Since the Six-Day War of 1967, three main plans for a final settlement in this land have been on the Israeli agenda. Today there is essentially only one and it does not coincide with any of the previous three.
The three principal plans were roughly as follows:
1. Insistence on Israel's retaining all of Eretz Yisrael ("the Land of Israel," Israel/Palestine) and settlement in all the territories occupied in 1967;
Return to the 1967 borders and evacuation of all settlements;
3. Territorial compromise and a settlement according to "secure Israeli borders."
Though lip service is still sometimes paid to these plans, they have now been demoted. Their place has been taken by a fourth one. According to this plan, accepted by both Likud and Labor, the main blocs of settlement in the West Bank and Gaza will remain under Israeli sovereignty and will be connected to Israel by a network of winding bypass roads. This proposal took from the first plan the map of settlement; from the second, recognition of a Palestinian entity (not a state); and from the third, the principle of territorial compromise. However, in contrast to the third approach, the borders of the settlement bloc plan are not to be based on "security needs" but on placing the greatest number of Jewish settlers under Jewish sovereignty.
Rather than calling it "the settlement bloc plan," I prefer to call it "the medusa plan" because, if it is accepted, we will have a many-tentacled state resembling a medusa. This type of original map is not, of course, intrinsically bad. The problem is only that such a complicated plan cannot serve as the basis for a permanent settlement. It could, at best, be a "temporary permanent settlement," aiming to get through the next Israeli elections successfully. In all events, it is hard to avoid the impression that those who came up with the idea simply overlooked that the objective was to solve the historic conflict between us and our neighbors.

Alternative Formula

The alternative formula for a final settlement proposed here has not been put forward elsewhere. The innovation is not in any of the components, but in the concept that the final settlement must apply not only to relations between the State of Israel and the Palestinian "entity," but also to the overall structure of relations between Jews and Arabs within the country.
The solution proposed here attempts to be simple and symmetrical. This is the only way to provide the stability required of a final settlement. On the other hand, a solution based on medusa-shaped maps, enclaves, fences and bypass roads is a sure prescription for friction. The solution is symmetrical because the more symmetrical it is, the more just it is. The symmetry must apply first of all to the central point: it is inconceivable that the Jews should have a state here while the Arabs have only an "entity" or "autonomy."
According to this principle, the point of departure is the division of the country into two sovereign states. When there are two states here, for the sake of simplicity and symmetry, one will be able to divide the population into four main groups: 1. Jews living in Israel; 2. Arabs living in the Palestinian state; 3. Jews living in the Palestinian state; 4. Arabs living in Israel. The main innovation in this proposal concerns the status of the latter two groups and the symmetrical relationship between them.

Recognizing Palestinian Sovereignty

We begin with Jews living in the Palestinian state. Our position on the final settlement must be unequivocal: no settlement will be dismantled. It does not stand to reason that Arabs can live in Galilee while Jews should not be allowed to live in the West Bank. But one must remember that the Arabs in Galilee recognize the sovereignty of the State of Israel. Therefore, Jews who wish to remain in the West Bank will have to recognize the sovereignty of the Palestinian state. We can urge the Palestinians to come to terms with the presence of Jewish residents on their territory, but not with the presence of residents who view themselves as masters.
We are not abandoning the settlers. They may be subjects of a Palestinian state but they will remain citizens of the State of Israel. They will be able to work in Israel, to watch Israeli TV and, of course, to elect our mediocre representatives to the Knesset. Anyone unwilling to recognize a Palestinian state will not be able to live there. The settlements will remain Israeli in every respect and the setters will take part in the political, economic and cultural life of the state, enjoying its services in education, health and religion.
However, the settlers will have to take the symbolic step of recognizing the political facts of life and obeying Palestinian sovereignty and local laws. This can remove the main psychological barrier separating them from their neighbors, paving the way to direct negotiations between settlers and Palestinians on the details of final settlement. Organizing reconciliation meetings, friendship associations, youth exchanges, cultural activities, sports, joint enterprises and, most important of all, efforts to bring Judaism and Islam closer together - these can achieve more for the settlers than lobbying against the Palestinians in Jerusalem.


