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Middle East Peace Plan

October 20, 2003 at 12:00 AM EST
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MARGARET WARNER: While violence is derailing the official road map for Middle East peace, two former top officials — one Israeli, one Palestinian — have come up with a blueprint of their own. Their proposal, called “The People’s Voice,” aims to build support among both the Israeli and Palestinian publics for the specifics of a deal.

Their two-state solution includes: Borders based on the boundary before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, with the possibility of land swaps; Jerusalem as capital of each state — Palestinian refugees can return only to their new state; no Israeli settlements in Palestine; and a demilitarized Palestinian state. Officially launched this past June, the initiative has collected more than 120,000 Palestinian and Israeli signatures.

Joining us now are the two leaders of the initiative. Sari Nusseibeh, a former member of the Palestinian cabinet, is president of al Quds University in Palestinian east Jerusalem. And Ami Ayalon is former head of Shin-Bet, Israel’s domestic security service, and he’s also a retired navy admiral. Welcome to you both.

Mr. Nusseibeh, why did you decide to go this freelance route to try to come up with your own peace deal?

SARI NUSSEIBEH: Well, because after because after looking at what happened so far with the failure of the formal attempts at trying to make peace, we decided that perhaps the other way around is to go to the people and to engage the people in the peacemaking process.

MARGARET WARNER: So essentially you’re trying to create pressure on the leadership to do what, through the public?

AMI AYALON: Show direction, not to create pressure. But it’s the same in a way. But in addition to go to the people, the second concept is to start from the end and to go backward. You know, it’s to create a vision of two-state solution or peace, and then to create the notion that this is possible, and to come to the people, to get the signatures, their approval, and to show the direction to our leaders.

MARGARET WARNER: This is a very different approach than the ones that … of recent sort of American … not American-negotiated, but recent peace efforts that the Americans have tried to shepherd, which starts with these step-by-step approaches. You’ve just concluded that can’t work?

SARI NUSSEIBEH: Well, not just recent attempts. I mean, in a sense, what you’re doing is unprecedented, because at no time in the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has an attempt to define a possible destination to the peace been made at the level of the people, and engaging the people in actually helping or giving a helping hand to make a process work. Now, what we have at the table, on the table at the moment, is a road map, which was worked out by the … primarily by the American administration. And the road map has had problems, many obstacles along the way. And we believe that it’s possible, in fact, to make it succeed by providing it with a destination, with a vision. And it will make it also possible for success by involving the people, so that you have the engagement on the one hand of the international community led by the United States, but on the other hand, the engagement of the people of the region.

MARGARET WARNER: Let’s go to some of the really contentious issues, because you all have some fairly gutsy solutions for them. First of all, the issue of the settlers: You’ve proposed, now, going back to the boundaries of the pre-1967 war boundaries. But within that — and I think we have a map of that — to the east of that, there are now some more than 200,000 Israeli settlers. What would happen to them?

AMI AYALON: We did not go into details, but the way I see it, we shall want as many of them to stay in their villages. Of course, it will not be possible. Some of them will have to come back to Israel. And for the people who will stay, it is clear to us that we shall have to offer something in return, which will be land, in order to get these settlements off of the bigger places — let’s say around Jerusalem, et cetera. But the whole idea is to create a vision and to leave the details to the administrations. We can say, you know, God is in the details, but on the other hand, we know that the devil is in the details, too.

MARGARET WARNER: As well.

AMI AYALON: Yes.

MARGARET WARNER: But just to zero in on this for a minute, Mr. Nusseibeh, the idea is that … I mean, you’re saying that there would be no settlers left in the new Palestine. So what, either there would be land swaps so that the settlements would — the line would move over to include them in Israel, or else some would have to be dismantled?

SARI NUSSEIBEH: Yes. I mean, I think basically what we have here is one page only. It’s basic principles, and one principle is the principle having to do with settlement, and envisages the possibility of involving or including some settlements in land swaps, which would have to be agreed upon by the two sides, not unilaterally imposed by one side on another.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, the other very contentious issue had to do with the right of return. And here you’re saying that the Palestinians — well, neither side, but it’s only an issue for the Palestinians — they can only return to the new state of Palestine.

AMI AYALON: Right.

