Obama, Netanyahu, Abbas at White House 311 (R).
(photo credit: Jason Reed / Reuters)
The 18 years that followed Oslo were filled with debates, arguments, frustrations, conferences, interim agreements, illusions and unfulfilled promises that ultimately led nowhere. On the contrary. While prior to 1993 the situation between Israel and the Palestinians was unarguably bad, it has only gotten much worse since.
Was Netanyahu right to rebuff Obama?The years leading up to Oslo were not good ones for the Palestinians. They were still exiled in Tunisia and other parts of the Arab world; their economic stability was dependent almost solely on donations from wealthy Arabs; their military forces were in shambles and posed no threat to any part of Israel. On top of it all, the PLO was being boycotted by the US.
Today, however, thanks to the disastrous machinations created by team Oslo, Israel finds itself more delegitimized than ever before. In the meantime the Palestinians are benefiting from the growing recognition by numerous countries of a yet-to-exist Palestinian state.
Despite the many compromises Israel was willing to make, incitement of the Jewish State on the part of the Palestinians continued to grow, sometimes even correlatively. The lesson then is that Israel needs to go back to square one. While still being based in equality and reciprocity, a new set of principles must be formulated for future negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
The first recommendation is to desist from the current view which cuts the Palestinian people into six slices: Palestinians in Israel are called Israelis; those in Jordan are Jordanians; Palestinians in Gaza are known as Gazans; those in the West Bank are Palestinian Authority “subjects;” Palestinians in refugee camp are known as refugees; and finally, Palestinians dispersed in various Arab and Western countries are Diaspora Palestinians.
Palestinians should not only be considered as one people which cries for a solution, but the Land of Palestine, (or the Land of Israel in Biblical parlance) including the State of Israel, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza, should all be considered one unit of territory upon which the statehood aspirations of both peoples must be played out.
Going back to square one means revisiting all present assumptions and reference points. I thus propose the following four principles for negotiating:1. Self-determination:
It should be made clear from the outset that Palestinians and Israelis recognize each state’s right to self-determination, the former as a Palestinian–Arab state, the latter as a Jewish-Israeli one. This has been a major stumbling block for Israel, because while the Palestinian right to self-determination has been recognized by Israel, the reverse has not been the case. Israel is at fault for waking up to this fact far too late in the game..
2. National liberation movements:
Israel has the Zionist movement which served Jewish nationalistic needs. For their part, the Palestinians founded the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The latter was recognized by Israel and even given legal jurisdiction.. Zionism’s legitimacy, on the other hand, was not only unrecognized, it was labeled “racism” by all Arabs including Palestinians (and at one point even by the UN). Back in 93 Israel should have stipulated that recognition of the PLO was conditional on the parallel recognition of Zionism by the Palestinians. This would have abrogated the PLO Charter (which delineates Zionism’s evils), curbed the delegitimization of Zionism by the Arab world, and possibly paved the way to Zionists and the PLO to begin negotiating.3. Territory and boundaries:
As mentioned before, negotiations between the parties should involve the entire territory of historical Palestine, including Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and Jordan; it being understood that the latter is also part of Palestine, its inhabitants constituting two thirds of its population, making it in fact, if not in name, the Hashemite Kingdom of Palestine. Negotiations, as protracted and difficult as they may be, must end in an agreement between the parties to divide this vast territory in order to accommodate the majority of Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs (including refugees). The current proposal of a Palestinian state in the West Bank will not accommodate even one third of Palestinian refugees. The two-thirds that are left will be deprived of a national solution and be forced to remain in refugee camps or the Diaspora.
Nothing should be off the table including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Amman and Irbid. In a partition of East–West or North-South, (linking Gaza to East Jordan), Palestinians would be able to ingather their dispersed people while Israel can preserve its hold on vital areas in the West Bank. Other parts of the West Bank that would be restored to Palestinians would constitute only a fraction of the larger Palestinian/ex-Jordanian) territory east of the Jordan.4. Sovereignty and Personal Status:
After boundaries are agreed upon, each party will determine its domestic immigration policy (currently the law of return for Jews and the Palestinian right of return). But inhabitants that suddenly find themselves on the other side of a new border will be free to determine their own personal statuses in one of the following three ways:
i. They sell their property and move to their homeland - Israelis back to Israel and Palestinians - including Israeli Arabs - to the Palestinian state.
ii. They swear allegiance to their country of residence and become equal-rights citizens.
iii. Populations would remain where they are and have full working rights in the “host” country but nothing more. Instead, their citizenship and voting rights would be allocated to their respective motherlands. In a situation of peace, these foreign aliens would operate like Belgians in France or Canadians in the US. For Israel, this would mean neutralizing the demographic peril from within and allowing its Arab citizens to express their political Palestinian identity without the need to be uprooted.
Complicated and risky as this solution may be, it at least offers the most viable light at the end of the tunnel. It can also provided a much needed answer to those who criticize Israel for not presenting alternatives whenever it rejects any proposal. Great statesmanship does not consist of simply choosing the good over the bad. Instead it is knowing when to get rid of the bad - like the present two-state “solution” - before it becomes entirely insoluble. The writer is a professor of Islamic, Middle Eastern and Chinese history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a member of the steering committee of the Ariel Center for Policy Research.