Mohammed Yasser Abdel Rahman Abdel Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa and Gershon Baskin

Pushing an alternative Palestinian-Israeli peace plan

Over the years peace plans have been emerging on the Middle East peace track, yet most of them were dismissed by both Israelis and Palestinians.

The latest one came out of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), a group jointly run by Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin and Palestinian lawmaker Hanna Siniora.

Their basic premise is that peace will never come from within the Israelis and Palestinians. This viewpoint was strengthened this week by the key policy speech made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the response to it from leading Palestinian figures.

“The positions held by the sides are so far apart and both sides stated there are no preconditions, but there are very, very well-known preconditions for any kind of chance of a negotiated agreement,” said Baskin, whose main research subject is the status of Jerusalem…”It all begins and ends in Jerusalem,..As long as Jerusalem is not on the table (as Israel insists) and is not recognized that Jerusalem is going to be the capital of two states, there is nothing to talk about.”

In light of the stalemate in the peace process, IPCRI presented a peace initiative of its own, whose basic points include that Jerusalem should be the capital of two states and that Palestinian refugees should not be allowed to return to Israel.

The group proposed that the international community should first manage to grant Palestine a full membership of the United Nations, which would make Israel constitute a breach of the UN charter by occupying a UN member state, and then the UN Security Council would initiate a mechanism to guarantee Israel’s withdrawal from Palestinian territories as well as its security.

At that point, Baskin said, the serving Israeli government would fall, and a new strong dovish camp would emerge in light of the new reality, which would enjoy enormous backing from the international community.

Although Baskin and his team do not hold much hope for the approach, they think it is the only way for the two neighbors to reach a lasting peace.

“You can call it an imposed solution – but people don’t like that word – that’s more or less what we’re talking about. The international community created the two-state solution in 1947, now it’s time to finish the job,” said Baskin.

Even though this plan raises as many questions as it answers, the peace camp sees a lot of good in it, while the more rightist Israelis dismiss the plan as a non-starter.

“It’s creative. It’s interesting. We certainly haven’t been able to go forward the way we are all these years,” said Galia Golan, a political analyst and a senior figure with Israel’s left-wing Peace Now movement, adding that it does fit in well with the second stage of the road map plan.

However, Golan pointed out that among other outstanding issues, the plan would see Palestine be created without borders, which would fail to provide a clear definition of Palestine’s sovereign soil.

For retired Israeli brigade-general Shalom Harari, the IPCRI plan is like a fairy tale made up without a reality check. “They’ve never created a sewage program in Bethlehem, to lay a new road in Nablus, to break up a protest in Jenin, or catch terrorists in Tulkarem,” the former Defense Ministry adviser said of the Palestinians.

Harari said he does not feel any plan will work if it pushes off the real negotiations to the end of the process. Commenting on U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent peace efforts, he said that while Obama’s intentions are admirable, he would fail as others before him because of the intractable problems on the ground.

“The chances (for the IPCRI plan) are close to zero,” admitted Baskin, with a bitter smile on his face. He added that unless affirmative action is taken internationally, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will rumble on indefinitely.