In the wake of the synagogue attack last month in Har Nof that left four rabbis and a Druze police officer dead, author Ari Shavit jumped into the peace-plan fray.
Shavit, a columnist for the Israeli daily Haaretz and author of the acclaimed memoir-history “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel,” proposed a Plan B — an alternative peace process that is gradual and informal, and offers a “horizon of hope.” His plan also comes after months of mounting tensions in Jerusalem a situation he said was “on the brink now of spiraling out of control.” The Jewish Week caught up with Shavit in Denver, where he was speaking as part of the Denver JCC’s festival of the arts. This is an edited transcript.
Q: What’s your reaction to the recent attack at the synagogue in Har Nof?
A: What happened in Jerusalem is perilous, first because you see the influence of ISIS. To attack people while they pray in such a barbaric manner — using meat cleavers — you can see ISIS penetrating the minds of young people in the region.
The second cause of alarm is that it’s becoming a religious war. We have a struggle between religious Jews and religious Muslims over the holy city. And the combination of a religious war with ISIS inspiration is a lethal cocktail.”
Is it realistic to try to reach a comprehensive peace settlement now?
I would love to have one but it’s not realistic now. There’s no leader for peace, no Martin Luther King or Gandhi in the region, and extremists are getting stronger on both sides. We need an alternative peace concept that will give hope and be an organizing principle for stability in the Middle East.”
Tell us about your “Plan B.”
It’s a two-state dynamic that proceeds gradually. The first step is for Israel to instigate a settlement freeze. Settlements are the silent killer of Israel — they’re killing us from within. Then there should be a gradual withdrawal in a way that does not risk our security or enable rockets to be fired into Israel. [It should be done] in a careful, measured way that will show Palestinians that we’re serious about a two-state track.
I can’t imagine a government led by Bibi Netanyahu declaring a settlement freeze or pushing for a West Bank withdrawal.
You’re absolutely right. As a result of the Gaza war, we’ve seen a rise in hawkish positions by the Israeli government. But the freeze would be done in the context of continuing to fight terrorism. We would continue being aggressive on that front.
What’s the second step involved in Plan B?
The second step is for Palestine to engage in nation building: developing new cities, industrial zones, and housing projects that will give hope and jobs to Palestinians. This would transform the economic situation in the West Bank and show that there’s an alternative to radical extremism.
How would economic development in Palestine occur?
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states could finance it. They’ve funded so many wars, if they’ll fund peace for once, then with a few billion dollars (which people in the Gulf will hardly notice) they could create the economic framework for a two-state solution. An example is the Rawabi high-tech urban center being built and funded by Qatar and a Palestinian corporation.
[The two-steps] will build peace step by step, slowly defusing tension, until the climate is right for a political agreement.
You suggest that it’s crucial for the U.S. and the international community to put pressure on Israel and the Palestinians to take up this approach. Is that realistic?
So far, they’ve taken an all-or-nothing approach: trying to reach a perfect peace, or throwing up their hands in despair. There’s a terrible leadership failure in both Israel and Palestine, and it’s essential that the U.S. not give up on the region.
Is the timing right for such a Plan B proposal?
If people don’t like it, let them come up with another idea. If we give Palestinians full citizenship and rights, Israel stops being a Jewish state. If we don’t give Palestinians full rights, it’s not a democratic state. We must find a third way.
Sara Davidson, author of “The December Project,” on the wisdom of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, is based in Boulder, Colo.