January 11, 2001
Let Palestinians Govern Palestinians - Now
For 30 years, those of us in Israel's peace movement have been saying there will be no peace as long as Israel insists on governing another nation. Now our government no longer insists; Israel is offering the Palestinians a peace accord based on 1967 borders, with minor mutual amendments.
The Palestinian nation is rejecting this agreement. Its leaders now demand a "right of return" for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled and were driven out of their homes in the 1948 war. They cynically ignore the fate of hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jews who fled and were driven out of their homes in Arab countries during the same war.
In view of this Palestinian position, Israelis acting for peace must not pretend it is business as usual. Nor should we continue to argue, as we have for decades, that "the sole obstacle to peace is Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories." Instead, we ought to reshape our stance.
Rather than claiming that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian zones prevents peace, we should say that even without peace, governing another nation is wrong. Wrong and harmful.
Israel must withdraw from Palestinian-populated regions and enable the Palestinian people to set up an independent state, immediately, even without a peace agreement.
Israel is considering a plan to remove the Israeli settlements scattered in the depth of the Palestinian territory, to make East Jerusalem the capital of Palestine and to place disputed holy sites under Palestinian custody. This is the most far-reaching offer Israel can make. It is made at the price of an unprecedented chasm within Israeli society, at the price of a political earthquake. It involves the Jewish people's traumatic withdrawal from many of their historical and theological demands, from many of their ancient dreams and religious aspirations.
Implementing the Palestinian "right of return" would amount to abolishing the Jewish people's right to self-determination. It would eventually make the Jewish people no more than an ethnic minority in the country, just as fundamentalist Islam would have it.
The United Nations' original resolution of November 1947 enacted two sovereign states to be established in the contested land, one for the Jewish people and one for the Palestinian people. The "right of return" claimed by Palestinians practically means that instead of two states for two nations, there would eventually be two Arab states in this land. Implementing the "right of return" would mean eradicating Israel.
Yet the current Israeli occupation, buttressed by dozens of small settlements thrust into the midst of Palestinian territory with the intention of preventing any future compromise, does not make Israel stronger but weaker. Weaker and less defendable.
I oppose, however, the concept of unilateral separation -- under which Israel redraws boundaries -- as misleading and unhelpful. Instead, Israel must now deploy its forces along lines roughly corresponding to demographic realities.
The new lines would not be considered permanent borders; instead they would be taken as a basis for future peace negotiations pending amendments. In the meantime, any Palestinian assault on these lines will not be written off as a "terror attack," but seen as an aggression by one sovereign state against the territory of its neighbor, entitling Israel to exercise its right of self-defense.
A sign of change in the Palestinian rejectionist attitude would be a willingness to let go of "the right of return" and negotiate a comprehensive national and humanitarian solution to the 1948 refugee problem -- involving the resettling of displaced Palestinians in the future state of Palestine rather than in Israel. Israel should be morally committed to such a solution. As soon as this happens, the two governments can negotiate and draw their borders of peace.
Amos Oz is the author of "Israel, Palestine and Peace."