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Thinking outside the box: Resolving the Palestinian problem

Updated Friday, 22nd August 2014
Dick Skellington talks to Middle East scholar Professor Hovhanness Israel Pilikian about how to start the process of reconciliation and peace.

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An illustration of a phoenix representing Federalism rising from the ashes of the Arab-Israeli Conflict.

Despite temporary ceasefires in Gaza, there seems to be no lasting solution to the problem of Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, and the Arab resistance to occupation and settlement. The world's dismay grows with its impotence to solve the problem. Enough is enough, it cries. Put an end to your needless slaughter. How many more innocent civilians will be sacrificed in a conflict, which has reached new depths of futility. 

A leading commentator on the Middle East, Professor Hovhanness Israel Pilikian has told Society Matters that he believes the solution to decades of violent occupation and violent resistance can only be achieved by a federal solution of Jew and Arab - a federation of two States in-one.

Every conflict eventually ends with a conversation in a room by two sides willing to give and take, having learned the hard painful way that to take is not in everyone's best interest. Pilikian believes it is a starting point towards a lasting peace. Professor Pilikian argues that Arabs and Jews are the children literally of the same polygamous father, Abraham. They are siblings, hence need not, and should not, fight at all, let alone so viciously. 

Pilikian was born in Mossul, Iraq, now ISIS country, and grew up in Beirut, Lebanon. Under his plan, first put forward in 2007, Israel as a state-name would be eliminated. Pilikian maintains that the name 'Israel' has no historical factual sustenance. Israel was Patriarch Jacob's personal name (and Pilikian's own second name) was never historically used as the name of a nation or a country. Today's Israel was known in the Old Testament among other epithets as the Kingdom of Judah. "Israelites" on the other hand was a semantic construct, grammatically referred very specifically to "the seeds of Abraham" which included the Arabs. 

It was the Founder of Zionism itself, Theodor Herzl, whose pamphlet The Jewish State was published in 1896, who laid the foundation for the present-day civil society of Israel, but he could never think of calling the dream-land (Ha Aretz) Israel, instead he called it merely and factually the Jewish State. The birth-certificate of Israel, the Balfour Declaration contains reference only to Palestine, not Israel - the name does not exist, only reference to the establishment of a home for the Jewish people in Palestine. The British handed responsibility for Palestine over to the United Nations, which in November 1947, voted for Partition with a document called Mandate Palestine. It was David Ben Gurion in May 1948 who stated for the first time that the land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. 

Under Pilikian's plan, Israel would be renamed New Palestine, with Israel being named as The Hebrew State, and the West Bank as The Arab State - names which may seem anodyne but are factual, historical and unemotional identifications. The New Palestine would therefore be a federal union of both the Hebrew and Arab states, with Jerusalem the universal capital city, Tel Aviv the capital city of The Hebrew State and Ramallah the capital city of The Arab State. Pilikian believes that a solution to the Palestinian problem must be grounded in historical fact, and a federal union of two states is more likely to succeed. 

It is an interesting proposition and one deserving of consideration. No doubt it will raise objections, especially in Israel who would likely confuse the loss of a name with a loss of national identity and power, but whatever the settlement, a settlement is sorely needed. The world, even the Jewish and Arabic diaspora, has grown tired of the years of an-eye-for-eye killings, and the way in which the slaughter of innocent women and children has escalated in the last 50 years.

'There would be no point to honest negotiations, if one is not prepared to give and take', argues Pilikian. 'As for other players, it is the failure of those players, including the West, that has made a desperate situation far, far worse, imperilling the region. Only through direct negotiations between the Jews and the Palestinian Arabs, with no external interference, will a solution be found'. He maintains that the other regional players are the major hindrance to the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. They can be easily exposed and condemned by the UN as partners of the conflict-crime. They can simply be excluded.

PIlikian offers a fresh alternative to the favoured options doing the rounds. Some commentators advocate a one-state solution, in which Jews and Arabs would be joined in one state, with all inhabitants having the same citizenship – call it Israeli or Palestinian. The two-state solution is favoured by much of the world, including the US government. But this solution is not much better than one state and almost as unacceptable to those who support the welfare and future of the Jewish state, since if, under a "two-state solution," Israel were to abandon Judea/Samaria (the "West Bank"), a larger Gaza would be created from which Hamas could launch rockets.

Pilikian has a point. The conflict can find a peaceful resolution only and only if it is settled by the Jews and the Arab Palestinians alone, no one can claim the right of interference. It will mean sacrifice and compromise on both sides but it could be a starting point on that long-searched for road map to peace.

This blog post is part of Society Matters. The blog seeks to inform, stimulate and challenge our understanding of this changing world and of our humbling role within it.
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Please note: The opinions expressed in Society Matters posts are those of the individual authors, and do not represent the views of The Open University.


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