On the first day of the new year, a small delegation will be paying a visit to the settlement of Efrat in the Etzion bloc. The group will be led by Dan Goldenblatt, co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), which is working to create a Palestinian state. Goldenblatt will present to about 20 residents a new outline to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: two states in one space, instead of the old familiar two states for two peoples solution, which both parties have been trying to implement ever since the Oslo Accord.
The new outline, representing an interesting effort to think outside the box, was launched last month after being formulated over the past year by Israeli and Palestinian researchers over dozens of meetings and in-depth studies. According to this outline, an independent Palestinian state would be established on 22% of the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River alongside the State of Israel, which would control 78% of the territory. The two states will integrate of their own accord in a common space, share infrastructures and remove separation barriers, making it almost unnecessary to uproot residents from their land.
Other attempts were made last year to develop alternative proposals to the two-state solution. In October, Arad Nir wrote in Al-Monitor that a team of Israeli and Palestinian experts had formulated over the past few years a new peace proposal. Instead of partitioning the land into two separate states, Israel and Palestine would be parallel and overlapping states occupying the same geographic area.
Goldenblatt is a familiar activist on the Israeli left. For the past three years he has served as co-CEO of the Jerusalem-based IPCRI, sharing the position with Riman Barakat, a Palestinian woman from Beit Hanina. The organization was founded in 1988, during the first intifada and before the 1993 Oslo Accord era. It advocated a two-state solution. Given the developments of the past few years, however, IPCRI changed its approach and began looking for new ideas to resolve the conflict. Now, the organization's members are embarking on a long journey across Israeli society, meeting with politicians from all parties. Their goal is to reach the hearts and minds of the Israeli public, which is long exhausted with attempts to reconcile with the Palestinians.
The plan has already been put on the desks of many Israeli politicians, including chairman of the Labor Party Isaac Herzog, chairman of Yisrael Beitenu Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, chair of Meretz Party Zehava Gal-On and former Shin Bet head Yaakov Peri of Yesh Atid. All members of the Israel Defense Forces' General Staff Forum have received it as well. It poses an enormous public challenge, since most of the Israeli public has been more focused over the past few years in improving its socioeconomic situation. On the Palestinian side, it is lying on the desks of the Fatah leadership, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas and other senior officials. “We switched disks. Even the Israeli right could embrace this plan with both hands. Early elections in Israel offer us an excellent opportunity to spread around this idea,” said Goldenblatt in a Dec. 19 interview with Al-Monitor.
The text of the interview follows:
Al-Monitor: You are a left-wing organization, which means that many Israelis suspect you from the outset of being pro-Palestinian. What does your proposal offer that could be considered favorably by the right and the settlers?
Goldenblatt: We have a solution that rejects the uprooting of settlements. That’s already a good start, as far as they are concerned. Our idea also recognizes the right of return. While this confuses people, the cognitive dissonance that results is actually a tool to get people to change their positions. If I could say something optimistic, it would be that most of the responses that I receive from both the left and the right are that the idea is interesting. That’s a pretty good start, as far as I am concerned, for people living in a state that is exhausted by all the efforts to resolve the conflict.
I hope that after the upcoming elections, we will see the rise of a responsible leader who has the vision and drive to end the conflict. And he will discover that the idea of two states in a single space has many supporters on the other side. This is a plan that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could have spearheaded without losing right-wing support. This vision would have allowed Israel to become an integral part of the Middle East. It has the potential to ensure that the region thrives economically, and by advancing regional peace, it will provide Israel with security.
The co-CEOs of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, Dan Goldenblatt and Riman Barakat, 2014. (Photo by: IPCRI)
Al-Monitor: Explain how that will happen.
Goldenblatt: The plan recognizes the connection that the settlers have to the land, so that uprooting the settlement enterprise would not be the right thing to do. Quite a few settlers also realize that there is a structural problem with the State of Israel ruling over 2.5 million Palestinians by force. This means that the situation is unsustainable, and that there will be severe repercussions if it continues. What we offer here is a plan to have our cake and eat it too.
The idea is to have two nation-states living together in the same space, replacing the state of separation that now exists, which includes a separation of populations, barriers, fences and isolation. Some 120,000-150,000 Israelis living east of the separation fence will remain in the Palestinian state. They will be citizens of Israel but permanent residents of Palestine. What we are actually doing is drawing a distinction between citizenship and residency. It’s not an Israeli invention. It happens in Europe all the time. The residents of East Jerusalem will become citizens of the State of Palestine. Since we’re talking about 350,000 people, this would allow Israel to preserve its designation as the nation-state of the Jewish people. We believe that the long-term preservation of Israel as a nation-state is very important to Jewish Israelis.
Al-Monitor: What about the issue of refugees?
Goldenblatt: According to our plan, 100,000-200,000 refugees will be absorbed by the State of Israel and receive permanent resident status there, but their citizenship will be Palestinian. They will not be able to vote for the Knesset. We are not doing anything that would have a deleterious impact on the demographics. The idea of having an absolute majority of Jews voting for the Knesset will be preserved from a strategic perspective. The two-state idea ignores the deep bond that both peoples feel toward the entire expanse of territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. It is important to emphasize that added to this is the fact that 90% of the sites sacred to the Jewish people are situated in Judea and Samaria, including the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem. At the same time, 100% of the Palestinians who were expelled from their homes in the 1948 War of Independence come from communities within the internationally recognized 1967 borders of Israel. The Palestinians consider the event to be a nakba, a disaster, and it would be very hard to convince them to accept an agreement that fails to respect the Palestinian connection to the land in its entirety. Those are the main problems with the Oslo and Geneva accords: They fail to recognize the intense emotional bonds that both sides feel.
Al-Monitor: And Jerusalem?
Goldenblatt: It will remain a single, shared city with a special form of government and serve as the common capital of both states. Jerusalem will remain an open city, with a Palestinian parliament in East Jerusalem and the Knesset in West Jerusalem.
Al-Monitor: How would all this work in terms of security?
Goldenblatt: We now know that through the entire tenure of Mahmoud Abbas, the level of security in Israel was above and beyond Israelis’ expectations. Security collaboration proved itself. Every senior Israeli officer we spoke with during the course of our research, and all the officers we interviewed, too, agreed that security coordination saved lives. It was effective. We assess and even know that the Palestinians don’t want their own army. When the Palestinians attain their independence, the big and powerful Israeli army will defend both states.
Al-Monitor: Is that perhaps somewhat detached from the reality we face? From our leadership?
Goldenblatt: Not when you delve into it. It is true that the current leadership isn’t there, but I think this could be Netanyahu’s plan, his great deed, allowing him to ensure and strengthen the bond between the State of Israel and this space and to remove the threat to a Jewish presence in the space.
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