Fairness for Both Sides Is Key to Middle East Peace


Obama and Netanyahu talk after a meeting at the Oval Office on May 22, 2011.

Pre-1967 lines only make sense in the context of a comprehensive settlement that meets both sides’ needs in a spirit of trust and compassion.

President Barack Obama is reported to have said to his advisers last week that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would never make the concessions necessary for a peace accord. Well, we in the peace movement say, “duhhh.” And that is precisely why his insistence that the parties sit down at a negotiating table is a nonstarter — what’s the point of negotiations when one of the two parties has no interest in coming to an agreement?

If the president really understands this, it is time for him to go over the heads of the leadership in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, and directly to the Israeli and Palestinian people, with a full-blown peace accord that would show what the United States could enthusiastically support.

President Obama lost credibility not because of his assertion that negotiations between Israel and Palestine start from acknowledging Israel’s 1967 borders but because that suggestion doesn’t make sense except in the context of a much larger vision of the terms of an agreement, which we in the peace movement have been urging him to publicly embrace. The key to such an agreement must be its willingness to demand sacrifice from both sides, and a compassionate and caring attitude toward the needs of both sides.

Here is what a peace plan must involve for it to have any chance of swaying hearts and minds on all sides:

1. The peace treaty will recognize the state of Israel and the state of Palestine and define Palestine’s borders to include almost all of pre-1967 West Bank and Gaza, with small exchanges of land mutually agreed upon and roughly equivalent in value and historic and/or military significance to each side. The peace plan will also entail a corresponding treaty between Israel and all Arab states — including recognition of Israel and promising full diplomatic and economic cooperation among these parties — and accepting all the terms of this agreement as specified herein. And it should include a twenty-to-thirty-year plan for moving toward a Middle Eastern common market and the eventual establishment of a political union along the lines of the European Union. This might also include eventually building a federation between Israel and Palestine or among Israel, Palestine, and Jordan.

2. Jerusalem will be the capital of both Israel and Palestine and will be governed for all civic issues by separate elected councils in West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem. The Old City will become an international city whose sovereignty will be overseen by an international council that guarantees equal access to all holy sites. Its taxes will be shared equally by the city councils of East and West Jerusalem.

3. Immediate and unconditional freedom will be accorded all prisoners in Israel and Palestine whose arrests have been connected in some way with the Occupation and/or resistance to the Occupation.

4. An international force will be established to separate and protect each side from the extremists of the other side who will inevitably seek to disrupt the peace agreement. And a joint peace police — composed of an equal number of Palestinians and Israelis, at both personnel and command levels — will be created to work with the international force to combat violence and to implement point No. 6 below.

5. Reparations will be offered by the international community for Palestinian refugees and their descendents at a sufficient level within a ten-year period to bring Palestinians to an economic well-being equivalent to that enjoyed by those with a median Israeli-level income. The same level of reparations will also be made available to all Jews who fled Arab lands between 1948 and 1977. An international fund should be set up immediately to hold in escrow the monies needed to ensure that these reparations are in place once the peace plan is agreed upon.

6. A truth and reconciliation process will be created, modeled on the South African version but shaped to the specificity of these two cultures. Plus: an international peace committee will be appointed by representatives of the three major religious communities of the area to develop and implement teaching of: a) nonviolence and nonviolent communication, b) empathy and forgiveness, and c) a sympathetic point of view of the history of the “other side.” The adoption of this curriculum should be mandatory in every grade from sixth grade through high school. The committee should be empowered to ensure the elimination of all teaching of hatred against the other side or teaching against the implementation of this treaty in any public, private or religious educational institutions, media, or public meetings.

7. Palestine will agree to allow all Jews living in the West Bank to remain there as law-abiding citizens of the new Palestinian state, so long as they give up their Israeli citizenship and abide by decisions of the Palestinian courts. A fund should be created to: a) help West Bank settlers move back to Israel if they wish to remain Israeli citizens and b) help Palestinians move from the lands of their dispersion to Palestine if they wish to be citizens of the new Palestinian state. In exchange for Palestine agreeing to allow Israelis to stay in the West Bank as citizens of the Palestinian state, Israel will agree to let 20,000 Palestinian refugees return each year for the next thirty years to the pre-1967 boundaries of Israel and provide them with housing. (This number — 20,000 — is small enough to not change the demographic balance, yet large enough to show that Israel cares about Palestinian refugees and recognizes that they have been wronged.) Each state must acknowledge the right of the other to give preferential treatment in immigration to members of its leading ethnic group.

8. Full and equal rights will be afforded to all minority communities living within each of the two states. All forms of religious coercion or religious control over the state or over personal lives or personal “status” issues like birth, marriage, divorce, and death will be eliminated. Each state, however, will have the right to give priority in immigration and immigration housing (but not in any subsequent benefits) to its own leading ethnic community.

9. The leaders of all relevant parties will agree to talk in a language of peace and openhearted reconciliation, and to publicly reject the notion that the other side cannot be trusted.

Though inequalities of power may create circumstances in which a less generous agreement is eventually reached, unless it contains the elements specified here, and unless it is based on a new spirit of openheartedness and generosity, it cannot work for any length of time. All the rest is just jockeying for temporary advantage and political popularity — not for an actual end to the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Unrealistic? It’s more realistic than imagining that getting the parties back to a negotiating table is going to resolve anything. That would simply be another stalling operation by Israel, given what Prime Minister Netanyahu said in his talk to Congress on May 24. But what will be needed for anything to work is just this: a new spirit of openheartedness, mutual forgiveness, and willingness to acknowledge the validity of both sides’ narrative and to atone for both sides’ intransigence.

