Amos Oz: What we Israelis must do to bring peace to our land

The Israeli public can be mobilised to topple the settlers' government and elect a realistic coalition
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What can an ordinary man do when he faces an enormous fire? He can try to flee the flames, abandoning to their fate all those who either cannot run or have nowhere to run to. He can stand around and moan. He can blame others. And he can also fill the teaspoon he holds in his hand with water, over and over again, and splash it on the blaze.

Every one of us has a teaspoon.

During these days, every man of peace must draw water – at least enough to fill the spoon he holds – and pour it on the fire: make his voice heard, object to war crimes by either side, help the victims of these war crimes; demonstrate, persuade, write, debate, garner support for reasonable compromise, oppose the continuation of the Israeli occupation and the Islamic/anti-Semitic campaign for Israel's extermination. The spoon in the ordinary man's hand is truly very small, and the fire large indeed – but even so he must use it.

In Israel, and in Palestine as well, there must be a "teaspoon muster", joined by every person willing to do his utmost to halt the wheels of the repression, the killing, the retaliation, and the retaliation for retaliation.

On the Israeli side, it is best to talk not of "unilateral separation", but specifically of an Israeli initiative to end the occupation, for the defence of the state of Israel.

Today, the majority of the Israeli public can be mobilised to topple the settlers' government and elect in its stead a coalition with realistic positions. All this is to be based on a plan. If the Palestinian leadership agrees to this plan, all the better; but this plan's great advantage is that it can be implemented even if the Palestinian leadership remains neck-deep in belligerency, or prisoner in the hands of the forces of jihad.

1. Israel will end the occupation of the Palestinian population, and will set up a closed, fortified line in accordance with demographic reality – a line not the same as the Green Line, but adjacent to it – that will include no occupied Palestinian population. The permanent Israel-Palestine borders will be determined through negotiation, with the Palestinian leadership proving, by its deeds, that it has renounced the Islamic campaign to annihilate Israel.

2. Israel will agree to the immediate establishment of a Palestinian state in the populated Palestinian areas, even if this state arises before a peace treaty is signed between the sides. Militarily and morally, it will be easier for Israel to face an enemy state than to continue fighting a cluster of armed gangs.

3. Israel will morally acknowledge that it played a role in bringing about the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy. At the same time, it will demand of every decent man that he acknowledge the role of the Arab countries and the Palestinians in this tragedy.

The calamity of the Palestinian refugees is one of the origins of the violence, the hatred, and the terror. Israel must accept no solution that does not include the human, economic, and political rehabilitation of the Palestinian refugees – not within Israel's borders, but in their homeland, Palestine – through international and Israeli participation in the task of rehabilitation.

4. A comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Arab war must be sought not only between Israel and the Palestinian leadership, but also, and perhaps primarily, between Israel and the Arab League (which perhaps has the power to restrain displays of Palestinian extremism). The Saudi plan, some of whose elements were adopted by the Arab League, can serve as a point of departure – but definitely not as the finish line – for negotiations between Israel and the League on a comprehensive solution to the Israel-Arab war.

5. A unilateral Israeli move to end the occupation, including the dismantling of the vast majority of the settlements, would come about only if the burden of minimising the danger that Israeli society is being asked to face is shouldered by those who demand that Israel carry out such a move in the absence of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

The condition for ending the occupation will not be some paper signed by Yasser Arafat, but a solid agreement concretely linking Israel with Nato and the European Union, so as to deter the promoters of the Islamic holy war and to lay to rest once and for all the dream of eliminating Israel – and also to ensure that the end of the occupation will not be a shot in the arm encouraging those who are inflamed with warmongering Arab nationalism, and will not enable them to attack Israel after it relinquishes its control over the Palestinians.

Around such a plan as this, it will be possible to consolidate a majority of the public, a majority in the next elections, and perhaps even a majority in the current Knesset – a majority that consists of the left, the centre and the more pragmatic elements of the moderate right.

© Amos Oz 2002

The author's novel 'The Same Sea' has just been published in paperback by Viking at £6.99