Opinion |

Peace Plan for a New Era: Israel and Palestine Should Apply to Join the EU

What if there were a peace plan that actually offered the people on both sides something that they would truly want?

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
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FILE - In this March 27, 2017, file photo, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a new conference at EU headquarters in Brussels. President Donald Trump will press Abbas to end payments to families of Palestinians imprisoned in Israeli jails, according to U.S. officials, one of several actions Washington believes could lead to resumed peace talks with Israel. Other actions include a Palestinian end to anti-Israel rhetoric and incitement of violence, said officials familiar with planning for the meeting. It will be Trump and Abbasג€™ first face-to-face discussion. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File)
FILE - In this March 27, 2017, file photo, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a new conference at EU headquarters in Brussels. President Donald Trump will press Abbas to end payments toCredit: Virginia Mayo/AP
Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

A new peace plan for Israel and Palestine landed literally on my doorstep this morning.

It came in the form of a cautionary feature story in The New York Times, warning of the risks which Brexit poses to the arduously won peace process in Ireland. But it was how the piece began, that got me to thinking that the wisdom in it might benefit the peoples of the Holy Land as well:

"Crossing the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic used to involve delays, checkpoints, bureaucratic harassment and the lurking threat of violence. That it’s now virtually seamless — that you can drive across without even knowing it — feels close to miraculous."

For both Israelis and Palestinians, sick to death of bloodletting and disillusionment, one of the few points of common ground is the sense that it would take a miracle to forge a viable peace. At this point, when people on both sides ask, and with good reason, "What's in it for me?" – bitter experience is scant incentive. It is not for nothing that the Holy Land is where peace initiatives come to die.

President Reuven Rivlin shaking hands with European Council President Donald Tusk in Belgium, March 5, 2017Credit: Marc Neiman/GPO

But what if there were a peace plan that actually offered the people on both sides something that they truly would want?

An EU passport, for example.

Here's the hint: When the United Kingdom held its June, 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union, Northern Ireland voted against Brexit by a clear majority. Here's the plan: Israel and the Palestinian Authority apply for membership in the European Union.

Here's the background:

A. The EU is Israel's largest trading partner. At the same time, the EU has shown a strong commitment to aiding Palestinians in the West Bank and to working toward an independent Palestine alongside a secure Israel.

B. Israelis and Palestinians both offer a deep reservoir of well-educated, strongly motivated young people whose opportunities for advancement and fulfillment are stymied by the many negative manifestations of the conflict.

C. Easing access to opportunities abroad, as well as exposure to European concepts of governance, could make both Israel and Palestine more competitive, more attentive to the needs of young adults and families, less hamstrung by bureaucracy, human rights abuses, religious coercion, and extremists demanding zero-sum apocalyptic maximalism.

In fact, paradoxically, the flexibility offered by EU citizenship might well reduce the desire of young Israelis and Palestinians to leave the Holy Land for good. It could bolster investment, trade, stability and prosperity for both Israel and Palestine. In practice, it could reverse the brain drain.

D. Extremists on both sides of the Israel-Palestine divide have worked long and hard – in many cases, brutally hard – in their efforts to persuade the majority of their people that a two-state solution is impossible.

But a new poll of Israelis and Palestinians by political scientists and public opinion analysts Dr. Khalil Shikaki and Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin suggests that while support for two states is waning, "If Israeli and Palestinian leaders were to forge an agreement, sign it and throw all of their political behind selling it to their constituents, the public on both sides would very likely come along. But not for long."

How could an initiative based on EU membership possibly work?

It's clear that opposition to such a plan would be robust, with a multiplicity of interests in opposition.

Consider, though, the following as an outline of a possible scenario:

Israel and the PA agree to a form of confederation within the EU. Israel and Palestine are independent states. Palestine is located on most of the West Bank with Israel ceding it land in the Negev in exchange for annexation of settlement blocs adjacent to pre-1967 Israel.

An agreed-upon number of West Bank Palestinians will receive permanent residency within pre-1967 Israel, but will hold Palestinian and EU – not Israeli – citizenship.

Israeli settlers whose settlements fall within the newly independent Palestine will hold Israeli and EU – but not Palestinian – citizenship.

Land disputes will be heard in a court in which EU, Palestinian, and Israeli judges will rule.

The capital of Palestine will be based in areas of Jerusalem to which the Jerusalem municipality and Israel currently fail to provide services.

In joint projects as well as in small and large businesses, Palestinians will be encouraged to work in Israel, and Israelis in Palestine, as part of a wider effort to re-introduce two peoples whom generations of violence have estranged from one another.

School texts on both sides will be rewritten to take into account the narratives and histories of both sides. The texts will be examined closely to eliminate incitement. Conversational language and literary instruction in Hebrew and Arabic will be strongly encouraged.

The EU, Palestine and Israel will jointly deploy peacekeeping forces – similar to the Israeli-PA joint patrols which once functioned well within the West Bank – to monitor and enforce the terms of the agreements between the sides.

As the era of Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas churns to an end, it's time that we in Israel and Palestine started looking outward for inspiration. Toward places like Northern Ireland, for example. Places where peace was once considered an impossibility, and bigotry and bloodshed as integral to the atmosphere as oxygen.

In a once-unimaginable situation, the Northern Ireland border is now porous, but the sides feel safe, their prejudices fading, a fledgling sense of reconciliation taking hold.

Israelis often think they have too much to lose by trying something new. Maybe it's time they began to think about what they stand to gain. Like an actual peace, for example. Like their children actually wanting to live in this country. And, if nothing else – for the many whose healthy obsession is travel – an EU passport.

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