovereignty and Individual and Collective Property

With all the failed negotiations throughout the decades, it has become imperative to change the bases of the negotiations, to eschew short-term utilitarian approaches and to seek solutions predicated on the respect for human rights on the individual and collective levels. The suggested principles below could form a basis for the achievement of a genuine and lasting peace:

1. The recognition by Israel and the Palestinians that both sides have a right to self-determination. This recognition should be public, frank and unequivocal. Thus, each side will recognize the other's right to a political, cultural and religious identity.

2. The right of the Palestinians and the Jews to a state of their own is an expression of their right to self-determination. It does not suggest the seizure by one side of the property of the other in order to establish a state on it.

3. The historical narrative and the divergent ideologies of the Palestinians and the Jews regarding Palestine - being either Muslim and a Muslim waqf, or the biblical land of Israel - are not subject to change since they are integral to the belief systems of each side.

4. The cycle of violence and the imposition of solutions by force cannot produce a lasting and sustainable peace between the two sides.

5. Any peace between Palestinians and Israelis has to be fair and just and provide the greatest number of individual and collective rights to each side, especially with regard to Jerusalem and the refugees.

6. Israelis and Palestinians sharing sovereignty over the historic land of Palestine in a just and equitable manner is the only practical way out of the conflict, ending the cycle of violence.

7. The Jews and the Palestinian refugees who have emigrated or fled from their country of origin must regain their full rights to the properties they left behind, have their nationalities restored, and be allowed to return to their countries of origin whenever they so wish.

8. The final agreement should provide means guaranteeing the protection of the national identity of the Israeli and Palestinian minorities remaining on either side.

9. The final agreement is to be signed by the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leading to the establishment of a democratically elected government of the Palestinian state.

10. Any subsequent conflict arising between the Palestinians and the Israelis should be solved in accordance with the principles of justice and equity.

The Currently Proposed Solution: The Two States

Since the solution on the table at the moment is the two-state solution, it is best to work within the parameters of this proposed solution:

* Borders

The maximum demands of the Palestinian policymakers at this stage is to secure international and Israeli recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to a state of their own, with East Jerusalem as its capital, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 242; the dismantlement of the Jewish settlements; and the return of the Palestinian refugees to their homeland according to a just solution based on UN General Assembly Resolution 194. On the other hand, Israel has fragmented the whole West Bank and split it completely from the Gaza Strip, politically and geographically. And even an Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state according to United States President George W. Bush's vision is recognition on paper only - and it comes with former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's 14 reservations.

It is this writer's contention that a just solution cannot be based on the intertwining of UN Resolutions 242 and 194 because of the issue of refugees, the availability of the land area and the Jewish settlements. The ambiguity of Resolution 242 - withdrawal from "the territory" or "territories" - is now common knowledge. Sadly, the legal interpretation adopted so far depends on the balance of power and not on justice. Even if Resolution 242 is adopted, the Palestinian state will, in the best-case scenario, be on only 22% of historic Palestine, which cannot absorb all the Palestinians from the Diaspora - neither on the physical nor the demographic levels. Therefore, far from leading to a lasting solution, Resolution 242 will turn Palestine into a tin of sardines, without natural resources, without hinterlands, and without a viable economy. This is a recipe for war between it and Israel, albeit at a later stage.

* The Palestinian Refugees and Resolution 194

The Palestinians have been claiming the right of return for the past 60 years, and, as a civil society, we will keep on doing so. However, the Palestinian negotiators must also have at hand alternatives and suggestions that can be implemented on the ground. The path of war is no more a strategic option for the Arab nations, not even as deterrence. The only remaining option is that of peace, and in order to put in place an implementation mechanism, the following incontrovertible facts must be considered:

1. The right of return, individual or collective, cannot be implemented peaceably except with Israel's consent.

2. Assuming Israel allows the refugees to return within its present borders, the result will be only more suffering for the refugees:
a. The refugees who will return to Israel will still be refugees in their own country. After 60 years of hardship and exile, they will once again find themselves without a Palestinian nationality, and out of our own free will we will foist upon them the Israeli nationality with all this entails: military service, raising the Israeli flag and singing the Hatikva (the Israeli national anthem).
b. For the Israelis this solution constitutes a demographic threat of which Israel is extremely wary. The future demographic imbalance inside Israel will eventually lead to a civil war between Palestinians and Israelis - unless Israel becomes a democratic state for all its citizens and not a Jewish state.

It should be noted that UN Resolution 181- which the Jews accepted at the time - is the basis for the establishment of an Arab state alongside a Jewish one, and it is the only resolution that gives the Jews the right to establish a Jewish state. Now Israel wants to wrest international recognition for a Jewish state on 78% of the land in the eventuality of a settlement based on Resolution 242. The recognition at this stage of the Jewishness of the state gives Israel the right to transfer to a future Palestinian state the Arabs who have remained in Israel, or to engage in land swaps that lack international legality, but will be a solution imposed by the stronger party on the weaker. In this context, a wise move for Israel would be to relinquish the idea of a Greater Israel in favor of a pure Jewish state on about 50% of the land of historic Palestine. As for the Palestinian policymakers, they should put it to Israel that its objective of having a Jewish state can materialize only through its recognition and implementation of the Partition Plan.

* The Foundations for an Israeli-Palestinian Peace Agreement

An Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement must incorporate basic principles for a sustainable resolution and for the dissemination of a culture of peace between the two sides.

1. Building a culture of peace among the Jewish people:
a. The conviction that the Palestinians are a people who deserve self-determination and have the right to a viable state with full sovereignty over its land, sea and air;
b. A public recognition of this fact and its dissemination among the Jewish people inside and outside Israel;
c. The recognition that the creation of the State of Israel is the prime cause for the Nakba of the Palestinian people. Implicit is the admission that Israel drove the Palestinians out and appropriated their lands and properties for its creation;
d. The recognition of the right of the Palestinians of historic Palestine to their individual properties and Israel's obligation to register said properties in their names;
e. The recognition of the principle of the right of return for the Palestinian refugees and for their compensation for the ordeal they have endured for 60 years; and
f. Convincing the Jewish people of the necessity of concluding a just peace that will include solving the problematic issues of Jerusalem, the refugees and the settlements.

2. Building a culture of peace among the Palestinian people:
a. The recognition that the Jewish people have the right to self-determination;
b. The recognition that the Jewish people have the right to a Jewish state, with the proviso that they respect the national, religious and cultural rights of the minorities in it;
c. The recognition of an Israeli state within borders agreed upon in a final settlement between Israel and the Palestinians;
d. The undertaking not to drive out or dispossess the Jews in retaliation for what has befallen the Palestinian refugees; and
e. The recognition of the right of the Jews to return to the Arab countries from which they have fled.

Only a peaceful solution to the conflict based on mutual rights, will put an end to the violence and suffering on both sides, and will lay down the foundations for the prosperity and well-being of the two peoples.

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