The upsurge of violence in the Middle East in the wake of the “War on Terror” which was aimed at putting an end to terrorism, at least as the proponents of that campaign understood it, has prompted politicians and heads of states to seek various solutions to the problem of the Middle East.
From American envoys, to Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary, to Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia they all want to achieve some peace in the Middle East.
While most of the solutions do no more than to call on the parties to stop ‘fighting’, the proposal of Prince Abdullah appears to be the most far reaching, at least judging by the reaction of the “world leaders”.
The reason I say appears, is because the proposal has not yet been published in detail. The intention to present it was disclosed by Prince Abdullah in an interview with an American journalist. But from what was said it appears, that the solution is for the Israelis to withdraw to the borders of 1967 in exchange for the Arab States acknowledging the State of Israel and guaranteeing peace for Israel as long as it keeps within the 1967 borders.
But, if this is all that this proposal is, then it ignores the main driving force behind the conflict — the present status of the Palestinians themselves.
The majority of Palestinians are refugees, many living outside of the area. But even many of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank are not the original inhabitants, but refugees living in refugee camps. Refugees from where? From the areas, which are now the State of Israel. And this will remain so even, if the Israelis move back to the 1967 borders.
Calling the Gaza and West Bank refugee camps ‘The Sovereign State of Palestine’ will not remove the feelings of injustice which the Palestinian refugees feel as a result of being “driven from their land and their homes”, nor would it change the lives of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, and other countries. And the number of Palestinians living outside of the area is greater than the number living inside it.
So unless the problem of the Palestinian refugees is solved, the motivation for violence will remain.
Seen from the other side, the Israeli's are not foreign colonial administration that can be withdrawn to their home country. Some of them lived in Israel for many generations and even those who came recently from other countries see themselves as Israelis and have no ‘home country’ to go back to.
So this is what the conflict is all about.
There is no doubt that many Palestinians have lost their properties, which is injustice, and for that reason the just solution, as seen by the Palestinians, would be restitution: “Give us back our land”.
But this is impossible without causing injustice to the Israelis, who are prepared to fight for “their” land. Nor would restitution be possible due to the massive changes in the areas in dispute.
So, if restitution is impossible, another just solution in this case would be compensation. That is the Palestinians who lost their homes and land would be compensated financially, so that they could settle elsewhere, either in a country of their own choice, or in a “viable Palestinian State” that Jack Straw advocates and Prince Abdullah believes would result from the Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders.
But will the resulting state be “viable” in the sense of being able to absorb all the Palestinian refugees, including those living outside of the area? To absorb them not as refugees living in refugee camps on UN relief, but as free citizens living in houses of at least the same standard as the Israeli “new immigrants” and capable of supporting themselves by normal business activity?
The Bush administration expect Yasser Arafat to “take a firm stand against terrorism”. But, even if he does that under pressure and gets a pat on the back from President Bush and his allies, it will not stop terrorism. Instead Yasser Arafat will lose his authority over the people he is expected to control. This is nothing to do with him personally, but would happen to anybody in his position.
Politicians say there can be no military solution to the conflict, but there is no ‘political’ or ‘diplomatic’ solution either. To work the solution has to be real. It has to achieve real justice for the Palestinians in the refugee camps. And it is this real solution that Prince Abdullah and the “world leaders” need to address to make their proposal work. Yes, the real solution will cost more money than a “world summit”, but, no more money than rebuilding Germany after the Second World War, or the present Afghan War, that has solved nothing.