Human Journey

A Pragmatic Way to Resolve the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict


A Harbinger of Pragmatic Peace?

Six years ago, I received an invitation to participate in an event on peace-building in the Middle East at the University of California, Los Angeles. The seminar had been organized by a local lawyer, Josef Avesar, along with academics at UCLA to find a novel way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The idea was taken from other historic territorial conflicts and rivalries – to establish an Israeli-Palestinian  Confederation – analogous to the cantons of Switzerland uniting or indeed the articles of confederation of the United States, as noted by Amherst College political scientist Ronald Tiersky in the Jerusalem Post earlier this year.  However, unlike earlier efforts, this idea was to be implemented from the grassroots using the internet as a platform to recruit candidates for a “virtual parliament,” while the policy-makers remained deadlocked. In six years, Mr.  Avesar has been determined despite all odds and has managed to get over 700 Israelis and Palestinians (including in Gaza) to run in a virtual election which will be held on December 12, 2012. Those who may dismiss this as a gimmick should note that even a willingness to run in an election of this kind poses peril to the candidates but they are willing to do so because they see this as the most tangible effort to “think outside the box” and move beyond the stagnation of one-state/ two-state fixes.

Last week, the New York Times published a full-page advertisement regarding the IPC and its election plan. Yet the level of suspicion, cynicism and contempt on all sides remains intense. There is still deep-rooted suspicion of even those of us who aspire for peace. As a board member of the IPC and as a Pakistani-American, I often hear from both Arabs and Israelis that such initiatives are merely a means of social-climbing or prize-fishing. Often we get labelled as “sell-outs” or “conspirators” or for those who like to offer a patronizing pat on the back, simply dismissed as “well-intentioned idealists.”

In my visit to Israel in 2010 on an invitation from Tel Aviv University and the U.S. embassy, I was alarmed to find how much the narrative of peace-building has eroded – to use an environmental metaphor. There is an uneasy calm, and a surprisingly sanguine sense of security, which many Israelis voiced to me across the political spectrum. Efforts such as the Israeli Palestinian Confederation are thus seen as an attempt to disrupt this calm. Yet, the reality remains that the status quo is untenable in the long-run. The Arab Spring and its aftermath reminds us that the magma of misery that many feel in the Middle East cannot be contained simply by higher walls and military security strategies. Initiatives such as the IPC deserve our attention because they urge us to consider hybridity in conflict resolution strategies – a pathway between the polarization of hard versus soft strategies.

Another path to peace which deserves  more attention is to get Israelis and Palestinians to study together and develop an epistemic community on fields such as environmental science. Such an approach is best exemplified by The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in Israel. Environmental factors will ultimately define the quality of life in the regions for all ethnicities and political persuasion – particularly within Israel’s political landscape which has become more atomized in recent years. The administration of Arava noted that it is more difficult for Arava to recruit West Bank Jewish settlers to study with Palestinians than it is for them to recruit Palestinians to study with Israelis. During my visit to the Arava Institute in January, 2010 I met a young Jewish-American student who told me how his brother had chided him for being a bleeding heart for wanting to study with Palestinians.

I share this somber example with you because any celebration of peace-building and environmental stewardship must remain grounded in “reality checks.” The willingness of the Arava Institute to challenge Israeli law concerning the lack of access of Palestinians to educational institutions in Israel is an important example of their bold willingness to engage on these matters. As with the 700+ election-runners in the IPC virtual parliament, it is heartening to see Israelis and Palestinian students willing to endure the scorn of many of their friends for studying at the Arava Institute – the yearning for peace is high and regrettably gets eclipsed by the cacophony of radicals.

Additional initiatives such as Friends of the Earth – Middle East or the University of the Middle East Project, must be supported no matter how bleak the prospects for peace may seem. Peace-building is a generational struggle and a responsibility that incrementally falls on us all. The success of the IPC in my view remains in the process of cognitive change which it is fostering. The December 12, 2012 virtual election will be a momentous achievement even if it’s symbolic. All those willing to engage and embrace a democratic mechanism through this novel idea deserve to be congratulated and supported.


Saleem H. Ali is Blue and Gold Distinguished Professor of Energy and the Environment at the University of Delaware (USA) and a Professorial Research Fellow at the University of Queensland, Australia. He is also a Senior Fellow at Columbia University's Center on Sustainable Enterprise. Dr. Ali is a National Geographic Emerging Explorer for 2010 and World Economic Forum "Young Global Leader" (2011). His books include "Environmental Diplomacy" (with Lawrence Susskind, Oxford Univ. Press) and "Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed and a Sustainable Future" (Yale University Press). He can be followed on Twitter @saleem_ali.
  • Rabbi Michael M. Cohen

    Saleem has said so well what so many of us know in the grassroots NGO world. Underneath the radar screen of the media there are important forces at work advancing peace in that region of the world.

  • Gary Tucker

    I would hope that there is the same grassroots NGO initiatives working to produce peace and cooperation between Jordanians and Palestinians as well. I would also hope that they are achieving the same level of success.

  • Lol

    +1 to Gary Tucker’s comment.

  • Ima Ryma

    Israeli – Palistinian
    Conflicts take up much time and place.
    And why does all this spilled blood run?
    Is peace beyond the human race?
    The land is torn in war and strife.
    Environment could be the key
    To opening up love for life,
    And making it reality.
    Back to the land, how each can give,
    And learn from others better ways,
    Not what to die for, but to live,
    Can sow the seeds to better days.

    Come together to understand,
    Put peace, not blood, into the land.

  • john doe

    700 candidates. are a lot. Compared to the population it is nothing. As for the claim that it is risky to do so that holds only for one side of the conflict. How many of the 700 belong to that side?
    As for recruiting for Arava, the last time I checked there are a lot more Palestinians than settlers so it should be easier to recruit from a large pool than a small pool. Add in the fact that settlers are a self-selected subset of Israelis (and not selected for environmental issues) and the result is not surprising.

  • Mr and Mrs Todd Hoover

    Happy to see this discussion receiving the international attention that it deserves with the reach of the National Geographic Society. There are so many Americans unaware of this approach to achieving peace in this area, we only hear of the slaughters, the fighting, and the torture of the citizens.

  • Mohamed Awadalla

    All those willing to engage and embrace a democratic mechanism through this novel idea deserve to be congratulated and supported.

  • Josef Avesar

    Thank you, Saleem for a great article. I remember that conference at UCLA very well. You were among the very few who supported the idea. Your intellect and honesty helped persuade many in the audience to pay attention.
    Many do not realize how much sacrifice those candidates are making. They are risking their physical existence as well as their standing in the community and employment. We currently have almost 800 candidates. We hope to get 1500 by the time of the elections which will start on December 12, and end on December 31, 2012.
    This proposal is for Israelis and Palestinians together. The IPC will be an independent government for both people .For decades, the Israeli and Palestinian governments dealt with each other as opponents and are only looking at the solution in terms of division of real estate. The IPC changes the formula. The IPC concept is that Israelis and Palestinians could be on the same side and not necessarily opposite from each other. We believe that people and not real estate should come first.
    According to the IPC constitution, the Israelis can have their own government and so do the Palestinians and those governments could make their own agreements. However, there should be a government for both people to explore other avenues for peace and cooperation.

  • Mike Powers

    I would like to hear more. As a “settler”, I can say that I am pleased to see such an initiative. I remember how not too long ago, pre 2000, there was much more freedom of movement and the relationships between Jews and Arabs in Judea and Samaria was far more productive. There are many of us, many more who wish to enjoy a peaceful existence with our next door neighbors.

  • Josef Avesar

    Mike, you could find out all about it by going to . You could read the constitution and the FAQ. I also hope you join as a candidate. The IPC will give you an opportunity to reach agreements with other district representatives including Israelis and Palestinians. The elections will start on December 12, 2012. Hope you join.

  • Mike Burch


    A necessary first step in any real peace process is for the people in power, in this case Israel, to recognize the humanity and equal rights of the the people on the other side. For Israeli Jews who are SERIOUS about peace, and who understand that real peace requires justice, and that real justice requires equality, here is an idea about a way to prod the government of Israel into enacting the necessary reforms:

  • Ouriel Zohar

    Great article !
    Thank you, please join us to this confederation !

  • Aviva Weisgal

    Thank you Ima Ryma for your beautiful and meaningful poem!

  • Lee Kaplan

    I wrote an article about the IPC. It’s long term goal is end Israel as a Jewish stae dominaed by an Arab majority. Avesar is a personal injury attorney. I’m not sure of his motives, if he is a starry-eyed idealist who would sell out the Jewish people or if he seeks personal fame and Saudi money, but this program is a non-starter. As soon as the Arabs dismantle a Jewish state and get inside Israel, they will start to massacre the Jews again. See my article: . Avesar refuses to address the question about how he will protect the Jews from Arab terrorism.

  • essam mohammad hijji

    ثوره على علماء الدين والمنظرين ص(اول ما تسعر بهم جهنم العلماء وصاحب المال الحرام والشهيد من اجل ان يقال) , المرسلون كلهم احباب واتباعهم اعداء, توجد ازمة فكر لانريد استبدال اعور باعور0الصراع فقط بين هابيل وقابيل , فلم يكن صراعهم من اجل قرابه او شرعه او اعتقاد,كان فقط بين متقي وفاسد . ان الله يدفع الناس لعمل مشاكل عند الطلم, الاحزاب في طريقها للتلاشي من قال ان لله ولد و ان بوذا الله و من عمل شيعه وسنه طبعا عالم, اما العوام فانهم امعه , لاتصلح الدمقراطيه للمتخلفين فقط العدل
    نعم كان اليهود مسلمين ثم فقدوا اسلامهم بعدم ايمانهم بعيسى وفقد النصارى اسلامهم بعدم ايمانهم بمحمد وفقد المسلمين اسلامهم بعدم ايمانهم بكل الكتاب فجمع الله النواقص في آيه ان الذين آمنوا والذين هادوا والنصارى والصايئن جميع المذكورين فقدوا اسلامهم ولم يفقدوا ايمانهم,, ماهو شرط دخول الجنه……..من آمن بالله واليوم الآخر وعمل صالحا فلهم اجرهم عند ربهم ولا خوف عليهم ولا هم يحزنون

  • Rob Miso

    I see no way, I see – to be honest – NOTHING that does anything to RESOLVE the conflict. Nothing. It’s really one of either the dumbest or most filled with chutzpah PR stunts of some fake peaceniks.

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