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Q: OK Phil, it's easy to criticise Israel and complain about how fucked everything is. But what would you do if you were responsible for fixing this? In light of the HamasAttackOnIsrael2023?

A : Sure. That's the 64 billion dollar question.

Let's start by saying, nobody would want to start where are now. In particular, a "solution" is going to involve colossal scale social / political engineering. Including moving large numbers of people around. And that's exactly a) the kind of thing that international law doesn't like, and b) what really got us into this mess in the first place: the world heavy-handedly deciding it can reorder and reorganize the middle-east regardless of the sensibilities of the people who live there.

BUT ... let's suppose (for the sake of this argument) we are so focused on trying to find a viable, long-term solution to the horrendous current problem of Israel and Palestine, that we are willing to roll the dice once more on some heavy-handed reordering of the world.

Let's set some goals. And non-goals.

Explicit Goals (in order of urgency to achieve)

  • An immediate end to bloodshed
  • Rebuilding the Palestinian political / institutional / cultural fabric so that Palestinians can become an "agent" capable of negotiating initially short-term peace, and finally long-term peace. This DOES involve removing Hamas, or the most militant / intransigent parts of Hamas, from power. But we must understand that that is not something which stands alone from the rest of this project. Killing the top brass of Hamas won't, by itself, make the idea of Hamas and the desire for retribution among Palestinians go away. Someone else will just fill the empty slots. Removing Hamas is urgent, but it can't be done unless something else, a more viable Palestinian political institution, is simultaneously built up in its place.
  • "Justice" in the form of some kind of restitution to those who have been displaced.
  • Long term peace treaties and coexistence between Jews and Palestinians.
  • Elimination of "apartheid" / or "ethno-states" with different laws for different people based on their ethnicity.

Explicit Non Goals (in order of urgency to avoid)

  • Helping one side "win" against the other.
  • "Justice" in the form of retribution, revenge, excessive punishment or mass murder.
  • "Justice" in the form of "we get back what's rightfully ours". There are too many competing and inconsistent claims of rightful ownership for us to possibly service them all. Palestinians deserve restitution for their suffering. But it's simply impractical that this should always take the form of "that particular plot of land that my great grand-father owned 80 years ago". People may well be emotionally wedded to this, but trying to satisfy those demands makes any other kind of peace and justice impossible. And peace and other kinds of justice must take priority.
  • A perfect solution. There is no such thing. People will be inconvenienced. People will feel their demands haven't been fulfilled. It will be "unfair" on some people more than others. Again we can't achieve perfection. We can only hope that in the broadest strokes, justice will have been achieved for all. And a liveable compromise found.
  • "Genocide" is an overused word these days. Genocide must be avoided. But almost any attempt to move people around or change culture can be labelled as genocide. We're accepting that some mass movement of people to where they don't necessarily want to go, is an acceptable part of this.

So the heart of the immediate first step of the solution is a swap of Jewish settlements in the West Bank for the Gaza strip.

In other words, we create a corridor which allows 1.8 million Gazans to pass safely through to the West Bank. But not to more godawful refugee camps. We simultaneously move 700,000 Jewish settlers out of the West Bank and into Israel. Refugees from Gaza are then moved into these settlements. Then, when the Gaza strip has been emptied of civilians and the IDF has sufficiently cleaned out Hamas, settlers evacuated from the West Bank are compensated with new land in Gaza.

EVERYONE is going to hate this idea of course. But we are, for the sake of this proposal, accepting more heavy handed imperfection, towards the goal of long term peace and broader-stroked justice.

Why justice is "broadly" served by this :

  • a humanitarian corridor gives people in Gaza an immediate chance to escape both active war and the siege conditions that are starving them to destruction. Even when there isn't a hot war, the conditions under which Gazans are imprisoned are destroying them physically and spiritually.
  • it is not pushing Gazans into the Sinai desert where a) Egyptians will keep them in more refugee camps and b) their claims to Palestinian identity and residency will be evaporated.
  • they will be receiving better places to live than they are having to leave in Gaza.
  • this is, in practice, a net transfer of wealth in the form of the benefits of the investments that the settlers made, in land and construction, to Palestinian refugees. This is part of the restitution we are aiming for. While obviously the settlers will be furious and out of pocket, most of the settlements and investments made in the last 30 years were by people who knew (or were certainly informed) that what they were doing was against international law, and directly sabotaging the chances of a future peace and two-state agreement with Palestinians. Settlers knew this, but choose to take advantage anyway. No settler deserves violence or death for that behaviour, but this loss of their unethically taken resources seems a fair restitution to some of the victims of Israeli oppression. Another way of putting this is that if you were buying land cheap in the occupied territories in the last decades, you were basically gambling that the land you bought wasn't going to have to be handed over in future negotiations. If it does, and you lose your bet, so be it. It's a gamble you entered into voluntarily.

