What is happening in Iraq underscores the limits of military power and unilateral actions in resolving Middle East conflicts. Sooner or later, as the United States reassesses its foreign policy in this region, it will realize two things: first, that America's strategic goals are best achieved through international diplomacy; and second, that in order to gain support from the main international players, significant and tangible progress has to be achieved in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But where is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict headed?
Unfortunately, we do not know, because proposed road maps do not show the destination. In the Navy we used to say that if a captain does not know where he wants to sail, there's no wind on earth that will bring him there, and this also holds true on the land. This is why, I believe, past peace initiatives have gotten nowhere. In a situation where there is so much suspicion and mistrust, negotiations have to start from an agreed-upon end goal. In other words, we have to create a very clear picture of the future, and then gradually make it a reality. This means that we first have to address--head-on--the issues at the core of the conflict: the settlements, the refugees, Jerusalem, and borders.
Because fears are so high on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide, serious negotiations will require an environment in which both communities on a grassroots level strongly reject all violence. This is possible only if the majority on both sides share a common vision of peace. Such was the case during the twelve months preceding the intifada, when the Oslo agreement was still in place. During that period, only one Israeli died as a result of terror, because so long as the Palestinian people expected the Oslo process to lead to statehood, the majority disapproved of terrorism. Hamas responded by curtailing its terrorism, and the Palestinian Authority was able to jail Hamas militants without being perceived as Israeli collaborators, as they truly believed they were doing so in the interests of creating a Palestinian state. Once the talks broke down at Camp David in the summer of 2000, the Palestinians lost their dream and the intifada ensued.
The Oslo process failed because it operated on the principle of "constructive ambiguity" rather than confronting from the start such sensitive issues as the status of Jerusalem, settlements in the occupied territories, and the Palestinian refugee problem. Tragically, instead of creating an environment of mutual trust, the Oslo process resulted in both sides feeling cheated. Israelis felt betrayed because they had given everything, but everything was not enough. They expected security but got the intifada, and with it more than 1,000 Israelis dead and more than 70,000 wounded. The Palestinians expected the Israeli government to end settlement expansion; instead, they witnessed more Jewish settlements and more settlers. In the summer of 1993, at the beginning of the Oslo process, there were 100,000 settlers; seven years later, when the process collapsed, the number had grown to 250,000 (400,000 counting the Jewish neighborhoods around Jerusalem). The average Palestinian will tell you that Oslo was an Israeli conspiracy to gain time to settle more and more Arab territory in order to establish an irreversible situation that would preclude the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. Once the Palestinians saw their dream of a better life--greater freedom, fewer violent encounters with settlers, less humiliation at checkpoints--shattered, they reacted with violence.
Somewhat paradoxically, despite the growing rift, Israelis and Palestinians are now closer than ever in the way they view the terms for the end of the conflict. Some 76 percent of Israelis (based on a Dahaf poll) and about 70 percent of Palestinians (based on Dr. Khalil Shikaki's poll) have said they are willing to make peace based on the principle of two states for two peoples. Encouraged by these findings, Professor Sari Nusseibeh, the president of El-Quds University in East Jerusalem, and I drafted a peace plan based on the following six principles (they can be read in their entirety at http://www.mifkad.org.il/eng/ PrinciplesAgreement.asp):
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) with equitable and agreed territorial swap based on considerations of security, demography, and territorial contiguity.
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. Jewish neighborhoods will be under Israeli sovereignty, Arab neighborhoods under Palestinian sovereignty.
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.
5. Security for all: 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.
To make this peace plan a reality, both sides will have to make painful concessions. Even as we insist that Israel belongs to the Jewish people, we must accept the idea that Palestine belongs to the Palestinian people. The Palestinians will have to relinquish the idea of right of return to Israel; otherwise, Israelis will not accept a two-state solution because of the fear of being overrun by another people and losing our nation's identity as a Jewish state. The Palestinians will have their law of return for the refugees, as we have our law of return for diaspora Jews. Those Jews who choose to live in places like Hebron will have to accept the fact that they are citizens of the Palestinian state. The same applies to Palestinians living in Israel. And the Palestinians will have to accept that their state will be demilitarized, with the international community guaranteeing its security and independence. This is both critical to guarantee Israel's security and to enable Palestinian society to focus on the important issues of education and economy while building its state.
Once we've agreed on the destination, we will be able to travel the road to peace with confidence and hope. This process may take years, but if there is a firm agreement on the destination, this time it will not be derailed.
Ami Ayalon served as director of the Israel Security Agency (Shin Beit) from 1996-2000 and as commander in chief of the Israeli Navy from 1992-1996. Today he serves as founder and chairman of The People's Voice, a peace initiative which, since its founding in the spring of 2002, has collected nearly a half million Israeli and Palestinian signatures in support of its statement of principles.