There is nothing secret about the shape of a final peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The outlines have been known for a long time — too long. Just ask any negotiator or anyone who has been close to all the failed talks of previous years. In a candid moment they will tell you.
As always, what is needed as the latest round of supposedly serious diplomacy restarts for the first time in seven years is:
· Israeli and Palestinian leadership personally willing to make the compromises required for a deal on behalf of the majorities of both peoples that for so long have wanted a two-state solution.
· Leadership politically courageous enough to tell the violent and extremist minorities that have obstructed progress for so long to bug off.
· And an international community led by the United States that is willing to effectively nudge the parties along and put up the billions necessary to make peace with justice a reality in that part of the world.
More about that later.
First, what the deal will look like:
PALESTINIAN NATION. Will consist of the Gaza Strip and West Bank with some sort of transit authority connecting them through, over and/or around Israel. Internal freedom of movement for Palestinians. Big enough to be viable, including destruction or opening of The Wall, which has provided protection for Israel but also has stolen many thousands of Palestinian acres in West Bank. Authority to form own governmental, social, economic, trade and legal institutions. Police to uphold law and order, but no national military force.
PEACE FOR ISRAEL. What it gets in return for ending its 40-year military occupation of West Bank. Occupation likely to be replaced for a while by a robust international peace-keeping force similar to NATO troops that so successfully ended the killing in the Balkans. Israel has rejected in the past, preferring, in its view, to protect itself, but will have to swallow hard and accept one.
RETURN OF PALESTINIAN REFUGEES TO ISRAEL. During the 1948 war between the new Israel and the Arabs, several hundred thousand Palestinians were forced out of their homes in Israel or fled of their own accord. They now number between 3 million and 4 million. They live in camps in the Occupied Territories, in other Arab countries and throughout the world. They have been officially classified as refugees by the United Nations and, as with any refugees, have the right to return home whenever they feel it is safe. Returning, at least as a bargaining chip, is a big deal for the Palestinians. But it is a nonstarter for Israel, a small country already pretty full. Besides, the Israelis would face a horrible dilemma if they let millions of Palestinians come back. If they came back as full citizens allowed to vote, they soon would be a majority because they procreate faster than Israeli Jews. Israel would lose its claim to being the home of the Jews. If, on the other hand, a multitude of Palestinians returned without being allowed to vote, Israel would politically remain the home of the Jews but lose its claim to being the only democracy in the Middle East. A final deal will allow a token number of Palestinians to return; the rest will be compensated financially for their losses and find new homes in the new Palestine or elsewhere.
ISRAELI SETTLEMENTS IN WEST BANK. Depending on who is doing the counting, there are 100 to 200 with a population of 200,000 or more Jews. They range from exquisite suburbs the likes of Edina or North Oaks to Spartan outposts consisting of a handful of FEMA-like trailers with a score of occupants. They are considered illegal by virtually every international standard that says you may militarily conquer another’s territory, as happened in 1967, but you may not colonize it by squatting your own people on it. Israel nevertheless has continued to do so. Even authorizing construction of some 300 new settlement homes after the brotherly love seance at Annapolis. Israel will give up some in a deal but keep others. Most likely to be retained are those such as the almost ancient Etzion Bloc, which existed before the 1947 U.N. partition, and suburban-like communities near Jerusalem. In return, Palestine will get some Israeli land, most likely in the Negev. Settlers forced to move back to Israel will be compensated. Remember land for peace?
JERUSALEM. Both sides want all or part of it as their capital, Israel claiming all of it and the Palestinians wanting the Arab East Side. It will be divided, probably under international jurisdiction. Remember Solomon?
GOLAN HEIGHTS. Syria did not show up at Annapolis for nothing. It wants the Heights back, having lost them to Israel in 1967. But Israel has de-mined much of the land and established resort and wine-making industries. It likes the Heights. After all, holding high ground does have military value, too. In the end, who gets them will not be a deal-breaker.
WATER RIGHTS. Israel now controls up to 80 percent of the West Bank’s sparse supply, according to some calculations. Their irrigated farm plots and settlement swimming pools are hard evidence, while Palestinian farmers and villages come up short. In a deal, Palestinians are likely to come out winners as the occupation ends.
So, what about leadership, mentioned earlier?
Both Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas seem personally more willing to cut a deal than any other pair of previous counterparts. But both are probably politically weaker than any previous pair. Olmert because he has anti-agreement hard-liners in his own government coalition and is under criminal investigation. Abbas because he lost a parliamentary election to the hard-line Hamas party and has troubles in his own Fatah faction.
Likewise, President Bush has his own political troubles at home and abroad and is about to enter the last full year of a lame-duck administration with stalwarts jumping ship as if on the Titanic. All but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the main mover behind this latest Middle East peace effort.
Whether such good will is enough to make good things happen, as pledged, before Bush leaves office is open to serious question.
But it is time to do it. Way past time.
Frank Wright was a Star Tribune journalist for more than 40 years, the last 15 as foreign correspondent. He reported from more than 60 countries, including many assignments in the Middle East. Now retired, he continues to travel abroad and speaks frequently on foreign affairs and the media.
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