A Multi-Faceted Problem

Aside from the acts of violence committed by both sides and the political struggles surrounding refugees and international law, there are multiple other problems within the Israel and Palestine conflict as well. Geography brings in a host of other issues to the table. For example, water is a precious commodity in the dry Middle East. To date, Israel has been receiving water from two large underground aquifers; the sources of its water are from shared groundwater basins below both West Bank and Israel, leading to some controversy about the use of this water and how it should be distributed between Israelis and Palestinians. Israel consumes most of the water but it also supplies to the West Bank and contributes to 77% of its water supply. The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement has laid out a water solution which continues to be honored by both parties but which some Palestinians argue is only a temporary solution and that the problem must still be resolved. Currently, Palestine has established the legality of Israeli water production in the West Bank and Israel has agreed to supplement Palestinian production and allow Palestinians to drill in the Eastern aquifer. The agreement also allows Palestine to explore and drill for natural gas, fuel and petroleum within its territory. Any modifications to this agreement and further progress in Israeli and Palestinian water operations will require much financing. Planning and organization by government agencies on both sides will also be needed. It should also be noted that water is not the only utility that has contributed to the conflict. There has also been controversy surrounding Israel’s import-export ban that it imposed on Gaza in 2007 which has resulted in unemployment, poverty and a cut in the flow of fuel and electricity to Gaza in what Jeremy Hobbs, director of Oxfam International, called an “inhuman and illegal siege.”

Another geographical problem is cartographical and consequently, economical and political: the exact borders of Israel and Palestine in the case of a two-state solution have not yet been completely agreed upon. Economically, this has led to dispute over who controls the border crossings, especially between Palestine and Jordan and Egypt. Israel has also claimed that it has the right to set import and export controls because the Israeli and Palestinian territories are a single economic space (similarly, they also insist on complete control of the airspace above both territories). In addition, there has been debate about how much of the West Bank and Gaza Strip belongs to the Palestinians. Israel is willing to give up the Arab-populated areas of the West Bank and the entire Gaza Strip but Palestine claims it is entitled to all of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Israel is unwilling to cede all the land because of security concerns and the presence of major Jewish settlements in the West Bank; as a result, Israel refers to these areas as “disputed territories.” This is one of the most important issues of the conflict and the one Israel views as the top priority in negotiations.

If a two-state solution is reached, there is great concern over the how Palestine will be governed. The current government is viewed as corrupt by many, including some Palestinians who have encouraged Palestine to establish a strong, fair government and make reforms as needed. A repeat of Arafat’s PA, which according to the president of the Israel Center for Social Economic Progress, was considered a typical “repressive Arab regime,” is unacceptable for most, as Arafat’s security services and soldiers engaged in summary executions, kidnapping, rape and extortion that almost destroyed the Palestinian economy and oppressed the entire country. There are also concerns about the government’s connection with terrorist activity and radical groups. Hamas now dominates the Gaza Strip and has risen in popularity as Palestinians become increasingly disillusioned about the stalled peace process and/or even angrier and more resentful towards Israel. In fact, according to Weekly Standard’s Daniel Doron, the violent struggle against Israel has become an avenue for lower-class Palestinian youths to occupy themselves and achieve “rapid upward mobility through accomplishments in terrorist exploits.”

The possibility of great Palestinian violence towards Israelis has also prompted opposition to the creation of a Palestinian army. Israel fears that the creation and training of such a force would pose a great threat to its safety and only supports the creation of a special police force to conduct police operations and if needed, limited-scale warfare. Palestine counters that the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) poses the same sort of threat against Palestinians, making the creation of a similar but primarily defensive Palestinian force, necessary.

Lastly, social and religious conflicts are perhaps the most incendiary issues within the entire debate. The biggest concern revolves around mutual recognition. Some Israelis do not support the creation of a Palestinian state and some Palestinians do not recognize Israel’s right to exist. In fact, Hamas has stated that Palestine should obliterate Israel and control the entire area, not just West Bank and Gaza. Without formal recognition, Israel feels threatened by a Palestine which could launch military attacks against the Jewish state or become a demographic threat through a dramatic increase in the Arab Israeli population. This population increase would give Arabs the majority within Israel itself, causing “the state of Israel [to] collapse, its Jewish character [to] disappear and its population [to] dwindle into obscurity.” Chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, however, has made it clear that Palestinians are not against peaceful negotiations. In fact, both sides considering negotiations and cooperating in the peace process is a sign that recognition may come at least by the formal splitting of the two states and the establishment of Palestine. While the conflict is multi-faceted and deeply complicated, it may not be unsolvable.

The Search for a Multi-Faceted Solution

As previously mentioned, there are three primary categories of solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: one-state, two-state and total dominance of one group. The peace process has been focused on finding a workable two-state solution and numerous plans and outlines for solving the conflict have been drafted including the aforementioned Oslo Accords. There has also been a “performance-based road map” designed by the Middle East Quartet (U.S., European Union, United Nations and Russia) that outlines a step-by-step process with multiple phases within a set timeline that would help both parties work together to establish two states and peacefully coexist. Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah outlined his own ideas in The Arab Peace Initiative, which called for both Israel and Palestine to make changes within their own organizations to facilitate peace; the plan asked more of the Israelis and Israel has not been enthusiastic about this plan. To date, none of these ideas have been completely successful due to lack of support from one or both sides, and because of no set consequences for either side violating any set rules, failing to complete an objective or other similarly hampering circumstances. If peace talks are successfully resumed, another two-state solution may need to be drafted.