Nor are we abandoning them in terms of security. We can demand that the security of the settlements and the roads leading to them remain in the hands of the Israeli army for as long as that is necessary. Peace needs a probationary period in which the safety of Israeli citizens will be in the hands of the Israeli army. But here again, the key approach must be respect for our neighbors, with security arrangements made in coordination with local forces. Our soldiers will have to adjust to behaving as guests, not masters.
But let us not forget that the security and the political situation are closely related. If only those Jews who recognize the Palestinian state were to remain in the West Bank, then we would soon see that Jews and Arabs can live there together in peace and even friendship. The Palestinians do not hate every settler for being a Jew. They simply do not want to have neighbors who seek to rule them.
The principle of symmetry must apply equally to the Arabs of Israel. Just as Jews will be able to live in a Palestinian state and define themselves as citizens of the State of Israel, so too every Arab living in Israel must be allowed to define himself or herself as a citizen of the Palestinian state. The Israeli Arabs who choose to be Palestinian citizens will have a parallel status to the Jewish settlers: they will be residents enjoying equal rights in all respects save one - their vote will be cast into the Palestinian ballot box.
On the other hand, any Israeli Arab who chooses Israeli citizenship will be an Israeli citizen in the full sense of the word. He or she will be able to vote and be elected to the Knesset, but will also have to enlist in national service or in the Israeli army.


Is this symmetry a strange idea? Not necessarily when we are speaking of true peace, of historic reconciliation. Anyone refusing to believe in putting an end to the Jewish-Arab conflict should avoid preparing plans for a final settlement. I apologize for the optimism in what follows, but this is the way in which I believe the conflict between us and the Palestinians can be solved. How can one use the words "final settlement" without believing this? The goal is not to sign another scrap of paper. An agreement that fails to tackle the conflict at its roots cannot constitute a permanent settlement, even were the Palestinians to sign it.
"The demands of the other side" is a phrase which needs explaining. I do not mean to say that we must agree to all their demands. However, it is high time we wean ourselves of the notion that we know their needs better than they do. We should become accustomed to the idea that their true interest is what they want and not what we think they should want. Whoever takes the pains to listen will have no difficulty understanding what they want. Even if economics, development and progress are important and even vital issues, the key words in their vocabulary were and remain what they call "the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people."
In order to resolve the Jewish-Arab conflict, there is no need to settle the question of who is right. Neither is there any need to adopt the ideology or the definitions of the other side. There is, however, one inescapable conclusion: an end to the conflict between us and the Arabs cannot be enforced against their will. First and foremost, therefore, one must find a solution they perceive as fair.

Do Good Fences Make Good Neighbors?

Thus I have attempted to present a symmetrical solution, one that tries to be balanced and to foster mutual respect rather than promote a humiliating sense of no choice. The medusa plan, whose fans are puzzling over maps and wondering how the border can be bent just a little more, does not measure up to these criteria adequately.
One does not need a particularly discerning eye to see that islands of Israeli sovereignty in the heart of Palestinian sovereignty are likely to serve as a time-bomb. Instead we have to create a simple and clear reality of a Palestinian state whose sovereignty is recognized by all its residents alongside a Jewish state whose sovereignty is recognized by all its residents. It is not the settlements that are an obstacle to peace, but the demand of the settlers for Israeli sovereignty in the heart of Palestinian sovereignty.
Nobody disagrees that a warm peace involves normalization. We complain that the peace with Egypt is too cold and that we will not cede an inch to Assad unless he commits himself to the essence of peace. It is only with our Palestinian neighbors that we want a cold peace. For them we have entirely different formulas: "Us here and them there," "Good fences make good neighbors," "Reduce contact," "Build bypass roads." Such varied catch-phrases have one theme in common: the goal is not to solve the conflict but to find ways of continuing to live with it.

