Thursday, February 26, 2009

Should We Hear the People's Voice?

How's this sound for a plan?
1. Two states for two peoples: Both sides will declare that Palestine is the only state of the Palestinian people and Israel is the only state of the Jewish people.
2. Borders: Permanent borders between the two states will be agreed upon on the basis of the June 4, 1967 lines, UN resolutions, and the Arab peace initiative (known as the Saudi initiative).

· Border modifications will be based on an equitable and agreed-upon territorial exchange (1:1) in accordance with the vital needs of both sides, including security, territorial contiguity, and demographic considerations.

· The Palestinian State will have a connection between its two geographic areas, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

· After establishment of the agreed borders, no settlers will remain in the Palestinian State.

3. Jerusalem: Jerusalem will be an open city, the capital of two states. Freedom of religion and full access to holy sites will be guaranteed to all.

· Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem will come under Palestinian sovereignty, Jewish neighborhoods under Israeli sovereignty.

· Neither side will exercise sovereignty over the holy places. The State of Palestine will be designated Guardian of al-Haram al-Sharif for the benefit of Muslims. Israel will be the Guardian of the Western Wall for the benefit of the Jewish people. The status quo on Christian holy site will be maintained. No excavation will take place in or underneath the holy sites without mutual consent.

4. Right of return: Recognizing the suffering and the plight of the Palestinian refugees, the international community, Israel, and the Palestinian State will initiate and contribute to an international fund to compensate them.

· Palestinian refugees will return only to the State of Palestine; Jews will return only to the State of Israel.

· The international community will offer to compensate toward bettering the lot of those refugees willing to remain in their present country of residence, or who wish to immigrate to third-party countries.

5. The Palestinian State will be demilitarized and the international community will guarantee its security and independence.

6. End of conflict: Upon the full implementation of these principles, all claims on both sides and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will end.

The preceding is "The People's Voice" peace plan, forwarded by former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon, and former PLO cabinet minister Sari Nusseibeh. Very similar to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative (except that it has a far clearer, and far better, stance on the issue of Palestinian refugees), it has a lot to recommend it. There are things one can quibble with (I do not think Palestine should necessarily be demilitarized, I'm concerned with how Palestine can be geographically contiguous without slicing Israel in half, and I wish there was some mention of Jewish refugees from Arab nations), but if it were up to me, I'd gladly vote for it. Indeed, if I was given the chance to vote for it, I would consider it one of the most important votes I would ever cast. It represents the contours of what I hope and pray will be the eventual end of this war.

But, of course, the politics of the moment make such a plan infeasible, right? Neither the Palestinian Authority, torn between its Hamas and Fatah wings, nor the newly elected Likud-led government of Israel, would be likely to come out and support this plan, right?

Right. Which is why Mr. Nusseibeh advocates going beyond them and straight to the people (this is from Jonathan Zasloff).
George Mitchell, Nusseibeh suggested, should take an American peace plan (and he made it clear that it should be the People's Voice framework) to both Netanyahu and Abbas.

He should then publicly challenge Netanyahu to place this plan on the Israeli ballot as a referendum. Netanyahu would not have to endorse the plan, but rather allow the voters to decide whether they would accept it as long as the other side does.

On the Palestinian side, he should publicly challenge Abbas to call for new elections (due in the PA thus year in any event) and run on that platform for his presidential campaign -- accepting the plan as long as the Israeli electorate does.

Now that is daring. Perhaps a bit too daring, as Matt Yglesias argues. Zasloff argues that the incentives are right: neither side wants to be the one blamed for voting against peace. I'm not sure: when you're talking about a referendum, you start running into some serious collective action problems which dissipate the power such incentives might normally hold. Referendums are generally pretty fickle under the best of circumstances: better initiatives than this have foundered under the right combination of financing and fear-mongering, and there is plenty in this plan which could be twisted to exploit the fears of Israeli and Palestinian voters who might otherwise be inclined to support it. Both populations are pretty radicalized at the moment. Had this proposal been put out in 2000, I'd be confident it would pass. Today, I am not sure.

It would be a big gamble, to be sure. What happens if it doesn't pass? Worse, what happens if it is rejected by one side and not the other? Do we throw up our hands and say, "screw it -- fight it out already"? Of course not -- you can never, ever stop fighting for peace, no matter how distant it seems. But it is fair to say that if either side rejected this plan, they would lose nearly all of whatever moral credibility they have to this point obtained, and the peace process might be hobbled for generations. It's putting a lot of eggs in one basket.

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