An international research organization has produced a highly detailed plan for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It said its report is fair to both sides and based on a consensus shared by Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans. The question is whether the plan will be acceptable in a climate of increasing violence.
For a considerable time, the International Crisis Group, headquartered in Brussels, avoided getting involved in the Middle East. Why add to the mountain of material already available on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
More recently, the group's members, consisting of prominent public servants from various western countries, decided they could add something of value. They produced three fact-filled reports on how the conflict could be settled between Israel and Palestinians and also between Israel and Syria and Lebanon. Every aspect is covered with explanatory maps.
At a Washington press conference, board member Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, said the ICG plan is necessary because the two sides are no longer capable of finding a solution themselves.
Even so, he believes there is a broad consensus among both Israelis and Palestinians on the general outline of a settlement. The ICG report shows how to achieve it.
"I think it is quite clear by now incremental peace building is essentially equivalent to incremental stalling. At different moments, things come to a halt. Then something unpleasant happens. And there is retrogression, and we have seen massive retrogression in the course of the last half a year or so. It is time for a comprehensive initiative, and the ICG proposals offer a blueprint for the peace itself, in effect a political road map," Mr. Brzezinski said.
The plan provides for an independent Palestinian state based on 1967 borders, though four percent of the West Bank will be annexed by Israel to accommodate major settlements. In exchange, Israel will cede an equivalent amount of land to the Palestinian state.
Both states will have their capital in Jerusalem, Israel governing Jewish areas, Palestine, Arab ones. The historical religious sites will also be divided. Palestine will take charge of the Haram al-Sharif or Temple Mount, Israel the Wailing Wall.
Refugees, who comprise two-thirds of all Palestinians, will give up the right of return to Israel, but will be granted financial compensation and resettlement in Palestine or in some other country.
The plan also spells out territorial compromises between Israel and Syria and Lebanon.
The report said the settlement would be guaranteed by a U.S.-led international force of about 25,000 members.
ICG vice chairman Stephen Solarz, a former U.S. congressman, said the ICG plan fills in the gaps in President Bush's speech on the issue.
It differs from the president in one important respect. The ICG said political negotiations should not wait on reform of the Palestinian Authority, but rather should accompany it. With the vision of a state before them, Palestinians are far more likely to make the kind of progress the President expects.
ICG members acknowledged their plan will meet with opposition. They say it may have to await a change of leadership in more than one country, maybe three.
But there is no time to lose, said Mr. Solarz. "It seems very clear to us that a major contributing factor to Muslim antipathy toward the United States, on which terrorists like Mr. bin Laden capitalize, is the widespread feeling in the Muslim world that we are fundamentally indifferent at best and hostile at worst to the aspirations of the Palestinian people," Mr. Solarz said.
Mr. Solarz said the ICG report could be a crucial weapon in the war on terrorism.