Even if it’s clear that there isn’t much chance on the horizon for a real move toward peace, it appears that Israel is abuzz with peace plans these days. Creative and colorful plans are piling up, trying to fill the vacuum left by the country’s apparent abandonment of the concept of “two states for two peoples.”
For example, there are purveyors of the “two states, one homeland” idea, homes around the country, along with an abundance of organizations that are trying to promote the Geneva Initiative, originally unveiled in 2003 by Israeli and Palestinian officials, or the Arab Peace Initiative, endorsed by the Arab League in 2002.
This time, though, we will take a look at the underdogs – private citizens who are trying to contribute their time and use their wild imaginations to resolve the conflict. Some of their plans suggest certain useful elements. Others stir longings for the good old “two states for two peoples” concept, and there are also some ideas that qualify as jaw-droppers.
1. Like in California: “Instead of splitting the prayer shawl – everyone takes the prayer shawl”
Yitzhak Natan, 73, was the legendary principal of the Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts, where he worked for 45 years. Currently, as an amiable pensioner, he is hard at work seeking a solution to the conflict.
According to Natan’s vision, in the expanses of the land of Israel extending from the river to the sea, two states or state-like entities will be established, Israeli and Palestinian, interwoven by means a federation that will conduct their external affairs. All the Jewish inhabitants will be in the State of Israel and all the Arab inhabitants – let’s say, even those in Haifa, too – will be citizens of the State of Palestine. His vision is of two states without a border or fence between them, with two parliaments in Jerusalem. However, in order to ensure a clear Jewish majority in this federation, the Gaza Strip would not be part of the story. It’s a bit like having your cake and eating it too. Natan presents his plan in terms of the famous Talmudic discussion about two people having equal claim to the same object.
“My idea isn’t going to solve all the problems,” he admits. “The western part of the land of Israel/Palestine in the view of the Arabs – between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River – is in effect a single geopolitical unit. We not only live side by side with each other, but also inside each other. Two states will be established; the Palestinian citizens in Jaffa will vote for Palestine and they will have a handsome parliament building in East Jerusalem.”
A recent survey found that 60 percent of the Arabs in Israel are opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s suggestion that the Arab Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm be transferred to the Palestinian Authority – and only 20 percent support it. Arab citizens are not keen to lose their Israeli citizenship.
“When [Jordan’s King] Hussein signed the peace agreement with Israel,” says Natan, “he also gave up the Jordanian citizens in Judea and Samaria without asking them. You don’t make an agreement between citizens, rather between the authorities.”
There is also no chance that the Palestinians will relinquish the 2 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip so easily. It’s as though Israel were to disengage from Gush Dan.
“Gaza will have to find a solution all its own. Hong Kong is like that. It can’t be a part of the story. My starting point is Zionist Jewish. The solution can’t be egalitarian but must rather be one that gives the best possible answer for both sides. I have a feeling that Abu Mazen,” he adds, referring to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, “will be happy to give up Gaza even if, for external consumption, he says otherwise. He is not interested in it.”
There is a certain similarity between your plan and the “two states, one homeland” idea.
“There are significant differences. They are talking about a border with adjustments, and that is impossible. I live in Kfar Sava and my balcony looks out over Samaria. At the moment I see Qalqilyah. It’s a wonderful picture. It is not feasible to put a border there. And then there are all the Jewish locales. It is an irreversible story. Imagine, the two peoples with tremendous energies, making peace. The Palestinians have tremendous potential. They have energy, they will connect with joint enterprises.”
Will foreign policy be conducted jointly in the federation, or is it each state for itself?
“In domestic affairs – culture, education, religion – each will be responsible for its own. Externally, there will be a common currency – the shekel – and one ambassador.”
So it’s expanded autonomy?
“The Palestinians will have a flag, like the State of California does, for example. The difference between us and ‘two states, one homeland’ is that there will not be a right of return [for refugees from Israel’s 1948 War of Independence]. We are the side that is initiating. We danced on November 29 [1947, when the UN approved the Palestine partition plan] because of the partition, and what happened? The Arabs opened fire on us.”
