For more than 40 years I worked to advance the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on two states for two peoples. From 1989-2011, I convened and facilitated more than 2,000 working groups of Israeli and Palestinian professionals on every issue in the conflict, including security, borders, sovereignty and law, Jerusalem, refugees, economics, water and environment.
Over the past week, I have conducted 76 thirty-minute Zoom consultations with Israelis, Palestinians and others, representing a broad range of opinions, including secular Jews, religious Jews, Israeli settlers, Palestinians from the West Bank, Gaza, east Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees living abroad, including in Jordan, and Jews abroad. The discussions were held under the general title “Post Oslo – Post two-states solution.” I am trying to identify broad principles of agreement in a very inclusive manner for the bases of what could point us toward a new vision of how we can all live together on this land called by some Eretz Yisrael and by others Palestine.
I am not searching for a model. At this point it doesn’t really matter if we imagine one state, two states, five states or 10. We are not yet working on the details of a confederation or a federation or any other detailed solution.
The questions I am addressing relate to whether a broad and very diverse group of Israelis and Palestinians and others can even sit together to search for that new vision. I will consult with, I imagine, at least 50 more interested people. I have not yet consulted with enough haredim or with enough Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. But I will.
THESE ARE some of my early findings:
The need to be inclusive and diverse is essential. There were segments of the populations on both sides that were not included or not included enough in the Oslo peace process. No one should be left outside of the room. There is broad agreement on all sides that we, all together, Israelis and Palestinians, need to lead this process and direct it – not the Americans, the Europeans or any other foreigners. There is complete consensus that we need to relate to all of the land between the river and the sea and not only part of it. There is broad agreement that we need to relate to all of the people who live on the land between the river and the sea. There is complete agreement that the vision must be based on freedom, and that one side cannot rule over the other.
Most of those I spoke to also believe that we need to include in our thinking the Jews and Palestinians who live outside of the land but who have deep connections to the land between the river and the sea. Almost everyone believes that if we are talking about solutions, regardless of how long it takes to reach them, the basic principle of equality between all people must be at the foundations of the vision. This includes equal opportunities, equal distribution of resources, and equal treatment by the government. Civil and human rights, or freedoms, as many described them, must be fundamental and universal. Discrimination on the basis of religion, nationality, ethnicity, gender, or color cannot enable a solution that will also provide security.
Everyone I spoke to believes that personal and national security is a key to moving forward. All of the Palestinians spoke about the need for security for all, including for Israelis. Most of the Israelis also recognized the need for Palestinians to also feel secure. Every Palestinian spoke about freedom of movement. Every Israeli spoke about the freedom to live anywhere they want to in the Land of Israel; so did the Palestinians. Everyone I spoke to acknowledged the deep need of both sides to have the legitimate right to live in what they call “the homeland.”
Not everyone on both sides was outrightly willing to acknowledge the legitimate rights of the other to claim a homeland between the river and the sea.
Everyone did, though, recognize that facts on the ground had to be accepted, meaning that Jews and Palestinians are not going anywhere and we need to deal with that reality. Reality is stronger than ideology, as one of the Palestinians stated. Everyone talked about preserving identity and the importance that everyone places on the needs to determine our particular culture, religion and religious rights and practices, our education and curricula, and our particular connection to the land to which we give our identity and take our identity.
Within these issues we spoke about the possibility of preserving communities based on identity groups.
Almost all people I spoke with, from Right to Left, religious to secular, Israelis and Palestinians, did not oppose the idea of enabling people to have the free choice to live anywhere and that communities should not be closed off, legally segregated to single identity groups. Nevertheless, some people stated that some communities would remain basically single identity by the nature of the population that lives there and the style of life that exists there. In particular noteworthy was the sentence that was said repeatedly that non-Jews and secular Jews would probably not choose to live in Mea She’arim in Jerusalem or in Bnei Brak, but they should have the right to live there if they want.
I asked Palestinians, who I know refuse to meet Israeli settlers, whether they would agree to sit around a table with settlers who agreed to the above principles, and they said yes. I asked them whether the supporters of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions and anti-normalization would join in the discussions, under these principles, and they said yes. I am about to interview several Hamas members and leaders, and I expect them to agree as well. So far, the only strong voice I heard against these principles was one Jewish woman from Hebron who has directly suffered from Palestinian terrorism several times in her lifetime.
I DON’T know where these discussions will lead. But I do know that many people are searching for a new vision, me as well. I know that the process ahead is long and difficult, and unfortunately we will probably suffer more violence and more wars, but we must persist to find the way out – the way that our leaders are not taking.
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and its neighbors. His latest book, In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine, was published by Vanderbilt University Press.