Tuesday, April 19, 2005

PALESTINE: A way out in Palestine

Here is a plan that will resolve all of the major issues between the Arabs and the Jews, without requiring each side to make impossible compromises. Despite wars, atrocities and complications caused over the decades, a solution of the Palestine issue is possible even at this late stage.

New state. The starting point should be the creation a new state that will include the present territories of Israel, West Bank, Gaza and Jordan. There will be only two provinces, to be called “Israel” and “Jordan.” West Bank will become a part of Jordan, just as it was before the 1967 war. Gaza will be a part of Jordan for 10 years and then become a part of Israel due to the compulsion of its geographical location. In the meantime, its present residents will be encouraged to move to elsewhere in the province of Jordan.
The Golan Heights will be returned to Syria after it agrees to keep the territory demilitarized, like the Sinai, and signs a peace agreement with the new state. (It will have no good reason not to do so.)

The name. Unless the people agree on another one, the name of the new state may be “Palestine.” It has been the geographical name of the territory for centuries, without any religious or ethnic connotations. According to “Encyclopedia Britannica,” “The Arabs living in Palestine had never had a separate state. Until the establishment of Israel, the term Palestinian was used by Jews and foreigners to describe the inhabitants of Palestine, but it was rarely used by the Arabs themselves; mostly they saw themselves as part of the larger Arab or Muslim community.”
The formation of a new state would not be a novel idea. Even when the territory was partitioned, the intention was to keep the two parts close to each other. “Encyclopedia Britannica” says, “On August 31 [1947] a majority report of the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) recommended the partition of the country into an Arab and a Jewish state, which, however, should retain an economic union. Jerusalem and its environs were to be international. These recommendations were substantially adopted by a two-thirds majority of the UN General Assembly in a resolution dated Nov. 29, 1947.”

Federation. The new state will be secular and a federation, with only minimum powers for the center, such as defense, foreign affairs, currency, banking and telecommunications. All other powers will go to the federating units, the provinces. To provide a permanent link between the provinces, the state will be a constitutional monarchy, headed by a member of the present royal family of Jordan that has been quite friendly to Israel. When the need arises, the federal cabinet will select the heir from the royal family. The majority of each Provincial Assembly will be required for the approval of a new monarch.
The federation will have a single house, National Assembly. It will have half of its members from Israel and half from Jordan. Every law will be passed by two-thirds of the total members, to ensure maximum support.
The Prime Minister will be alternately from each province and will serve for five years. The key ministries will also rotate between the two provinces. The federal cabinet will have half of the ministers from the province of Israel and half from the province of Jordan.
To avoid wrangling and intrigues, the Prime Minister will be directly elected by the entire country, rather than the National Assembly. He will have to get over 50% of the total votes cast in each province. This will ensure that the winning candidate will be a moderate and acceptable to the majority of the Jews and the Arabs. If no candidate gets over 50% votes, there will be a contest within a week between the two top candidates.

Provinces. The whole territory having become a single country, the boundaries of 1947 (in UN plan), pre-1967 and post-1967 will lose their present importance and may be ignored. The two provinces will set up a joint commission to study the present boundaries and redraw them to remove the difficulties of the people at the local level and give due regard to natural geographical divisions.
The executive head of a province will be a Governor, who will be elected by a direct vote for five years. Each Provincial Assembly will have the same number of members. The provinces will be free to legislate on religious, cultural and social matters. Jordan may make Islamic laws for the Muslims in the province but without affecting the Jews living there. Similarly, Israel may make religious laws for the Jews in its jurisdiction.
Each province will have its own police to maintain law and order.
While the federation will deal with international relations, the provinces may sign directly trade and investment agreements with other countries.
Arabic will be the official language of the province of Jordan and Hebrew that of Israel, while both will be the official languages of the federal government.
Friday will be the weekly public holiday in Jordan and Saturday in Israel while the federal government will have both days as weekly holidays. So will the private commercial organizations if they want to have a five-day week. Provinces may also do the same ultimately. The religious holidays of both Muslim and Jewish will be observed in both provinces.

Jerusalem. Jerusalem will be an international city, with every foreign visitor getting a 10-day visit visa on arrival. While a mayor elected by the direct vote of the entire population of the city will run the administration for a five-year term, the National Assembly will decide the policy matters with a two-third majority. The mayor will be alternately a Jew and an Arab.
Everybody will need the approval of the city administration to work, set up a business, purchase property or have permanent residence in Jerusalem. No new housing will be allowed and present population will be encouraged to move out of the city in order to open it up for the large number of visitors of all three religions that will be going there.

New capital. For the present, Tel Aviv and Amman will serve as joint federal capitals. However, a new site for the federal capital will be selected with the consensus of both Provincial Assemblies and construction will start there immediately. The new capital will have the offices of only the federal government. Its name will be a word common in Arabic and Hebrew.

Citizens. Every citizen will have a national identity card, showing his permanent place of residence, besides other data. He will be free to travel anywhere in the country but he will need the approval of the relevant provincial government to work, set up a business, purchase property or have permanent residence in its jurisdiction. That will control the migration of citizens and workers from one province to the other. The province of Israel will control the return of Arab refugees. All Arab refugees born before 1948 in what is now Israel will be allowed to return to their ancestral homes. (After 55 years, there will not be many of such refugees left.)
The Jews, who settled in the West Bank after 1967, will have to move out while the present residents of Gaza may be allowed to take their place in the settlements. The Israeli government may pay compensation to the Jewish settlers. It will also have to pay reasonable compensation to the Arab refugees and others, who were uprooted because of the Israeli actions before or after 1967. It will not be a financial burden because the reduction in defense expenditure will cover the expenditure.

Defense. The UN will guarantee the security and integrity of the new state from an attack by any country. The new state may also have bilateral defense agreements with the U.S. and other countries. Once its security is ensured, the new state will merge the present armed forces of Israel and Jordan and reduce the total to the minimum. It will destroy its nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction because it will not need them in future.

Benefits of the plan. When considered in its entirety, the plan proposes minimum changes in the present setup while it will solve all of the major problems between the Arabs and the Jews, viz.
a) Israel will continue to have its identity. Two examples are relevant. Holland is only a province but it is quite often synonymous with the name of the country, the Netherlands. Similarly, England is also a province but is usually considered synonymous with the United Kingdom. Therefore, Israel will continue to enjoy its present recognition.
b) The Jews in the U.S. and elsewhere will continue to do for the province of Israel whatever they want. The Jews in other countries will also be able to immigrate to the province of Israel as they have been doing for decades.
c) The Arab refugees, presently dispersed in many countries, will be able to return to the new province of Jordan, subject to the policy of the provincial government. That will be the end of the Arab refugee problem. The expatriate Arabs will be free to invest in the province of Jordan.
d) The residents of Israel will no longer have to worry about security threats. The end of the present Israeli occupation of the West Bank will remove the basic cause for organizations like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The public support for them will also disappear because nobody will favor hostility against the Jews without a cause. The local police will take care of the remaining elements to ensure complete security for all.
e) The economic development will increase all over, as industries will be able to move to the most suitable locations that are closer to raw materials, cheaper labor and potential markets.
f) There will be no major changes in the internal affairs of Israel and Jordan. The present domestic policies in a province will continue as long as the other province is not affected.

December 25, 2003

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