How we get there is a complicated question: I’ve updated my 2003 book Healing Israel/Palestine to offer some visionary yet practical answers. The new version, Embracing Israel/Palestine, will be in bookstores in December!

In the meantime, we will be supporting efforts to get the United Nations to recognize Palestine — a move opposed by Obama but supported by most of the rest of the countries of the world. We hope that in so doing, the United Nations, whose vote to create the State of Israel played an important political and psychological role in helping turn the Zionist dream into a reality, will give further impetus for Israelis to pressure their own government to offer reasonable terms for recognition of Palestine, rather than the terms articulated by Netanyahu, which essentially make a viable Palestinian state impossible. I’ll discuss this in more detail in my editorial in the Summer 2011 edition of Tikkun, which will be accessible on this website to anyone who is a subscriber to Tikkun or member of the Network of Spiritual Progressives (join now or subscribe to obtain a username and password enabling you to log into that section, which will have a whole edition’s worth of exciting and sophisticated articles that can only be accessed by subscribers or members of the NSP).


6 thoughts on “Fairness for Both Sides Is Key to Middle East Peace

  1. Such a beautiful idea and so depressing to read it. I would agree to your suggestions if it were based on reality and not fantasy. Yes it is good to be “unreasonable” as opposed to using reasons to stall growth. But I will also be “unreasonable” in asking the members of the Palestinian people to stop spreading their ultimate goal of ridding the Middle East of Jews. And if I were Palestinian I would probably feel the same way I’m sure. I’d think how the Jews stole my land and there is no way I would agree to letting “thieves” remain on my land. Which is why the Palestinian leadership continues to spread lies about any Jewish connection to the land of Israel. They think we made it up. So while you support that new UN Plan, be mindful of the ultimate goal of the world and that is to fix their mistake — that of having a Jewish State in the first place.

    Rabbi Michael, in your case, Dylan says it best:
    He’s a great humanitarian, he’s a great philanthropist
    He knows just where to touch you, honey, and how you like to be kissed
    He’ll put both his arms around you
    You can feel the tender touch of the beast
    You know that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace.

    For a reality check, check out what one of the organizers and donors of last year’s Turkish Gaza Flotilla said. Yasser Qashlaq, chairman of the Free Palestine Movement, had this to say on May 17 on Hezbollah’s television station:

    Like Imam Khomeini said, back in the day, if each of us were to spit, we would drown out all five million of them. The number of Jews – those human pieces of filth – in my land equals one third of the people of the Nasr City neighborhood in Cairo. […]

    And here’s what he said on June 18, 2010:

    Yasser Qashlaq: “Whenever that criminal gang of Israeli pirates seizes a ship, I become more optimistic that the day will come when these ships will carry these dregs of European garbage back to their own countries.

    “Let Gilad Shalit return to Paris. Let those murderers return to Poland. Once they are back there, we will hunt them down to the end of the world, and prosecute them for their massacres, from Deir Yassin to this day.” […]

    “I would like to say something to the Israeli people.”

    Interviewer: “To the settlers.”

    Yasser Qashlaq: “Yes, to that gang of criminal murderers. Board the ship we are sending you, and return to your countries. Don’t be misled by the Arab leaders or the moderate camp. You will never be able to make peace with us. Our children will return [to Palestine]. There is no reason for coexistence. Even if some of our leaders or regimes sign [peace] with you – we will never sign. Do not be misled by these regimes. Return to your countries.”

  2. Good wisdom shown here. It is important to stretch the boundaries, to get beyond the “realities” in the same way the the US Founding Fathers did vis a vis England’s King George III. They went beyond petitioning and pleading and said “We will be free to determine our own destiny, and if treated as friends we will do the same.” And so it was after Liberation (with the minor exception of the War of 1812)
    Note: the US occupation of Hawai’i (phoney “statehood” notwithstanding) has lasted twice as long as the occupation of Palestine– and they have not forgotten! Far from it! 12,000 assembled(I was among them) on Jan 17, 1993, one hundred years to the day of the betrayal of Queen Lili’uokalani.

  3. Thank you for letting me post here:

    The soul of the matter is Why? I think most Israelis support a 2 state solution. The question is why Abu Mazen, who keeps declaring that he prefers negotiations, never said “yes” to the 2008 Olmert Proposal. Why did he do nothing during 10 months of freeze? Why is he going to get a state from the UN?

    Here is the stone cold answer:the PA does not really want to negotiate. The Palestinians prefer to get a state from the UN, thus avoiding giving up their demand to settle the refugees in Israel, thus turning the Jews into a minority and putting an end to the Jewish state. The Palestinians want one state and have never accepted a Jewish presence in the area — and no amount of Jewish guilt can change that.

    The NAKBA events prove that this is the plan.
    And this coming weekend of June 6th they will flood the borders again.

    That is WHY Israel needs a Palestinian recognition as a Jewish state as a pre- condition. Only such a recognition will put an end to the demand to settle the refugees in Israel and create a true opening for Peace. Both sides need to take responsibility for each other.

    The 2 state solution includes settling the refugees in the Palestinian state.
    The Palestinian leadership proposes a one state solution which is to be implemented in three phases.

    1. First Jews leave the West Bank
    2. There is an influx into Israel of Palestinian “refugees”.
    3. Their presence causes a demographic and social upheaval which results in a single state = ultimately dominated by the Palestinians.

    Whether or not this scenario is realistic – it is the one imagined by the Palestinians. And as long as they perpetuate the myth that all Zionists and Jews don’t belong in the Middle East, that the Temple was a myth, etc…. — well “you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

  4. I love the outline..and think that the “old” city should rebuild the wall all around with the four gates guarded by Thai and Japanese troops who have no spiritual axe to grind. Who will pay for the 100K troops that will be needed till the hateful generations die out?

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