By Israel Zwick, CN Publications, June 6, 2007
In his op-ed column in the NY Times on June 6, 2007, Thomas Friedman made some astute observations about the prospects for Arab-Israeli peace. The article was aptly titled, â€œWhat a Mess.â€ Friedman noted that the three methods that were tried so far have all failed. Land for peace, favored by the Left was discredited by the failure of Oslo. Permanent occupation, favored by the Right, was rendered impossible by Palestinian militancy. The third way, unilateral withdrawal, was discredited by the debacles in Lebanon and Gaza. So the solution to the mess can only come about via a still undetermined â€œfourth way.â€
Mr. Friedman, who has a long and deep involvement with Middle East affairs, should know that a fourth way has already been proposed over 20 years ago and offers the best possible solution. However, it is still considered to be too politically taboo to be placed on the table. This plan involves voluntary relocation of the Palestinian Arabs, while the remaining Arabs in Israel and the territories will form a commonwealth government that would be in federation with Israel.
There are a number of variations to this plan but the essential elements are as follows:
1. All Arabs living within the 1947 boundaries of Palestine as well as those living in the UNRWA refugee camps would be offered a compensation package to end their refugee status and allow permanent relocation. The package would include a $50,000 cash payment per family, compensation for their property, and free transportation to any country of their choice that is willing to take them. The 22 countries of the Arab World must participate in this process and be willing to absorb some of the Palestinians and contribute to resettlement costs. Recent polls have suggested that a large portion of the 4 million Palestinian â€œrefugeesâ€ would be willing to consider such an offer. To avoid discrimination, Israeli Arabs should be offered the same opportunity. This stage of the plan is expected to take about three to six years for completion. It would be financed by the same donations that are now funding the Palestinian Authority, UNRWA, and UNICEF.
2. The current Palestinian Authority and all of its militias will be dissolved. It is widely recognized that the PA established by the Oslo Accords has been a failure. There should be only one central security apparatus and no private militias. No country can tolerate gangs of armed gunmen who make their own rules and carry them out by force.
3. In place of the PA, the remaining Arabs living in the 1947 Palestine boundaries, and those that are allowed to return, will form a new commonwealth government modeled after Puerto Rico, which has been â€œoccupiedâ€ by the United States for over 100 years. Gaza, Judea, and Samaria will be annexed to Israel but the Arab areas will become a self-governing entity. Security arrangements, passports, monetary system, and international commerce will still be monitored and controlled by Israel. Otherwise, the Arabs will govern themselves with their own mayors, judiciary, parliament, and civil police force. The Arab areas will be function in confederation with Israel, in peaceful coexistence with mutual cooperation. The Arabs will be allowed some form of representation in the Israeli Knesset.
The advantages of such a plan are as follows:
1. There will be no more Palestinian refugees or refugee camps. All Palestinians will have a permanent residence and citizenship in Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, other Arab countries, or other locations of their choice.
2. The Left will be satisfied because there will be no more â€œoccupationâ€ of Palestinian Arabs. All Arabs living in the 1947 boundaries of Palestine will have their own government. Israel will still control security arrangements and the military.
3. The Right will be satisfied because the historic lands of Israel will remain a part of Israel. Jews will be allowed to remain in communities in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza.
4. The Palestinians will be satisfied because they will have the best of both worlds: self-government and the privileges of association with Israel. Puerto Rico has benefited from this type of arrangement and is not complaining about â€œoccupation.â€ Those that arenâ€™t satisfied will have the opportunity for voluntary relocation with compensation.
5. The US, EU, and UN will be satisfied because there will be peace and harmony in the Middle East.
As Thomas Friedman acknowledged, the three ways that have been attempted so far have failed to bring peace to the region. So it is time to dismiss the political taboos and try an innovative fourth way, such as this plan, which has the ability to satisfy all the interests in the conflict. Variations of this plan have been floating around for the last 30 years. Perhaps it is time that they be seriously considered.