Good Relations between Neighbors

In an interim settlement, transitional proposals are sometimes needed so as to build trust and overcome deep-seated legacies of the past. But whoever bases his program on separation and bypass roads is preparing not for peace but for an Intifada. According to these proposals, even in the final settlement, the inhabitants of Ofra will bypass Ramallah when they travel and people from Elon Moreh will not pass through Nablus. Can this be called a peace plan? Do the Arab residents of Nazareth have a bypass road around Afuleh, or the Arabs of Jaffa around Tel Aviv? Does someone need reminding that peace is the absence of conflict, not the absence of friction?
If anybody ought to be truly interested in permanent peace in the territories, it is the settlers who built their permanent homes there. If I were in their shoes, I would demand a plan that would guarantee good relations with my neighbors, not defense against them: a warm peace would assure drinking a cup of coffee in the Old City of Jerusalem or shopping in the bazaar of Hebron. There is no real peace in this land without good neighborly relations. With them, there is no need for separation and without them, even bypass roads will not be secure. How do such roads fit in with the right of the Jews to feel at home anywhere in the Land of Israel, including Jericho and Bethlehem? Can a final settlement involve living in the Land of Israel without being able to see it?
We all want normalization with the entire Arab world, from Morocco to Qatar. We all say that true peace in the Middle East is a strategic necessity. The prospects of our region with nuclear warheads and without peace sends a chill up the spine. However, our relations with the Palestinians and with the entire Arab world are related and an invalid solution to the conflict with the Palestinians is likely to jeopardize normalization with the rest of the Arab world. Therefore, one must begin with normalization at home.

Arabs in a Jewish State

If Jews can live in a Palestinian state and define themselves as Israeli citizens, then Arabs should not be denied the right to live in the State of Israel and define themselves as Palestinian citizens. This sounds strange at the moment only because it is still over the next hill. Those who continue to waste time on the question of whether there will be a Palestinian state are naturally unable to contemplate what might happen after the establishment of a Palestinian state.
The Arabs in Israel are ostensibly citizens enjoying equal rights, but we all know that the reality is quite different. This stems in no small part from the fact that their country is fighting against their people. This unhappy situation will cease with the settlement of the Jewish-Arab conflict. For the first time, the establishment of a Palestinian state will give them the possibility of choice. Our proposal gives the Arabs in Israel what it offers to all residents of this country, namely the right to self-determination.
Every Israeli Arab reaching the age of 18 will be able to choose between Israeli and Palestinian citizenship. If he or she chooses Israeli citizenship, that person will be an Israeli citizen in all respects, with all the rights and responsibilities entailed, serving in the Israeli army or national service, receiving all consequent benefits and, of course, having the right to vote for and be elected to the Knesset.
Prejudice is not eradicated by legislation but in a setting where "Arab" will no longer be synonymous with "enemy," where all citizens will serve in the Israeli army and Jews will live in a Palestinian state - there is reason to hope that discrimination will gradually diminish.
Israeli Arabs choosing at the age of 18 to hold Palestinian citizenship will vote in the Palestinian elections instead of for the Knesset. Apart from being exempt from army service, in all other respects they will remain residents of the State of Israel, enjoying equal rights and responsibilities.

