Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, perhaps prodded by private discussions with Secretary of State Kerry, has taken a bold move in peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority by acknowledging the possibility that Jewish settlers could remain in the West Bank, but as citizens of a Palestinian state, just as hundreds of thousands of Palestinians today live as peaceful and law-abiding citizens of Israel.
In turn, Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas has acknowledged the need for security for Israel and Palestine, and called for a NATO presence on the West Bank, both to secure Israel and Palestine from outside interference and to protect each side from terrorists who will almost certainly do anything they can to disrupt and discredit any peace treaty that might be agreed upon.
These are important steps. But they each seem more aimed at dodging the inevitable bullet: who gets blamed when this whole process fails. To help Obama and the Democrats get through the November elections, both sides might be willing to drag on the negotiations. But unless Secretary of State Kerry is willing to put forward a comprehensive settlement plan that speaks to the legitimate needs of both sides, his program is doomed to failure.
And it will fail, because Kerry's plan will be "realistic" rather than visionary, and de facto that means speaking more to the power of Israel and its domestic lobby (not only AIPAC, but the tens if millions of Christian Zionists) than to the aspirations of the Palestinian people.
The central issue for the Palestinians, beyond borders adhering closely to the pre-1967 borders with some land swaps to make it possible for some West Bank settlement to be included inside Israel while giving Palestine land equivalent in values, historic and military significance, and a capitol for their state that includes all of East Jerusalem, is this: there must be the appearance of justice for the 800,000 plus Palestinian refugees, many forced out of their homes by the Israeli army or by Jewish terrorist groups, and for their several million descendants, many of whom still live in some of the worst conditions on the planet in Gaza or in refugee camps in Arab lands.
Kerry should propose that Israel allow 20,000 such refugees to return to Israel each year for the next 40 years, a number significant enough to be taken seriously by Palestinians but small enough to eliminate worries that the Palestinians would quickly become the majority inside Israel and thus have two Palestinian states. This must be accompanied by a public apology from Israel for its part of the responsibility for the disaster that happened to the Palestinian people in 1948 (without claiming that Israel has all of the responsibility or guilt).
Kerry's plan must offer reparations from the international community to Palestinian refugees and their descendants, as well as to families who suffered measurable loss or incarceration in Israeli prisons during the Occupation. The amount should be generous so that Palestinians will be brought to an economic level equivalent to the Israeli median income within a ten-year period. The same level of reparations must also be made available to all Jews who fled Arab lands between 1948 and 1977. After all, it is the international community, by tolerating or promoting anti-Semitism for hundreds of years, that caused the urgent need for the Jewish people to return to our ancient homeland.
In turn, Palestine must apologize to the Israeli people for the acts of terror against Israeli civilians that created huge security fears for Israelis in the past decades, and recognize Israel as a Jewish state with special right of return for Jews just as the Palestinian state will have special rights of return for Palestinians. In both cases, the full religious and political rights of minorities must be assured, legal equality guaranteed, discrimination against minorities criminalized, and teaching of hatred toward the other effectively banned.
Kerry's framework agreement is unlikely to include these, and hence will be as short-lived as the Oslo Accord of 1993. To be realistic, the U.S. plan must be visionary -- and the Obama Administration must use its full power to popularize that vision both in the citizens of the US and the Middle East, rather than propose something less visionary that will quickly fall apart.
Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine: A Jewish and Interfaith Critique of Politics, Culture and Society, and author of The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country From the Religious Right.