Sunday 8th May. Over 50 people gave up a beautiful May evening to come to Jacksons Row to listen to a lecture entitled “RESOLVING THE ISRAELI/PALESTINIAN CONFLICT: POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS”. It’s unlikely that any of us really thought we were going to receive the magic potion to solve this generations-long problem, but with such a title, how could you not want to go? The speaker was Israel-born Professor Rafi Cohen Almagor, now holder of the chair in Politics at Hull University. His academic life started at Tel Aviv University and continued to a D.Phil at Oxford in 1991. He came to Hull after posts in Haifa, UCLA, and Johns Hopkins University. Rafi is a long-time activist for human rights and peace.
Rafi summarizes the conflict as “two peoples with justified claims over a small piece of land ….. nothing is black or white, and there are no angels in this protracted and bloody conflict”. He described the possible (and impossible!) solutions:
Decide not to decide. This is essentially present Israeli government policy – keep the status quo. But there is no status quo; things are always changing. Israel builds settlements, Palestinians resort to terrorism so this is bad news for both sides.
Israel grants Palestinians autonomy. In fact, limited local government autonomy over areas A and B, whilst keeping control of area C (C is 52% of the area of the West Bank). Maybe Israel will annex area C. But because Israel will control access to A and B, it is still essentially occupation and Palestinians will be left with a small area. It’s hard to see this satisfying the Palestinians.
The One-state solution. This has a number of flavours: first a state of Palestine from the Jordan to the Mediterranean – hardly acceptable to Israeli Jews. Second, a post-Zionist solution: Israel as a state of all its citizens. With the current demographic trends it will take a few years for there to be a Palestinian majority in a democratic state. Although this has a large Palestinian support, unsurprisingly only 3% of Jews support it. Thirdly there is the Iranian one-state solution: one bomb.
Solutions that are aimed to get rid of Palestine or to undermine its cause for an independent state. These solutions are proposed by Israelis on the right. There are two lines of arguments: first, the Palestinian state already exists – that is the Palestinians should emigrate to Jordan, seize power and create their state there. The Hashemite Kingdom is not keen on this solution. Second, people who oppose the two-state solution ask rhetorically: why do you speak of a two-state and not a three-state solution: Israel, West Bank and Gaza? Israelis who propose this solution know that this is not what the Palestinians aspire to, and that it cannot be a viable option. They raise it only to discredit the two-state solution.
Confederations. There are several options: with Jordan (West Bank); with Egypt (Gaza and the West Bank); with Israel, Egypt and Jordan. No state at present supports this.
The two-state solution. So, unsurprisingly this is the ONLY sensible solution. It is possible, but there are pre-conditions: it needs both Israeli and Palestinian leaders who are both willing to pay the price for peace and are in a position to deliver a deal. And it needs both leaders to believe the time is right. Depressingly, none of these conditions are currently met. But a two state solution has been a prospect in the past – Oslo and Camp David. The problem in Oslo was the plan to leave the most difficult issues to some future final settlement agreement. The problem in Camp David was that Barak and Arafat were unable to bridge the gaps.
What are the big issues? For Israelis it is security. For Palestinians it is the occupation and settlements and the Palestinian right of return. No Israeli leader is going to agree to the return of the four million Palestinian descendants of those displaced in 1948. But how many refugees will actually want to return? Nobody knows, so why not ask them? With compensation and international involvement, the Palestinian Right of Return issue could be solved.
Finally, Jerusalem. Neither Jews nor Palestinians can dictate where the other’s capital should be. So, Jerusalem must be shared with an agreed solution for the holy places. Both sides may agree that the holy places belong to God, to be shared by the three Abrahamic faiths. No state will have sovereignty over the holy places.
So whilst there were no startling revelations, we heard an extremely well argued exposition on the state of play and, although no conditions seem right at present for a solution, there is a conceivable way forward. When will the political leaders decide that the price of peace is less than the price of conflict? It was a meeting in which the audience was genuinely interested to listen and ask questions. So often such meetings degenerate into a bear pit of shouting. Not this one.