We (Israel and Palestine) have been in political deadlock at least since the end of the Olmert-Abbas negotiations in 2008-2009. No real negotiations have taken place since then, and of course, no progress has been made toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. During those long years, Israel continued to build settlements and widen its military occupation. Israel’s occupation infrastructure — physical and bureaucratic — makes it difficult to imagine that partition of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea into two states for two peoples is even possible. Additionally, with years of no contact, especially between young Palestinians and Israelis, there appears to no longer be a majority on either side of the conflict in support of the Olso paradigm of a two-state solution. Public opinion could change if there emerged leaders who were genuinely committed to the two-state solution, but they do not appear to exist at this time. Even if there is no longer a viable two-state solution, however, eventually Israelis and Palestinians will have to return to the table to determine how we are going to live together on this land – one state, two states, three states, 10 states, federation, confederation, or perhaps some sort of hybrid model. Until then, and in order to reach that reality, there are many things that Israelis, Palestinians, Israelis and Palestinians together, and international actors could do to push us forward toward a better future. The following are some suggestions regarding what can be done.
Israel holds most of the power to make change. Israel is the occupier. Israel is a strong, wealthy state with a very powerful army. The proposals for action here are mostly directed at civil society actors and individual citizens. It is very unlikely at this time that officials and government representatives will take positive actions toward peace, but some of these suggestions include attempts to bring them to take action.
• Reengage – Facing the challenge of the Palestinian boycott antinormalization movement, it is important to create opportunities for Israelis and Palestinians to speak to each other once again. This can be done at the individual level through social media or through more organized meetings arranged by NGOs or others. These encounters must emphasize the need to listen more than to score points on who is to blame. There should be an awareness of the need to keep these encounters and contacts discreet because we have to protect our Palestinian partners who are more at risk than the Israeli participants.
• Recreate the Israeli-Palestinian Peace NGO Forum – During the early months of the second intifada, we created the Israeli Peace NGO Forum, bringing together under one umbrella all of the Israeli peace organizations that were working directly with Palestinians. We encouraged our Palestinian partners at that time to create a Palestinian Peace NGO Forum, and they did. Shortly afterward, we merged forces to create the Israeli-Palestinian Peace NGO Forum. This was more than a support group for those of us working for peace under very difficult circumstances. We essentially developed the joint peace NGO network into a lobbying group locally and internationally. One of the most important tasks that we undertook was to ensure that all delegations of important diplomats visiting Israel and Palestine had a meeting with the leadership of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace NGO Forum, which provided us the opportunity to speak directly with world leaders and let them hear different voices from the ones they heard in their official meetings.
• Lobby in the Knesset for Israeli-Palestinian peace – In a previous Knesset, several members of Knesset under the leadership of then MK Hilik Bar from the Labor Party were prodded and encouraged by the One Voice movement to establish a Knesset caucus for the two-state solution. The caucus was very active. It held hearings in the Knesset with invited guests, it hosted senior Palestinian personalities for private and public visits, and it arranged several meetings for hundreds of Israelis to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian leaders, including President Abbas. A new caucus for Israeli-Palestinian peace should be created in the next Knesset without it being necessarily linked to the two-state solution but instead serving as a forum for examining other possible solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
• Arrange meetings for Israeli political leaders – Israeli peace NGOs should organize visits for Palestinian leaders and public personalities, as well as people from the private sector, to meet Israeli leaders at the local and national level as well as hosting parlor meetings in private homes to enable Israelis to hear, firsthand, what life in Palestine is like and what it means to live under occupation. This does not require a large administration, and some of the existing Israeli peace organizations can assist in arranging these meetings. Organizations such as ALLMEP (The Alliance for Middle East Peace) or the Israeli Peace NGO Forum should set up a hotline for individual Israelis who would like to organize these kinds of meetings or even just participate in them. These meetings should be taking place every day and in all parts of the country.
