Israel and Palestine: Focus on the problem, not the solution
The Indian-American philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti wrote, “To understand any problem, you must give your full attention to it and you cannot give your full attention to it if you are seeking a solution.”
Since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1991, tremendous energy has been devoted to seeking a solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict — most recently, the predictably unsuccessful mediation effort by US Secretary of State John Kerry.
After 24 years of trying to find a solution, perhaps it is time to follow Krishnamurti’s advice and devote our attention to the problem.
Ask a range of people to define the Israeli-Palestinian problem and you will get a range of answers:
“The Arabs’ refusal to recognise a Jewish state.”
“Israeli colonisation of occupied territories.”
“Creeping Israeli apartheid.”
“The Jewish lobby in the United States.”
None of these is the problem. They are reflections of the problem. But just as a tree’s reflection in a pond is not the tree, these reflections of the problem are not the problem.
So what is the problem? Let’s start by looking at where the problem exists and who is affected by it. The Problem Area (a more neutral term than “historic Palestine” or “Eretz Israel”) is the land bounded by the Jordan river in the east, the Mediterranean in the west, the Lebanese and Syrian borders in the north and the Egyptian border in the south.
According to the CIA’s The World Factbook, inside the Problem Area live approximately 12.3 million people. Of these, 6.1 million are Jewish citizens of Israel; 1.7 million are Palestinian citizens of Israel (Muslim and Christian by religion); 4.1 million are Palestinians (Muslim and Christian) who are not citizens of any recognised state; another 400,000 or so are neither Israelis nor Palestinians, and live mostly in Israel (non- Palestinian Christians, African immigrants, migrant workers, etc.).
The problem is: How can the 12.3 million people who live in the Problem Area structure their political, economic, religious and social relationship in a manner that allows them to live in peace with each other in a context of justice for all?
Any proposed solution to the problem must resolve this question. If it doesn’t, it’s not a solution. (I am ruling out as a possible solution the removal or transfer of any of the 12.3 million people who live in the Problem Area.)
Moreover, any solution with a chance of resolving the problem must be based on certain guiding principles:
Do all 12.3 million people in the Problem Area deserve equal human, civil and political rights?
Do all 12.3 million people in the Problem Area deserve equal rights to safety and security?
Do all 12.3 million people in the Problem Area deserve an equal right to participate in providing for security within the area?
Do all 12.3 million people the Problem Area deserve equal economic rights, including rights to land and property and equal access to resources such as water?
Do all religious groups in the Problem Area deserve freedom of worship, including free access to and management of holy sites (many of which are sacred to all three of the major religions represented in the Problem Area)?
Do those living outside the Problem Area but who have emotional and historic ties to it (in particular, diaspora Jews and Palestinian refugees) deserve equal rights to immigrate into the Problem Area? If not, should restrictions on immigration be imposed fairly and equally?
Anyone who answers “yes” to these questions is ready to contribute to formulating a solution. Anyone who answers “no” to any of these questions must explain and justify why one group of people in the Problem Area deserves preferential rights.
For example, why would one group — based on its national or religious identity — deserve preferential rights to build homes on any piece of land in the Problem Area? Or why would another group deserve the right to impose its religious practices on everyone who lives in the Problem Area? And why would one group — again, based on national or religious identity — enjoy preferential rights to immigrate into the Problem Area?
The Rubik’s cube of Israeli-Palestinian peace will never be solved unless these fundamental questions and the principles they are based on are addressed — certainly by the 12.3 million people who live in the Problem Area but also by those outside of the Area who have an interest in a lasting solution. Only then will we be able to find a solution.
A number of possible solutions — two sovereign states, one state, a bi-national confederation — could be compatible with a “yes” answer to the above questions. But trying to concoct a solution without thoroughly assessing the problem has been a proven failure; to continue to do so will only validate Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.