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A CUP OF TEA IN OLD JERUSALEM


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This essay skips over the present crisis in the peace process and looks somewhat further forward. It attempts to present a new formula for a permanent agreement with the Palestinians. It was written under the assumption that, despite all the difficulties, the Jewish-Arab conflict can be resolved. Those who do not believe so would better not call their proposals a "permanent" solution. This optimistic assumption might be unfounded. But there is only one way to find out. Keep the essay and read it again at the beginning of the next century.

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INTRODUCTION


A final political resolution in this land has been the paramount question facing us for a century. It is a question that we have been discussing among ourselves and over which we have fought with our neighbors since our arrival in the region.

Since the Six Day War three main plans for a final status agreement 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 around which public debate focused for nearly thirty years, in general, are as follows:

1) insistence on all of the Land of Israel, with settlement of all territories

2) return to the 1967 borders and evacuation of all settlements

3) the third way, territorial compromise and settlement according to "security boundaries."

These, in a nutshell, are the three approaches. There is no need for further elaboration since the subject is well-known. Recently we have witnessed a strange development. These three plans have now been demoted - even if they are sometimes paid lip service - and their place taken by a fourth plan. According to this plan, accepted both by the Likud and Labor, the main settlement blocs in the West Bank and Gaza will remain under Israeli sovereignty and will be connected to us by a network of winding bypass roads. From the first plan it took the settlement map, from the second, recognition of a Palestinian entity (meanwhile pretending that it won't be a state), and from the third plan, the principle of territorial compromise. In contrast to the third plan, however, the borders of this new plan are not supposed to be based on security needs, but on putting the greatest number of Jewish settlers under Israeli sovereignty.

At first glance, it might appear that the debate between doves and hawks lives on. Questions such as what we are willing to have the Palestinian state called, or what percentage of territory on the West Bank will belong to it are still the subject of heated debate. One does not, however, need to be particularly sharp to perceive that, beyond semantic and rhetorical differences, more is held in common than disputed. Even if some voices speak in a gentle soprano, and others in an aggressive bass, since Oslo II there has essentially been a single plan for a permanent settlement which is more or less agreed upon by all. Have we reached the Messianic era? What is the secret of success of this new formula for permanent solution that suddenly enjoys such a high rating? One glance at the basic idea shows that it's not so amazing. After all, beyond our party and ideological differences, we are all - first and foremost - Israelis. The new permanent solution is an ingenious conglomeration of all the best Israeli characteristics - improvisation, patchwork and myopia... The plan still goes by several names, but "settlement bloc plan" seems to be emerging as the consensus. I myself prefer to call it the "octopus plan," not that I wish to show disdain, but simply for convenience; simply because if the plan is accepted, we will have a many-tentacled state resembling an octopus.

Of course, such an original map is not necessarily bad. The only problem is that such a complicated plan cannot serve as the basis for a permanent solution. At best it could be a "temporary permanent solution." It is hard to shake off the impression that those who came up with the idea simply forgot that the objective was to solve the historic conflict between us and our neighbors.

The octopus plan is primarily a pragmatic formula. Its authors embark on negotiations with the Palestinians with approximately the following idea in mind: If we succeed in reaching an accord with our Palestinian partners in the talks, if our supporters and voters do not riot, and if none of us is assassinated, we have done well enough.

To begin with, the final status solution must undoubtedly meet all these requirements. Talks about a permanent solution are not the time for fanciful ideas and unrealizable dreams. Clearly, any settlement must first of all be achievable. But that is not enough; there is one other modest requirement: it must attempt to solve the Jewish-Arab conflict.

This essay attempts to set forth a completely different formula for a permanent settlement between us and our Palestinian neighbors in this land.

Not to laud the virtues of the plan presented here just yet, nevertheless herein lies the subtle difference between it and the bloc plan: it is not a plan whose objective is to get through the next elections successfully, rather a plan whose objective is to attempt to find a final settlement of the conflict in this land.

A politician in search of immediate popularity or a proposal for a broad-based coalition, will not find what he wants here. But I am firmly convinced that sooner or later the bloc approach will fail, and the sooner we understand that, the better. Isn't it high time we began planning a bridge that will not collapse?

A SIMPLE SOLUTION TO A NON-SIMPLE PROBLEM

What is the formula to which I refer? A succinct summary of it appeared in Ma'ariv, Dec. 28, 1995 (and then in the East Jerusalem newspaper, Jerusalem Times, April 25 1997, and here in The Jerusalem Post, September 24, 1997), in a short article entitled "A Simple Solution to a Non-Simple Problem" which I cite here:

"As far as I know, the formula for a final settlement presented here has not yet been put forward. The innovation is not in any of the components, but in the conception 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 in the Land of Israel. That is to say, it must also apply to relations within the State of Israel, as will be discussed further on.

