A Radical Plan for Mideast Peace;
If Palestinians Really Want a State, They Should Declare One
The Washington Post, May 22, 1988
The uprising in the occupied territories is the most important event in the last 20 years of Palestinian history. The most fundamental meaning of the uprising lies in the transformation it is bringing to virtually the entire Palestinian population of the territories. For the first time, they have fully entered history as agents of their own destiny.
Yet for all that, it is not obvious that the uprising has moved the Palestinian people any closer to attaining an independent state. It appears that Prime Minister Shamir has successfully blocked American efforts to initiate an international conference, and public opinion polls suggest that, if anything, the Israeli public has moved a bit to the right.
Inside Israel there are those who say that if no settlement is reached soon, there will be another war with the Arab countries, yet there are no Israeli leaders acting decisively for the self-interest of their own country. Inside the United States, the American Jewish community is unable to find a strong moral voice, and within the Palestinian world there seems to be a shortage of ideas as to how to move from the present situation to statehood.
It is time to rethink some of the basic premises. Up to now, Palestinians have placed tremendous import on an international conference, negotiations and PLO representation at such negotiations. Not much is heard about what happens if such negotiations begin and then deadlock. Perhaps it is believed that the price of failure would be so great that once started, it would necessitate a comprehensive solution. Yet this is wishful thinking. It is perfectly likely that negotiations will simply be unable to generate a solution acceptable to both Israelis and Palestinians, and it is also likely that the super-powers will lack the will to impose a solution.
If we probe a bit deeper, we see that the present strategy for attaining an independent Palestinian state embodies a model which needs to be challenged. That model is that statehood emerges from negotiations and agreements. In short, it assumes that no Palestinian state can come into existence unless there is prior Israeli approval.
Yet consider how Israel itself came into existence. Following the United Nations Partition Resolution of 1947, the Israelis simply declared the existence of the State of Israel. Indeed, they made that declaration contrary to the urging of the U.S. Department of State. They did not get Arab or Palestinian advance approval. They did not negotiate with the Palestinians. They proceeded unilaterally and gradually secured international recognition, admission to the United Nations and effective control of territory.
There are important analogies and disanalogies here for the Palestinians. Today’s military and political realities totally preclude achieving statehood through force of arms. But on the other hand, today’s political, moral, economic and psychological realities offer new alternatives within the same basic concept: The Palestinians do not need advance Israeli approval to bring a state into existence, and there is no reason why they should cede such power to Israel. Indeed, to do so is inconsistent with the underlying spirit of the uprising.
An alternative strategy is possible. One which will overnight transform the political agenda, and place the two-state solution in center stage as the only peace option. Here is how the Palestinians might proceed:
- The PLO issues a declaration of independence and statehood, announcing the existence of the State of Palestine, in the West Bank and Gaza. Simultaneously the declaration of independence and statehood is announced throughout the occupied territories.
- The PLO proclaims, as its final act, its transformation into the provisional government of the State of Palestine. The Palestine National Council (PNC) is transformed into the legislative body of the provisional government. All government positions are declared provisional pending the possibility of free election by the Palestinian people.
- The new government issues Law 1 which proclaims: the State of Palestine declares itself at peace with the State of Israel; the State of Palestine will not maintain an army.
- The new government offers Israel the exchange of ambassadors and mutual recognition.
- Law 2 is issued, forbidding all acts of terrorism and announcing penalties for any violations.
- A worldwide diplomatic offensive is declared seeking recognition of the new state and its admission to the United Nations.
- The provisional government calls for direct negotiations to set boundaries with Israel and to establish a permanent Israel-Palestine peace treaty.
Israeli withdrawal becomes the central demand, internationally and within the territories. All the energy presently expended on peripheral matters is now concentrated on this single demand. Whereas previously Israel was occupying a territory, it is now occupying a foreign country which has declared that it is at peace. To promote withdrawal and to eliminate any excuses for a continued military presence, the provisional government announces a ban on all lethally violent attacks on Israeli soldiers. No violence is allowed against settlers except in clear self-defense. At the same time, the Palestinian people are called to enter into only symbolic activity directed against Israeli soldiers in the territories. Stone-throwing is permitted, but only insofar as it is undertaken symbolically, (i.e., with no lethal intent). Use of gasoline bombs is forbidden. If diplomatic efforts fail to secure either negotiations or withdrawal, an intensified campaign of international economic pressure is undertaken.
The real focus of energies will be on building the inner sinews of national life and statehood by the following measures: secret local elections; economic self-reliance; re-opened schools or classes held in secret; social services expended on a village level; a national anthem emphasizing peace.
With the assistance of the Arab states the provisional government issues a new Palestinian currency. To ensure its use and value even during the period of occupation, its conversion into dollars is guaranteed. Within the territories a small gold coin is introduced. The inherent value of the coin will ensure that it is taken seriously even by Israelis. Every time a transaction is paid using this coin, Palestinian statehood will be affirmed.
The new government, to symbolize the end to statelessness, promptly issues passports. These are made available to any Palestinian in the world who desires one. An announcement is made that the State of Palestine will allow dual citizenship. Palestinians who are citizens of other states are encouraged to apply for and travel on Palestinian passports.
The provisional government and the new constitution proclaim that Palestine shall be a democracy with an independent judiciary and a bill of rights to protect individual liberties. The United Nations is asked to supervise the first possible national elections.
The great merit of this approach is that it avoids the two-state solution, which continues to be viewed as a “non-starter” in Israel and the United States. The solution will simply start itself. In doing so, it will follow the spirit of the uprising: that the Palestinian people on the ground will decide their own destiny.
Let me add a final personal note: If it seems odd that a Jew should offer his thoughts on how Palestinians can be successful in their struggle for statehood, I should state my conviction that the struggle for an independent Palestinian state is also the struggle for a humane and safe Israel, and that there can be no Judaism without a commitment to justice.