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A Creative Solution You Have Never Heard to the Middle East Conflict

Terrorism, the Arab Spring, nuclear weapons, and violent extremism are all the ingredients that make up the Middle East conflict. Yet last weekend’s news is truly beyond the pale.  Palestinian spokespeople, such as Hanan Ashrawi call the move a “war crime” and an “act of aggression against the State of Palestine.”

What happened? The Israeli government approved the building of apartments in various suburbs of Jerusalem.

When Americans receive a permit to build 5 minutes from a major city, it is a bureaucratic hurdle. When Israelis do the same, however, it’s an international controversy.

Palestinians argue that these “settlements” are being built on the territory that they claim for their future state. Israelis, with over 3000 years of history in the area, can claim the territory as well. Some of the disputed territory in question — such as East Jerusalem — had Israeli residents until Israel gained independence in 1948.

The territory on which the homes will be built is beyond the “green line,” the armistice line between Jordan and Israel that ran through the center of Jerusalem from 1949 to 1967.  Other than that historical distinction, the line represents nothing. But Palestinians see that territory, which was occupied by Jordan, as their future state, and therefore condemn Israelis who move in.

International observers join the criticism, accusing Israel of jeopardizing the two state solution. Their approach to solving the conflict, however, reflects a reductionist premise that assumes the conflict is purely territorial.

Most Israelis no longer accept this paradigm, because Israeli territorial concessions have not been reciprocated with peace or even normalcy from Israel’s neighbors. Israel conceded parts of the disputed territory throughout the 1990’s, offered more in 2000, and eventually left all of Gaza in 2005. Israelis experienced suicide bombings and 12,000 rocket attacks in return.

According to the Israelis, the reason for this has been a fundamental rejection of Israel’s existence on the part of Israel’s neighboring countries. Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor said at the UN last week that “the Palestinian leadership has never recognized Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.”  Indeed, the PLO charter calls Palestine “indivisible” twice. The Hamas charter — which currently governs half of Palestinians — states that “Israel will only exist until Islam will obliterate it.”

Unfortunately, with responses like these, Israel is understandably reluctant to make further concessions. They also must tend to the needs of their own people, who are a fast growing population in need of homes.

A solution to this, perhaps, could involve giving Palestinian citizenship to Israelis living in any settlements that become land for their future Palestinian state.

A similar strategy was adopted by Bosnia & Herzegovina during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. As part of that peace agreement, the Croat (by definition Catholic) “settlers” live on the Bosnian (majority Muslim) side of the border. They have dual Croatian and Bosnian citizenship. The neighborhoods near the border are filled with Croats who are loyal to Croatia but manage to live in peace as Bosnian citizens.

Why can’t the same happen in the Middle East? About 20% of Israel’s citizens are Palestinians. Why can’t the Palestinian Authority allow one Jewish citizen? The plan would not necessarily be perfect and would certainly have its growing pains, but it is striking that nobody in the Arab world even suggests the idea.

While most countries in the world have minorities, the Palestinians are refusing to accept one. Last year, a Palestinian Authority official said the future Palestinian state would be free of Jews. But perhaps the issue of dividing the land and drawing a border would be far less complicated if the Palestinians were expected to accept a Jewish minority in their state.

It appears that the leadership of the Palestinians and the wider Arab world has yet to accept the reality that two peoples live in the same land. Israelis have. They have built their society while both accepting Palestinian/Arab/Muslim citizens inside of Israel and by compromising on disputed land.

With Palestinians fuming over Jews moving in to the wrong neighborhood, it appears that their leaders are not willing to reciprocate.

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