Two states, two routes to peace
DESPITE THE wishes of those who wish to see an end to the IsraeliPalestinian conflict, the negotiations in their current form are well and truly dead. While support for the two-state solution still exists, the populations are incredulous that this will happen within the next decade. While the majority can just about agree on what the light looks like at the end of the tunnel, there is no tunnel for them to travel through. In such circumstances, political negotiations in a vacuum will not be enough to bring peace.
The biggest block to any progress towards peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians is a systemic lack of trust. The Palestinians are looking for tangible land and they get good intentions instead; the Israelis are seeking an intangible concept of peace, and they do not get the commitment that they want from the Palestinians.
This trust deficit will not be met by just getting to know more people on the other side. Rather, each side needs unilaterally to take steps that are in its own self-interest and further the chances of a two-state solution.
Israel needs to start construction in the north and south of the country. It needs to build schools in empty villages into which to transplant settler communities. Every major political party in Israel accepts that at least 30,000 people are going to have to move, and the settler community fears that it will have nowhere to go, as happened to those from Gush Katif after the 2005 disengagement.
With a housing shortage, simply giving cash to settlers will upset the economic balance and further strain the housing market. Instead, these empty communities need to be filled. They also need to be connected to Israel’s train system to allow people to continue to commute to the economic centres.
By doing this, the Israelis would demonstrate a commitment to life after the occupation. They would show that they care about the people that they are exporting. They would lengthen Israel’s strategic corridor away from it being merely the coastal region, by linking the rail network and allowing more citizens to live elsewhere.
They could rebalance the demographic worries in the north and south without any talk of transfer of Arab citizenship. And, finally, they could afford this through the use of the Tamers gas field off the coast of Haifa as a major infrastructural investment.
On the other side, building the Palestinian state needs to continue and it needs to happen alongside political momentum that will be generated by developing towns within Green Line Israel. In this way, Palestinians, can focus on building their state, with the knowledge that the land they claim will be under their control in future. “Build Palestine” will be the national call.
Building state institutions needs to be done despite the occupation, and the occupation can be non-violently resisted while building the state. One does not preclude the other.
The UN Relief and Works Agency will one day leave. Institutions need to be set up to help rehouse, educate and train thousands of Palestinians. Institutions of this magnitude require planning and development before implementation.
Both Israelis and Palestinians can implement these steps independently of each other. But the hope is that they could be carried out simultaneously and go some way to fill that trust deficit. This is a version of Joel Braunold’s winning entry for the Avi Schaefer Peace Innovation Competition at Harvard. The prompt was: “With unlimited resources how would you bridge the gap between Israeli and Palestinian societies?”