Who will be the head of the federation?
“The prime minister will be chosen in a general election. Under the plan, the Jewish demographic majority will be maintained.”
Have you thought of a name for the joint federation?
2. The Swiss concept: “The Palestinians are so weakened that they will accept anything reasonable”
Relative to other peace plans I encountered, the federation scheme articulated by Aryeh Hess and Emanuel Shahaf is pretty much full-blown. They have hired a graphic artist and a public relations person, and they have an attractive map of the plan and a handsome website. The concept is Swiss: Under the plan, 30 cantons will be established in the area between the Jordan River and the sea – 20 with a Jewish majority and 10 with a non-Jewish majority. Here, too, in order to make the numbers work, the almost 2 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip somehow vanish from the story.
“The plan was formulated three years ago but recently I have promoted it more vigorously and have invested some of my own money in it,” says Shahaf, 63, a member of the Labor Party and former Mossad employee.
“The plan proposes Israeli control between the Jordan and the sea, the implementation of Israeli law in the West Bank, civil equality for everyone and a joint constitution that will protect all rights. This is a state of all its citizens,” he adds, “but the term arouses objections” – because it has been a slogan of the Arab Israeli Balad party. “In order to change the method of government, it’s necessary to have a double majority. Not only a demographic majority but also a majority of the cantons.”
Gaza has been forgotten.
“With Gaza, no plan is going to work. We will help it become a normal state. For the Palestinians, it’s hard not having Gaza inside. But I explain that this is a temporary plan, not a final one.”
How have the reactions been?
“All the reactions are positive, without exception. There are some people who are terribly afraid of Arabs and aren’t prepared to accept even a 35-percent Arab minority in the state.”
Are there supporters I can mention by name?
“The sane right is connecting. The left isn’t there. I have spoken with Knesset members. Some of them have spoken favorably about the plan but apart from MK Yehudah Glick (Likud), no one is prepared to be identified.”
And do the Palestinians support your plan?
“Everyone I’ve spoken to – for example, former top people in the Palestinian Authority – view the plan positively and aren’t ruling it out. The difficulty isn’t with them not having a state: In exchange for absolute civic equality they are prepared to swallow that. But without Gaza, it’s difficult for them. As I said, as an interim arrangement it is possible to get this passed and it is possible to implement the plan unilaterally.”
What are the chances of implementing a plan like this?
“In my opinion, this is what is going to happen, whether we want it or not. The question is when we start acting to advance this. It has so many advantages. No one needs to move anywhere. It’s what exists already but is not well organized. After all there already is a federation, Areas A and B [a reference to those parts of the West Bank that are, respectively, under full PA control, and under joint Israeli-PA control], only in a chaotic an unequal way. Instead of investing in withdrawal, folding things up and security arrangements, the investment should be in building. When I present the plan to businesspeople, they support it. Economists are beginning to worry.
“We didn’t invent these ideas. [David] Ben-Gurion and [Chaim] Weizmann in the 1930s, when it wasn’t clear that there was a Jewish majority, also talked about a federation with the Muslim population. But there is a key difficulty that will have to be absorbed: The nationality of the state will be ‘Israeli.’”
Maybe the Palestinians won’t notice it.
“It’s my sense that they will accept it. The Palestinians are in a very bad way. Even in Europe, in some Western countries, the flag and the national anthem don’t reflect the real situation. So 20 years from now they will add another stanza to ‘Hatikva.’ If that’s the only thing that’s preventing the plan, I am very pleased. I’m friendly with [journalist] Meron Rapoport, one of the initiators of ‘two states, one homeland.’ Their plan is a Rolls Royce. We are a Subaru. They have answers to the whole package but their plan is very leftist and that is a problem. They are working in partnership with Palestinians.”
It sounds pretty basic that a peace plan would be articulated jointly by both sides.
“That’s not good if you want to sell it to the Jews. If the Arabs feel connected too much to the plan, the Jews will flee. It’s sad but true.”
So are you saying that it’s better to build a peace plan that the other side doesn’t want?
