Last week, in a piece headlined A Palestinian peace plan Israelis can live with, the text of Palestinian-American journalist Ray Hanania's outline for a future Mideast accord was published in this space.
The following is an advance look at the radical heart of the proposal, the Settler-Refugee Exchange Program, the full text of which may be found by clicking here.
The plan targets the conflict's Gordian Knot, braided of the wrongs done the two peoples, and the rights both claim to the same land. It recognizes how the dimensions of the issue have expanded and grown more complex over time, with the direct parties to a solution now including half a million settlers living in the territories and nearly five million Palestinian refugees the world over.
"We need to be imaginative as well as to be ready to speak the truths that we have avoided in the past," Hanania writes. His plan includes a land swap in which Israel cedes pre-1967 territory to the Palestinians, equal to the area of the settlements it seeks to annex - an element of many current peace proposals - but it breaks new ground in the solutions it offers for settlers and refugees.
Under the proposal, for every settler living in settlements annexed to Israel, a Palestinian refugee would be allowed to return to Israel. They would also be eligible for dual Israeli-Palestinian citizenship. "They would be treated the same way as Jews who return to Israel, and be given the same benefits and compensation and support from the Israeli government," the proposal states, adding, pointedly:
"If Israel seeks to retain all of the settlements, then Israel must be prepared to allow 462,000 Palestinian refugees to return to live in Israel, should they chose to do so, as Israeli citizens."
"Israel can reduce the number of Refugees it accepts by returning settlers and disbanding existing settlements. The final number is up to them."
The remaining Palestinian refugees would be resettled in the Palestinian state, or elsewhere, with the Arab world "required to provide a home and land in their countries for every Palestinian seeking resettlement in this plan."
At the same time, settlers living within the borders of the Palestinian state would be given the choice of accepting compensation and moving back to Israel, or remaining in their homes and becoming dual citizens of Israel and Palestine.
"Their rights would be fully respected and safeguarded. Settlers would have to apply to the State of Palestine for citizenship in the same way that Palestinian Refugees would be required to meet Israeli immigration standards."
In part, the proposal may be read as an appeal to Jews to pause for a moment before condemning the Palestinian Right of Return as nothing more than a thinly disguised call for the extermination of Israel. It asks Palestinians, as well, to accept that statehood and peace, in the context of a two state solution, can be achieved through simultaneous recognition of, and compromise over, the Right of Return, an accommodation based on "an exchange of land, an exchange of people, and an exchange of apologies."
The plan for settler-refugee exchange is predicated on the creation of funds for resettlement of Palestinian refugees, and for compensation for Jews who lost land or other property when they fled or were forced to leave Arab countries.
It is also based on an explicit Israeli acknowledgment and apology for its role in the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem. "Israel's Government must be prepared to assert the highest level of Jewishness if, in fact, Israel is truly a Jewish State, to seek atonement and offer a genuine apology to the Palestinian Refugees. "
In parallel, "It is essential that the Arab World also offer its apology in the same context to the Jews who now reside in Israel for losing their lands and homes," the proposal declares.
"As a Palestinian," Hanania writes in a preamble, "I believe the Palestinian refugees and their descendants have an absolute right to return to their original homes and lands that were vacated by them either by military force or as a result of fear or coercion based on the International Rule of Law, on principle, on morality and on human dignity."
However, Hanania continues, the truth as it exists must be spoken to the refugees and to the Palestinian people as a whole. "I recognize the sacrifices the Palestinian refugees have made over the years by remaining in the refugee camps as a reminder to a world that refused to recognize the existence of Palestinians as a people and that the Palestinian people do exist. We are a people. We are Palestinian. To have had them assimilate into Arab World and societies around the world would have conveniently erased the need for justice and resolution of this situation.
"But today is not 1948. Lives have come and gone. Events have occurred and circumstances on the landscape of the conflict have changed dramatically. Their homes and villages simply no longer exist.
"There are millions of Jews who have immigrated to Israel from other countries who now live in homes once occupied by Palestinians either voluntarily or fleeing persecution. Both have seen new generations arrive and old pass. Lives have been built and we cannot simply tear them down."
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