A Modest Proposal for Mideast Peace

Friday, June 27, 2008

There seems to be a growing, renewed animus against Israel. Arun Gandhi, grandson of the purported humanist Mohandas Gandhi, thinks Israel and Jews in general are prone to, and singularly responsible for, most of the world ’s violence. The Oxford Union took up the question in January of whether Israel even has a right to continue to exist. Our generation no longer speaks of a “Palestinian problem” but rather of an “Israeli problem.” So perhaps it is time for a new global approach to deal with Israel and its occupation.

Perhaps we ought to broaden our multinational and multicultural horizons by transcending the old comprehensive settlements, road maps, and other arrangements when dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, a dispute that originated with the creation of Israel.

Why not simply hold an international conference on all these issues—albeit in a far more global context, outside the Middle East?

The ensuing general accords and principles could be applied to Israel and the West Bank, where the number of people involved, the casualties incurred, and the number of refugees affected are far smaller and far more manageable.

Perhaps there could be five U.N. sessions: disputed capitals, the right of return for refugees, land under occupation, the creation of artificial post –World War II states, and the use of inordinate force against suspected Islamist terrorists.

In the first session, we should try to solve the status of Nicosia, which is currently divided into Greek and Turkish sectors by a U.N. green line. Perhaps European Union investigators could adjudicate Turkish claims that the division originated from unwarranted threats to the Turkish Muslim population on Cyprus. Some sort of big-power or U.N. road map might then be imposed on the two parties, in hopes that the Nicosia solution would work for Jerusalem as well.

In the second discussion, diplomats might find common ground about displaced populations, many from the postwar, late 1940s. Perhaps it would be best to start with the millions of Germans who were expelled from East Prussia in 1945, or the Indians who were uprooted from ancestral homes in what is now Pakistan, or the half million Jews who were ethnically cleansed from Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and Syria after the 1967 war. Where are these refugees now? Were they ever adequately compensated for lost property and damages? Can they be given promises of the right to return to their ancestral homes under protection of their host countries? The ensuing solutions might shed light on the Palestinian aspirations to return to land lost sixty years ago to Israel.

As soon as European diplomats bring harmony to divided Cyprus, they can turn to the Middle East and solve the Jerusalem problem as well.

A third panel would take up the delicate issue of returning territory lost by defeat in war. Ten percent of historic Germany is now part of Poland. The Russians still occupy many of the Kuril Islands, and Greek Cyprus lost sizable territory in 1974 after the invasion by Turkey. The Western Sahara is still annexed by Morocco, and more than 15 percent of disputed Azerbaijan has been controlled by Armenia since 1994. Additionally, all of independent Tibet has been under Chinese occupation since 1950 –51. Surely if some general framework concerning these occupations could first be worked out comprehensively, the results might then be applied to the much smaller West Bank and Golan Heights.

In a fourth panel, the international conference should take up the thorny issue of recently created artificial states. Given the tension over Kashmir, was Pakistan a mistake —particularly the notion of a homeland for Indian Muslims? North Korea was created only after the stalemate of 1950 –53, so should we debate whether this rogue nation still needs to exist, given its violent history and threats to world peace?

Fifth, and finally, is there a global propensity to use inordinate force against Muslim terrorists that results in indiscriminate collateral damage? The Russians during the second Chechen war of 1999 –2000 reportedly sent tactical missiles into the very core of Grozny and may have killed tens of thousands of civilians in their hunt for Chechen terrorists —explaining why the United Nations later called Grozny the most destroyed city on earth. Syria has never admitted to the complete destruction of Hama, once home to Muslim Brotherhood terrorists. The city, suffering the fate of Carthage, was obliterated in 1982 by the Assad government, with more than 30,000 missing or killed. Did the Indian government look the other way in 2002, when hundreds of Muslim civilians in Gujarat were killed in reprisal for Muslim violence against Hindus? The lessons learned in this final session might reassure a world still furious over the 52 Palestinians lost in Jenin.

In other words, after a half-century of failed attempts to solve the Middle East crisis in isolation, isn ’t it time we look for guidance in a far more global fashion and in contexts where more lives have been lost, more territory annexed, and more people made refugees in places as diverse as China, Russia, and the broader Middle East?

A half million Jews were ethnically cleansed from Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and Syria after the 1967 war. Were they ever adequately compensated?

The solutions that these countries have worked out to deal with similar problems apparently have been a success —at least if the inattention of the world, the apparent inaction of the United Nations, and the relative silence of European governments are any indication.

So let the international community begin its humanitarian work!

Greek Cypriots can advise Israel about concessions necessary to Muslims involving a divided Jerusalem. Russians and Syrians can advise the Israel Defense Forces on how to deal properly and humanely with Islamist terrorists. Poland, Russia, China, and Armenia might offer the proper blueprint for giving back land to the defeated that they once gained by force. North Korea or Pakistan can offer Israel humanitarian lessons that might blunt criticisms that such a recently created country has no right to exist. Iraq and Egypt would lend insight about proper reparation and the rights of return, given its own successful solutions to the problems of its own fleeing Jewish communities.

But why limit the agenda to such a small array of issues? The world has much to teach Israel about humility and concessions, on issues ranging from how other countries in the past have dealt with missiles sent into their homeland to cross-border incursions by bellicose neighbors.

Let the international community begin its humanitarian work! Poland, Russia, China, and Armenia can demonstrate how to give back land that they once gained by force. North Korea and Pakistan can offer Israel humanitarian lessons.

No doubt, Middle East humanitarians such as Jimmy Carter, Arun Gandhi, and Tariq Ramadan could preside, drawing on and offering their collective wisdom in solving such global problems to those of a lesser magnitude along the West Bank.