“Our plan is reasonable, but not an ultimate one. The Palestinians can accept it with reservations. They are so weakened that they will accept anything reasonable, even if not formally.”
3. Three states for two peoples: I want to reach the American administration via the networks to propose to it the ultimate deal
Even though it is no simple matter to establish another state alongside the State of Israel, writer Lior Aziz, 48, has a gimmicky slogan to offer: “Three states for two peoples.” Alongside the State of Israel, as he sees it, there will be a State of Palestine taking the form of a number of “islands” (jazeeras, in Arabic) in areas of the West Bank. However, in areas that are not part of the islands of the Palestinian state, a third state will be established, the “Peace State,” with a Jewish province and a Palestinian province, where Jewish citizens and Arab citizens will get around by means of a dual system of roadways.
Aziz sees his method as an idea solution to the bloody conflict. Only one problem remains unresolved: The time it will take to pave the roads will, in the initial phase, cause traffic jams. He also sent me emails from supporters, most of whom do not seem extremely enthusiastic.
“I was exposed to bereavement in my childhood,” relates Aziz, whose uncle was killed early in the War of Independence, and whose good friend was killed in the so-called night of the hang-gliders in November, 1987, when two Palestinians infiltrated into Israel from southern Lebanon, killing six Israel Defense Forces soldiers.
“The whole aim of the Peace State is to regularize the conflict. It doesn’t have foreign relations or an army. I have had excellent reactions from important people. My plan gives a solution to the problem of Jerusalem, refugees, borders and security. The Palestinians are not required to give up the right of return; it’s only postponed for 100 years. Nor will they recognize us as a Jewish state, only as a national home. We will have two national homes.”
Isn’t it a little complicated to squeeze another state in here?
“It will just make things easier. My plan solves the issue of Jerusalem in an absolute way. Ask [Zionist Union MK] Tzipi Livni about the Temple Mount. She will say – we will keep what is holy to the Jews. As though the Palestinians would agree to that. East Jerusalem will be in the Peace State, that is – joint sovereignty.”
Are there similar concepts elsewhere in the world?
“No. I have invented a new sovereignty.”
What do the Palestinians say? Will they agree to most of their territory being in an unclear state?
“I haven’t spoken to anyone. From the Geneva Initiative they took the trouble to tell me that they will not accept the plan. Stuff and nonsense.”
The Palestine you are proposing will be located in small islands in the West Bank. I wouldn’t want to live on “the island of Tel Aviv.” To my mind, this proposal is insulting to the Palestinians.
“Why do you think so? With the Peace State, you’re giving 90 percent of Judea and Samaria.”
It sounds like a lot of bureaucracy.
“Just the paving of the new roads. It’s all a matter of paving new roads.”
Do you spend a lot of time on the plan?
“It took me half a year to write it and I work on it five hours a day. Now I am trying to reach the Americans. I have despaired of the Israelis.”
Why have you despaired?
“The left can’t support my plan. Are the Geneva Initiative people going to abandon their plan, when they are getting salaries for it? I want to use the social networks to reach the U.S. administration, and propose the ultimate deal. I sent it to [National Security Council official] Yael Lempert from the administration and she acknowledged receipt. Jason Greenblatt, the American envoy, is on LinkedIn.”
What are the chances for the plan?
“One percent. Because I am alone.”
4. The Palestinian emirates plan: We should implement the successful emirates plan and not the failed states model
Dr. Mordechai Kedar, 65 (who has refused to tell me where he lives “for security reasons,” though the information is available from Wikipedia), formulated “the emirates plan” back in 2000. In recent years, and ever since the interview he granted last year to Sara Haetzni-Cohen in the right-wing newspaper Makor Rishon, he has taken up the cause with redoubled energy.
Kedar is a controversial Middle East specialist. “The only thing that can deter terrorists, like the ones who’ve abducted the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped,” he explained in 2014 in an interview on Israel Radio, eliciting harsh criticism. Afterward, he said he hadn’t recommended doing that, but rather fighting terror only within the framework of the rule of law. Of all the plans to which I have been exposed, Kedar’s is the one that is most polished: The initiative recalls the existing grim situation of the Palestinians, but the “envelope” is more Oriental. The areas of the Palestinian cities will be defined as emirates, separate principalities headed by sheikhs, and the PA will be dismantled.
