Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
Photo: AFP

The Ottoman path to peace

Op-ed: Any Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement will endure only if it accommodates legitimate historical claims

The nation state is a relatively recent phenomenon in the Middle East - and with good reason: It is highly unsuited to the patchwork of religious and linguistic groups that populate the region. The time has come to recognize this reality and to build an Israel and a Palestine beyond the confines of European political convention.


The intractability of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in no small measure owed to the nation-state being unable to separate sovereignty from self-determination. This conflation renders the legitimate aspirations of different communities impossible to reconcile. Jews' aspirations to reside in Judea and Samaria are deemed unviable, even though they are historically more grounded than those of Jews to live in Eilat and Tel-Aviv.


Meanwhile, Palestinians displaced in the Independence War of 1948 are denied residence rights in Israel automatically granted to Jews hailing from California or Australia. Ignoring these aspirations and grievances for the sake of building conventional nation-states will backfire. Peace agreements only endure when they accommodate legitimate historical claims.


The establishment of a Palestinian state next to a Jewish state should be followed by arrangements whereby Palestinians, both in Israel and in Palestine, vote for a Palestinian parliament. Jews and Palestinians would thereafter be allowed to live under the laws of their own polities. That is, Palestinians in Israel would have the right to live under Palestinian laws and be tried by Palestinian courts. Israelis in Judea and Samaria would have the right of being subject to Israeli laws. These laws would be enforced by the Israeli police in Israel and by the Palestinian police in Palestine. In mixed judicial cases (Jew vs. Palestinian) trials in both Palestine and Israel could be held by bi-national courts under the laws of the plaintiff. As a corollary, Israel should allow West Bank Palestinians to live anywhere in Israel while Palestinians should allow Israelis to live anywhere in Palestine.


Respecting minority rights

This proposal grants Palestinians the right to reside anywhere in historical Palestine while allowing Jews to reside everywhere in Eretz Israel. It also ensures a perpetually Jewish electorate for the Knesset. In addition, it grants Jews and Arabs the right to live according to their own laws thus satisfying all parties' claims to self-determination. Giving Palestinians in Israel the right to live under Palestinian or Israeli laws will be a stimulus for Palestinian laws to be enlightened and democratic. If Palestinian laws are draconian or Palestinian courts corrupt, Palestinians in Israel could embarrass Palestine by choosing to be judged under Israeli laws.


Why does this proposal deserve consideration? To begin, it solves the most contentious issues of the conflict, including refugees, Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria and self-determination rights. In addition, it renders the boundaries between Israel and Palestine a minor issue, since boundaries would merely define the jurisdiction of each country's security forces rather than determining where Jews and Palestinians are allowed to reside. Once these Gordian knots are cut, residual issues such as resettlement, tax revenue distribution, and municipal voting rights will be relatively easy to tackle.


This approach to the Israeli-Arab conflict defuses the grievances that fuel Arab hatred of Zionism, while fulfilling the Zionist goal of Jewish self-determination in Eretz Israel. Although this proposal may be easy to dismiss on grounds of its unorthodoxy, it is high-time to recognize that the orthodox approaches to the conflict are fatally flawed: The establishment of a Palestinian state simmering with irredentism will lead to unending conflict - as Gaza shows; a bi-national state would fall apart like Iraq or Lebanon, while the status-quo is bound to degenerate into open apartheid. None of these scenarios are appetizing either for Jews or for Palestinians.


The Ottoman practice of respecting minorities' right to live under their own laws must be revived. Those who assume that separate legal systems within the same state are absurd in the 21st century, should remember that Israel already adjudicates personal law according to religious affiliation: Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Israel are all happier for being allowed to marry, divorce, and inherit according to their own traditions. This vestige of Ottoman jurisprudence ensconced in Israeli legislation has served these communities well. There is no reason its principles should not be incorporated in a future peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.


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פרסום ראשון: 08.06.12, 18:12
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