Peace means realizing that Jews and Arabs alike all belong to this land

The late Rabbi Menachem Froman used to say, “This Land does not belong to us; WE belong to this Land.”

Palestinians demonstrate in the village of Kafr Malik northeast of Ramallah in September 2019.  (photo credit: FLASH90)
Palestinians demonstrate in the village of Kafr Malik northeast of Ramallah in September 2019.
(photo credit: FLASH90)
A political vision is an expression of hope, a dream, a reality for which we would like to create and strive. It is not something that we expect to materialize overnight. After decades of failure in struggling for Israeli-Palestinian peace, there are those who have come to the conclusion that there is no solution and we must resolve ourselves that we will “forever live by the sword.”
There are those Israelis who say “we will make peace with the Palestinians when they become Finns” or “we will make peace with the Palestinians when they are completely defeated and give up their dream of destroying us.” There are those Palestinians who say “we will make peace with the Israelis when they give up Zionism” or “we will make peace with Israel when they understand that this is our land not theirs.” These are expression of despair and present no opportunity for creating a shared vision or a work plan for building peaceful relations from the bottom-up or from the top-down. The sense that this land belongs to us – us being only one side of the conflict – and not to the others brings us to an existential reality of “us or them” and obligates us to fight forever.
The late Rabbi Menachem Froman used to say, “This Land does not belong to us; WE belong to this Land.” That is a very good starting point for the launching of a cooperative Israeli-Palestinian search for a new vision of life-sharing and living together, rather than dividing and separating or continuing to kill each other.
There seems to be no existing political-governmental model in the world that provides us with a “copy-paste” solution to answer the most important needs and aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians. The debate over whether we should create a federal model or a confederal model often seems like semantics.
We need to create a hybrid model that enables both sides to express their separate identities, to preserve and to protect their rights to self-determination and not to be ruled over by the other side. We need to ensure that people enjoy security, dignity and that everyone has the equal rights and opportunities for prosperity.
We all must feel free in the land that we all call home. The central elements of the Jewish national movement – Zionism – are a clear Jewish majority in a defined territory and the existence of a safe haven for Jews from all over the world, including the right of free immigration to the Jewish State. The central elements of the Palestinian national movement are self-determination in the Land of Palestine, the right of all Palestinians from all over to live in Palestine and the restitution or fair compensation for the loss of private property over the past 72 years.
Are these elements reconcilable? That is the primary question we need to address. The answer is yes, but with great difficulty, and the need for both parties to make substantial compromises.
I propose starting from the most difficult issue: Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the single most sensitive space in the Land between the River and the Sea, as it is called by Palestinians referring to the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The space is holy on the religious level for Jews, Christians and Muslims. At the national level, Israelis and Palestinians both see Jerusalem as their national capital. From the point of view of a Jerusalemite (me), Jerusalem is a mosaic of communities, ethnicities, religions, traditions and national identities.
In the present-day reality, Jerusalem is a much divided city. It is not a friendly city. It is more of a city of conflict than a city of peace. In any solution which envisions peace, Jerusalem must be one open city to which all belong (in the spirit of Rabbi Froman).
JERUSALEM IS Israeli. Jerusalem is Palestinian. Jerusalem is Jewish, Christian and Muslim. Jerusalem is a city of international importance. Jerusalem can be a multi-layered capital – the capital of the Israeli people, the capital of the Palestinian people, the capital of the Union of the Holy Land. Jerusalem can be a world capital of monotheistic religions. It could be a city where we don’t need museums of tolerance because it is where we all celebrate the diversity of the civilizations that share the same space. This must be the vision and the materialization of that vision must be designed in the sharing of the space – not the owning of it– nor in claiming of rights over it.
These are all very lofty words and ideas. How can a city that is so divided and so contested ever become the central focal point for creating a new reality of peace and sharing between the River and the Sea? The Israeli and Palestinian leaders will not reach a point of agreement over Jerusalem for the foreseeable years to come.
Conventional wisdom in the entire history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and peace processes has always been to leave Jerusalem to the end. Personally, I have consistently disagreed with this approach. I have always believed that we must put Jerusalem first. If we succeed in Jerusalem, we will succeed in resolving all of our other issues in dispute.
Perhaps the challenge of Jerusalem as the starting point must be placed in the hands of the people and not in the realm of governments. In the absence of leadership for peace in Israel and Palestine, it might be possible for the people of this land – together – representing a wide cross section of our people to establish the “Jerusalem Council for the Union of the Holy Land.” This would be a kind of shadow citywide coalition of people willing to work together toward designing a new future for Jerusalem.
The council’s work would focus on Jerusalem as the centerpiece of any future peace and would progress on the basis of shared sovereignty over the city. It could be possible to legalize the council in the future by becoming a not-for-profit company of which all the residents of the city of Jerusalem are shareholders who would eventually elect a Board of Directors of the company, which would become an official group of people representing the people of Jerusalem.
In Jerusalem, we  – the people of this land – have come together to write a new chapter in our shared future. We – the people of this land – will determine our future together, united in the vision of peace. The establishment of the Jerusalem Council for the Union of the Holy Land could be the starting point for working together to build a new future.

The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book
In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine was published by Vanderbilt University Press. It will soon appear in Arabic in Amman and Beirut.