Mr. President, this memo is written in a children’s book format for several reasons:
1. To force simplicity and brevity
2. To demonstrate how uncomplicated the issues really are
3. To introduce levity to an otherwise grim history
4. I know you’re the busiest human being on the planet, and this way it shouldn’t take much of your time
My memo advocates including everyone who lives between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea in one democratic state with equal rights for all, with the proviso that it remain a Jewish homeland, as mandated by the nations of the world in 1920.
Just the other night, in Jerusalem, you said it couldn’t possibly be done.
You were wrong.
SOMETHING PROFESSOR EINSTEIN SAID
Albert Einstein was a great physicist who died in 1955. He was among those rare people who taught the world brand new ways of looking at reality. It’s not easy to come up with observations no one else had ever made before. That’s why Einstein is still admired, to this day. Obviously, he was a very wise man.
No one is absolutely sure, but many believe that Albert Einstein came up with the following clever definition of insanity:
Insanity, he supposedly said, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
It doesn’t mean that the people who engage in doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results are necessarily insane; only their actions are.
A LAND OF ARAB AND JEWS
In the country known both as Israel and Palestine, today live between 8 and 10 million people. The majority are Jews, the minority are Arabs, but there are also many groups which are neither Jews nor Arabs.
Back in 1947, the official count was 1.6 million Arabs and 600 thousand Jews. That’s when the first attempt was made to divide the land into two states, one Jewish, one Arab. This attempt ended in a war that lasted almost two years and claimed the lives of many thousands on both sides.
Remember what Einstein supposedly said about doing the same thing and expecting different results?
In 1993, another attempt was made to divide the land into two states. It resulted, just like in 1947, in rivers of blood. So the people in charge decided to try it again. And again. And each time they tried, they got rivers of blood.
You, Mr. President, have just urged the people in charge to have yet another go at the Two State Solution. It’s very scary to me, because I know what will happen as a result. I’m not nearly as wise as Albert Einstein, but even I get it after so many tries.
We must find another solution, one that hopefully won’t result in violence.
JUST LIKE NEW JERSEY
The size of New Jersey, the 5th-smallest U.S. state, is about 7800 square miles (20,000 square kilometers).
The territory of Israel or Palestine (different people call it different names) is only a little bit larger – 10,424 square miles (27,869 Square Kilometers).
There are many Jewish and Arab communities in New Jersey. Like many other residents, Jews and Arabs enjoy the state’s proximity to the great city of New York, from the comfort of their suburban homes. I’m sure there are many things those two communities have in common, and many things they do very differently. Some Jews and Arabs probably collaborate in business and politics, others probably don’t go near each other.
But one thing we know for sure: there has never been a war, or even a bloody skirmish, between the Arabs and Jews of New Jersey.
Same people, same size land, more or less, but in one country the two communities live in constant hatred, in the other they live in peace.
Somebody in New Jersey is doing something right.
A HOMELAND FOR THE JEWS
First, there was the Biblical promise. In the Bible, which was cherished by many of the member nations of the UN, God actually promises that bit of land to the Israelites, who lived there for many centuries and were eventually dispersed all over the world. Many of them disappeared, and those who didn’t became known as the Jews. So it’s not as if the UN picked that land out of a hat. They had real, historical reasons.
Then there was the Holocaust. During World War II, which ended only two years earlier, the German nation, along with many collaborating nations in Europe, set up a horrible system of death camps, where they murdered some six million Jews. The Germans killed other people, too, in those camps, but their big aim was to eliminate all the Jews from the world.
Considering how small the Jewish nation was at the time – somewhere between 12 and 15 million – the Germans almost succeeded. And so there was a feeling of urgency among the nations of the world, that they had to correct this wrong by giving the Jews their own country.
But there was another, very important reason. Back in 1920, two years after World War I, the League of Nations, which was the earlier United Nations, declared that the Jews should have a homeland in Palestine. It was a legal declaration, approved by all the nations who had just won the Great War. It was part of the new world order they sought to establish, a new world of everlasting peace and justice.