An Overall View

Needless to say, this idea must be acceptable first and foremost to the Israeli Arabs. Even if they accept the principle, one should not necessarily conclude that many of them will jump at the opportunity to obtain Palestinian citizenship. The Arab population of Israel has interests of its own which must be represented in the Knesset and the Arab parties will not encourage their voters to give up their voting rights in Israel. Most would presumably prefer to have an impact on the political life in Israel rather than in Palestine.
Yet, in time, many Israeli Arabs may conceivably find reasons to desire Palestinian citizenship. A permanent settlement must, in any case, recognize the rights of Israeli Arabs to define themselves as Palestinians in every way. Thinking symmetrically, just as nobody expects Jews living in a Palestinian state to bring up their children on Arab culture, so we cannot require Arabs living in Israel to be brought up on the Hebrew writer Agnon or Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion.
But what is the rush? One must, of course, first solve the major problems on the agenda - settlements, borders, Palestinian statehood, refugees, Jerusalem - but if we really want to solve these problems, we must come to the negotiating table with an overall view. And this can help in tackling the most urgent issues.


Our symmetrical point of departure provides an approach to the complex issue of refugees. I think the Palestinians are well aware that as long as Israel defines itself as a Jewish state, it will never open its doors to the refugees of 1948. Therefore, if we reject the Palestinian demand that the refugees be let back into our territory, we must give up the demand to establish new settlements within theirs; symmetry also means our seeing to the development (or refraining from discriminating against) Arab villages in Israel.
According to the same logic of symmetry, we may not, nor cannot, deny the Palestinian right to take refugees into their own territory. We, of course, have the right to demand the solution of problems like water and ecology, so that this additional population does not hurt us. However, as long as we reserve the right to take in Jewish immigrants, we cannot expect our neighbors to cede the right to take in Palestinian refugees. The principle is that the less we try to dictate their internal affairs, the better. Whatever does not directly affect us is none of our business. We must get used to the idea that, while we will not give up our vital interests, our neighbors deserve sovereignty and not a caricature of sovereignty.
I have called the basic conception presented here as "simple, symmetrical and fair," but where the reality is complex and lop-sided, the proposals cannot be exactly symmetrical. For example, security arrangements have first of all to provide security, which means that Israel must provide a strategic balance with the entire Arab world and not only with the Palestinians. Just as the Egyptians did in their day, our neighbors will have to agree to demilitarization, and in my opinion to a temporary presence of the Israeli army on their territory because possible Baruch Goldstein-type settler actions will not contribute to stability and peace. But as a general trend, solutions lacking an honest desire for maximum, if not always precise, symmetry will not stand the test of time.


Since Jerusalem is the most difficult question of all, one should perhaps make do with an interim agreement for the time being, establishing conditions which facilitate serious and relaxed discussions of the final settlement for the city after the rest of the clauses of the peace treaty will have been concluded. However, just as only a few years ago few Israeli politicians dared to utter the words "Palestinian state," Israelis will one day understand that a billion Muslims will not be persuaded that Jerusalem is situated in Abu Dis: we shall have to accept that only one final settlement is feasible in Jerusalem - Jewish Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and Arab Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.
Jerusalem can remain an open city, open both in the direction of Israel and of the Palestinian state. If East Jerusalemites cease feeling like second-class citizens, we might at long last be able to achieve a united Jerusalem. Such a united city of Jerusalem, open in all directions, is possible as part of a warm and true peace. It is not consonant with a fortified peace based on "good fences making good neighbors." A Jerusalem not surrounded by fences would make building fences elsewhere senseless, for whoever wishes to penetrate into Israel can do so via Jerusalem. A truly symmetrical solution to the problem of Jerusalem may appear impossible today, but I believe that a few years of normalization will transform the impossible into the inevitable.
Finally, I believe that the ideas presented here will ultimately have their day and, in time, the parties will opt for symmetrical solutions. They will adopt them, not because they are perfect, but because of the realization that there is no other way. The Arabs will understand that Jewish settlements cannot be uprooted and that Arab refugees cannot be repatriated to nonexistent villages. We Israelis, for our part, will also understand that, henceforth, we and the Palestinians must become partners for we do not live alone in the country. For a century, we have been creating facts in this land. From now on, we must move forward together with our neighbors as equals.

This article is based on a longer essay by the author, originally published in Ha'aretz. It was shortened and edited by the editors of the Journal, and on their responsibility.