Right-wing, Palestinians brainstorm at Ariel parley

"Palestinians and settlers are potential allies," Jerusalem-born attorney Kamal Nawash tells ‘Post' after improbable confab.

Kamal Nawash_311 (photo credit: Ariel University Center)
Kamal Nawash_311
(photo credit: Ariel University Center)
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.
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 Ambassador Hotel.
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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.”
AUC 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 issue.
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 attacks.
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 conflict.
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 peace.
“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.
“I 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.”
Nawash said his plan is predicated on the free movement of labor and people.
“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 Holy Land.
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.
The remarks 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 practicable.
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 not).
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 time.
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.”