So the UN gave part of Israel or Palestine to the Jews in 1947 not just out of respect for the Bible, or because they felt sorry for them after the Holocaust, but, most importantly, because it was already legally theirs, they actually owned the deed on that piece of real estate.
BEST LAID PLANS
When, in 1920, the League of Nations—the precursor to the UN—awarded a homeland to the Jews in Palestine, it gave the British government the mandate to create this homeland.
The territory of Palestine at the time stretched all the way from the Iraqi border to the Mediterranean sea, easily three times the size of what we call today Israel or Palestine.
The British government had a problem with its ally the Hashemite tribe, which used to rule the Muslim holy city of Mecca for 700 years. The Hashemite warriors launched the great Arab revolt of 1916, which drained the Ottoman Empire’s military resources and contributed to the British conquest of the Middle East.
But the Hashemites had enemies, the Saudis, who pushed them out of the Arab peninsula and, eventually, took away from them the holy city of Mecca. The Saudi chief was Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, and his new, oil rich kingdom was later renamed Saudi Arabia.
The decline of their Hashemite friends was a huge embarrassment for the British, who solved it by making one Hashemite chief, Faisal, king of Iraq, and then carving the territory of Palestine east of the Jordan River and turning it over to Chief Abdullah, the new King of the new Emirate of TransJordan.
Just like that, the government assigned to give the Jews a homeland, gave two thirds of it to the Arabs.
In effect, the British have already created a two-state solution, back in 1921. The part they left out has room for only one state, stretched between the Jordan River and the sea, designated by the world community to be a homeland for the Jews.
We can discuss who gets to live in that state (everybody) and what rights they should have (many), but if we can’t accept that this one-third of Palestine left-over after Jordan was carved out in 1921 is the Jewish homeland, we’ll never have peace. Like I said, we tried, it was insane.
(I have an interim suggestion, Mr. President: If you disagree with what I just said, don’t throw your iPad in disgust and walk away. Instead, let’s accept that we have a massive disagreement over this one issue, and return to it a little later. Who knows, maybe you’ll agree with some of the other things I have to say? Thank you…)
MY ONE-STATE SOLUTION
Everyone living inside Israel or Palestine is entitled to his or her human rights: The right to life and liberty, freedom of expression, freedom of movement, and everything else that you and I deserve simply for being a person.
Everyone, Jews and Arabs alike, are also entitled to their civil rights: The right to democratic representation, to vote and to be elected to any municipal and national office. The right to equality before the law, the right against unlawful detention, the right to legal representation, protection from unreasonable search and seizure, freedom of assembly, the right to go on strike.
And everyone is entitled to their communal rights, to be free to pursue their cultural and religious ideals and lifestyle as unique communities within the state.
This last right is extremely important, because the notion that there are two nations living side by side between the Jordan River and the sea is misleading. There are, in fact, dozens, if not hundreds of separate, unique communities, among Arabs and Jews, and several that are neither. Forcing all of them to define themselves as either Jewish or Arab is a recipe for frustration and repression. Permitting all of them to flourish is part of the secret to peace and prosperity.
And the state is Jewish.
JEWS AND ARABS USED TO GET ALONG
The sad truth is that from the inception of Jewish resettlement in Israel or Palestine, 150 years ago, nobody was thinking seriously about living side by side in peace and harmony. The Arabs saw the Jewish arrivals as an invasion, pure and simple. European Jews were hardly even aware that there were Arabs living there.
Both communities envisioned a peaceful and prosperous future in which the other side would be expelled from the land for good.
Sure, there were some who considered a life of cooperation between Arabs and Jews, but their voices were often drowned out by the reality of violent skirmishes and a lot of blood.
It’s interesting to note, though, that despite the obvious animosity between Arabs and Jews, the two communities found many areas of cooperation, most notably in business.
