John Kerry’s failed Middle East peace effort has made it clear that a negotiated political agreement is impossible at the moment. The two-state formula enjoyed decades of exclusive stardom, in which its appeal thwarted all innovative and alternative thought.
Government officials in Washington, Brussels and other capitals seem to have no idea how to proceed or are clinging desperately to a bygone idea.
But despair is not an acceptable policy. There are practical issues that can and should be solved. First and foremost, Palestinians deserve drastic and immediate improvements in their everyday lives. Obviously, this is not their main aspiration, but, unlike others, it is feasible right now. We are engaged in a bitter national conflict with the Palestinians. But we settlers were never driven — except for fringe elements — by bigotry, hate or racism.
Israel must initiate an ambitious and bold plan to improve every aspect of day-to-day life for Palestinians in Judea and Samaria — commonly referred to as the West Bank in these pages. Israelis must let go of the trauma of the Second Intifada that terrorized them between 2000 and 2005. They can’t go on living under psychological siege while imposing sweeping, burdensome restrictions on the Palestinians because of heinous acts of terror perpetrated a decade ago.
The security barrier separating Judea and Samaria from the rest of Israel should ultimately be dismantled and Palestinians should enjoy complete freedom of movement and be able to re-enter the Israeli job market. There’s no reason Israel should import thousands of foreign workers while so many Palestinians among us struggle to earn a living. Palestinians need to return to Israeli cities, and not only as blue-collar workers. Palestinian academics should be included in Israel’s advanced industries: An engineer from Ramallah should be able to work in Tel Aviv, and a Palestinian doctor treating patients in an Israeli hospital should not be a rare sight.
Barriers, checkpoints and military restrictions on movement must be lifted, and all Jews and Palestinians should be allowed to move freely. Palestinians should be allowed full entry into Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria and to cross the Green Line, and vice versa; the gates in the security barrier could be opened regularly as a preliminary phase before it is completely dismantled and removed. Palestinian security forces could continue carrying out the same tasks they do today. And in the absence of checkpoints, the Israeli Army will have to be more active than it is now. If violence erupts, this incremental process would be halted or reversed.
Israel must also ensure that Palestinians have quick and convenient access to the international airports of Israel and Jordan and remove the majority of barriers and delays that currently impede Palestinian imports and exports entering and leaving the West Bank.
It is not in Israel’s interest to weaken or dissolve the Palestinian Authority or disrupt day-to-day Palestinian life. That means ending delays in transferring tax payments to the Authority and striving to promote its efficient functioning.
Moreover, the civil administration in charge of Israeli contact with Palestinians should no longer be run by the Israeli military, but by civilians who serve the Palestinian civilian population efficiently and courteously. A 50-year-old Palestinian shouldn’t have to deal with soldiers and officers half his age.
Palestinians should also be included as full-fledged members of the civil administration’s planning and building committees that consider construction in Arab towns. And Palestinian magistrates should be included in courts that decide on civil disputes, including those involving land. The law that applies to a 16-year-old Palestinian caught throwing stones should be the same as the one that applies to a 16-year-old Jew caught throwing stones and any other 16-year old of any ethnicity committing the same offense inside the Green Line. There is no practical or moral justification for a different legal policy for Palestinians and Israelis.
Finally Israel, in conjunction with the international community, must take measures to improve the infrastructure for water, sewage, transportation, education and health with the goal of narrowing the huge gaps between Israeli and Palestinian societies.
This also means thoroughly rehabilitating West Bank refugee camps. It’s unacceptable for fifth-generation Palestinian refugees to continue to live in abject poverty, which leads to frustration and violence. Camp residents should be provided with suitable housing, employment, health care services and education.
There should be zero tolerance for violence on either side. Just as the Israeli Army will remain to ensure security, the so-called price tag attacks perpetrated by Israelis against Palestinians and their property — to exact a “price” for perceived anti-settlement policies — must be stopped once and for all.
The Arab-Israeli territorial dispute is a zero-sum game, but the human considerations are not. We gain nothing from a Palestinian’s humiliation or poverty. Improving Palestinians’ quality of life does not conflict with other proposed endgames like annexation of Judea and Samaria or the two-state formula. Nor will final-status issues change; Palestinians will continue to vote in Palestinian Authority elections and Israelis in Israel’s elections.
It should be clear: This is not a plan for permanent peace but rather a blueprint for peaceful nonreconciliation.
Dani Dayan is a former chairman of the Yesha Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria.