The Ariel University Center of Samaria was the unlikely setting Monday for an
even unlikelier assemblage of participants in the second “Best Plans for a
Peaceful Israel/Palestine” conference.
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The event featured three Israeli
and three Palestinian speakers, each of whom made his case for an alternative
formula to the 18-year Oslo peace process that has brought neither a diplomatic
nor a security solution to the conflict. The conference was scheduled as a
follow-up to last month’s first “Best Plans” conference at east Jerusalem’s
Most of the attendees at Monday’s event were students
at Ariel University Center (AUC), many wearing skullcaps and most expressing
opinions that placed them on the Right. Also in attendance, however, were a
smattering of Israeli Arab students at AUC and some two dozen Palestinians who
had traveled from the West Bank.
“Some of our visitors were surprised to
see we have hundreds of Arab students here from both sides of the Green Line,”
said AUC Chancellor Yigal Cohen-Orgad. “We hope to have many more.”
was founded in 1982 as the College of Judea and Samaria, a branch of Bar-Ilan
University in Ramat Gan.
Since then it has grown into Israel’s largest
public college, with an enrollment of 14,000 students (by comparison, Ariel’s
entire population is 17,000). In 2004 it broke with Bar-Ilan and tried to
receive certification as a university, but its initial accreditation by the
Council of Higher Education was later overturned and remains an unresolved
AUC has also been a flashpoint of controversy for Israelis opposed
to settlements over the pre-1967 Green Line, and early this year close to 150
Israeli academics announced they were boycotting the institution, whose very
existence they described as an impediment to peace.
The star of Monday’s
event was Kamal Nawash, a Jerusalem-born, New Orleans-raised attorney who
founded the organization Free Muslims Coalition in the aftermath of the 9/11
Based in Washington, the coalition is an anti-extremist
organization dedicated to strengthening Muslim voices against terrorism. Much of
its recent work, however, has focused not on Islamic extremism per se but on the
loaded political issue emanating from the Middle East: the Israeli-Palestinian
On Monday, Nawash took the podium sporting a keffiyeh-patterned scarf bearing an emblem of Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock and an outline
of Mandatory Palestine.
“I’m going to put this on because it’s part of my
identity,” he told the crowd to scattered applause. “I hope you can feel
comfortable with that.”
Nawash then proceeded to outline his peace plan,
which forgoes partition in favor of an Israel-Palestine confederation as two
provinces within a single state.
Nawash said Israelis and Palestinians
need to be honest with one another if they ever hope to achieve
“For many of you, Israel includes not only the lands of 1948, but
what you call Judea and Samaria and we call the West Bank,” he said. “For
the vast majority of Palestinians, Palestine includes all the lands of Israel,
the West Bank and Gaza.”
Nawash said he understands Jews have a
historical, spiritual and emotional connection to the Land of Israel.
can understand you love this place,” he said. “But you have to accept my right
to live anywhere in Israel-Palestine just like I accept yours.”
said his plan is predicated on the free movement of labor and
“All settlements stay where they are, and Jews can even build
more of them – as long as you buy the land and don’t just take it. Palestinians
will be able to do the same,” he said. “Jerusalem becomes no big deal because
its the capital of the country. Jews would be able to build anywhere in the
city; same with Palestinians.”
Audience reaction was mixed, with some
applauding at the idea of unrestricted Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria.
Others, however, accused Nawash of either deliberate obfuscation or naivete in
whitewashing historical Arab hostility to any Jewish presence whatsoever in the
Tsvi Misinai is an Israeli researcher who espouses the
controversial view that most Palestinians are actually descendants of Jews from
the Second Temple period. Palestinians, he said, should be educated on their own
Jewish history and assimilated into the Jewish nation-state.
were met with derision by the Palestinians in attendance – most of whom had sat
impassively for much of the event. One female Israeli Arab student lashed out at
Misinai for what she dismissed as baseless conclusions.
At the end of the
event a vote was held to select which of the proposals the audience deemed most
Surprisingly, two plans – those offered by the settlement
activist David Ish- Shalom and architect Yosseph Harel Naim – appeared to win a
majority of support among both Israelis and Palestinians (voters were asked
simply whether the plans were preferable to the status quo or
Ish-Shalom – a prominent left-wing activist in the 1970s and ’80s
who shifted to the Right after the outbreak of the second intifada – argued for
a Jewish state from the Jordan River to Mediterranean Sea in which Arabs
professing loyalty would be given citizenship after an unspecified amount of
Naim’s plan envisioned a two-state confederation of Israel and
Palestine with Jerusalem as a shared capital.
“Most people see us as
natural enemies, but I see Palestinians and settlers in the West Bank as
potentially the best allies,” Nawash told The Jerusalem Post
on the conference
sidelines. “We know what settlers want – they want to stay here. The
Palestinians want equality and a better life.
“I’m saying to settlers,
‘You love this place? That’s fine, I do, too,” he said. “You fight for my right
over all of Israel-Palestine and I’ll fight for yours over all of Palestine-Israel – it’s that simple.”