The next generation of peace advocates face an even more difficult task

Encountering Peace: The next generation of Israelis and Palestinians will have to try to figure out how to make a single state, from the River to the Sea, of all of its citizens.

HOPE FOR the next generation. (photo credit: REUTERS)
HOPE FOR the next generation.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I have been described as the indefatigable optimist. People have always asked me why and how I carry on and continue to believe in peace and work to bring it about. Until recently I have always had good and convincing answers. Now I admit, I am at a loss.
In 1988, at the beginning of the First Intifada, it was very clear to me that the Palestinian uprising, 20 years after 1967, emanating from Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem, especially from the refugee camps, would lead to a process kicked off by the Palestinians’ willingness to recognize Israel’s right to exist and accepting an independent Palestinian state in the territories that Israel conquered in 1967.
It was evident that the change in Palestinian positions and the transfer of some of the balance of power from the PLO in exile to the occupied territories would lead to an Israeli-Palestinian peace process. International and local developments were all pointing in that direction.
I then thought that if Israelis and Palestinians were sitting at the negotiating table trying to figure out how to deal with the core issues: borders, Jerusalem, refugees, security, water, economic development and trade relations – they wouldn’t even know where to begin. So, in March 1988, I launched the birth of IPCRI (Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information), a joint Israeli Palestinian public policy think tank dedicated to coming up with the “how’s” of building a durable, viable and equitable peace process based on two states for two peoples.
At that time, less than 5% of Israelis believed that the creation of a Palestinian state was the prescribed answer. Most Israelis didn’t even recognize the existence of the Palestinian people and I was called and treated as a traitor.
However, after years, we succeeded in our work and together with other colleagues and institutions, we proposed workable solutions for all of the issues in conflict. But unfortunately, the Oslo agreements were not implemented, being breached by both sides, and the peace process failed. Today the two-state solution is virtually dead, and with political realities in Israel and Palestine, it is very difficult to imagine that any political defibrillator has the power to shock it back into life.
Dealing with the dilemmas of how to create and advance a two-state solution is what kept me going for the past 32 years. There are new dilemmas and challenges now on the horizon, which need to be confronted head on. The next generation of Israelis and Palestinians will have to try to figure out how to make a single state, from the River to the Sea, of all of its citizens, a place that is both livable and where Israelis and Palestinians can freely express their separate identities and live in security.
I cannot declare that I am an advocate of the so-called “one-state solution.” It is not really a solution to the conflict in which two nations have fought, killed and willingly died for a territorial expression of their separate identities. I just assess that it is probably too late at this time to make a two-state solution into a reality.
The facts on the ground created by Israel, the too-divided Palestinian polity, the loss of legitimacy of the Palestinian leadership in Palestine and in the Palestinian diaspora, and the reality that the young generation of Palestinians in large numbers does not believe in the two-state solution as their parents had do not lead to any other conclusion.
So, it is now time for serious Israelis, Palestinians and others to come together to begin to develop plans on how to make our reality into one that will be acceptable and viable, based on equality and freedom of movement, and representative of our different identities.
The challenge is enormous. If in 1988 we began to look at the core issues of borders, security, Jerusalem, settlements, refugees, water, economics, etc., now we will need to delve into issues of residency status, citizenship, immigration, land rights, national, local, and regional governance and social and economic justice.
We will have to develop mechanisms that will enable us to continue to express our separate identities in our culture, religions, education and national ethos, at the same time accepting that we will have to develop national institutions based on equality and openness to joint rule.
Other major challenges will be how to deconstruct the mechanisms of Israeli military control over the Palestinian civilian populations, how to integrate existing settlements into equitable arrangements concerning land control, allocation of natural resources, redressing injustices of illegal confiscation of land, and more.
The new challenges also include integrating the Palestinian Authority with the Israeli government and all of the related authorities and institutions, while also confronting the need to integrate the infrastructures and economies of both sides. It is a massive task to even come up with a comprehensive list of all of the issues that need to be confronted as we face the impending Israeli annexations and the official death certificate of the two-state solution.
There are important examples of transition from ethnic-religious-racial conflicts to peaceful developments that we can learn from. There are no identical conflicts to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict yet there are elements of those conflicts and their post-conflict transitions that we can learn from. Rwanda, South Africa, Bosnia and Northern Ireland can all provide us with important lessons learned that should be examined through the lens of our conflict.
Some confederative models, such as Switzerland and Belgium, can also provide some insights. There are at least two local models that have been developed in the past years that have delved into these issues. One is “A Land for All” (previously called Two States, One Homeland). The second is the Israeli-Palestinian Confederation. They are very different models but both address the core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the transition in thinking and planning to move from the traditional two-state solution model to something else.
Federation models, confederation models, cultural and political autonomies, local and regional governments – all of the options and possibilities have to be on the table. It will take a long time to come up with workable solutions and they will be needed more and more urgently as the false status quo of the Oslo peace process era comes to a bloody end.
It is time to work on something completely new.
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 and is now available in Israel and Palestine.