The Jews fleeing turbulent Europe brought with them money and resources to create homes and factories, pave roads, grow food. The Arabs from all around the Middle East were drawn to this new prosperity and provided cheap labor for Jewish enterprises.
Nobody was happy, but everybody made out okay.
Just like in New Jersey.
In British mandated Palestine, from 1918 to 1948, many forces were trying to influence events, in order to tip things in their favor.
The British government used the tactics of Divide and Conquer in all the lands under its rule. They pitted Hindus against Muslims, Africans against Asians, Whites against Blacks. In Palestine they fed the flames of hatred between Arabs and Jews. It made it easier to control their subjects. They were truly repugnant people.
Then there were the Germans, who supported anti-British and anti-Jewish sentiments among the Arabs and financed terrorist acts wherever the British ruled.
There’s always someone out there willing to pay a bunch of guys to go out and kill people. So that, no matter how prosperous life could have been for Arabs and Jews living side by side in Palestine, there was always someone ready to pay someone else to ruin things.
This continues to be the case, by the way. The players are different: today they’re Americans, Europeans, Russians, Iranians, Saudis and Egyptians; but they’re all involved to some extent in paying someone to go kill people.
Does this mean that there are no genuine, voluntary terrorists out there, acting only on their beliefs and not getting paid by anyone to do it?
Sure, if one guy goes crazy and pulls out a knife on people in the street, he might be acting alone. But as soon as you start talking about car bombs, suicide bombers, ambushes, roadside explosives, there’s no way to get these things done without coordination and organization, and those cost a lot of money. So much money, in fact, that only national governments are able to foot the bill.
THE PROBLEM WITH OSLO
I told you earlier that the first failed attempt of a two-state solution, in 1947, was followed by another one, in 1993. It was known as the Oslo Accords, because it was signed in Oslo, Norway.
The Oslo Accords were a terrible idea. They were not at all an honest attempt to establish long-lasting peace between Arabs and Jews. Instead, they schemed to keep the Arabs under the control of a team of outside gangsters, paid by Israel.
In Oslo, Israel inflicted on the Arabs a permanent policy of Divide and Conquer, sentencing them to a slow and debilitating decline. So far, unfortunately, the Israeli plan has been working. One half of the Palestinians have been reduced to poverty. All of them are living in constant fear of violence, without the most elementary rights which you and I take for granted.
At the root of the Oslo Accords was the old Israeli yearning to rid themselves of the Arab presence, once and for all. We don’t want to fight you, we don’t want to deal with you, we don’t want to know you.
Have you seen the protective wall Israel erected alongside the West Bank and Gaza? The same wishful thinking forged both that wall and the Oslo Accords: Please, just make the people on the other side disappear.
Remember how I called the British repugnant, for their policy of Divide and Conquer? Can you imagine how I feel about the Israelis who invented the Oslo Accords?
THE FIRST INTIFADA
Something remarkable happened in Israel or Palestine between 1987 and 1993: the First Intifada, or uprising, against Israeli rule in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which Israel had conquered from Jordan and Egypt in 1967.
Those territories are mistakenly called “occupied,” which would suggest that they were taken away from their rightful owners. But both Jordan and Egypt controlled those areas from 1948 to 1967 without widespread, formal international recognition of their ownership. Legally, those were no-man’s lands, and have remained so under Israel’s rule, with the exception of East Jerusalem, which Israel did annex. I prefer to use the less charged term “disputed territories,” which acknowledges the disagreement over who should rule them, without castigating Israel unfairly as an occupier.
The Intifada uprising began in the Jabalia refugee camp near Gaza, and spread like wildfire throughout the Gaza strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The Palestinians declared general strikes, boycotted Israeli products, refused to pay taxes, painted anti-Israeli graffiti everywhere, set up barricades, demonstrated in the streets, threw rocks at Israeli soldiers, then went on to hurl Molotov cocktails and hand grenades, and attacked hundreds of Israeli civilians with guns and explosives.
