The West Bank - known only as Judea and Samaria until 1950 - is indisputably the biblical heartland of the Jews.
The purported offer by Israel’s Prime Minister -Ehud Olmert - to cede 93.5% of that area in fulfilment of President George Bush’s “two state solution” was therefore a very difficult and heart rending decision to make. Yet it has been rejected by the Palestinian Authority after five years of fruitless negotiations.
Little useful purpose can now really be served in trying to analyse the reasons why these negotiations ended so ignominiously or who should be blamed for their failure. It is time to move on.
Suffice to say a piece of land just 5860 square miles in area - less than 5% of the original territory of Palestine - still continues to be designated as “no man’s land” - under the sovereignty of no nation.
Like so many missed opportunities in the past, President Bush’s Roadmap will become an addition to - not the final chapter in - the long history of international efforts to resolve the 130 years old conflict.
As a result Israel has now been given a very real window of opportunity to buy up tracts of West Bank land occupied by Arab residents - rather than being forced to sell out Israel’s heritage by compensating 500,000 Jewish residents to vacate their West Bank homes to enable the creation of President Bush’s new Arabs-only State in the West Bank.
The compensation scheme to achieve the President’s objective was to be presented to Israel’s Cabinet last week but discussion on it was deferred.
Labour Party leader and Defence Minister - Ehud Barak - had described the evacuation-compensation bill as
“part of a master plan to advance the final-status agreement. It is a step in the right direction.”(Jerusalem Post September 7).
Transportation Minister - Shaul Mofaz - said in the same article that he was
“adamantly” opposed to the law, as it “weakens Israel, and weakens its position in the negotiations, and I will not support it.”
Any consideration of such a compensation scheme now appears totally irrelevant given the dead end reached in the Roadmap negotiations.
However Israel would do well to consider whether the money should now be used to offer compensation to 70000 Arab residents in West Bank settlements adjoining or in close proximity to Jewish settlements to enable their voluntary resettlement in one of the twenty one Arab States of the Arab League or any other countries around the world willing to grant them citizenship.
Reclaiming the Jews’ birthright in this manner - rather than selling it off as had been proposed - would garner far greater support in Israel and from Jews world wide.
International financial and diplomatic support - together with Arab League endorsement - for such a program could see perhaps hundreds of thousands more West Bank Arabs being voluntarily resettled in similar fashion.
There is a general international consensus that the daily lives and commercial activities of the resident Arab population in the West Bank have been subjected to grave hardship as Israel has battled to control the growth of terrorism and the movement of terrorists throughout the West Bank - even as Israel was negotiating to divide the West Bank with the very adversaries that seek Israel’s destruction.
With all hopes now ended for a sovereign Arab state being created there, the lives of these West Bank Arabs are likely to worsen as already flagged Arab demands for the creation of a bi-national state and for the right of millions of Arabs to emigrate to Israel raise the spectre of the conflict escalating in intensity.
The migrating Arabs would come to their new host countries not as refugees or mendicants but as persons of self sufficient means. They would at last be able to live free of Israeli control. The occupation for them would have been ended.
Whilst West Bank Arabs were being compensated to move, the refugees living in the surrounding Arab states would be compensated to stay. The setting up of an appropriate international compensation Tribunal to deal with their claims would hopefully see an end to the disgraceful living conditions they have had to endure for up to sixty years, the end of UNWRA and the eventual diversion of the funds and resources of that organisation to deal with the large and growing numbers of refugees world wide.
The successful implementation of this program could eventually persuade Jordan to enter negotiations with Israel to divide sovereignty of the West Bank between Israel and Jordan. As the two successor states to the League of Nations Mandate - together already possessing sovereignty in some 94% of former Palestine - they are the natural parties to negotiate the future sovereignty of the West Bank.
Jordan - the last Arab occupier of the West Bank between 1948-1967 - finally renounced all claims to the West Bank in 1988 in favour of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).
However the PLO has proved itself incapable of negotiating the creation of an independent State in the West Bank since then - despite substantial international financial and diplomatic support running into tens of billions of dollars supported by hundreds of resolutions passed at the United Nations.
Jordan has indicated no desire to return to the West Bank and clearly needs to be subjected to international pressure to make it happen or be told that it risks losing the goodwill of the international community if it refuses to accept the challenge.
The voluntary resettlement of West Bank Arabs would make division of the land between Jordan and Israel much easier to achieve, remove a substantial proportion of the Arab population from the arena of conflict and would also relieve the pressure on the scarce water resources that are available there.
The Arab dream to return to Haifa, Acre and Jaffa would not disappear - nor would their claims on Jerusalem. Neither the PLO nor Hamas would go away. Terror would still continue. Israel would still continue to confront these life and death issues.
But the suffering and hardship of perhaps millions of West Bank Arabs and refugees who have been held captive to the conflict would be ended.
The land of the Bible has seen many visions, prophecies and dreams translate into reality. Could this vision be another that could succeed if supported by the international community?