• Recreate ministry-to-ministry contacts – From 1994 until deep into the second intifada, senior civil servants from Israeli and Palestinian government ministries were meeting on a regular basis. Through IPCRI (Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information), we conducted hundreds of these meetings. We called it “civilizing the peace process,” as the peace process had been taken over and dominated by the military and security forces on both sides (as relations between Israeli and Palestinian officials are conducted today). I hope that one of the Israeli peace organizations can resume the organization of ministry-to-ministry meetings – Ministry of Tourism with Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Agriculture with Ministry of Agriculture, etc. It will take a long time to identify the right people in each ministry and to get the green light from the politicians, but if done discreetly, through the development of trusting relationships, it is possible to recreate this model, and its potential for making change is quite large.
• Put out proposals on solutions to issues in conflict – We should be bombarding the newspapers and social media with proposals on how to resolve the conflict. We need to get the public to think once again about the possibilities for making peace. Even if crazy, wild ideas are presented, they can launch dialogue and discourse on the nature of peace. Reading about peace possibilities can help to change public discourse and impact public opinion. Of course, it would be great if we could get Palestinian authors to also submit articles for the Israeli public to read – and vice versa. I have a weekly column in Arabic in the Arabic daily Al Quds; we need more of that as well.
• Treat Palestine as a state – We should cease using the term “Palestinian Authority (PA)” and replace it with the term “State of Palestine.” Mahmoud Abbas is not chairman of the PA; he is the president of Palestine. Palestine must come to exist in our daily consciousness and must be spoken about as a state (even if formal statehood recognition is far away). Likewise, there is no PLO flag; there is the flag of the State of Palestine.
Palestinians are under occupation and are the primary victims in this conflict. Nonetheless, there are many things that Palestinians — individuals, NGOs, private sector people, academics and intellectuals, and politicians — can do to move us closer to a genuine, renewed peace process.
• Demand elections – This is the one issue that unifies almost all Palestinians. Elections for the Presidency and Legislative Council of the State of Palestine must be held. Last May, some 85% of Palestinians registered to vote, and 36 political parties registered to participate in the parliamentary elections. I would suggest changing the election law and granting voting rights to all people in the population registry above the age of 18 without the need to register to vote. Also, 36 political parties is way too much. Even though it was a festival of democracy, there need to be more coalitions of like-minded political actors and fewer political parties. Even though this is entirely an internal Palestinian issue, the outcome of those elections will affect us all, so I hope that the Palestinian political reality will be dominated by political hopefuls who will work together and create the best possibilities for those who are realistic and understand that we must find a way to live in peace.
• Propose solutions to issues in conflict – Most Palestinians I know have serious questions about the viability of the two-state solution, as do I. It would be very helpful for Palestinians to begin to propose other models for making peace based on serious thought and deliberation. The discussion must be more complex than the simple question of one state or two states. There are many parameters and issues that should be examined in much greater depth and detail. This has been done by some people such as Attorney Jonathan Kuttab, who wrote a model constitution for a federated state, but even his fine work has not been presented and debated in public. It would be wonderful to see Palestinian universities, academic centers, and NGOs presenting and debating additional models on how to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, with all of its complexities.
• Pressure Hamas to accept a hudna – Gaza must be part of the solution to the conflict. I don’t think anyone believes that Hamas will disappear. Hamas is part of Palestinian society, and it will be here for a long time. Hamas must be part of the solution. The first step in that direction, along with elections, is to pressure on Hamas to enter into a 10-year hudna (cease-fire) with Israel. This has been explored in the past, and there are even several draft hudna agreements that have been produced (I have been involved in drafting one). What is required is Palestinian public pressure, in the West Bank and in Gaza, on Hamas to move forward
with its own proposal. This can be done through Egypt or through other acceptable channels.
• Nuance anti-normalization – I believe that Palestinians do damage to themselves and to their cause by the anti-normalization campaign, which is all-encompassing against all Israelis and Israeli organizations. I have never understood how Palestinians will help end the occupation by not talking to me. There are Israelis who work every day to end the occupation and to achieve peace; why should they be boycotted? Furthermore, it is the right-wing and religious Israeli Jews who need to hear from Palestinians who want to achieve peace and end the occupation. How are you achieving your goals by not speaking with the people who most need to hear you? The entire anti-normalization movement and campaign needs to be reconsidered and at least nuanced in ways that grant more possibilities for impact.
