Middleton Man Seeks Middle East Peace
Abufarha's plan for a binational state is drawing international
By Katherine Kingsbury
day after an ambush in the West Bank city of Hebron killed 12
Israeli security personnel and 3 Palestinian militia members,
Nasser Abufarha of Middleton is still hard at work on a peace
plan for the middle east. "we can't just let the course
of events take us along," he says between sips of Arabic
proposal unveiled earlier this year (ap-agenda.org) differs
radically from those hashed out between Israeli governments
and the Palestinian authority over the past decade. He says
it "comprehensively addresses the concerns and current
realities of both Israeli and pal society," thereby paving
the way for lasting peace.
plan as envisioned would create a sort of middle eastern Switzerland
out of what is now Israel, the West Bank and Gaze. The new union
would consist of two states, Israel and Palestine, each of which
would have its own language, legislature, national holidays,
and educational and social-service systems. They would share
a federal parliament and jointly operate a single military force.
Jerusalem would be in a district all its own, so that neither
state could claim exclusive authority over it.
from putting an end to Israel, Abufarha says his plan would
strengthen its status as a Jewish state.
of Israel's current population are non-Jewish Arabs: in twenty
or thirty years, they are likely to make up half of its population.
Under Abufarha's plan, most Israeli Arabs would be absorbed
into the Palestinian state, leaving Israel citizenry almost
completely Jewish. It's security, he says, would be virtually
guaranteed, since the Palestinian State would not have the means
to attack it. And by equalizing power btw the two states, the
plan could reduce the cachet of militant groups that play on
Palestinian sense of victimization.
estimates that half of all Palestinians cling to the idea of
establishing their own state on what was once British Mandate
Pal - Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. But he says the portion
of Palestinians in the Territories in favor of a binational
state - now estimated at 25% - is surprisingly high given that
no detailed proposal on the subject has circulated widely. Once
his idea gets out, he thinks support for a binational state
brainchild has already been endorsed by several leading Palestinian
intellectuals, including Dr. Haider Abdel Shafi, who led the
Palestinian delegation to the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference.
Israeli academics have also expressed interest. In mid November,
14 Palestinians from the Middle East, Europe, and the US came
to Madison to work out details of the plan, and another group
of Palestinians and Israelis will gather in the Spring to refine
the proposal further.
this sunny late-autumn morning, Abufarha's Middleton house seems
about as far away as you can get from the world of war. Half
a dozen neighborhood kids are out raking the front lawn, dumping
clumps of yellow maple leaves into red wagons and granny carts.
38, did not have this kind of childhood. He grew up in a small
village outside of Jenin in the West Bank, west of the Jordan
river, an area taken from Jordan by the Israeli military in
the 1967 war.
went to a high school that was surrounded by Israeli army forces,
stationed on rooftops around the building. They would check
us at the gates of the high school. Sometimes they came inside
and there were beatings of students in the school."
the mid-1980s, Abufarha came to the United States to attend
college, getting an undergraduate degree in computers in Michigan.
He moved to the Madison area in 1996. He opened and later sold
the Shish Café in Middleton.
rejects the notion that violence in the mid east stems from
some intrinsic animosity between Arabs and Jews. Ordinary Israelis
and Pals, he says, "got along even after wars. I remember
in the 70s, Israelis used to shop in Jenin regularly. Pals worked
for Israelis and shopped from Israelis suppliers. Pals hired
1998, Abufarha began work on a new peace plan. The Oslo Accords,
signed in 1993 by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO
Chairman Arafat, had already begun to show signs of unraveling.
saw two major problems with that agreement. First, in dividing
the West bank into alternating pockets of Israeli and pal control
- a process that made the maps of the west bank bear a vague
resemblance to those of the town of Madison - it started to
limit the movements of the Pal population. Second, it created
an armed pal police force that threatened both Israeli and pal
security by further militarizing a highly charged situation.
calls the Oslo Accords and subsequent negations "more of
a business deal between two parties bent on maintaining power
than something that improves the lives of ordinary citizens.
He thinks that's why Pal suicide bombing and Israeli settler
violence have continued unabated.
don't have much faith in the current process," he says,
"whether it's the current pal leadership's engagement or
the current Israeli leadership's engagement.
idea of a bi-national state is increasingly discussed in pal
and Israeli circles, but only a small minority has become excited
about it. "I just don't see it as possible or even desirable
given what we know about how we resolve ethnic conflicts,"
says Michael Barnett, professor of political science at UW Madison
and specialist in the Middle East and international relations.
"It doesn't mean it's not a great idea, but it's not realistic."
says a bi-national state could quickly go the way of the former
Yugoslavia after the Balkan wars of the 1990s - divided into
multiple ethnic enclaves: "both of them view each other
as the enemy and the perpetrator, and to ask the perpetrator
to live with the victim is a little tough."
better solution, says Barnett, would be to establish two separate
groups, Israel and a de-militarized Palestinian state, and impose
a seize-fire through forces supported by the United Nations.
"If the Pals and Israelis agree on one thing, it's that
they want to be apart. They're identities that have been created
in mutual antagonism toward each other. They need a divorce."
proposal calls for a period of separation but the timeline
is still up in the air.
Manes, a UW doctoral candidate in political science with a focus
in the mid east, finds the idea of a bi-national state compelling,
but for "pragmatic rather than political, visionary reasons."
Manes suggests that, after a period of separation, Israeli and
pal leaders may discover that two independent countries on such
a small strip of land cannot survive, economically or militarily,
in the logn term. "there has to be two states for a while,"
she says, "but it's a question whether or not two individual
states are going to be viable." Than again, Manes says,
it's possible that the idea of a bi-national state could find
favor more quickly, perhaps after the upcoming Israeli elections.
"the thing about mid east politics is that so many negotiations
go on behinds the scenes that who knows what's going on. Two
or three years ago, I would have said there's going to be a
pal state, but now there isn't."
doesn't seem concerned about whether Israeli or pal leaders
seize on his idea. In fact he says they probably won't - at
least not on their own. "this is going to be a test to
the whole theory of grass roots," he said. "we have
to work a lot harder than Sharon or Arafat to get our word across.
But the political system will be responsive to it at some point."
article first appeared in Isthmus,
the weekly newspaper of Madison, Wisconsin, on November 29,
2002. The author retains the copyright for this article. It
may not be reproduced in any form without permission.