“My plan has gained increased validity in the wake of the clear failure of the standard Arab state. For example, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan and Yemen, as compared to the success of the Gulf Emirates,” he says. “Their success doesn’t stem from the oil: Dubai has hardly any oil. Despite the abundance of oil and gas in Iraq and Libya, they are failed states. The difference is in the makeup of the population. The failed states are non-unified mosaics of tribes, ethnic groups, religious groups and sectarian groups – Sunnis and Shi’ites – as compared to the homogeneous Emirates.”
Half of Bahrain is Shi’ite.
“I haven’t put Bahrain on the list. Bahrain is successful by dint of power, not legitimacy.”
Israel is more heterogeneous than the Palestinians. Ultra-Orthodox, religious, secular people, Ashkenazim, Mizrahim. Maybe we also need emirates of our own?
“We still aren’t shooting at one another and we also marry one another, which doesn’t happen there. In any case, in the Emirates, the state is legitimate in the perception of the majority. Therefore, in the Gulf, Emirates that are built in accordance with tribal tradition are successful and the states that are built on a European system are failed. Palestinian society is severely fragmented along tribal lines. If we want to achieve social stability that will lead to political stability – we have to apply the successful model of the Emirates in every city in Judea and Samaria, under the traditional leadership of tribal leaders. And thus, they will live in homogeneous and stable units that aren’t constantly looking for an external enemy, and Israel is a natural enemy.”
The Arabs in the territory that will be annexed to Israel – will they be citizens of Israel?
“They will be offered ordinary Israeli citizenship. If they take it – fine. If they don’t take it – also fine. This is a matter of 10 percent of the population, not a demographic threat.”
And what about East Jerusalem?
“Like Jaffa, an Israeli city.”
The affair of the metal detectors [being erected and then dismantled at the Temple Mount last month] showed that it isn’t exactly Israel.
“If we act like spineless worms then they will step on us and spit on us and say it’s rain.”
How have the reactions to your plan been?
“Only positive. Among people who understand.”
“Both Arabs and Jews understand that this the right solution. This is because it is connected to sociological reality and not to dreams. According to reality, there is no Syrian people. That was a French dream. There is no Libyan people, that was a dream the Italians had. There is no Iraqi people, that was a dream the British had and there is no Palestinian people. This is a product of Israeli and Western imagination that thinks in European terms and is looking for a European equivalent.”
Israel always claims that anyone who says that Israel has no right to exist, or that there is no Jewish people, is anti-Semitic. Why is it legitimate to say there is no Palestinian people?
“We are a nation of individuals, held together by national glue. All the Arab states, except for Egypt and Tunisia, are made up of tribes that aren’t glued together. Nationalism is from Europe.”
So you think that not only the Palestinians but also all the Arab states should be emirates?
The Palestinians I know aren’t so interested in the clan. They marry people from other towns and they see themselves as Palestinians.
“Most cases of marriage are within the clan. The clan marker is very strong. Just now in Hebron a process is beginning of mediating between two local families because of the murder of somebody, instead of [launching] a war with bloody vengeance. They will pay a lot of money there. They went to the sheikhs – and not to the police – because the PA is of no account to anyone.”
What are the chances of your plan?
“The plan will be implemented whether we want it to be or not. The alternative will be chaos. The PA is going down the drain. As a state, it hasn’t settled in people’s hearts. The whole significance of the PA is that it is an employer. It has no significance for the population. It is not the realization of anyone’s dream. If it weren’t buying people with money, it would have no existence.”