In the six years of the first Intifada, some 1,100 Palestinians and 160 Israelis lost their lives. Another 1,000 Palestinians were killed by their neighbors for suspicion of collaborating with Israel.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE ARABS? (I)
The United States experienced a few decades ago the eruption of violence by an ethnic group that felt repressed and mistreated. In 1968, many inner cities went up in flames after poor African Americans took to the streets and protested violently.
Those were very frightening times.
The response of public officials, once the flames were put out and some of the more violent protesters were punished, was to introduce changes which began to make life easier for the inner city poor.
Most urgent among those changes was the effort to integrate White and Black people. It was very hard. On occasion, the attempt to do justice for one group ended up jeopardizing another.
But over the past 40 years, so much effort has been invested in breaking down racial barriers in America, that today the country is simply less racially divided than it used to be. Poverty among African Americans has gone down, and although many aspects of black society are still troubling, things are definitely better.
And you were elected president, Mr. President.
Imagine if, instead of making the effort, White America were to reinforce the inner city ghetto system, building walls between itself and its black poor? Imagine if White America paid violent black goons to keep their own people under control.
That, more or less, is what Israel did to the Palestinians after the First Intifada.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE ARABS? (II)
The First Intifada was both a success and a failure.
The Arabs succeeded in calling attention to their national aspirations, and to their plight as third-class citizens in a supposedly Western democracy.
They failed because they used violence.
Had the Palestinians managed to repel the meddling forces that pushed their Intifada in a bloody direction, they would have gained independence and prosperity.
Instead, the First Intifada made just about every Jewish man, woman and child in Israel so sick and tired of dealing with the Arabs, they just wanted them gone.
That’s when the Oslo plan was hatched. It relied for its success on a coalition of terrorist gangs called the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which became visible after the 1967 Six Day War. The PLO was financed by many forces which were looking to influence the Middle East. The Soviet Union was one; Saudi Arabia another.
The PLO settled down in Jordan, from which it launched attacks against Israel, but at the same time was fomenting a civil war with the goal of taking over control of Jordan. This came to an abrupt end in 1971, when in one month the Jordanian military killed some 25,000 Palestinians, forcing the PLO to flee to south Lebanon. Soon, a Lebanese civil war began, Israel invaded, and in 1982 the PLO was forced to flee once again, this time to Tunisia, North Africa.
Over the years, the PLO became wealthy, and, alas, corrupt beyond belief. When its charismatic chairman Yasser Arafat died, his personal holdings were estimated at $1 billion. The First Intifada was launched without the PLO, which many Palestinians feared and loathed. Indeed, it was the PLO and similar terrorist groups which steered the First Intifada off its course of civil disobedience to violence and murder, which Israel, finally, squashed.
The Oslo plan rescued the corrupt PLO from oblivion out in Tunisia, and handed its leaders control over the disputed territories, to serve as Israel’s watch dogs.
With that, Israel sentenced the Palestinians in the territories to life in the Heart of Darkness.
HOW BAD IS IT?*
According to World Bank estimates for 2006, per-capita Gross Domestic Product among Israelis was $18,580, similar to Portugal and Greece. Among residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the figure was $1,230, similar to Sri Lanka and Honduras.
Under Israeli rule, the West Bank and Gaza were the fourth fastest-growing economy in the world, ahead of Singapore and Hong Kong. Life expectancy rose from 48 in 1967 to 72 in 2000 (compared to 68 for the Middle East and North Africa). By 1986, 93% of the population in the West Bank and Gaza had electricity around the clock, compared to 21% in 1967; 85% had running water, compared to 16% in 1967; 84% had electric or gas ranges, compared to 4% in 1967; likewise for refrigerators, televisions and cars. Infant-mortality rates were reduced from 60 per 1,000 live births in 1968 to 15 per 1,000 in 2000. (In Saddam’s Iraq, the rate was 64, in Egypt 40, in Jordan 23.). Polio, whooping cough, tetanus and measles were eradicated. The number of enrolled schoolchildren grew by 102% between 1967-87, while the population had grown by only 28%. From no higher education in 1967, in the early 1990s, there were seven universities, boasting 16,500 students. Illiteracy dropped to 14% of those over age 15, compared with 69% in Morocco, 61% in Egypt, 45% in Tunisia, and 44% in Syria.