Eventually these displaced settlers will receive new resources in Gaza which will be incorporated fully into Israel. Free from the restrictions that Israel places on Palestinian Gaza, a fully Jewish Gaza will be able to rebuild and thrive as a new coastal trading city. It can have an open-for-trade border with Egypt and access to the Mediterranean. Israeli Jews will be able to extract value from Gaza in a way that the Palestinians have been prevented from doing. (Israel will never give Palestinian Gaza real autonomy because it fears weapons being brought in by sea and from Egypt. Regardless of whether you think such fears or Israel's response are justified, it's clear that turning Gaza into Israel removes this fear and simplifies things considerably from the Israeli security perspective.)

Meanwhile, the goal on the West Bank must be to create a properly contiguous region under Palestinian control and inhabitation. The Palestinian Authority is weak, and discredited. Israel has tried to use it to keep Palestinians under control without giving it the autonomy it needs to grow a mature political infrastructure.

This needs to change. And there needs to be a clear commitment and timetabled roadmap to a Palestinian state. My tentative suggestion is that the West Bank, once Israeli settlers have left, (within a year), becomes an autonomous region with the PA in charge. But perhaps overseen jointly by Israel, Jordan and maybe Egypt. Or perhaps the EU or some countries from the global South. People who can plausibly claim to be neutral / pro-Palestinian but willing to work cooperatively with Israel, and both can, and can be seen to, balance its excesses.

The goal is to allow the institutions of Palestinian governance within the West Bank to grow in political maturity, strength and independence, while keeping Hamas or Hamas-like organizations from taking root.

The establishment of this new regime must be accompanied by a hard commitment that within a certain number of years (say 15 or 20), international oversight will be withdrawn, and West Bank Palestine will become a completely independent state.

This hard commitment is one of the things that will help prevent WB Palestine being taken over by more radical elements. A fixed timetable means that if your goal is an independent state, you don't have to fight for it. It is coming anyway. So why support the next Hamas-like organization who might well wreck it?

But here's the twist. The creation of an independent state should also be accompanied by an agreement between Israel and WB Palestine to a future binding referendum in both countries, on an ultimate reunification into a single state.

This may seem like an unnecessary and even eccentric idea, but the rationale is this.

The ideal end of the problem of Israel and Palestine would be a single truly democratic multi-ethnic, multi-cultural state where Jews and Arabs are equal, at peace and happy with each other as neighbours.

Alas, we are so far, far away from that possibility today that to even speak of such a thing sounds insane. It's a comical lunacy.

And so a two-state solution is the only realistic hope for Palestinians to have freedom and dignity in the near or medium term. Something they must have if the resentment, hate and fear driving the conflict is to eventually be overcome.

But a two state solution doesn't resolve all difficulties and questions (who gets Jerusalem, for example?)

And a two-state solution also locks in the losses on both sides. If your great grandfather had a house which really is special to you, and it is on the wrong side of the division, does supporting and committing to a two-state solution require you to explicitly give up the hope of ever returning there? And does that give you pause? People will oppose a two state solution that looks like it's locking-in their losses forever.

On the other hand, a two state solution with an explicit commitment to simultaneous referendums (perhaps in 30 years time, or perhaps regular referenda at 10 year intervals) means that the hope of finally ending the problems and divisions remains always open. Neither Israel nor the new WB Palestine will be forced to reunify against their will. Both sides' referenda give them a veto on the possibility. But if, at any time, they both finally see the advantage in doing so, the two-state political geography hasn't forestalled such an option.

And of course, this creates some interesting positive incentives. If you are a Palestinian desperate to get back to your great grand-father's house, the best way to do that is to persuade the Israeli Jews that peaceful coexistence in the same country is both possible and desirable. This is very different to the incentives created when you believe that the only chance to get back to your rightful home is for Hamas to terrify the Jews into fleeing.

In other words, a provisional two-state solution with an option for ultimate reunification gives you the best of both worlds. A fast track to freedom and autonomy for Palestinians in a separate state. And a peaceful route to an eventual single state (if and when that's what you really want.)

Q : Phil, this is hilariously idiotic and stupid. Why would ANYONE support this?

A : Gazans? Because it's an immediate escape route from the bombing that Israel is inflicting on you. If you're a Gazan who just wants peace and an escape, you don't have to "overthrow Hamas". Now you can just move along the humanitarian corridor to the West Bank. Life is far from perfect there, but it's better than the hell that is Gaza. And someone more reasonable is in charge. Finally, this is a concrete process leading to an independent Palestinian state.

West Bank Palestinians? The settlers are leaving. Sure, those lucky so-and-so's from Gaza are getting first dibs of the nice places they leave behind, but you don't feel that much resentment, do you? They've had a terrible time. And once the land is freed up you'll get the benefit too. Finally, this is a concrete process leading to an independent Palestinian state.