5. At the recommendation of Mike Pence: “Implementing sovereignty over all of Judea and Samaria”
It isn’t entirely clear whether it is possible to define the proposal of journalist Caroline Glick as a peace plan, but it’s definitely a diplomatic initiative. In 2015 Glick, 57, a Jerusalem Post columnist who immigrated to Israel in 1991 from the United States and lives in the West Bank settlement of Efrat, published the Hebrew version of her 2014 book “The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East” – a proposal calling for a return to the idea of the single state, and application of Israeli law in the territories. Glick can take credit for support from a very senior personage: One of the blurbs on the back of the book is from none other than Mike Pence, governor of Indiana at the time and today vice president of the United States.
Nevertheless, Glick admits that today her plan is pretty much at a standstill. “All in all, we’re stuck. We moved ahead quite well and then Trump came along and asked to know what we want and we started getting confused. I’ve stopped talking about my plan.”
Have you met with Pence since he was elected?
“No, I haven’t had the opportunity. I haven’t had the time.”
Glick’s biggest scoop was in 2003, when she accompanied American soldiers and reported in The Jerusalem Post about the discovery of chemical weapons in Iraq. The headline was quoted worldwide as Saddam Hussein’s smoking gun, until it was disproved.
Glick has embarked on a tour to promote her book and the plan in the United States, so our interview was conducted as a WhatsApp conversation (in Hebrew). It didn’t exactly flow easily because every time I tried to find out exactly what she is proposing, she yet again warned that the PA constitutes a terrible crime. In any case, even before we began to converse, Glick got rid of Gaza.
“My plan stems from the unpleasant situation ever since we established the PA,” she wrote. “Security-wise, we can’t survive over time with forces of foreign armies that want to invade Israel in some hypothetical event. Demographically, we also can’t agree to a Palestinian state. The dams will open and not only millions of supposed refugees but also everyone will come here. A deluge of victory parades by jihadists. Not just 1.5 million or 2.5 million people in Judea and Samaria, it depends whom you ask, but an unlimited number. The whole Arab world! The flow will be tremendous and uncontrolled. Anyone who replaces Abu Mazen will be murdered like [Muammar] Gadhafi. He’ll survive for a few weeks. The moment madness erupted, Gadhafi survived or five minutes. That is what will happen to Abu Mazen. The left sees the opposite of reality. The only way to defend ourselves is to fortify the eastern border and not enable a Palestinian state.”
We’ll agree that you don’t like the PA. Let’s move on to your plan.
“The plan is implementing sovereignty over all of Judea and Samaria.
That is, granting citizenship to 2.5 million Palestinians, or 1.5 million, as you have said.
“Not immediately. Not immediate citizenship. I’m talking about giving permanent residency at first to the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, the way it was given in Jerusalem in 1967 and to the Druze in the Golan Heights in 1981, with the possibility of applying for Israeli citizenship, with the criteria being non-participation in a terror organization, in incitement activity and violence.”
Let’s talk about the significance of annexing 1.5 million citizens.
“We’re not annexing in any such way.”
In Hebrew your book is called “Annexation Now.”
“That’s a populist title chosen by the publisher. Administratively, it’s not a matter of a legal act of annexation but rather implementation of Israeli law. Some of them will make do with residency. This is their choice.”
We’re still talking about approximately 30 Knesset seats.
“Here’s the trick to understanding the matter. My plan is the hardest to digest from the perspective of the Israeli public. With all the difficulty regarding the Knesset, these are solvable problems that are preferable to a hostile PA. I am also 100-percent certain that after we apply sovereignty, we will find that the Palestinians in fact don’t want immediate citizenship. It’s the left, in its usual irresponsible way, that’s pumping them up about citizenship.”
People naturally want citizenship and the right to vote. The blacks in the United States and in South Africa, for example, or women in Britain.
“One thing has nothing to do with the other.”
Would you be prepared not to receive the right to vote?
“It depends if I can support myself not under the despotism of Fatah and Hamas, and blend into the Israeli economy, into the life of Israel.”
Glick speaks about her plan with utter confidence. At the end of our conversation, I ask her whether she sometimes thinks that she makes mistakes.
“I’m for going all the way. It’s better than what Tzipi Livni and Haaretz propose – a recipe for ending the career of the State of Israel, something violent, scary and certain.”