The solution presented here attempts to be simple and symmetric. It is simple, because only a simple solution can have stability, as required by the notion of a final settlement. A complicated solution based on octopus-shaped maps, enclaves and bypass roads is a sure prescription for friction.

The solution is symmetric because the more symmetric it is, the more just it is. This symmetry must apply, first of all, to the main point: It is inconceivable that the Jews should have a state here, and the Arabs have only an 'entity' or 'autonomy.'

According to this principle, the obvious starting point is to divide 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. We begin with the Jews living in the Palestinian state. Our position on the permanent solution must be unequivocal: no settlement shall be dismantled. It does not stand to reason that Arabs could live in the Galilee and Jews not be allowed to live in the West Bank. But one must remember that the Arabs in the 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 demand that the Palestinians come to terms with the presence of Jewish residents on their territory, but not with the presence of residents who view themselves as the master.

Have no fear. We are not abandoning the settlers to the foe. They may be subjects of a Palestinian state, but they will remain citizens of the State of Israel. What will it hurt them to paste stamps with a picture of Arafat's face on their letters? They will be able to work in Israel, to watch Israeli TV in the evening, and of course to elect our mediocre leaders to Knesset.

Nor are we abandoning them in terms of security. We can demand that the responsibility for the security of the settlements and the roads to them remain in the hands of the Israeli Army as long as that is necessary. But let us not forget that the security situation is closely related to the political situation. 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 together in the West Bank 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.

This principle must apply symmetrically 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 Arabs of Israel who chose 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 Arab of Israel who chooses Israeli citizenship shall be an Israeli citizen in the full sense of the word. He or she shall be able to vote and be elected to the Knesset, but will also have to enlist in National Service or serve in the Israeli Army.

A strange idea? Not necessarily. For we are speaking of true peace, of a historic reconciliation. Whoever does not believe in an end to the Jewish-Arab conflict had better not propose plans for a final settlement.

The proposal set forth here attempts to tailor a simple and symmetric solution to a reality which is not exactly symmetric and certainly is far from simple. It surely needs many details filled in and needs much polishing, and it does not provide ready-made answers to all the problems. Nevertheless, it has a distinct advantage: all the other proposals are worse."

These are the main points. So what will the reader find in thi essay?

Let there be no misunderstanding. The reader will not find a detailed program; here there are no draft constitutions, no maps, regulations or timetables. I am well aware that the policy-makers and negotiators are not sitting with bated breath, nervously tapping the table, waiting to hear what I have to say. Therefore, this essay will not deal with details, but with principles. It attempts to convince the reader that the formula I present is not shooting from the hip, but that it is reasonable and makes sense, that it can work, and that there are good reasons for adopting it, aside from the fact that the other proposals are worse.

I am well aware that nothing sounds more suspect than "a simple solution to a non-simple problem." Now, with negotiations on a final settlement under way, the time has come to get serious. By us, if a person wants to be taken seriously, he or she had better put forward complex solutions.

I would not be surprised to hear someone already saying, "Pardon me, but what about the problem of Jerusalem? What about the refugee problem? What about borders? What about security arrangements? What about demographic factors? What about economics? How can one suggest a 'formula for a permanent settlement' without dealing with all these? Indeed, I have not forgotten these issues, and I promise the patient reader to deal with them further on. I believe in a simple solution not because I make light of the complexity of the problem. Whoever does not understand the complexity of the Jewish-Arab conflict ought not be so presumptuous as to suggest a solution. I shall try to persuade the reader that precisely the complexity of the problem necessitates a simple solution, and that the more simple the solution the more stable it will be, and that we must first see the most important point and only later get down to details.

First we must agree on what the most important point is: to remember that in the phrase "permanent settlement" the first word is more important than the second.

The talks on the permanent settlement are not another hurdle we must somehow overcome with a signed scrap of paper in our hands. The goal is to find a permanent solution to the Jewish-Arab conflict. A permanent solution to a century-old conflict is not something that can be achieved by force, because reconciliation by coercion is not reconciliation. Any agreement that is not symmetric, any agreement in which only we achieve what we want, will not allay the conflict. And an agreement that does not allay the conflict cannot be a permanent settlement even if the Palestinians sign it. In short, we are entering negotiations from a position of strength, and if we succeed in imposing our will on our partners in the talks, we have failed.

But why, indeed, will "any agreement that is not symmetric not allay the conflict?" If the Palestinians sign, what is wrong if "only we achieve what we want"? Why not "impose our will on our partners in the talks," if that is possible?

Matters will perhaps be clearer if we understand that the very notion of a "final settlement" entails a small upheaval in our way of thinking. A century of fighting has made many of us accustomed to thinking "What is bad for the Arabs is good for the Jews," or at least that the only question that ought to interest us is "Is it good for the Jews?"

