Palestine/Israel: Cutting the Gordian Knot

CONFLICT RESOLUTION - MEDIATION, 11 Dec 2023

Alanna Hartzok - TRANSCEND Media Service

4 Dec 2023 – The Gordian Knot of the seemingly intractable problem of the Palestinian / Israeli conflict can be disentangled by people of good will applying skillful means to address the root causes.

As in nearly all conflicts everywhere, different “tribes” of people are claiming the same land. Each side has its own story and rationale as to why the land belongs to them rather than the “other.” A “might makes right” approach uses brute force to dominate and conquer the “other” but injustice creates anger and resentment and eventually the “other” manages to turn the tables.

There are many practical and workable ideas for resolving this chronic conflict via policies and approaches that would fairly share the water, sacred sites, land and other natural resources of Israel/Palestine. The key to implementation is “good will” – the intention to do what is fair and just for everyone. Political and spiritual leaders together with sufficient numbers of Palestinian and Jewish people, combining good will with clarity about fundamental solutions, can create an abiding peace.

Share the Water

This conflict is not just about land but also the water that flows through it.  Some maintain that the so-called Six-Day War in 1967 had its origins in a water dispute. The River Jordan is trans-boundary. People in Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Syria depend on it for life itself. Jordon has signed an agreement with Israel in which cooperation over water plays an important role. Establishment of a trans-boundary watershed authority for the greater region could assure fair access to water including the aquifer from which many people draw their water.  It could be modeled somewhat after the successful Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) that manages the watershed shared by Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. The DRBC mission is to preserve and protect the entire watershed so that the states and municipalities of the region “can accommodate anticipated growth while maintaining good water quality.”

Share Sacred Sites

Let’s start with shared use of the sacred sites in Jerusalem. For instance, at the same location is found the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, which Muslims venerate for its al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest shrine and the site of the biblical Temple revered by Jews. There are also sites that are sacred to both Christians and Jews. An easy solution once there is sufficient good will to do so is to simply allocate days of the week and/or times of the day when Jews, Christians and Muslims are permitted to visit and perform religious ceremonies at these sites. Any additional building construction desired by one group or the other should be decided through a consensus process.

Share the Land

There is an eloquent way to share the surface land of Jerusalem and the land throughout Israel/Palestine. The policy approach entails a basic understanding of the concept of “land/ground rent.” The great American thinker and writer Thomas Paine once said, “Every landholder owes to the community a ground rent for the land that he holds.”

For instance, if a parcel of land is valued at $100,000, the full annual land rent would be calculated at 10% of that amount. If Jerusalem were to collect the land rent in lieu of taxes on labor and production, and then distribute those funds equitably throughout the city to finance public goods and services, everyone living in Jerusalem would experience a higher quality of life. This policy would also bring an end to land speculation and consequent high housing costs that are increasing wealth inequality now negatively impacting all working people. Interestingly it is being reported that the U.S. and Israel have the worst inequality in the developed world. For an article on this inequality see: http://money.cnn.com/2015/05/21/news/economy/worst-inequality-countries-oecd/index.html

Sharing land by sharing the land rent is in fact a policy that can be traced to ancient teachings on the biblical Jubilee as found in The Gemara, Baba Bathra, (122, A) as written about by Solomon Solis Cohen in “The Land Question in the Talmud”.

In their deliberations the ancient rabbis considered how to equalize (make fair) the return to labor given the fact that some land locations are more valuable than others. Those with poorer land were to be given more acreage and those with more fertile land would be given less. As for land disadvantageously situated, the adjustment was to be made by money.

That is to say, those holding land nearer the city (Jerusalem) should pay into the common treasury the estimated excess of value pertaining to it by reason of its superior location, while those holding land of less value, by reason of its distance from the city, would receive from the treasury a money compensation.

This is essentially the same “perennial wisdom teaching” policy that the 19th century US social philosopher and economist Henry George wrote about in his master work Progress and Poverty. The movement for this form of public finance today describes it variously as land value taxation, site revenue sharing, land value capture or commons rent.

Charles Avila in his classic book Ownership: Early Christian Teachings, tells us that the original Judeo-Christian land ethic was “koinonia” – land as God’s gift for the “autarchia” the self-sufficient livelihood of all.  These teachings were lost when Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire with its imperial land ownership law of “dominium” – legalization of land acquired by conquest and plunder. But deep consideration of the covenantal relationship of people to the One God of the three Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – offers ethical and practical ways to fairly share the land and natural resources of Palestine / Israel.

Geo-Confederation Plan for Middle East Territory Sharing

A confederation is a union of sovereign states, united for purposes of common needs and benefits. Usually created by a treaty, confederations of states tend to be established for dealing with critical issues, such as defense, foreign relations, internal trade or currency, with the general government being required to provide support for all its members. Confederalism represents a main form of inter-governmentalism, this being defined as ‘any form of interaction between states which takes place on the basis of sovereign independence or government’.

Geo-confederation combines democracy with economic justice, grounded in a sharing of the benefits of the land. For Israel/Palestine, geo-confederation would form governance along ethnic lines while fairly sharing the land rent on the basis of the population of each group. There is no need to make anyone move as the land rent would compensate for exclusion. This is not a “two-state solution” with rigid land boundaries between states. Even under a two state solution, a few people in each state likely would come to own and control more land than others and wealth inequality in each state would grow as it is doing now in most democracies.

The geo-confederation would establish a commission to assesses the land values and collect and equitably distribute the land rent while each “state” is autonomous, handling its domestic affairs such as education. The states may continue to be members of the UN and other international agencies.

Geo-confederation is a “unity-in-diversity” practical approach enabling people of different tribal, religious and ethnic identities to share land that they all claim. Such “earth sharing” policies are based on an ethic of fair share rights to the Earth’s land and natural resources as a birthright of each and every human being.

 


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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 11 Dec 2023.

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