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Some Bold Proposals For Middle East Peace

By Rabbi Michael Lerner

22 December, 2010

Tikkun Magazine editor Rabbi Lerner wrote this article in early September for the Nov/Dec issue of Tikkun

Until the populations of Israel and Palestine really want peace, the peace negotiations will be nothing but a slightly sad sideshow, unless the Obama administration, momentarily freed from its own electoral concerns, is prepared to put forward a substantive peace plan of its own.

It used to be that the elites in both societies would tell you that once they worked out a deal, their relatively excitable populations would embrace it. Perhaps. But what has become clear in recent years is that neither side has sufficient stability based on popular support to actually make the compromises necessary to negotiate a peace agreement with terms that could actually work.

So, instead of playing to each side's elites, those who seek peace must now launch a broad educational campaign to reach ordinary citizens (if necessary, over the heads of those elites) with a message that is convincing -- a message that says, here are the terms of a fair peace agreement and here is why we believe that if each side makes the necessary compromises, it will work to meet your best interests.

Some say this is a hard case to make. They point out that Israelis seem to be doing quite well at the moment from a material standpoint and have little interest in what goes on in the West Bank and Gaza. They argue this situation is unlikely to change so long as the restraint of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, the partial effectiveness of intrusive searches at checkpoints and the careful patrolling of the Israeli-constructed Wall, impressive intelligence based on willing (and less than willing) collaborators, and newer protection technologies collectively manage to minimize the number of terrorist attacks in Israel. We are glad for the reduction of terror, but not for the resulting complacency and willingness of many Israelis to live with the torture and oppression that their army inflicts on the subjugated Palestinian populations of the West Bank and the open-air prison that is Gaza.

The United States and other countries committed to a peaceful solution should present a detailed plan for what a final agreement must encompass to the people of the Middle East and the United States. Such a plan must on the one hand take into account the tremendous economic, political, and military inequality between the two parties, as well as recognize the historical injustice done to the Palestinian people. On the other hand, it must speak to the great pain that both parties have suffered. It is this pain from the past that leads them each to interpret everything through a framework based on memories of being betrayed, oppressed, and denied their fundamental humanity. Lasting peace will require steps toward healing that pain and trauma, so that each party can approach the other with a spirit of generosity and openheartedness, rather than needing to insist that since their pain has "really been greater than the pain of the other side," their needs (for justice, security, and respect) trump the needs of the other side.

We who live outside Israel/Palestine can play a role, partly by challenging the discourse of "blaming the other" that gets strengthened by the more extreme partisans in both camps, but more importantly by insisting that our political leaders present to both sides a vision of a future that will appeal to the people of the region and give them reason to push their leaders to make the necessary compromises. Obviously, the people of the region will make the final decisions, but having a proposal that seems comprehensive and fair coming from the greatest economic, military, and political powers of the world will strengthen the part of each Israeli and Palestinian who wants to believe in the possibility of a conclusion to this struggle based on peace, justice, and recognition of the dignity and fundamental humanity of both sides.

Keeping that in mind, yet wanting to propose something that our spiritually and psychologically tone-deaf politicians might at least understand, I offer the following advice for what a peace plan proposed to both sides by the United States could involve. Use it also when assessing future negotiations, because proposals that do not address the issues below are unlikely to meet the approval of even the most fair-minded and balanced people on both sides of this conflict.

1. A peace treaty that recognizes the State of Israel and the State of Palestine and defines Palestine's borders to include almost all of pre-1967 West Bank and Gaza, with small exchanges of land mutually agreed upon and roughly equivalent in value and historic and/or military significance to each side. The peace plan must also entail a corresponding treaty between Israel and all Arab states -- approved with full diplomatic and economic cooperation among these parties -- along borderlines that existed in the pre-1967 period. And it should include a twenty-to-thirty-year plan for moving toward a Middle Eastern common market and the eventual establishment of a political union along the lines of the European Union.

2. Jerusalem will be the capital of both Israel and Palestine and will be governed by an elected council in West Jerusalem and a separate elected council in East Jerusalem. The Old City will become an international city whose sovereignty will be implemented by an international council that guarantees equal access to all holy sites -- a council whose taxes will be shared equally by the city councils of East and West Jerusalem.
3. Immediate and unconditional freedom will be accorded all prisoners in Israel and Palestine whose arrests have been connected in some way with the Occupation and resistance to the Occupation.

