Save the Palestinians

Only peace can put an end to the endless rounds of inconclusive and bloody wars

We all know how this round of war in Gaza is going to end. Hamas will proclaim divine victory for killing a number of Israelis and causing some damage. Israel will kill ten times as many Palestinians and turn Gaza into a crater. Any or all — Egypt, Qatar and Jordan — will eventually manage to broker a truce and restore calm. Like all previous Gaza wars, this one will end inconclusively. 

With its developed economy, Israel will absorb losses effortlessly and the Israelis will go back to their daily lives. But with their non-existent economy, Gazans will not recover, will sink into further poverty and despair, and will continue suffering from Hamas’s tight Islamist grip and suffocation of freedoms.

The world has seen this movie one time too many. Today, on the second day of warring, The Washington Post’s editorial already warned President Joe Biden not to get sucked into the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire, arguing that Biden should stick to the lesson that former President Barack Obama learnt: That America, and the world, cannot possibly want peace more than the warring parties. A disinterested world will only aggravate Palestinian misery. 

So how can Palestinians be saved?

The unequivocal answer is peace. Over the past three decades, endless rounds of negotiations unsuccessfully tried to “sequence” the steps required for peace. The problem was that the peace processors, as Shany Mor — an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy — calls them, got bogged in details and lost sight of the big picture. 

The past few days of rioting and military escalation have proven that a binational state for the Jews and the Arabs is impossible. At the first chance they got, Arab Israelis climbed poles in Lod and replaced Israeli flags with Palestinian ones. To Israelis, a binational state is like a Trojan horse: Palestinians become Israeli citizens, they attain a majority and change Israel into Palestine. The Jews then become a minority in a Palestinian state.

The other option is the world-recognized two-state solution. The problem here is that not many have volunteered to spell out what two-state exactly means. To Israelis, it means two states— one Jewish only, the other Arab only. To Arabs it means two states: One Arab, the other half Arab half Jewish.

Therefore, to Israelis, the only path to peace is a Jewish only state, and next to it Palestine. To Palestinians, peace has to grant them a state whose area is exactly equal in size to the 1967 territories. In the Palestinian mind, they already conceded the part that is now Israel, and are not willing to concede any further. 

The two conditions of Jewish-only and exact size of 1967 mandate population and land swaps.

If Palestinians agree to such principles, benchmarks can be then set toward attaining sovereignty. And “Palestinians agree” does not mean “Mahmoud Abbas agrees,” but rather a council or a delegation that represents the three main Palestinian blocs: Abbas, on behalf of the Palestinian Authority and Fatah, Hamas on behalf of the Islamists, and the Knesset’s Joint list and Raam on behalf of Arab Israelis. The world should sponsor a conference that produces a representative Palestinian body that has the authority to negotiate and sign on swaps.

A big concentration of Arab Israelis live in an area known as the triangle to the north of the West Bank. These areas can be annexed to Palestine, in return for Israel annexing settlement blocs. Arab Israelis outside the triangle might have to swap houses with settlers outside the blocs that Israel will annex.

Then Israel can be generous enough to allow a tunnel to connect Gaza Strip and the West Bank. A contiguous Palestinian state can be created, housing all Palestinians between River Jordan and the Mediterranean. The rest of the land will be Israel with a Jewish-only population.

Once this is done, Palestinians will need massive global support to build capacity and jumpstart their economy. The Palestinian Diaspora enjoys vast capital, both human and financial, and can give a hand in constructing a democratic state with good neighborly ties to Israel and Arab countries. As the Palestinian state takes its baby steps and learns how to walk, Israel can entrust it with more responsibilities that cement Palestinian sovereignty, such as control of airspace and borders. 

A sovereign Palestinian state that is not a threat to Israel is more viable than a Palestinian state  that looks like Gaza. Needless to say, there will be always Islamists who will try to grab power, and that will always be a threat that hangs over the head of Israel and all other states in the region. But such threat decreases substantially when the majority of Palestinians are busy making a living rather than sitting unemployed, puffing shishah and radicalizing. 

Also needless to say that there will be crazy Israelis who will try to sabotage peace, just like the one who killed Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

A mature Palestinian state not only offers Israel peace of mind, but also has better chances in dealing with sticky issues. Sovereignty over this neighborhood but not that in Jerusalem, or Israel’s need to maintain early radar stations in the Jordan Valley (to defend against whom? Jordan?) are all wrinkles that can be much easily dealt with between two mature governments than between an Israeli government and a slew of Palestinian leaders, some aging and corrupt, some young and radical and others populist and politicking inside Israel, all of which speaking on behalf of Palestinians and none of which actually representing Palestinians.

In the past, the peace process was based on “confidence-building,” a measure that can be hardly measured and easily breached. Perhaps if peace starts from the end, by fixing borders and separating populations, the rest can fall in place, including trust.