All of these economic and social achievements were undone during the 1990s, after the territories were handed over to the Palestinian Authority, the governing arm of the PLO.
Since May of 1994, the international community has committed $10 billion to the West Bank and Gaza. But protection and racketeering gangs headed by PA officials squeezed the Palestinian business class, while the national budget was plundered by Arafat’s cronies. The PLO owned monopoly rights for the production and sale of all basic goods, from wheat, gasoline, and cement, to wood, gravel, cigarettes, and cars.
Within six months of Arafat’s arrival in Gaza, the standard of living there fell by 25%. Unemployment increased from 10% to 41% in 2002, and the rate of poverty rose from 20% to over 50%.
*Source: Who ruined Gaza? by Efraim Karsh, Professor and Head of Mediterranean Studies at King’s College, University of London, National Post, September, 16, 2005.
THE ONE-STATE SOLUTION
I told you earlier that in 1921 the British, in effect, applied a two-state solution in Palestine, by dividing it into what is modern-day Jordan east of the Jordan River, and Israel or Palestine to the west. I stressed that to force the Jews to give up even more than two-thirds of the homeland promised to them by the nations of the world would be unthinkable.
But even if we ignore that moral point, it is simply impossible to separate the two largest communities in Israel or Palestine, the Arabs and the Jews. It’s a small country, and everybody there is living in everybody else’s back yard.
There are close to 1.5 million Arabs who are Israeli citizens, with the right to live wherever they wish, work, marry, study, as equals. There are close to half a million Jewish settlers in the disputed territories. Both those groups are not going anywhere. No one will try to remove the Israeli Arabs, and no one will succeed in removing the settlers.
We should stop trying to separate Arabs and Jews, which has made Arabs so obviously miserable, and has hurt so many Jews as well. If anything, what’s good for the country as a whole is more integration, not less.
The Palestinians have the right to live in a Western democracy, as does every human being. They have the right to security, and they have the right of ownership over their homes and lands. And some of them, whose parents or grandparents fled their homes and lands during the 1948 war, may be entitled to some kind of compensation for those lost possessions. New people have been living on those lands for the past 65 years, so it doesn’t make sense to uproot them now, but reparations could be made. The state should appoint special reparation boards, to examine claims by Arab refugees. I believe everybody would benefit from doing justice this way – both the people who receive and the people who give.
THE DEMOGRAPHIC TIME BOMB
You don’t have to love everyone in order to live in peace with them. You only have to respect their human, civil, and communal rights. You don’t have to love blacks, or Jews, or gays, or, in this case, Arabs – you just can’t mess with their rights.
And if you fear the so called demographic time bomb, the idea that the Arab birthrate so outpaces the Jewish birthrate that the Arabs will soon become the majority, you should know that the only proven way to stop rampant demographic growth is with economic prosperity.
If you give people a chance to become middle class, they slow down their birthrate. Poor people make more children to bring home more pay. Middle class people have the time and inclination to raise fewer, better attended to children.
And if you worry about the integrity of Jewish towns if Arabs and Jews are permitted to buy homes and live anywhere they choose, you should know that it’s safer for Jews to live in mixed communities with Arabs. Back in the first Gulf War, the Saddam Hussein rockets did not target Jerusalem, because Hussein didn’t want to kill Arabs. And in 2006, Hezbollah rockets launchers tried to avoid hitting mixed communities in northern Israel.