4. An international force to separate and protect each side from the extremists of the other side who will inevitably seek to disrupt the peace agreement. And the creation of a joint peace police -- composed of an equal number of Palestinians and Israelis, at both personnel and command levels -- that will work with the international force to combat violence and to implement point number six below.

5. Reparations for Palestinian refugees and their descendents at a sufficient level to bring Palestinians within a ten-year period to an economic well-being equivalent to that enjoyed by those with a median Israeli-level income. The same level of reparations must also be made available to all Jews who fled Arab lands between 1948 and 1977. An international fund should be set up immediately to hold in escrow the monies needed to ensure that these reparations are in place once the peace plan is agreed upon.

6. Creation of a truth and reconciliation process modeled on the South African version but shaped to the specificity of these two cultures. Plus: an international peace committee appointed by representatives of the three major religious communities of the area to develop and implement teaching of a. nonviolence and non-violent communication, b. empathy and forgiveness, and c. a sympathetic point of view of the history of the "other side" mandated in every grade from sixth grade through high school. The committee should moreover ensure the elimination of all teaching of hatred against the other side or teaching against the implementation of this treaty in any public, private, or religious educational institutions, media, or public meetings. Such teachings would become an automatic crime punishable in an international court set up for this purpose.

7. An agreement from Palestine to allow all Jews living in the West Bank to remain there as law-abiding citizens of the new Palestinian state as long as they give up their Israeli citizenship and abide by decisions of the Palestinian courts. A fund should be created to help West Bank settlers move back to Israel if they wish to remain Israeli citizens and to help Palestinians move to Palestine if they wish to be citizens of the new Palestinian state. In exchange for Palestine agreeing to allow Israelis to stay in the West Bank as citizens of the Palestinian state, Israel must agree to let 20,000 Palestinian refugees return each year for the next thirty years to the pre-1967 borders of Israel and provide them with housing. (This number -- 20,000 -- is small enough to not change the demographic balance, yet large enough to show that Israel cares about Palestinian refugees and recognizes that they have been wronged.) Each state must acknowledge the right of the other to give preferential treatment in immigration to members of its leading ethnic group (Jews in Israel, Palestinians in Palestine).

8. Agreement by the leaders of all relevant parties to talk in a language of peace and openhearted reconciliation, and to reject the notion that the other side cannot be trusted. The agreement has the greatest likelihood of working if it is embraced in full and pushed for enthusiastically by the leaders of all relevant parties, as well as endorsed by a majority vote of the populations of each country that wishes to be a party to this agreement.

Our task in Tikkun and in the Network of Spiritual Progressives is to devise strategies to get our own Western countries to publicly articulate this vision, and to get President Obama to use his full energies and skills to convince the American public, the Israeli public, and the Palestinian public that this agreement and nothing less will provide greater security and well-being to the people of the United States, Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East more broadly.

All the other stuff happening in the "negotiations" should be viewed as political theater. At the moment the main issue is who is going to be blamed for getting the process to fail, with people on each side maneuvering to prevent the blame from falling on themselves. But the plan we present seeks a very different spirit -- a spirit of hopefulness that we now have a concrete plan that would work if implemented and should be adopted by anyone serious about lasting peace. All the rest is commentary, fluff, and political self-interest and has little to do with creating peace.

In the final analysis, we at Tikkun believe that peace can only come through a fundamental transformation of consciousness, so that the people on each side begin to abandon the worldview that teaches that their own security depends on dominating the other side, construed as the "evil other." Only an open-hearted reconciliation based on faith that the other side will be able to see its former enemies as real human beings sharing similar needs for peace, security, dignity, and recognition as created in the image of God will produce lasting peace. The implementation of these formal proposals would not necessarily be sufficient to create that change of heart. Yet the step of envisioning this process may itself contribute to a thawing of the icy rejection of "the other" -- a thawing that is the precondition for developing the consciousness that is needed. For that reason, articulating this vision may itself be a step toward its achievement.

[If you wish to help get these ideas more broadly discussed, please forward them to everyone on your email lists, please join Tikkun's education and outreach arm the international, interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives www.spiritualprogressives.org (and give gift memberships to your friends), please ask journalists and editors of magazines and t.v. shows to include this perspective, and please invite your friends and members of you political, religious, civic and/or professional organizations to come to your home for an evening or weekend afternoon to discuss this article!!!]

Copyright 2010 Tikkun Magazine