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A Good Divorce

New, tough plan for Middle East peace urges fair separation of intimate enemies

November 09, 2003|Amos Oz | Israeli novelist Amos Oz's most recent book is "The Same Sea."

ARAD, Israel — Later this month in Geneva, a document will be formally presented outlining a plan for peaceful coexistence of Palestinians and Israelis in separate, adjoining states. The politicians are already sniping.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak called the proposal "a publicity gimmick." Current Prime Minister Ariel Sharon demanded to know "by what right are left-wing people proposing moves that Israel can never do nor will ever do?"

There is no point at all to the hysteria that the Geneva initiative's opponents are displaying. The initiative's authors know very well that Sharon and his Cabinet are the legal government of Israel. They know that their plan, the fruit of two years of negotiations conducted in strict secrecy between Israeli and Palestinian citizens meeting regularly, is no more than an exercise. But at a time when the leadership on both sides was unwilling or unable to move toward constructive dialogue, an exercise seemed better than nothing.

Our goal was to present the Israeli and Palestinian peoples with a window through which they can view a different landscape, one without car bombs and suicide bombers and occupation, without oppression and expropriation, without endless war and hatred. The Geneva initiative outlines a cautious solution that addresses each of the thorny problems that have stalled past efforts.

For reasons I don't understand, this endeavor, despite worldwide press, had received little attention in the U.S. until Friday, when Secretary of State Colin Powell cited our work as "important in helping sustain an atmosphere of hope." It's true our work wasn't officially sanctioned, but it does represent the first time in the conflict that high-profile members of the civic societies of Israel and the Palestinian territories have agreed on a comprehensive settlement.

Its fundamental principle is this: Israelis end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and Palestinians end their war against Israel. We Israelis give up our dream of Greater Israel and they give up theirs of Greater Palestine. We surrender sovereignty in parts of the land of Israel where our hearts lie, and they do the same. The problem of the 1948 Palestinian refugees, which is really the heart of our national security predicament, is resolved comprehensively, completely, and absolutely outside the borders of the state of Israel. If this initiative is put into action, not a single Palestinian refugee camp, afflicted with despair, neglect, hatred and fanaticism, will remain in the Middle East. In our document, the Palestinian side accepts contractually, finally, and irrevocably that it does not have and will never have any future claims against Israel.

I went to the Israeli-Palestinian conference in Jordan last month for the document's finalizing in a skeptical frame of mind. I estimated that, as so often in the past, we might succeed in drafting a joint declaration of principles about the importance of peace. Both sides would acknowledge a need to halt terror, to end the occupation and oppression, to mutually recognize each other's rights and to live as neighbors in two states for two peoples. Israelis and Palestinians have done all that many times before, at all kinds of conferences and gatherings punctuated with handshakes and public statements. Many times in the last 10 years, our leaders have brought us within striking distance of peace, only to slide again into violence and despair.

The same old points of dispute would, I feared, trip us up again: the right of Palestinians to return and claim the property they lost in 1948 versus some other solution to the refugee problem. A return to the 1967 borders versus a logical map that takes the present into account. Explicit recognition of the national rights of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples to live each in their own country versus some equivocating platitude about "peaceful coexistence." Explicit Palestinian assent to finally and absolutely renounce any additional future claims versus "black holes" that would permit an eventual renewal of conflict and violence.

In previous agreements, including the 1993 Oslo Accords, the two sides were very careful not to get caught in the "radioactive core" of the conflict. Refugees, the status of Jerusalem, end of the conflict, permanent borders -- all these minefields were marked off by white ribbons and their resolution put off to a better future. The Camp David conference collapsed, after all, the minute it trod on those mines. But in the end, no move toward peace can take root unless it proposes a concrete future.

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