• Palestine is a state; act like a state – Palestine was declared a state by President Yasser Arafat on November 15, 1988. All of the offices of the PA have signs that say “The State of Palestine.” In the United Nations, the State of Palestine is recognized as a nonmember state. It is true that under the Israeli occupation, Palestine is not in control of almost anything, such as preventing Israeli soldiers from entering the Palestinian cities which are supposed to be under full Palestinian control; however, one more than symbolic step that the State of Palestine could take is to announce to all Israelis that the red signs at the entrance to all Palestinian cities that warn Israelis that entering the PA area is dangerous and illegal is a unilateral Israeli act and should not be honored. In fact, Palestine should invite Israelis to come visit Palestine, but with a visa! The Palestinians should set up a digital app and website where Israelis can apply for a one-time visa to enter the State of Palestine. Palestinian officials should be stationed at the border crossings and check the visas. Forgery can be prevented by enabling the border officials to have the official record of the visa application in their smart phone or tablet. Anyone without a visa can apply at the crossing with the app or be turned away. Security officials of the State of Palestine will guarantee the safety and security of all Israeli visitors with visas to Palestine.
Israelis and Palestinians Together
There are actions that, if taken together by Palestinians and Israelis, can be much more effective.
• Leverage regional relations – Without getting into the debate about the positive or negative aspects of the Abraham Accords, Israel now enjoys peace with additional Arab countries. Those countries were committed in the past to the Arab Peace Initiative (API), which proposed that when Israel ends the occupation and makes peace with Palestine, all of the Arab countries would normalize relations with Israel and make peace. That did not happen, and the UAE, Morocco, and Bahrain signed peace agreements with Israel, although there are still important Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, which continue to adhere to the API. The new, positive relations between the Arab countries and Israel could be used to leverage Israel and Palestine to refocus regional attention on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One of the countries, such as Bahrain, could take the initiative to organize a regional gathering (such as the Negev Summit which Palestine and Jordan did not attend) which would be focused on recentering the Israeli-Palestinian issue in the regional context. A regional solution or search for solutions is much better than Israeli-Palestinian bilateral negotiations. The regional context offers many new possibilities for enhancing the chances for peace, security, and prosperity. Bahrain, with its close relations with the Saudis, could invite the Saudis to participate as observers – something that would increase the possibilities for Israeli participation.
• Delegations to diplomats – As mentioned above, perhaps through a renewed Israeli-Palestinian Peace NGO Forum or through the establishment of a special mechanism, joint Israeli-Palestinian delegations should be engaging with the diplomatic and international community through meetings in embassies and consulates and arranged visits to governments and capitals around the world. The bottom-line message would be that we are working together to end the occupation and bring peace and need the international community to play a much more proactive role. There are many specific suggestions and proposals that can be submitted in each visit depending on the relative advantage of each country being addressed. The joint Israeli-Palestinian visit would strengthen the message and add importance to the meetings.
• Joint appearances in the media – Israeli and Palestinian partners should appear together in the media, written and electronic, radio and television, demonstrating that we are partners working to end the occupation and to bring peace. The publics, locally and internationally, need to see Israelis and Palestinians working together as teams with common goals and objectives. This is how we can rebuild partnerships for peace and change public consciousness.
The International community has a large role to play in getting us back to the table and in advancing the end of the occupation and reaching peace.
• Recognize the State of Palestine – Any country that still continues to speak about the two-state solution and only recognizes one of the states is hypocritical and counterproductive to reaching peace. Enough empty words. These countries, if they really believe in the two-state solution and are interested in possibly saving its questionable viability, must recognize the State of Palestine now. Those who are concerned about the nature of governance in Palestine could link their recognition of Palestine with the conducting of new democratic elections, but they must agree from the outset to recognize the results of those elections whatever the outcome may be.
• Make settlement products illegal contraband – Many countries have debated labeling products produced in Israeli settlements so that consumers can have the choice if they want to buy those products. Some countries have moved in that direction, but in reality, as Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are illegal under international law, the products produced in those settlements should be considered illegal contraband and should be banned from entering the countries who are signatories to UN Security Council 2334. Labeling settlement products falls far too short of what should be the correct policy. Illegal goods should not be sold.