The basic premise in negotiations between two parties over any subject is almost always "I shall look out for my interests, and the other side will look out for theirs." This time, however, we are not dealing with a divorce agreement or with a commercial deal, nor with a cease-fire or armistice, with separation of forces or an interim agreement. This time we are dealing with a final settlement, i.e., with a settlement which is supposed to be stable, which is supposed to put an end to 100 years of hostility. When the objective is to achieve such an agreement, sometimes one has to adopt a different basic premise.

Strange as it may sound, sometimes "our interest is to look out for their interest." We must see to it that the final settlement is "good for the Jews" but at the same time we must take care that it also be "good for the Arabs."

It is certainly more pleasant to talk about our own "security needs" and other interests than about the interests of the other side. But if we are to succeed ultimately in arriving at an agreement that realizes all our vital interests we must remember one more thing: there is one other little interest which we must guarantee, namely, that the settlement stand the test of time. In order for a settlement to hold up, it must be one that not only we like, but that the other side likes as well.

How is this achieved? What is the wonder formula that meets both sides' demands? This, of course, is the sixty-four thousand dollar question that I shall try to answer in the following sections. At this point I only want to remind the reader that for a formula to meet the demands of both sides, it must also meet the demands of the other side.

"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. On the other hand, it is high time to wean ourselves off the notion that we know better what they need. We ought to school ourselves in the idea that their true interest is what they want and not what we think they ought to want. If we make proposals that do not meet their wishes, they will simply reject them, even if they meet their "needs" as we understand them. Therefore, after 30 years, there is no need for us suddenly to tax our brains at solving their economic problems, or paving their roads. Nor is there any point in proposing that they confederate with Jordan if we do not want them to propose that we confederate with Cyprus. These may all be excellent ideas, and perhaps their day will come, but before we arrange confederations for them we ought first to listen to them. Whoever takes the pains to listen will have no difficulty understanding what it is they want. The key word in their vocabulary is not economics, not development, not progress. These issues are important and vital, but the key word is "justice," or what they call the "legitimate rights of the Palestinian people."

I know that these words drive some people out of their mind. However difficult as it may be, I beg them to grit their teeth and read on.

In order to resolve the Jewish-Arab conflict there is no need to settle the question of who is right. Nor is there any need to adopt the other side's ideology or its formulations and definitions. There is, however, one inescapable condition: an end to the conflict between us and the Arabs cannot be imposed upon them against their will.

Surprising as it may be, the Arabs are a party in the Jewish-Arab conflict. Therefore, inconvenient as it may be, one must seek a solution that will set their minds at rest as well. But to set their minds at rest, it does not suffice to meet all their "real" needs; first and foremost one must find a solution that they perceive as fair.

Therefore, I have attempted to present a symmetric solution, a solution that tries to be balanced and leaves a sense of mutual respect, not the humiliating feeling of having had no option. I do not wish to discourage the fans of the octopus plan, who at this very moment might be puzzling over maps, wondering how the border can be given just one more little curve; but I fear that their plan does not measure up to these criteria very well.

But, of course, abstract principles like symmetry and simplicity are not enough. It is not sufficient to decide that we are looking for a "symmetric formula that will meet the demands of both sides." This formula must be closely examined, attempting to remove all the stumbling blocks beforehand. Speaking of stumbling blocks, islands of Israeli sovereignty in the heart of Palestinian sovereignty are likely to act as a time-bomb, a prescription for a "short-range permanent settlement." Whoever still hopes that the Arabs will dissolve into thin air, will leave, or will turn Jewish, and views the final settlement as an intermediate stage on the way to fulfilling some other vision, of course will be glad to have such islands of Israeli sovereignty. But whoever understands that the Arabs are our neighbors and that the time has come at long last to live with them in peace, will have to work to create a simple and clear reality - a Palestinian state whose sovereignty is recognized by all its inhabitants alongside a Jewish state whose sovereignty is recognized by all its inhabitants.

For example, what is the difference between the Chinese in New York and the Serbs in Bosnia? The main difference lies in the fact that the Chinese do not aspire to a Chinese state in New York, whereas the Serbs aspire to a Serbian state in Bosnia. Thus, Chinatown is full of restaurants and Bosnia full of bloodshed.

National conflict does not erupt simply from the fact that two peoples live intermingled; it erupts only when both lay claim to sovereignty over the same territory. Therefore, the settlements in and of themselves are not an obstacle to peace. The demand of the settlers for Israeli sovereignty in the heart of Palestinian sovereignty is an obstacle to peace.

The above statement would not be met with enthusiastic applause in Bet El or Ariel. Most of the Jewish inhabitants of these regions surely view their demand for Israeli sovereignty as the realization of historic rights and not as an "obstacle to peace." They did not settle there to live in a Palestinian state, and this possibility appears sheer madness to them. I would be glad to come up with a formula they might find more pleasing, but I fear that if such a formula were to exist, it would not be consonant with Jewish-Arab reconciliation.

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