Alternative solutions have also been discussed by scholars, pundits and other thinkers, although they have not been brought into any formal, political discussions or negotiations. For example, some think a one-state solution may be possible. Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al-Quds University, does not agree. Nusseibeh says that many Palestinians have become disillusioned and lost hope in having a possible two-state solution and are now rejuvenating the idea of a binational, secular and democratic state for both Jews and Arabs. Nusseibeh says, however, that these one-state advocates do not truly believe that a one-state solution would be best and would still prefer a two-state solution. Two Palestinian groups endorse this idea—one that is simply discussing the one-state solution to “knock some sense into the heads of Israeli decision-makers” and one that seriously wants a one-state solution but only so they can eventually become a demographic majority and perhaps assume control of the entire region. Nusseibeh believes that such a solution would require much “human suffering,” that Israel will only accept a two-state deal and that “the one state likely to emerge from a cataclysmic conflict would likely to be anything but ideal.”

Still, others believe that careful structuring could create a successful Jewish-Arab state. The Free Muslims Coalition (FMC) endorses a Two State-One Nation confederacy where both states are part of one nation but have more sovereignty than states in a federacy would. The FMC explains that both groups have such strong emotional, religious, political, economical and social ties to the entire region that splitting into two nations is not only difficult, but impractical considering both sides’ attachments. It also claims that the main obstacles to a one-state solution are Palestinians resentful because they are currently being denied citizenship, political rights or civilian rule and Israelis fearing the demographic threat posed by the Palestinian birth rate. The FMC’s solution takes these details into account and goes to great lengths to keep Israel and Palestine well-balanced. It suggests a 50% Israeli, 50% Palestinian national parliament which would prevent population growth or decline from impacting either group’s political power. It also suggests that this parliament elect a president or prime minister; since no one can win without support from both groups, no extremist would ever be able to assume power. The FMC insists, however, that the national government have limited powers but that each state should have the same currency, no tariffs and complete free trade so they can best work together. With Israeli skilled workers, Arab capital, religious tourism and an ideal geographical location between Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the FMC says Israel-Palestine could someday be an economic force to be reckoned with.

Jonathan Kuttab, a Palestinian attorney and human rights activist, has suggested a similar one-state solution. He recommends that Israel immediately should put laws in place to protect minorities since Jews are likely to eventually become one in their own homeland. He also suggests a bicameral legislature with a “lower house…elected by proportional representation [and an] upper house [with] a composition that safeguards both peoples equally, regardless of their numbers in population,” much like the FMC’s suggested parliament. Kuttab’s plan also includes a rotating presidency, much like in Lebanon, which would “[designate] certain positions for each minority,” a constitution that can only be amended or altered by both houses by a large majority, having both Hebrew and Arabic as official languages and officially recognizing/observing all Jewish, Muslim and Christian holidays.

Although one-state advocates have not won mainstream support, Dissent Magazine’s Danny Rubinstein notes that “although everyone wants a two-state solution, the actual situation is pushing everyone toward a one-state solution. This is a solution that no one wants, but that’s what is happening.” He goes on to point out how many Palestinians are simply losing their nationalist fervor and many are applying for Israeli citizenship or temporary residency to make their lives easier, especially since in many areas like the West Bank and Jerusalem, Jews and Arabs live side by side each day. The lack of progress in the past 15 years of talks have also taken their toll and as Rubinstein said, “the new Palestinian generation in the West Bank (less so in Gaza), who knew Israel so well, would prefer to fight for equal rights in a single binational state rather than continue a struggle that seems almost hopeless—to establish an independent state.”

Indeed, Palestine and Israel may be fighting to split apart but they will always be linked in many ways—socially, religiously and economically. The economic potential of the region is key to a solution—or rather, method of peace facilitation—proposed by Daniel Doron, the president of the Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress. In the Weekly Standard, Doron asked readers to remember how political stalemate between 1967 and 1993 allowed Palestine’s quality of life and economy to improve greatly. Its gross national product (GNP) more than quadrupuled, infant mortality fell, institutes of higher learning were established and the birth rate soared. In the relative peace and security, both Palestine and Israel were able to benefit from tourism. Throughout the history of Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Doron claims, campaigns to go to war against Israel were resisted by a “silent majority” that would rather stop violence against Israel so they could continue working in and trading with Israel to provide for their families. In fact, during the First Intifada (uprising) in the late 1980s, Palestinian informal markets were opened on Arab-Israeli borders to trade with Israelis who could not shop in Israel on the Sabbath; these markets flourished.

Doron suggests that concentrating on economic objectives could solve many of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s issues. For example, if Israel and Palestine work together to help displace refugees of the 1948 war find new homes or return to their old ones, a massive building program could be started that would provide jobs and income for many Palestinians. He also suggests that Arabs and Israelis recognize each other’s economic strengths and produce products that complement each other—for example, he says Israelis unable to compete with Arab farmers growing vegetables have instead begun to produce upscale products like exotic fruits, specialty cheeses and wines. He also encourages joint ventures, the repeal of high taxes and the creation of Palestinian-Israeli industrial parks that could “alleviate the security and logistical problems involved in busing tens of thousands of Arab workers to Israel daily.” With a flourishing economy promoting interdependence between the two, Doron believes finding any sort of solution will become easier: “New interests and benefits created by economic integration helped [European] people transcend the old barriers and made some of them irrelevant. This can happen in the Middle East.”

Ultimately, both traditional, highly endorsed, mainstream solutions and alternative solutions will not help either side if negotiations of some sort do not take place. With so many complicated issues at stake that need to be addressed, both sides need to reenter peace talks and find a workable solution to this conflict as soon as possible. After all, when peaceful negotiations do not work, many become tempted to turn to violent solutions, giving more meaning to Jonathan Kuttab’s plea to both Israelis and Palestinians: “As the options keep narrowing for all participants, we need to start thinking of how we can live together, rather than insist on dying apart.”