Ari Shavit Proposes 3rd Way for Israel/Palestine peace

One day after the Jerusalem synagogue attack last week, Ari Shavit, author of My Promised Land, proposed a Plan B—an alternative peace process that is gradual and informal, and offers a “horizon of hope.”
When I spoke with him in Denver on Wednesday, Shavit said that formal talks to attain an all-inclusive Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty have always failed, creating a vacuum that has led to accelerating violence. “It’s on the brink now of spiraling out of control.”

What happened in Jerusalem is perilous, he said, “first because you see the influence of ISIS. To attack people while they pray in such a barbaric manner—using meat cleavers—you can see ISIS penetrating the minds of young people in the region.”

The second cause of alarm is that “it’s becoming a religious war,” Shavit said. Before it was primarily nationalistic, but now, “we have a struggle between religious Jews and religious Muslims over the holy city. And the combination of a religious war with ISIS inspiration is a lethal cocktail.”

Shavit repeated this Wednesday night at a sold-out talk capping the Denver JCC’s festival of arts, authors, movies and music. Since publication of Shavit’s book a year ago, his talks across the country have sold out. The book was an instant phenomenon: a captivating and sometimes startling history of Israel that presents all points of view. It soared onto the best-seller list, was praised and occasionally attacked by people from both the left and right, and won the Natan Book Award and the Jewish Book Award.

I found Shavit to be a great bear of a man with a rich, baritone voice. He’s tough-minded but owns an endearing humor and humility. Describing how he wrote the book as a personal historical narrative, he said, “I like my book, and sometimes I even like myself.”

In our interview, Shavit said it’s not realistic to try for a comprehensive peace agreement now, “although I would love to have one.” There’s too much violence and instability, he said. “There’s no leader for peace, no Martin Luther King or Gandhi in the region, and extremists are getting stronger on both sides. We need an alternative peace concept that will give hope and be an organizing principle for stability in the Middle East.”

The alternative he proposes is: a two-state dynamic that proceeds gradually, and will lead, in the long term, to a two-state solution.

The first step, he said, is for Israel to instigate a settlement freeze. “Settlements are the silent killer of Israel—they’re killing us from within.” When he said this at the JCC in Denver, the audience burst into applause. At the same time, Shavit said, Israel should begin a measured withdrawal from specific areas in the West Bank. “Not in a way that risks our security or enables rockets to be fired into Israel,” he said. “But in a careful, measured way that will show Palestinians that we’re serious about a two-state track.”

I told him I can’t imagine Netanyahu’s government declaring a freeze or withdrawing even one inch from the West Bank.

“You’re absolutely right,” he said. “As a result of the Gaza War, we’ve seen a rise in hawkish positions by the Israeli government. But the freeze would be done in the context of continuing to fight terrorism. We would continue being aggressive on that front.” He believes that with pressure from the international community and moderate Israelis, the government could be persuaded to move toward the center

The second step, he said, is for Palestine to engage in nation building: developing new cities, industrial zones, and housing projects that will give hope and jobs to Palestinians. He said this would transform the economic situation in the West Bank and show that there’s an alternative to radical extremism.

I asked how economic development in Palestine would occur.

“Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states could finance it,” he said. “They’ve funded so many wars, if they’ll fund peace for once, then with a few billion dollars (which people in the Gulf will hardly notice) they could create the economic framework for a two-state solution.

He gave the example of Rawabi, the first high-tech urban center being built for Palestinians just a few miles from Ramallah in the West Bank. It’s being funded by the government of Qatar in cooperation with a Palestinian business conglomerate, and will include housing for 40,000, eight schools, a giant park, office buildings, a convention center, mosque, theaters and shopping mall.
rawabi  const
Shavit said the combination of an Israeli measured withdrawal that doesn’t risk its security, together with Palestinian nation building will “build peace step by step, slowly defusing tension, until the climate is right for a political agreement.”

He said it’s crucial for the U.S. and the international community to put pressure on Israel and Palestine to take up this approach.

“That seems unrealistic,” I said, “expecting the U.S. and Europe to make this happen.”

Shavit disagreed. So far, he said, they’ve taken an all or nothing approach: trying to reach a perfect peace, or throwing up their hands in despair. “There’s a terrible leadership failure in both Israel and Palestine, and it’s essential that the U.S. not give up on the region.”