Rational Israelis? It's a way out. And frankly, you don't have many of those. You've just tried the "anti-peace" route of trying to bludgeon the Palestinians into acquiescence, and the result was, according to many, the greatest mass murder of Jews since the Holocaust. How many more times do you want to ride around the spiral of escalating violence? More importantly it isn't just "giving Palestinians what they want". The structure of 15 years protectorate, followed by two-states but with a route to a single state, actually creates the right incentives for Palestinians to invest in the success of the peace agreements and of Israel itself.

Israeli settlers? It's tough I know. You get to bear the main brunt and cost of this. Firstly I believe Israel as a whole needs to make this easier and pay you immediate compensation for your loss. That probably won't be enough. But you will also end up with land in Gaza. And Gaza could, eventually, after the rebuilding, be valuable real-estate. You might even make a profit on this.

This is an insult! Gaza is tiny. It's no compensation for the land I'm losing. They managed to fit 2 million Palestinians there. It's big enough for 700,000 Jewish settlers.

What if I think it's easier to just kill all the Palestinians? Then you shouldn't support this (or any other) peace plan. But be honest with yourself and others that that's what you want.

OK. I don't want to kill innocent Palestinians, I just think peace will come more quickly if we kill all the terrorists? That's what George Bush thought in 2001. And how did that work out?

Arab neighbours? It's going to give the Palestinians a state.That's what you've been calling for, isn't it? And refugees aren't coming into your country.

Saudi Arabia? You can sign those Abraham Accords with a clear conscience now.

Other issues

Q : What about Jerusalem?

I don't know. Maybe put a second referendum on the table about that. I think it's hard to solve Jerusalem as part of the initial decision about an WB settlements for Gaza swap. That just adds complexity to an already overcomplex situation. There needs to be some way of parking it temporarily but with sufficient commitment to revisiting it that no-one feels that other agreements lock-in their loss of it.

Q : I heard a rumour that there are potential new natural gas fields in the Mediterranean off of Gaza. Handing Gaza over to the Israelis robs the Palestinians of the wealth from that and hands it over to the Israelis. Why should we accept that?

Gas fields shouldn't be figuring in any calculation of the value of who is getting what. There's a climate emergency going on and those hydrocarbons need to be left in the ground.

Q : Look. I can see you are trying hard. But really this is absurd. Here are the obvious reasons this can't work

  • Hamas don't want peace. They want all out victory. And nothing less than that is acceptable to them.
  • Obviously Hamas will just move with Gazan refugees to the West Bank and set up shop there. Because they are more aggressive and nastier and the Gazan refugees will be feeling really pissed off with Israel, they'll soon take over and make WB Palestine their new base of operations.

A : Yes. So when Gazan refugees move to the West Bank you need an intense program of de-Hamasification. What might this look like?

Firstly, much of the Hamas infrastructure will be gone. There'll be no tunnels and weapons stores etc. on the West Bank.

Nor will Hamas be integrated with any institutions such as the welfare system or health system etc. These are clearly highly intertwined in Gaza and there's no way to remove them there. In the West Bank, we have a head start. The Palestinian Authority runs these things, and with the right support from the overseeing third countries and international aid agencies etc. we need to ensure that neither Hamas nor equivalent extremists do take over such a role of running essential civilian infrastructure in the West Bank.

I won't pretend this isn't hard, but think of it this way. If you think it's hard to prevent Hamas taking over in the West Bank, then it's 100 times harder to de-Hamasify in Gaza if you leave that as a separate enclave of Palestinian civilians. Any claim that "preventing Hamas taking root in the West Bank is too difficult for Phil's plan to work" is tacitly an acceptance that the goal for Gaza is complete destruction of the population or removal of its population to Egypt. Because if you have any plausible strategy or plan for de-Hamasifying Gaza you could more easily apply it as a way of preventing Hamas in the West Bank.

Q : This is not about Hamas the institution. Israel has just killed 9000 (and counting) Gazans in the last 3 weeks. There's no way when the Gazans get to the West Bank they won't feel genocidal hatred towards Israeli Jews.

A: Again this is a consideration which is pushing towards total extermination of the Gazan Palestinians. The plan I'm presenting aims at a long term peace and reconciliation. Is your argument against this plan specifically or a general argument that no peace and reconciliation is possible?

If your point is that the Palestinians will never forgive and be at peace with Israel after what it's done to them, then you must bite the bullet and accept that you must either kill them all or live in fear forever. The only way to escape that dilemma is to believe that coexistence is still worth pursuing. And then you need a plan for it. This is one. I'm sure there could be better ones, but given I haven't heard anyone suggesting them, I'm leaving this as a marker in the ground.