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Tragedy in The Middle East Must Not Kill Hope

There is one word that is unavoidable in the first sentence of any discussion about what is now happening between the Israelis and Palestinians: ‘tragedy’ – but we must not abandon the word ‘try’ either.

Peace plans have come and gone for decades, interspersed with stunning breakthroughs that brought real hope – but the current violence makes it seem we are as far as ever from ‘peace in the Middle East.’

While I firmly believe that the only solution is a ‘two state solution’ (sorry Mr. Erdogan: Cyprus and the Holy Land are like apples and oranges) so much has happened in the world since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin that the word ‘solution’ seems frighteningly out of place.

Nevertheless, I still believe that critical issues can be addressed in ways that satisfy the interests and security needs of both sides.

First, I must note that from the way things looked before 1990, it is a miracle that a Palestinian Authority exists – and that is a proto-state, as is the fact that the list of Arab states recognizing Israel keeps getting longer.

Those things were once considered impossible, while the key issues of territorial adjustments and a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem – and even the settlements – were issues that looked like they could be finessed. Of course, bloodshed drowns the best of intentions and compromises, but time – and economic interests – can heal many wounds.

I have some – dwindling – optimism left, because of a fact the media seems to often forget: Israel and the Palestinian Authority are able to (usually) get along. Both still have leaders and a large percentage of people who say enough is enough and want peace. As difficult and emotional as the issue is, there have been discussions in Israel and the Authority about territorial adjustments in the West Bank.

Hamas, however, in the Gaza Strip, is dominated by extremists and terrorists, so the question is whether at some future date Israel and the Authority can come up with a plan that credibly offers a brighter future in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, so that the extremists can be outflanked. I believe there is. 

I always thought that the biggest issue that was ignored by the media is the Jordan Valley. It is clear now – if it wasn’t always – that Israel will not withdraw from there. The recent disturbing instability in Jordan demonstrates to Israel that a friendly is Amman not a guarantee.

Here is the dilemma: Israel cannot abandon the Jordan Valley. It is vital to its national security has become non-negotiable – yet this is occupied territory.

History does offer precedents, however, territorial swaps, which have already been discussed in this context – but only on the borders of West Bank territory.

A new idea would be that Israel remains in the Jordan Valley – but the Palestinians can be compensated inch for territorial inch … in the Negev, along the border with Egypt.

If Israel can compromise on Jerusalem as a shared capital – perhaps with the Old City, sacred to three faiths, being Internationalized (yes, that’s another oft-proposed concept that has gone nowhere elsewhere, but Jerusalem is a unique place in human history) – the Palestinian Authority-State-to be could accept such a swap – but why should the people of Gaza?

Because peace without bread brings its own misery, and a lack of economic hope can turn younger generations against its leaders – even radical ones.

I propose that a strip of territory along Israel’s southern border becomes new strip added to the Gaza Strip, but with a twist: the border will be a new canal from the Mediterranean to the Gulf of Aqaba, which empties into the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean, a potentially lucrative zone the Saudis, Israelis, and others will want to invest in.

Egypt, a key stakeholder, will need to be cut into the deal – but we have recently also seen it has an interest in relieving traffic in the Suez Canal – and widening it is prohibitively expensive.

A new canal is win-win: a gain for Israeli security and an economic boost for the Palestinians.

The Israelis of course have expensive advanced military facilities which will have to be rebuilt next to the new canal, but they will be more modern and effective.

This will sound familiar to some – the old Dead-Med canal that was to connect the Dead Sea with the Mediterranean – but an Aqaba-Med canal would be more valuable economically – and contribute to the peace effort.

Palestinian economic independence and prosperity is guaranteed to benefit, but in the long term the gain could be huge for all parties.

Dr. Aristotle Tziampiris of the University of Piraeus and president of the Council for International Relations Greece (CFIR-GR) believes all states in the region and other interested parties must take note of the links and partnerships being created between East Med and Gulf states and act accordingly. Effectively, what is emerging is a Greater East Med.  Again, Saudi Arabia’s port of Aqaba is its gateway to the Suez Canal making it a virtual Mediterranean country. Tziampiris’ reasoning demonstrates the United States and the entire region stand to gain tremendously.

Greece, too, has a potentially helpful and lucrative role to play. Given its excellent relations with Arab states and Israel – and its own interests, the needs of its vital shipping industry not least among them – Athens would make a respected mediator.

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