"Only a true peace with neighboring peoples can
render possible a common development of this portion of the earth as a vanguard of the awakening of the Near East."

Martin Buber, Speech 1945

A view of the task of Brit Shalom, 2001
April 21, 2001

The original Brit Shalom and its IHUD Party were on the whole remarkably unsuccessful in obtaining their goals. This was perhaps due to the fact that their goals were indeed too lofty and that they failed to take into account the geopolitical reality and the national aspirations of both nations. So what are the differences between our approach and theirs?

The first and perhaps most radical revision is that we do not propose a bi-national state. This is not a solution that is desirable in the eyes of the Palestinians or the Jews. To make Palestine/Israel simply into a country for all its citizens will in the short term mean that the Palestinians will be in a minority and in the long run, due to the more rapid population growth of the Palestinians in the West Bank and especially in Gaza, that the Jews will be in minority. This may be a solution favoured by some liberal minded Palestinians today, but for the Jewish majority, it would clearly spell disaster. No political entity will ever accede to what is seen as a national suicide. The Brit Shalom of 2001, therefore will have to amend the initial outlook of Buber, Magnes et al. They tried also to find a solution to

Second, we do not propose the establishment of cantons or self governed municipalities. The events of 1948 and subsequent wars have, tragically, made the populations geographically more separate. The process of separation that started through the Oslo process, when completed, should mean that the West Bank and Gaza will be Palestinian territories. We envisage that it be possible to establish internal borders according to the green line and in addition to allocate several pockets on either side to the other entity. This flexible solution has been implemented without inordinate problems in Switzerland. There are also villages beyond the Belgian border that belongs to The Netherlands, passports and all, and similarly there are pockets of German speaking, European Nations passport wielding Germans inside Switzerland. In our case, it would be possible to link the Palestinian villages in the Galilee with the Palestinian state and some of the settlement blocks in the West Bank to the Israeli state. Inadvertently, this would ensure ethnic minorities in both camps, should this be of prime importance in the coming generations.

Third, the new Brit Shalom differs from the original organisation in that we have, from the beginning had not only Palestinian members but that the leadership of the organisation is from the start been shared. In Brit Shalom there are Palestinian members from both Israel and the territories. This is perhaps the strongest point of difference between Brit Shalom and similar "peace organisations" in Israel. With very few exceptions they are composed exclusively of well meaning Jewish members. The way we see it is that if we are to arrive at a point from which it will be possible to build a future, that is a process that must be undertaken together.

Tackling differences

People often ask, when confronted with the ideas that Brit Shalom espouses, what about army service? What about defence? How can each party be willing to rely on the other when it comes to the crucial military and strategic decisions? What about the secret service, the diplomatic corps etc. In answering this question, it is useful to look at the ways similar questions were posed to the Brit Shalom of 1925.

Then, perhaps less than now, the issue that was most burning, at least for the Jewish constituency, was that of immigration. Since the White Paper, issued by the British in 1939, which limited Jewish immigration to 10,000 per year, the Zionist camp had fought hard to expand the limits of immigration. This was crucial for their programme, but also pressing as the Second World War began to unravel. In the discussion between IHUD and the United Nations, the question of immigration was laboured over to a great degree. Magnes asked rhetorically whether this was possible to solve at all.

The IHUD party had as its policy to lobby the British and subsequently the United Nations to allow an immediate immigration of 100,000 Jews from Europe. This request coincided with the Yishuv's policy. But Magnes was not blind to the dangers that such political decisions would have on the proposed binational state. His answer to this challenge was to set out a phased implementation of the Jewish-Arab cooperation.

The phased plan was presented as entailing three separate stages. First he envisaged that there would be some cooperation on immediate issues between the two entities. This would be determined upon by a joint Executive Council that would be made up by both Jews and Arabs. Magnes was writing at the time of the British Mandate and he emphasised the need to diminish and eventually uproot the influence of the British in Palestine. This it is fair to say was fairly non-controversial in the view of the Jews and the Arabs, all of whom were longing for the last British soldier to leave.

The second stage would involve the transfer of Palestine for an agreed period to the custodianship of the United Nations. This stage would also involve the appointment of a Commission of Constitution which should be composed on the same principle of parity in numbers, and that would be faced with the task of writing a joint draft of a constitution for a bi-national Palestine. Magnes envisioned the United Nations drawing on the help of international experts and especially help from member states that were faced with the same multicultural reality in their own countries.

The third stage, after the transitional period of trusteeship, the Palestine/Israel of two equal nationalities would then become a Union. Magnes described this in his statement to the United Nations in June 1947:

We think that a bi-national Palestine based on parity has a great mission to help revive this Semitic world materially and spiritually. The Jews and the Arabs are the only two people remaining from Semitic antiquity. We are related. We have lived and worked together. We have fashioned cultural values together throughout our history. We regard it as the mission of the bi-national Palestine to bring about once again, within the Semitic world, this revival of the spirit which has characterised Semitic history from antiquity.

Were we to read Union of Israel/Palestine of two independent, autonomous poltical entities, instead of Magnes' concept of a bi-national Palestine, it would capture more or less the outlook of Brit Shalom today.

That is the long answer of how one would solve conflicts of interest under the framework of Brit Shalom. The short answer is that differences of political opinion, e.g. in terms of defense and immigration will have to be solved by the joint legislative body of the two states.

There is no simple solution to the challenge of co-existence. There will always be difficulties since the two peoples have different outlook on many things. No matter what will happen, there will have to be accommodation of Palestinian refugees in the Palestinian state and there will have to be made allocations for Israel's security needs towards the East. But the bottom line must be that these issues are best dealt with through cooperation. Only through joint ventures will there be guarantees that calm will prevail in the region.

Daniel Reisel

2001-2002 Brit Shalom