Amid the current round of brinkmanship that passes for the Middle East Peace Process and the finger pointing back and forth, most informed observers will tell you that the broad parameters for an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians have been known by decision makers in each camp for many years but the political wherewithal to sell that plan has been lacking in (depending on who you ask), either or both groups. The parameters, which include turning over as close to 100 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians (with exceptions for existing settlement blocs and attendant land swaps in Israel), a final status resolution over Jerusalem and its religious sites, a token right of return, demilitarization and an early warning system in the Jordan Valley are the broad strokes; however, this framework always struck me as unworkable and an effort to take some existing "facts on the ground" (e.g., settlement blocs) and wrap those facts around something that had historical context (i.e., creating "Palestine" in Gaza and the West Bank, the two areas Egypt and Jordan commandeered after the 1948 War, were lost to Israel in 1967, and are the subject of U.N. Resolutions 227 and 338) and was explicable to the general public. In short, the two state solution with Palestine sandwiching Israel between either side of it undermines Israel's defense, encourages further bifurcation of Palestinian leadership between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority and demands comity and cooperation on border issues between the two countries that is unrealistic at best and woefully naive at worst.
Instead, I offer a solution that better secures Israel's borders, addresses Jerusalem, provides Palestine with geographic contiguity, places real demands on all Palestinians to work together and removes the fiction of "right of return" in exchange for reasonable financial compensation. In doing so, my proposal will give each country the opportunity to build relations more organically and, when the day comes, to improve relations in a way that will increase the likelihood of long-term peace between the parties.
Any discussion of achieving peace between the Israelis and Palestinians must start from the premise that neither the partition plan put forward by the U.N. Special Committee on Palestine in 1947 nor the U.N. resolutions passed in 1967 and 1973 holds any meaningful weight in 2011. The 1947 UNSCOP plan did not suggest a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza and an Israeli state in what is today modern-day Israel and there was (and is) no special connection for Palestinians to the West Bank and Gaza aside from the fact that those territories were under the authority of the Jordanians and Egyptians from 1949 to 1967 but were conquered by Israel in the 1967 War.
My plan radically differs from the mainstream idea of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Instead of creating a state on either side of Israel, which pinches the "belt" of Israel and leaves it subject to attack in the future, requires some safe passage corridor between the West Bank and Gaza (also a potential defense issue) and would allow for the continued splitting of authority, Hamas in Gaza and the PA in the West Bank, I propose that Gaza be turned back over to the Israelis in full in exchange for a geographically contiguous Palestinian state in all of the West Bank (including settlement blocs) with its capital in what was once East Jerusalem. I also propose that Jordan permit annexation of a small portion of its western border with this new Palestinian state to afford it a bit more size.
The benefit of two distinct, clearly defined states are several. First, for security purposes, having a single border between the two states makes far more sense than having two borders. Expanding what is defined as Israel into the Gaza Strip provides strategic depth and eliminates the risk of rocket attacks from Gaza that have been launched for the past several years. It also removes the need for Israel to create a transportation corridor through its country to facilitate the movement of Palestinians between Gaza and the West Bank which itself could be a security risk in the future if the countries went to war. Second, it places an affirmative obligation on all Palestinians to work together to create a country of their own. The two-state, West Bank/Gaza proposal permits indefinite separation between Hamas, which runs Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority, which runs the West Bank. If true democratic, political institutions are desired in Palestine (as they should be), these two parties must be under one roof and figure out how to work together. Third, it fully separates the parties. While shifting people between the West Bank and Gaza, when some of that occurred just a few years ago, may seem impractical, the long-term benefit far outweighs whatever short-term dislocation may occur. Indeed, for Israelis, re-settling Gaza may be desirable and for Palestinians, having full control over the West Bank as its country will give its citizens the stability and finality to further develop that land. Finally, ceding East Jerusalem to Palestine and West Jerusalem to the Israelis will permit both to claim that city as its capital.
THE RIGHT OF RETURN
In exchange for receiving the entire West Bank and East Jerusalem as its capital, Palestinians would be required to give up any claim to a right of return and acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state. The parties would negotiate a reasonable settlement that would provide some compensation to be directed into a fund administered by a third party (TBD by the parties) that would pay out claims or provide some form of remuneration only to those who could show they were displaced during the 1948 War but not to their descendants.
As noted, I propose the splitting of Jerusalem into West and East Jerusalem. With regard to the area around the Temple Mount and Western Wall, an international peace-keeping force made up of representatives from an agreed upon group of countries would be entrusted with allowing full access to all areas around the religious sites of each party.
Demilitarization of the newly formed Palestinian state would be required, though the need for any early warning system within Palestine would be obviated by the creation of a clearly defined border between the two parties. In addition to the creation of a compensation fund for those displaced and waiving their right of return, I propose that existing structures created in the West Bank (i.e., homes, schools and other infrastructure) be turned over to the Palestinians in the same manner that existing infrastructure within the Gaza Strip be handed over to Israeli control. This additional concession on the part of Israel would reflect a significant indirect investment in Palestine's economy by offering it the benefit of existing public works projects, residential housing and commercial real estate. As mentioned above, I recommend that Jordan provide some land along its western border to Palestine to provide additional space. In doing so, Jordan would be expressing its commitment to true peace and stability for Palestine. Lastly, such an agreement must receive the support of the Arab League in the form of a commitment by its member nations to enter into peace agreements with Israel based on Israel's signing of a peace agreement with Palestine. These agreements would include, among other things, recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, full normalization of diplomatic relations and agreements to engage in commerce and export/import of Israeli goods into their countries.
For too long, the parties, not to mention the so-called Quartet of world leaders working on this issue, have shown fealty to a peace process and solution that offers an unworkable long-term answer to this problem. The enmity between Israelis and Palestinians simply does not support a two-state solution with a still-hostile Hamas on one side of Israel and the Palestinian Authority on the other. Regardless of whether that solution, mine or any other is implemented, difficult decisions will need to be made by both sides. The core needs of each party, for Israelis, a sense of finality in the peace process - with both Palestine and the broader Arab world - and security to guard against the risk of future conflict, are paramount; for Palestinians, the desire for a homeland sufficient for its people, a capital in Jerusalem and acknowledgment of the suffering they have experienced, must be met.
While legitimate complaint with some of the particulars of my proposal are understandable, for example, Israelis would likely find it unpalatable to either abandon long-held settlements in the West Bank or turn over a portion of Jerusalem to Palestine, and Palestinians may wish to cling to the "right of return" or maintain the Gaza Strip as its own, my idea offers a path forward that puts each side to its rhetoric of being interested in peace in action and deed, not just in word. Moreover, it avoids the tortured boundary creation, neighborhood delineation and safe corridor creation that will inevitably bog down any final status negotiation involving both the West Bank and Gaza comprising Palestine. Finally, as a far more advanced society and financially competitive democracy, Israel is in a position to be both generous in its settlement and capable of turning its economic engine and creativity toward growing its country for generations to come. For Palestinians, a commitment to democracy and the rule of law will unquestionably bring forward the assistance and support of the world community in building their new state.
Were the terms I suggest agreed to, they would be reduced to a binding and final peace treaty between the parties. Further support in the form of approval by the Arab League of this agreement as a launching point for its member nations entering into formal peace agreements with Israel would achieve, after more than 60 years of fighting, the elusive peace we all desire.