On the eve of direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians, we should ask ourselves if this time around we will find a way to work together to tip the balance in favor of peace. Some may say that we’ve been down this road before; been there, done that. And as we all know, peace has remained an illusory dream at best. But I would not give up so easily. This time around, there may be a good chance to cut a deal, not because the key players love one another, God forbid, but because they face some common existential threats, and they actually need one another to stave off these threats.
A lot is at stake for Israel and Palestine, for the region as a whole, and for the world at large. It is not that the people of the Middle East necessarily care that much about the plight of Palestinians and Israelis. The vast majority don’t care, as evidenced by a recent poll. The reason that these talks are important, however, is because a successful outcome could pave the way to a revitalization of the entire Middle East, which would include the creation of good paying jobs, and a realignment of security arrangements in order to contend with the threat of a nuclear Iran. A peace deal between Israel and Palestine could be the seed that grows into a new and vibrant Middle East, a Middle East which is more secure, and which begins to realize a Vision of Hope, a vision of Peace, Prosperity and Freedom.
What will a peace deal between Israel and Palestine look like? Surprisingly, that is not so difficult to fathom. Most of the key players know what to expect in this regard. My guess is that the final treaty will probably mirror, in many ways, the proposal made in the year 2000 by President Clinton, and Prime Minister Ehud Barak, to President Arafat, and would include the following elements: a new Palestinian State, all of Gaza, almost all of the West Bank, land swaps of Israeli land to offset the large settlement block retained by Israeli, a dismantlement of most of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, a sharing of Jerusalem in some form or other, compensation by Israel to the refugees, and a very limited right of return for some Palestinians based on humanitarian ground and subject to Israel’s approval. The vast majority of Palestinians would have the right to “return” to the new Palestine.
Why would such a deal be cut today, when similar such attempts failed in previous years? Only one reason; because today, the stars are aligning in just the right way, so that the self-interest of each of the key players will push each of them to join forces with one another to stave off some very common existential threats. Look at the whole picture: Fatah in the West Bank is threatened by a Hamas takeover, and may actually need Israel to help meet that challenge. Israel is threatened by a nuclear Iran and may need a peace deal with Palestine to consolidate support for stopping Iran and containing her ambitions for the region. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the other Sunni states are worried about a nuclear Iran, and about Shiite intentions to disrupt the balance of power in the predominantly Sunni Middle East.
Putting it all together, the mutual self-interests of the key players may begin to point in one direction, and one direction only, whether they like it or not. Israel will cut a deal with Palestine, even if Hamas decides to take a pass. Saudi Arabia and the other Sunnis will use that pretext to recognize Israel and to declare peace with her based on the Arab Peace Plan of 2002. Such a declaration could become the impetus for a military/economic alliance in the region which will be used to revitalize the region economically with job creation, and to secure the key players by uniting to keep Iran in check. Ultimately, if everything pans out, and granted it’s still a big “if,” Iran may think twice about her ambitions when facing a united front consisting of Israel, the U.S., and the Sunni world.
We can think of the peace between Israel and Palestine as a spaceship of sorts. The spaceship will be thrust into space with the help of three booster rockets: the first and most immediate is the need to consolidate security, the second is the need to revitalize the Middle East economically with good paying jobs, and the third is the need to stabilize relations between Sunnis and Shiites. Perhaps these same needs have always been around. However, this time around they have reached a new level of urgency. We have about a year to pull this thing off, before all hell breaks loose, including the ominous decision of whether or not to allow Iran to go nuclear.
Given everything that is at stake, the question becomes: How far are we willing to go, each and every one of us, to maximize the chance for a successful outcome to these upcoming peace talks? Many of us are inclined to leave things to the diplomats and the political leaders. However, the issues are so difficult, and the sensitivities are so heightened, that I strongly doubt that the diplomats, on their own, will be able to cut this deal. They will need help, and even a certain measure of pressure, from the outside, from people like us, to make something happen at the negotiating table.
That’s where we come in. Don’t underestimate, even for a moment, our power to make things happen. Every one of us, each in his or her own way, can help to move the peace process along. We may or may not particularly care about Israel or Palestine, even though many of us do. But we certainly care about ourselves, and the world we want to leave behind for our children. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that we’re all in this together, and that we owe it to ourselves and to future generations to do what we can for the sake of peace.
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