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American Diplomacy
Commentary and Analysis

April 2003

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The proponents of this approach to the long-standing Arab-Israeli dispute suggest an emphasis on procedure as a means to lay the groundwork for a substantive solution. The authors are both retired university professors with an abiding interest in the problem under consideration.—Ed.

THE ISRAELI-PALESTINE CONFLICT: A Procedural Proposal for Resolution

The Israel-Palestine conflict has not responded to many earnest and skilled efforts at resolution. With every passing day, the anger, hatred, and resentment of both populations increases. It is most unlikely that the Israelis and Palestinians can reach an acceptable resolution by themselves, even with a most skilled mediator. Only a solution proposed jointly by representatives from Arab, other Muslim, and Western countries, endorsed by the UN and accompanied by the weight of world opinion has a chance.

It is not our purpose here to make substantive suggestions for a final settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; rather, we outline a process for arriving at such a resolution. We believe that the disputants are more likely to accept a solution arrived at by the following process than by the usual approach through mediation

We believe that real progress will occur only if an externally created Commission produces a plan by a process that is perceived as fair and just by most people in Israel and Palestine, even if it requires them to give up things that they believe they deserve and need. Although the UN would initiate the process, the Commission will operate independently of the UN, and its balanced composition should reassure the Israelis that it is not biased against them. The belief that a settlement can "work" is based on the conviction that majorities of both nations strongly want peace and will make substantial concessions and strong efforts to prevent breaches of peace arrangements arrived at by a process that is manifestly fair and just. Toward that end, the following procedure is proposed:

  • The Secretary General of the UN would appoint a Commission to manage the process. This Commission would be composed of prominent individuals from a spectrum of, say, fifteen countries representing Arab, other Muslim, Asian, and European nations, plus the United States and perhaps others. It is essential that the composition of the Commission be regarded as fair by the Israelis and Palestinians.
  • The main function of the Commission would be to create a pool of prospective judges, consisting of about twenty-five eminent individuals, well qualified for the role and coming from a variety of countries. Its second function would be to organize a group of persons who have been involved in earlier efforts to resolve the conflict.
  • This group would set down the settlement conditions their experience indicated that both parties are likely to accept and, as such, may help the parties agree to participate in the process. We believe that persons such as Senator George Mitchell and President Jimmy Carter would make up this group.
  • Palestine and Israel would then be asked to select six judges each from this pool of twenty-five individuals, with perhaps a peremptory charge or two. This group of twelve would constitute the Panel of Judges that would propose a detailed settlement of the dispute. It would also determine the procedure by which they reach such a proposed settlement.
  • Although the judges should strive for unanimity, a final proposal should be supported by at least ten of the twelve judges. This proposal would then be submitted to the UN Security Council for endorsement and to the Israeli and Palestinian governments.

It is almost certain that neither government would be satisfied with all aspects of the proposed settlement. What is more relevant is whether a majority of the Palestinian and Israeli people will find it a reasonable compromise—one far more acceptable than a continuation of the current conflict or hope of a better settlement in the future.

The Commission and the UN at that point should undertake a major effort to mobilize world opinion in favor of the proposal. The proposed solution presumably would include strong inducements to accept it. For example, some nations, hopefully, would accept stated numbers of Palestinian refugees and some nations would make commitments to make available to both nations stated amounts of grants and loans.

The United States might have to exert considerable pressure to convince the Israeli government to enter into the process at the outset, as well as to accept the final proposal. Similar pressure might be required from moderate Arab countries if Palestine resists the proposal. If one or both nations are reluctant to abide by the Judges' proposal, penalties might be recommended by the Commission, for example, sanctions, boycotts, trade barriers, or withdrawal of present financial assistance.

Since militants in both Palestine and Israel will probably not accept the plan, some violent resistance to the settlement can be expected. Therefore, the UN, with the consent of the Palestinian and Israeli governments, may have to send a peace-keeping force to the area to enforce the agreement for some period of time. This would be especially important in preventing suicide bombers and Israeli incursions.


Dr. Martin is a University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) professor emeritus of psychology. Dr. Oxenfeldt is a Columbia University professor emeritus of economics

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