MARGARET WARNER: There are, what, some 4 million Palestinians around the world that claim, or their descendants that claim, some right to return. What would happen to them?

AMI AYALON: We offer several other options. They will be able to return to Palestine. They will be able to return to the places that will be swapped from what is today the state of Israel. They will be offered a citizenship in third countries, but they will not be able to return into the state of Israel.

MARGARET WARNER: Can you imagine any Palestinian leader — Yasser Arafat or anyone else — being able to accept something like that? I mean, this is such a hot issue.

SARI NUSSEIBEH: It’s a hot … it’s a very difficult issue. It’s perhaps the most contentious issue from the Palestinian perspective. However, we know for a fact that to all intents and purposes, if we are going to achieve a peace between the Jews and Palestinians, then, you know, a very painful price has to be paid by both sides. And the painful price, as far as the Palestinians is concerned, will have to do with the refugees.

Now, as Palestinians, I believe, as does the Palestinian leadership, the Palestinian leadership would have to look into the future, not only at the past, and would have to come up with a solution for the problem of the refugees, the suffering of the refugees for the past 40, 50 years, and provide them with a new hope. And what we’re saying is that those of them that wish to return can return to their homeland — not necessarily to their very homes from which they left in ’48, but to their own country, and live as equal partners and participate, share, in the building of a new state.

MARGARET WARNER: And Mr. Ayalon, the corresponding issue, can you imagine any Israeli leader, Sharon or anyone else, being able to really say to the Israeli settlers, you’re not going to be able to have these outposts in Palestinian areas anymore?

AMI AYALON: First of all, I can imagine, but second, I have to remind myself and everybody that Sharon said something very similar. Sharon said that we shall have to pay a very painful concession. He mentioned similar places, and it is clear to every Israeli potential leadership that this will be the price that we shall have to pay. But I want to add something more.

I think that we, in our daily discussions, we deal with the price that we shall have to pay. In this initiative, we try to create something which is beyond the price — the price you create for us, Israelis, a vision of a place in which Israel will be really a democracy and a safe home for these people. And for the Palestinians, it will really be an independent Palestinian state, and only they will decide who will be prime minister or what kind of way they are going to deal with their life.

MARGARET WARNER: So let’s go back, though, to the situation on the ground. Let’s say the best happens, from your perspective. You get hundreds of thousands of signatures on this. How do you get from there to where you’re going, when you’ve got an Israeli leader, Sharon, who says he’s not going to talk to the Palestinians as long as these suicide bomb attacks continue, and you’ve got Palestinians saying they can’t rein in the terrorists because of all the restrictions on them. I mean, how do you get from even the best outcome of this initiative on the ground and making this reality — because these two men would still, or their successors would still, have to sit down and negotiate it –

SARI NUSSEIBEH: Well, when two sides are fighting … I mean, when two people, persons, are fighting with each other, it’s very hard to get one of them to stop dashing at the other as they are fighting. However, if you introduce a third element, a new element, which is to focus on what they’re fighting for, and get them to look at that and present them with an option, to in fact stop the fighting, to in other words eradicate the reason for having engaged in fighting in the first place, then logic says that they would probably stop fighting and pursue that particular vision. And this is what we’re trying to do. It’s impossible, in fact, to just make them stop fighting for the sake of stopping to fight. They will continue fighting unless they have a vision, and so we introduce this vision.

AMI AYALON: You can find it in every book, the deal with leadership. Vision has power. Now, the only problem is how to create this vision, you know, how to bypass the present. And we believe that these people in the Middle East, Israeli and Palestinians, will really believe that this is possible. It will happen, it will influence the level of violence, and it will be accepted by the people, and later by the leaderships.

MARGARET WARNER: Very briefly, you’re both here for two weeks. What are you looking for from the United States?

AMI AYALON: I think that finally, when we say “international community,” we understand that international community means America. Finally we want United States, or America, to adopt it.

SARI NUSSEIBEH: Well, we want the United States to adopt it, to engage itself in the Middle East region, to support us in our initiative.

MARGARET WARNER: Sari Nusseibeh and Ami Ayalon, thank you both. Good luck.

AMI AYALON: Thank you very much.

SARI NUSSEIBEH: Thank you very much.