There have been Jewish states in that territory before, under King David and his descendants, and then under the Hasmonean dynasty – and in no time was there a clear Jewish majority. It didn’t matter. As long as everybody accepts that Israel is the one homeland for the Jews, everyone should be able to live there happily and peacefully.
THE BLUE CARD
When Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, it was possible by law for East Jerusalem Arabs to receive Israeli legal residence, or the “Blue Card,” as the Israeli ID card is know. But back then those Arabs snubbed the offer. A few years passed, and in 1994 those East Jerusalem Arabs were told they would be absorbed into the new Palestinian Authority, under the rule of the late Chairman Arafat. You should have seen the line stretching around the block outside the Israeli Ministry of the Interior, with those Jerusalemite Arabs now demanding their rightful Israeli citizenship. Obviously, they preferred life in a Western democracy, to the promise of national liberation under Arafat and his gang of thugs.
There was another interesting case, when Knesset Member Avigdor Lieberman proposed that Arab towns and villages inside the 1967 green line would be moved under Palestinian Authority rule. Instead of supporting his offer of national reunification with their brethren, Israeli Arabs in the Knesset and in the media attacked Lieberman as a racist—which he might well be—but it was obvious that life under either the PA or Hamas was not an attractive substitute to life in the Israeli democracy, with all its faults.
My entire plan comes down to this: Give any Arab who lives between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Israeli citizenship, provided that he or she accept the principle of Israel as the Jewish homeland. That’s all they have to do.
If you wake up 99 out of 100 Palestinians in the middle of the night and ask them if they want to become Israeli citizens with full, equal rights, they would first check to see if you have a fever, then they’d look for the Candid Camera in the room, and finally, when they’re convinced you’re for real, they’d kiss you on both your cheeks and ask where you want them to sign. I know, it’s probably more complicated than that, but I’m writing this after having spoken to many Palestinians, in person and online.
Some people will see this plan as a threat to everything they stand for:
The PA and Hamas thugs will rightly accuse Israel of trying to undermine them.
Israeli businessmen and politicians who partner with PA and Hamas thugs to get rich off the Palestinians will also be upset.
Iran and its local agent, Hezbollah, will mourn the loss of an important ally in the region.
The United States and the European Union would be upset at losing their important role as peace makers, which justified their manipulation of events all over the Middle East.
In short, you just know it’s a good idea by the kind of heartless thugs who would stand up against it.
But how does Israel keep the agents of chaos and strife who’ve been stirring up war in Palestine for 150 years from stopping this simple and, may I say, elegant path to peace?
By going slow.
Israel should approach an individual Palestinian community, one close to the border, to start, and offer them full Israeli citizenship with all the benefits of human, civil and communal rights – in return for accepting the principle of Israel as a Jewish state. Trust me, they’ll grab it.
You will see change overnight. As soon as Israel made this offer to one town, one village, there will be a line of thousands of Palestinian communities demanding to become part of Israel, and absolutely willing to accept it as a Jewish state. All Israel would have to do is protect those communities from the thugs. This is why God invented the IDF.
The Palestinians are decent, rational, industrious people, who, like most Arabs in the Middle East, have been languishing in poverty under the rule of murderous thugs. Like all decent, rational, industrious people everywhere, they want jobs, electricity, roads, a sewer system, healthcare, and education for their children. They deserve all of it.
There’s no need for any more conferences or state visits, Mr. President.
No need for governments to stick their noses in the affairs of decent people.
It’s time for Arabs and Jews to start building a relationship of trust and cooperation.
Bring down the stupid security wall.
Remove the checkpoints.
Give the people the one thing they truly need: freedom.
Once the Arabs are convinced that this is for real, that the yoke of Palestinian tyranny imposed on them by their neighbor Israel has been lifted, Jews and Arabs can begin the process of becoming reacquainted.
If the Jews make the Arabs their equals, let them in from behind the barricades, let them become full, productive members of the democratic society – the sky will be the limit.
commenter cet article