‚Two states in one land’: A Nobel Prize chemist’s search for peace
The separation between Israelis and Palestinians is a heavy obstacle to peace: Working together to improve their common homeland would greatly benefit both Jews and Arabs.
Partly by chance, partly by design, I became individually involved in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
When I met Herbert Kelman, Professor of Social Ethics Emeritus at Harvard University, at a conference held in his honor on „The Transformation of Intractable Conflicts”, I learned about his „One Country, Two States“ proposal. I later rephrased this as „One Land, Two States“. Kelman describes his hope for both Israelis and Palestinians as follows: „The acknowledgement that each people is attached to the entire land even though it claims only part of it for its own independent state may well strike a responsive chord in both publics“ and make it easier for both „to accept the compromises entailed by an agreement“.
Although I strongly support Kelman’s proposal, I realize that the present Israeli leadership is not ready to accept it. It seems to be generally acknowledged that an Israeli leader equal to Yitzhak Rabin, who is trusted by both Jews and Arabs, is needed for making peace. Mahmoud Abbas‘ acknowledging the existence of the Holocaust was a significant step toward building a trusting relationship.
So it was with an intention to relate to both Israeli and Palestinian concerns that I responded to Bar Ilan university president David Hershkowitz when he invited me to receive an honorary degree: „I am honored by the invitation…. However, I do have a concern…My hope is that having been honored by a Nobel Prize, I can do some good while I am in the limelight. For Israel, it is to further the peace process in any way possible. Of course, an individual can only hope to do small things to bring Israelis and Palestinians together. The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra is a case in point. When I gave a lecture [in Israel] some years ago, I expressed the hope that the next lecture I gave in Israel would be attended by students and faculty from Palestinian universities. Clearly the peace process has not advanced in the intervening years, but I do want to keep my word. I wish you to invite not only people from universities in Israel but also from universities in the Palestinian Territories.“
I focused on six Palestinian universities with known scientists and both Bar-Ilan’s External Relations vice-president and I personally contacted them. Those who replied wrote that they were honored to be invited but that they were unable to accept. Typical is the following: „But, putting all this [the political situation] aside, I am not personally ready to subject myself to the humiliation to which I would be subjected when crossing a checkpoint into Israel itself.“ Having myself witnessed what can happen to a Palestinian at such a checkpoint when I was visiting the West Bank, I can empathize with these scientists. Clearly, a more humane approach to the security requirements would aid in improving contacts between scientists in the Palestinian territories and Israel.
It was the failure of my initial, perhaps naive, effort to bring Israelis and Palestinians together at Bar-Ilan that led me to explore the possibility of presenting a parallel lecture at a Palestinian university. Through the Israeli Palestine Science Organization (IPSO), I had made contact with Hasan Dweik, Vice President of Al Quds University; together with Professor Khalid Kanan, he invited me to present my lecture at the Abu Dis campus, to which scientists from all six Palestinian universities to which invitations had been sent were present as well as about a hundred students, male and female. After the lecture, we discussed the peace process.
I expressed the hope that my visit as a Nobel Prize winner would make the world aware of the importance of science in the Palestinian territories. Further, since neither the often discussed „two state solution“ nor the „one state solution“ appears to be viable – the former cannot be implemented because of the settlement problem and the latter would be the end of the Jewish state of Israel (see, for example, Dov Waxman’s Haaretz opinion piece earlier this year, (“Time to choose: Liberalism or Zionism?”) I proposed that, instead, Kelman’s concept of „One Land and Two States“ should be considered. In essence, the present Israel and Palestinian Territories together („One Land“) historically are the homeland of both Jews and Arabs and should be recognized as such. Within the historical homeland there would be two sovereign entities („Two States“) that correspond approximately to the present-day Israel and Palestinian Territories, though the exact borders are one of the many problems that would have to be resolved.
Before the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Territories would trust each other sufficiently to take joint responsibility for the „One Land“, much would have to change. The Vatican prayer meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian presidents, brokered by Pope Francis, is one small step in that direction. Hopefully my actions during this visit to the Middle East will also contribute.
Jews and Arabs working together to improve their common homeland would be greatly beneficial to both. The United Nations declared 2013 the Year of Water Cooperation. Given the shortage of water in the region, using it most efficiently by extending Israel’s desalination technology and hydroponic agriculture to the Palestinian Territories would be a way to constructively work together.
With „Two States“ in the „One Land“, the Jewish settlers in what is now the Palestinian territories could continue to live there and would have the choice of becoming Palestinian residents or citizens, an analogy to the Arabs who live in Israel.
After this discussion, I also had the opportunity to visit the Al-Quds campus and see some research laboratories. One was devoted to virology and was very well equipped with the instruments able to identify which virus is involved in a particular infection. This equipment was bought with an outside grant. Although large donations are made to the research at Al Quds for equipment and buildings, the small sums needed to run an apparatus are much harder to come by. Here collaborations with Israeli hospitals to supply the funds needed to make use of the laboratory for testing could help to build trust.
I also learned about other efforts, often with little publicity, that involve cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians. One such joint venture is in the area of high-tech development companies. The startup cost is small and the success depends primarily on the intelligence and originality of the people that contribute. There also exists the Palestinian-Israeli Research Group (PICR) for Israeli-Palestinian medical cooperation to further the treatment and research on infectious diseases.
At this stage, a focus on cooperation in education, technology, medicine, and economics on a personal and small organizational level can help to improve life in the Palestinian Territories and serve to develop the trust required for political progress.
Given the present political situation, I believe that small steps are the most any individual like myself can take to improve the relation between Jews and Arabs.
Let me end with part of an email I received after my lecture at Bar-Ilan.
„Thank you for the words with which you began your lecture, and thank you for making your appearance at Bar Ilan conditional on the ability of Palestinian colleagues to come hear you. Our inability to make peace with our Palestinian neighbors is, I believe, first and foremost a consequence of being separated from them, and any course of action that brings us together is therefore a blessing. I come from a long line of peace activists, and am convinced that the more we two peoples meet each other and interact and get to know each other, the stronger the prospects are that we elect leaders who will, one day, pursue peace effectively. I was proud therefore, and grateful, to hear your words, and commend you for them.“
Born in 1930 in Vienna, Martin Karplus escaped Austria in 1938 shortly after Hitler entered Vienna. He went with his family to Switzerland, France and finally to the United States, where he attended Harvard (BA) and Cal Tech (PhD). He later returned as a Professor to Harvard, where he developed the molecular dynamics methodology for which he shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2013.
This article has originally been published on HAARETZ.COM