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Only a Reconciliation Delegation Will Bring About a Cease-fire

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Protesters on the Gaza border, 2018.
Protesters on the Gaza border, 2018.Credit: SAID KHATIB/AFP

For the past 18 years I’ve been walking around with the idea of hudna (cease-fire). It’s a concept that originated during the course of my contacts as a businessman with partners in Arab countries, and from an observation of their reality. It’s an honorable way of neutralizing bloody conflicts in Arab society, which I have sought to improve and adapted to our political reality, in the course of innumerable discussions with experts from our neighboring countries.

I have realized how important the issue of honor is when trying to understand Palestinian culture. I wrote a book about it, I met with leaders on both sides, I went to the Europeans and the Americans who are intervening in the region – and came up empty-handed.

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But the idea of the hudna is apparently stronger than Middle Eastern despair, and it returns now and then, offering itself up repeatedly. Especially now, when the situation between Israel and the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is speeding toward another blow-up that won’t solve a thing, this is once again a good time to put the issue on the table – at least in the way one of my partners and I saw it.

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It’s important to note that this partner was the late Palestinian psychiatrist Dr. Eyad Sarraj of Gaza. It is of major importance that Sarraj signed off on the plan, because for most Palestinians he was an exemplary figure, a national hero, who was greatly admired by all factions and camps. This is a diplomatic plan written by a proud Palestinian, whose primary interest was his people’s welfare.

Sarraj was exceptional and highly accomplished, a mental health expert, a liberal and a visionary who rejected violence and hatred. In 1993 he established the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens' Rights, and a network of mental health clinics that operates in Gaza to this day. He was a courageous man who didn’t hesitate to criticize the corruption of PLO leader Yasser Arafat and his cronies; for that, he was thrown into prison in Gaza in 1995, and severely tortured for weeks.

In prison he met many Hamas leaders, who thereafter had great admiration and affection for him. In 2007, after Hamas took control of the Strip by force, Sarraj didn’t hesitate to publicly criticize the movement, claiming that the split [from Fatah] was a disaster for the Palestinian people. Thanks to his unique status, Hamas didn’t dare hurt him, and allowed him to continue working freely.

Sarraj won Sweden's Olof Palme prize in 2010 for his relentless struggle for Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation and peace. He invested his final years, until his death in 2013, in promoting his initiative, and I know for certain that he convinced Hamas leaders to agree to it.

In Arab culture there is a traditional mechanism for solving bloody conflicts, a mechanism of unparalleled efficacy that has worked for thousands of years, long before the advent of Islam. Using this mechanism wisely could pave the way to solving the conflict. It is based on a reconciliation delegation – individuals who are not a party to the conflict, whose only goal is to bring about an end to the bloodletting.

Our initiative proposes an interim arrangement for a period of 30 years, to be achieved with the active mediation of such a delegation, composed of seven to 10 foreign ministers and other dignitaries with international standing. The immediate goal of the initiative is to find an international leader who will agree to be the “engine” of the entire process, would consolidate the delegation around him and convince the international community to give the process a chance. The arrival of the reconciliation delegation in our region would be a tremendous media event.

There are two possible outcomes: a “minor agreement” – a localized accord relating to Gaza alone – or a “major agreement,” a broader arrangement that would include Gaza and the West Bank territories. In any case, it’s clear that it is in Israel's interest to append to any diplomatic agreement with the Palestinians (whether minor or major) significant and groundbreaking diplomatic accords with the Gulf states. Naturally, we must aspire to reach full peace agreements, but diplomatic accords that fall short of that would also be welcome.

Basic to the plan is Hamas’ willingness to give up most of the weapons in its possession, and to end any hostile activity against Israel for a 30-year period. In exchange the Palestinians would receive an opportunity to rehabilitate the Strip and assistance in doing so, and the chance to build a modern state offering a life of economic prosperity and security to its inhabitants.

Hamas must also agree to a national partnership with Fatah, which would enable it to speak in one voice with the Israeli government. The purpose of negotiations with Israel would be a diplomatic agreement enabling establishment of a Palestinian state within temporary borders – a long-term diplomatic arrangement, not a peace agreement per se.

As noted, the plan is based on the ideas and philosophy of the traditional Arab mechanism, the hudna, for solving bloody conflicts, which is based on a reconciliation delegation. In effect, such a delegation is an essential condition in Arab culture for resolving such conflicts. There is no rapprochement without the active involvement of a reconciliation delegation.

In the opinion of the architects of the idea, the use of this mechanism would lead to sweeping popular support for the process among the Palestinians. They have confidence in it and are familiar with this mechanism, which addresses them in a language of respect.

The writer is a former journalist, a lawyer and a businessman.

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