In light of the Republican Party’s decision to abandon the two-state solution, I’m offering something better than a solution.
Those who think a solution to the Palestinian Arab-Israeli conflict can be found if the right people with the right attitudes sit down at a table, are fooling themselves. It’s not a matter of the right people, or people with the right intentions, or people who have caved to pressure from the U.S. or any other external body. Solutions are for math problems. What’s needed is a way.
In case you think I’m playing with words or offering a semantic solution (pun intended), here’s the difference. A solution is something that a group of authorized parties representing the key players with a direct interest in the outcome can put in words in a document for all to sign. That solution must also be something the leaders who the signers represent will accept and implement. It must be an agreement with some hope of working––i.e., holding up for an extended length of time.
A way in this context implies a process whose outcome will lead to a satisfactory outcome or a status that approximates the goals of those seeking a solution. A way doesn’t necessarily include the signing of an agreement or any formal recognition of the outcome. A way doesn’t require formal consent nor is it a public policy. A way is merely a strategic process implemented over many years that yields a result the majority over time come to accept.
What’s wrong with solutions?
Solutions are often imposed on the signers. They give up something to get something. Solutions engender opposition––people who are dissatisfied with the outcome who believe their side gave up too much may attempt to sabotage the agreement. Solutions often ride rough-shod over key issues, using language that ignores the substance of those issues and thus creates the ground for ongoing conflict. Solutions are often the result of one side winning a hot or a propaganda war and thus forcing the other side to surrender. Solutions are often treaties signed because one side won and the other lost. Which is why a solution is wrong for the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Today, neither side in the conflict has a defensible outcome that the other side can live with. Israel requires defensive security and continued existence of some if not all Jewish communities in Samaria, Judea, and East Jerusalem. Further, security concerns militate against Israel’s giving up any of the Golan Heights.
No Palestinian Arab political leader can accept any solution under those terms. The current leaders of the Palestinian Authority and its constituent members could never enter such an agreement and return to their people without certain knowledge that their lives and the lives of their entire family would be at risk. Thus, they engage in a propaganda war on two fronts––one outside the middle east where they see how many lies they can get away with and one with their own people to see how many they can incite to kill Israelis in hopes that the Israeli left will capitulate as soon as it wins a majority in the Knesset.
Is there a way out? I believe there is. Let’s examine the conditions on the ground. An increasing percentage of the people living in the Arab communities in Judea and Samaria are dissatisfied with the old guard PLO/Fatah leadership. Promises have been made for decades, which have not been delivered. They look across the current boundary based on the 1967 war and see a prosperous country where Israeli Arabs are living good lives. In Israel nearly 2 million Arabs––both Christian and Muslim––have full citizenship rights, which means they get health care, education and other benefits while enjoying job opportunities that afford them much better living conditions than their relatives enjoy on the West Bank. Are things perfect? Of course not, but if Israel offered to pay five or even ten thousand shekels to Arab Israelis to move to the West Bank, very few if any would sign up.
Some young West Bank Palestinians have turned to violence to show their frustration with current conditions. That is evidence they don’t believe things are going to change without drastic measures such as giving up their own lives. They need an alternative they can believe in that offers them something their leaders cannot––namely, a future.
Israel can best combat terrorism on two levels––the current military and police presence and the way––a quiet propaganda campaign focusing their messages to young Arabs who live in the territories. If they don’t already do so, they need to tell the story of Israeli Arabs living a decent life in Israel who prefer living in Israel than any other place in the Arab world.
In addition, Israel needs to offer a free university education annually to 500 or 1,000 territory residents who qualify, and Israel needs to offer advanced health care for anyone living in the territories who needs special or emergency care.
Of course, the PA will threaten the families of anyone who takes up these offers, but it’s the offer that counts. It’s showing young Palestinian Arabs a way out of their currently hopeless environment.
Israel also needs to offer programs for businesses in the territories to gain assistance, including loans, to grow their businesses and to put more people to work. Again the PA will threaten any business that participates, but this is a propaganda war.
Today, the PA wants to control the entire economy in their territory. They want to control every university acceptance, every business license, everything that can be controlled. People must see these restrictions run counter to their well-being. Israel can show business owners and their families a way to a better life.
And, Israel needs to react stronger when falsely accused. For example, when Mahmoud Abbas said a (non-existent) rabbi’s council wants to poison their water, Israel must show it is already providing more clean water than is required. It needs to publicize that fact in the territories and the West so everyone sees each lie.
Israel must fight a propaganda war offering young Arabs a better way of life with real opportunities––education, health care, business assistance, housing and even jobs. At the same time it must fight a propaganda war in the west to explain why negotiated solutions will inevitably fail raising even higher the level of violence.
The only time an Israel government should ever sit down with Palestinian Arab leaders is after they say upfront they are dropping their demand that Israel leaves its 4,000-year-old homeland, dropping their “right of return” demand, and dropping territorial demands that include removal of Jews from the territories. That won’t happen with the current leadership, but perhaps an extensive propaganda campaign offering real benefits will do that job.
The day that happens will be proof a way has been found where solutions have failed.