The Saudi Plan for peace in the Middle East has now been delivered.
The Saudi Plan proposes that Israel:
On the face of it the plan looks reasonable, and was welcomed by all, at least in principle.
But is it workable in practice?
It is within the powers of Israel to withdraw from territories occupied in and after 1967 (as per Item 1) and to recognise a sovereign Palestinian state (as per Item 3). It is also within the powers of the heads of the Arab states to recognise legitimacy of the State of Israel and to make a treaty with its government (as per Item 4).
But the present conflict is not between Israel and the Arab states, and not even between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (headed by Yasser Arafat), but between Israel and Palestinian 'terrorists' or 'heroes' (depending on the point from which the conflict is viewed) over whom neither Yasser Arafat, nor the heads of the Arab states have control. And in spite of Ariel Sharon's interpretation of the Bush Doctrine (War on Terror), neither Yasser Arafat nor the heads of the Arab states have either duty or practical possibility to protect the Israelis from suicide bomber attacks.
And if suicide bomber attacks continue, the Israelis will go back to attacks on the (recognised by them) Sovereign State of Palestine, because suicide bombers will be Palestinians, and in accordance with the 'War on Terror' Doctrine Palestine will become fair game for bombings and raids as a 'country harbouring terrorists'.
But, does not Item 2 of the Saudi Plan, acceptance of a fair solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees in accordance with U.N. Resolution 194 take care of that? After all, if a fair solution to the Palestinian problem is implemented, than what reason will the Palestinians have for continuing with the suicide bombings?
Article 11 of the U.N. Resolution 194 (11 December 1948) reads as follows:
"that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible".
The part of this Article "that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so" raises issues, which, if not resolved, will render the whole plan unworkable.
In 1948, at the time Resolution 194 was adopted "return to their homes" meant exactly that. The Palestinians who left their homes in the then Palestine, could return to their own houses in the then Palestine, which just has been declared the State of Israel. It would have been similar to the return of the Bosnian refugees a year or two ago. They left their houses, and on cessation of the hostilities were able to come back to the houses they left. Some found their houses in the same state they left them, others found their houses damaged or even ruined. But the damages could be made good and the ruins could be re-built.
But what is the meaning of "return to their homes" in 2002, 54 year later?
Many of the areas have been totally re-developed. Not only it would be impossible to find the houses, or their ruins, but even the streets and neighborhoods where they stood no longer exist and have been replaced with shopping centers, public parks, factories or residential developments with buildings and roads having no relationship to the property boundaries of 1948.
Nor would those who left their houses in 1948 return to the Palestine of 1948. They would return to the State of Israel of 2002. What would be their status? Citizens of the State of Israel? Israeli Arabs? Citizens of the Sovereign State of Palestine residing in the Sovereign State of Israel Recognised by the Arab States? The Saudi Plan implies recognition of Israel as it is, a Jewish State, not as a Palestinian State where Jews and Arabs will have equal status. Will the returned Palestinians want to live among Jews, in a Jewish state, under Israeli laws? Israelis are already saying that absorbing some 3,800,000 Palestinians would make it impossible to preserve the Jewish character of the State of Israel and that such solution is not acceptable to them. And, if they do not accept the Saudi Plan, then it will be just another well-meant proposal which will not be implemented in practice.
If, however, "just solution for the Palestinian refugees" is interpreted as monetary compensation which would be sufficient to recompense them for the loss sustained by them and would enable them to settle anywhere they wish, but not to return to the places from which they were driven out in 1948, then the Israelis cannot have any reasonable argument against such solution.
And the questions are:
The answer to the first question is that, now, that the issue of achieving justice for the refugees is becoming reality, rather than a distant goal to fight for, the Palestinians should take a realistic view of what "returning to their homes" means in practice today. Some of the implications of this has been considered above.
All legal systems of the world, including the Noble Qur'an, recognise that it not always possible, or even just, to undo that which has been done, to return that which has been lost or destroyed, or to bring back the dead.
In those cases where restitution is impossible, monetary compensation is the only practical way of achieving justice. No amount of money in the world can replace the loss of the loved ones or the years of life spent in a refugee camp. But there is a limit to what is practically possible. And insisting on the impossible results in getting no justice at all.
As far as the ability of Israel to compensate the refugees is concerned, the answer is "probably not". To provide adequate compensation to some 3-4 million people would require more resources than Israel has. The money has to come from elsewhere. Again it is not an issue of strict justice, but of practicality. "No one can be burdened beyond what he can bear". To expect the impossible is to get nothing.
The third and final crucial question is: "Who are the people with whom the solution lies?"
The issue of Palestine cannot be resolved by an agreement between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government without involving into the negotiations other Palestinian organisations representing the Palestinian refugees, such as Hamas, Hizbullah, etc. and the world's super power, the United States of America. Because only the leaders of the organisations like Hamas have real authority over the suicide bombers, and even they will have to show their followers that there is a genuine practical and certain possibility of achieving justice for the Palestinian refugees to be able to convince their followers to stop suicide bombings. And only the United States have sufficient resources to provide adequate compensation for the Palestinian refugees.
Recognition of the Palestinian organisations like Hamas and Hizbullah is contrary to the doctrine of 'War on Terror'. According to that doctrine such organisations are 'terrorist' and they and the countries 'harbouring' them must be physically destroyed by any means available. But this doctrine is fundamentally flawed and instead of achieving a terror-free world can achieve nothing but more wars and more terror. And the practical results of this doctrine are already seen in the increase of violence around the world and specifically in Palestine.
The fundamental flaw of the 'War on Terror' doctrine is that it ignores the fact that terrorism can be the result of genuine injustice and of inability to achieve justice by any other means except terror. In such cases attempts to suppress terrorism by violence only further increase feelings of injustice and justification for continuation of terrorism. And this is what is happening in Palestine today. And the only way to stop terrorism in such cases is to provide a workable way of achieving justice.
The Saudi Plan is a starting point for achieving total and permanent peace in the Middle East. It is now up to the United States to put forward a workable plan for achieving justice for the Palestinian refugees and agreeing this plan with the terrorist organisations who are the real spokesmen for those who seek to achieve justice through the only means available to them at present - terrorism.