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If I had been Binyamin Netanyahu…

This is what I would have said last week. I understand that the following may not be complete, and I’m also sorry for the occasionally cheesy language. But ideas are better than deconstructions, and it’s a shame that the many commentaries on Bibi’s speech haven’t been matched by alternative visions. So here, for what it’s worth, is mine. I hope others will pick up the baton…Hat-Tip to Nas.

 

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has persisted for over 100 years because it is a conflict of right vs right. The establishment of the State of Israel marked the fulfilment of the ceaseless yearnings of millions of Jews for a return to the land from which we were exiled but never forgot, a land that we cried out for every day in our prayers and dreams, a land in which we dreamed of resurrecting our national culture, a land in which we would provide a safe haven for our brothers and sisters suffering from persecution around the world. 

 

The object of our longings was not empty. The Palestinians were the people of the land when Zionism emerged onto the scene, and with time they developed a sense of national identity of equal validity to ours. Then, however, our histories diverged. The creation of the State of Israel was a moment of supreme joy for the Jewish people, the fulfilment of our dream, the return to Zion. Just three years after the Holocaust, it felt like something akin to a miracle. For the Palestinians, though, it meant the end of their dream, and the destruction of hundreds of longstanding communities. The creation of Israel meant the Jews could finally return to their homeland, but for the Palestinians it meant going into exile.

 

Today is not the time to play the blame game or to compete over our respective victimhoods. In the future, we will have to sit down and discuss issues of Truth and Reconciliation; today more urgent tasks lay before us. The recent years have been full with failed efforts at peace, efforts which have soon given way to more bloody rounds of fighting in which we have all suffered. Again, I do not want to use this speech to analyze why these efforts have failed. The point is that despite the past we are still in a position to come to a settlement that can provide for the hopes and dreams of both the peoples in this land.

 

With this in mind, I want to clearly set out my vision for how we might achieve what many say is impossible: a final resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

 

The guiding principle of negotiations must be the right of both peoples to realise their national aspirations in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. This means partitioning the land by establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel. While the precise details of the borders will be decided in negotiations, I envisage that the state will exist in the entirety of the Gaza Strip and in the vast majority of the territory which currently constitutes Judea and Samaria, which is to say the West Bank. The State of Palestine should be a fully sovereign member of the international community, with all the rights and responsibilities that accrue to any other state.

I now wish to lay out my ideas on the Final Status issues:

 

Over the last forty years, successive Israeli governments have encouraged the building of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. For two reasons: First, Judea and Samaria is the cradle of Jewish civilisation. For those who lived through the heady days of 1967, a war which we entered fearing the State was on the verge of destruction but finished stronger than ever, the return to the heartlands of the Jewish people was experienced like something akin to revelation. By returning to Hebron and Shechem, to Shiloh and Gush Etzion, we thought we were completing the Zionist vision.

 

Second, the territories we won in 1967 provided us with a strategic depth that we hoped would act as a deterrent against those who wished to destroy us. Given that Israel came under attack before we had even declared independence, these fears were not unreasonable.

 

It soon became clear, however, that the conquest of territory came at a price. Millions of Palestinian-Arabs now came under our control against our will. At the same time, the perception that we were now occupying another people increased resentment against us and served to strengthen our enemies.

 

Today this situation is untenable. While I acutely empathise with my fellow Israeli citizens, who dream of living in our sacred places, reality demonstrates that this is no longer possible without threatening the very foundations of the state. While some Israeli communities may remain, it is clear that a contiguous Palestinian state will be impossible without the withdrawal of a large number of settlers. While this will be done with a heavy heart, I am convinced that it is in the greater good of the country, and I ask the Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria to cooperate with whatever decision is taken and to know that we will spare no effort in absorbing them in communities elsewhere in the country.

 

Jerusalem is sacred to us both. Today it is a multicultural city with residents from the three major monotheistic religions, and it murmurs with a magnificent variety of lifestyles and traditions. If we care about the city, though, we will have to learn to share it. I propose that Jerusalem become the capital for both Israel and Palestine, with precise details on how this will be implemented to be decided in negotiations. While this will be a difficult challenge, the discussions should be guided by the ‘Clinton Parameters’, whereby what is Jewish will remain Jewish, and what is Arab will remain Arab.  Let us make Jerusalem a model city, a flourishing, multicultural metropolis where the ancient and modern intermingle as one, a city that will embody the national aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians, and serve as a beacon of hope for the entire world.

 

As I noted at the start, the establishment of the State of Israel also meant the dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Today there are millions of refugees spread out across the Arab world and beyond. Many of them live in refugee camps in which they are told that a return to their towns and villages is just around the corner, with nothing being done to improve their day-to-day lives. This deceit must end. We must solve the refugee question once and for all.

 

The return of a substantial number of Palestinian refugees to the State of Israel would go against my guiding principle for negotiations, namely the right of both peoples to realise their national ambitions in the land. A mass influx of Palestinian refugees would mean that the State of Israel would become another Arab state. As a result, we cannot accept anything more than a symbolic number of refugees, although we hold no objection to their absorption in the new State of Palestine, as long as they are offered a fair choice, one that includes third country repatriation. At the same time, we are willing to discuss issues of compensation and responsibility, as long as the Arab world is prepared to discuss the issue of Jewish refugees who were displaced from their homes.

 

The resources of the land are precious. Despite the attention bestowed upon our small piece of territory, ours is not a land rich in minerals or water. What little there is has to be guarded preciously, so that it does not go to waste. Each state should be responsible for the resources of its own territory, but should also strive to ensure that the other state has the resource it needs to provide for its people. For if our neighbours are not satisfied, then neither are we.

 

I also offer my hand in peace to the Arab world. There are many issues which divide us, but I believe we can make a brave peace that will lead to an unprecedented era of development and reconciliation in the region. I appreciate the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, and am keen to discuss its details with neighbouring leaders as soon as possible. Together, we can bring peace to our region.

 

To those who say these ideas are unrealistic, I say that the current reality is unrealistic. The doctrine of the ‘Iron Wall’ has determined much of our policy over the years, often rightly so. But the time has come to acknowledge that it is no longer necessary. We are a strong nation, with a strong army that is capable of defending its people. To those who would mistake our kindness for weakness, we shall know how to respond. After we embark on this process of reconciliation, there will be no turning back. To those who will beat their ploughshares back into swords our answer will be devastating. We shall not yield on our national rights in this land.

 

Although I am proposing a process which will end in the partition of the country, this does not mean that I am proposing absolute division. With time, I hope that both states will work together to ensure one another’s citizens are able to live free and productive lives, full of opportunity and excitement, each in our own state but cooperating in so many ways, to ensure that the next one hundred years will bring peace upon us all.

 

This is perhaps our last chance. If we do not grasp it there will be no forgiveness.

 

I wish you all a good night.