Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Professor Jeff Halper spoke about the Israel-Palestine conflict and viable solutions to bring peace to the Middle East.
Halper is Coordinator of The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions , an Israeli, direct-action organization that resists nonviolently the demolition of Palestinian houses in the Occupied Territories. According to Halper, Israeli forces have demolished over 14,000 Palestinian homes since 1967. The ICAHD brings Israelis, Palestinians and internationals together to rebuild Palestinian homes.
“In Israel’s framing the land of Israel belongs exclusively to the Jewish people – Arabs reside there by sufferance and not by right,” Halper said. “Israel appears as a Western country but it’s not.” The issue of exclusivity is the underlying principle of Zionism and Israeli Government policy. However, it does not necessarily reflect the predominant views of the Israeli public, whose main concern is security.
The implementation of Israeli Government policy is the occupation of an estimated four million Palestinians, who are imprisoned in what Halper describes, is a complex, control matrix of checkpoints, roadblocks, watchtowers, terminals, trenches, settler-only roads, patrolled roads, fences, and a wall that stands 26-feet high. Israel’s wall is five times longer than the Berlin Wall.
Israeli occupation controls Palestinian lives and confiscates Palestinian land for Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. As a result, Palestinians in the West Bank live in a truncated mini-state –” a Bantustan –” which has 70 enclaves in three, noncontiguous cantons of land.
In April 2006, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert presented his convergence plan (also referred to as the consolidation plan and later coined the realignment plan) in the U.S. where it was accepted by U.S. Congress. The bottom line of the plan is that Israel would maintain vast settlement blocks within the West Bank, which are on top of the richest agricultural lands and on water aquifers. These Israeli settlement blocks are beyond the 1967 borders and cut deep into the West Bank (also referred to as Judea and Samaria by Israelis).
According to Halper an estimated 500,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank.
Construction of the wall and Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley continues unabated.
“It’s hard to believe this is a long-term sustainable solution,” Halper said. Palestinians would have no border with an Arab country. Moreover they would have no water, territorial contiguity, or any control of air space, communication spheres, which Halper explains, “is really a prison state.”
So what does Halper and the ICAHD see as viable solutions to the conflict?
They believe there will be no solution or security without the following conditions: national expression for both peoples (nations); economic viability; conformity with human rights international and UN resolutions; refugees’ rights (acknowledgement, just resolution, regional approach); and regional security concerns addressed for both Israelis and Palestinians.
And what are the options that would bring peace to the Middle East?
According to the ICAHD, option one is a viable two-state solution. More than 60 per cent of Palestinians are under 18 and a future Palestinian state has to provide an economy, jobs, and a future with no violence. Halper says there would need to be healing and reconstruction – trauma therapy in a national sense. The issue of viability is just as important as sovereignty because the people need access to Jerusalem, the epicenter of the Palestinian economy, along with territorial contiguity, water, air space etc. He added that the Palestinian Diaspora is affluent and highly-educated and they are a great resource for rebuilding a Palestinian state.
ICAHD’s option two is Apartheid – a threatening but real possibility. Israel’s convergence plan locks Palestinians into a Bantustan. “We have to oppose this kind of so-called solution to emerge because it’s not sustainable,” Halper added.
Option three is one democratic state, which Halper sees as a nonstarter for Israel.
“I love the one-state idea,” Halper said. “I think it’s a real challenge for all of us, how to live together, a nice idea, but the international community may not agree…Israel being transformed from an ethnic state to a democratic state.”
The final option is a regional confederation with Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon as the confederation’s members. Halper calls this the “two-stage” solution.
This regional economic confederation would enable people to live and work within these countries regardless of their citizenship. There could be regulations as to how long a person could work in a neighboring country and the confederation’s members would determine the parameters.
For example, thousands of Polish people from Poland live and work in France, but they have no plans to live in France permanently. Halper believes Europe could adopt the Middle East regional confederation plan as a project. Why? Europe has a lot of experience in developing mechanisms to protect weaker economies, and Europe can help the Middle East work together as a confederation for regional economic prosperity.
“Europeans should take this as a project with American US support,” Halper said. “It would be exciting.”
However, such a regional confederation requires integration, which would be a hard sell to Israel despite the potential economic opportunities.
Halper sees the regional concept as an inspiring vision of the relationship between a person’s roots and the global village because “…it could be a model for how to address tensions and conflicts.”
In the meantime, the ICAHD focuses on what they call “pro-active meta-campaigns,” which involves reaching out to civil society. Through informational campaigns the ICAHD discusses issues such as boycott, divestment, arms sanctions on Israel (fourth in arms exports worldwide), the Palestinian narrative, occupation, convergence as Apartheid, impact of conflict on US/global interests, and anti-apartheid campaigns.
Halper hopes these initiatives will bring peace to the Middle East.
The American Friends Service Committee nominated Halper for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.