Handshake (illustration)
Handshake (illustration)Israel news photo: Flash 90

The Ariel University Center of Samaria held a special conference on Monday, entitled “Best Plans for a Peaceful Israel/Palestine” conference.

The conference, the second of its kind, featured three Israeli and three Arab speakers, each of whom presented his idea for a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The event was attended by students at the Ariel University Center, some of whom are Orthodox Jews, but also by some Israeli-Arab students and Palestinian Authority Arabs from the PA-controlled areas of Judea and Samaria. This made the conference even more significant, since Ariel is considered by the PA a “settlement” built on “occupied territory”.

The event was held in the wake of last year’s boycott by leftist artists of the Ariel cultural center, who refused to perform in Ariel saying it was “against their consciousness” to perform in a theater located in Samaria. While some of the boycotters may talk about co-existence with Arabs, it does not seem as though they have done anything to promote that – unlike the nationalist participants in the conference, who respectfully listened to the other side’s opinion and created dialogue.

One of the Arab speakers was Attorney Kamal Nawash, President of the Free Muslims Coalition, whose proposal is one country for Jews and Arabs which provides security, independence, and self-determination that each side needs.

“We are proposing one country with two provinces,” Nawash told Arutz Sheva. “One province called Israel, once province called Palestine. Each province contributes 50% to the federal parliament, and each province has its own parliament to deal with its state issues.”

While Nawash’s solution will leave all the current Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria as is, his proposal essentially means that “there will be no borders”, as he put it. The proposal would allow for both Jews and Arabs to live throughout Israel or Palestine as they wish.

Nawash also rejected the idea that the conflict is about religion, saying, “The only people I hear talking about this being a religious war are Jews, and some fanatical Muslims. The majority of Muslims don’t see this is as a religious issue.”

Dr. Raanan Gissin, a strategic analyst and former advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who also took part in the conference, was skeptical that Nawash’s proposal would work, even though he termed it “a great proposal.”

“It’s naïve, it doesn’t fit this environment,” Gissin told Arutz Sheva. “Two people talking peace to each other and coming to an agreement can work only if we were living in Antarctica or in the middle of the sea. We’re living in the heart of the Middle East, in a place that is conflict ridden. There are more than 30 ongoing conflicts now.”

He added, “The issue is not that I’m afraid of living with the Palestinians, on the contrary, [but] there are radical forces in the Arab world and in the Muslim world which impinge on the ability of Israel and the Palestinians to reach that kind of a solution.”

Gissin also said the conflict cannot simply be described as being only about borders, saying it is “multi-layered” and that religion is definitely a big part of it.

“The reason that it became an armed conflict is because there were all sorts of elements that incited people,” he said. “One of them is the radical Islamic movement that is now engulfing the entire Muslim and Arab world. We have to deal with that.”

Gissin said that even those Arabs who publicly say they want to forget about the past and focus on the future will ultimately be unable to ignore the voices within them that call for the formation of an Islamic republic.

“The Palestinians are not the main threat facing Israel today in the region,” he said. “If it was only Israel and the Palestinians we could have reached an agreement 60 or 70 years ago. But from day one, the conflict was injected with outside forces.”

The solution, according to Gissin, is to start peaceful relations “on the ground”. This would include economic relations and security arrangements “so both people can live and both sides will have something to lose if they violate” these arrangements.

“The important thing to understand is that you’ve got to build peace from the bottom up,” he emphasized. “That’s why, for the time being, you can’t have a full-fledged peace agreement, but you can have interim agreements that you build slowly over time.”