He said he’s put his proposal on the table. “If people don’t like it, let them come up with another idea.” But it’s urgent, he said, to take action to save the Jewish democratic state. “If we give Palestinians full citizenship and rights, Israel stops being a Jewish state. “If we don’t give Palestinians full rights, it’s not a democratic state. We must find a third way.”



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30 thoughts on “Ari Shavit Proposes 3rd Way for Israel/Palestine peace

  1. Allen.Taylor

    We agree with Shavit. Having just returned from 1 year in Israel, it is clear that finding a solution to the animosity is urgently needed. To this end we started started Science Training Encouraging Peace – Graduate Training Program (STEP). Via STEP, pairs (one Israeli and one Palestinian per pair) of young professional health care workers study together in upper level graduate level training programs. The objective is to provide advanced training in order to advance careers, allow bridges to be built between the members of the pairs and their colleagues, and show their communities that progressive engagement is beneficial and the most fruitful and practical means to achieve peace. Thus by training one pair, dozens of people are affected and engaged.
    Example, a dentist takes her new training back to all the patients and colleagues in her practice.
    Example, Danish professors are engaged in the Israel-Palestine area as they sit on Thesis committees.
    Example, diabetologists learn how to use data in new ways in order to deliver better care – even in Gaza.

    May I ask that you view our 3.5 minute video that will introduce you to STEP-GTP Also, please visit our website for additional information. We currently have 6 STEP Fellows.
    Feel free to call me to discuss.
    617 556 3156
    Allen Taylor

  2. Jan Whitt

    This is a stunning interview, something I’ve come to expect from you. I just showed “To Die In Jerusalem” in both my media classes as an example of effective use of point of view, narrative, description, dialogue, and other characteristics of provocative documentaries. I’ll use this interview along with the film in the future. My thanks.

  3. Cee Howard

    Sara, good to hear from you and a nice surprise with Thanksgiving coming tomorrow. I will pray for peace in Palestine, and I’m glad to get your update. Again, I’m one of those who read Exodus when Leon Uris first published it in the 1960s! So inspiring….
    Candace Howard
    Baton Rouge, La.

  4. Julie Geller

    Thanks, Sara. I think this sums it up well (although my memory is that when he mentioned a settlement freeze less than half the audience applauded). I hope Shavit (or somebody) can persuade the powers that be to do something constructive because it’s feeling hopeless to so many now.

  5. Karen Marx

    Thank you Sara for this comprehensive summary of the discussion with Ari Shavit. I think his idea of this “3rd way” solution sounds very promising, and really is the only plan that takes into consideration the needs of both sides. Compromise must take place, and as time moves on with no solution to this dangerous fighting and ill-will, the situation will continue to deteriorate further, risking everything for the Jewish state.

  6. Tirzah

    I also attneded Ari’s talk, and I heard what Sara reports and also different things that evening.

    Here are a few quotes from my notes:
    – “Israelis are not angels or demons, we are humans with a remarkable human story.

    – “We live with a deep uncertainty. We live with such intensity, always on the edge.

    – This summer changed everything.

    – ISIS is now on our doorstep.

    – To save the Jewish democratic state, things must change.

    – “The Occupation and the settlements are killing us, Demographically, politically, and morally.”

    – If we deny the Palestinian state, Israel stops being a democracy. Do we really want to control 1.8 million people?

    – Sitting in our ghetto and shouting: GEVALT! the Whole World Hates Us!” is not what Zionism is about.

    – Building high walls and sitting in a bunker is the wrong way. We have to DO something.

    – We have lost our narrative. We need a renewed vision of Zionism.

    – We won’t last a minute in the Middle East without power, but let’s do it in a different way.

    – It is our obligation to reach out to the Palestinians. To have empathy as long as there are no suicidal implications.

  7. Michael North

    I agree with the major points in this interview, and thanks, Sara, for bringing it to us.

    In Israel and Palestine, small victories are much better than large ones.

    The prospect of big, sweeping change fuels all the ancestral paranoias. Resistance stiffens.

    But people do live on the same land, share the same heritage, and aspire to fulfill the same basic needs.

    One area where every sincere Palestinian and Israeli can agree is energy and the environment. The whole area is an environmental disaster, with water at the center. There are many solutions where conservation, water purification and community action can materially, immediately improve people’s lives.

    It’s a small, humble building block for peace. But once a single gesture is sincerely completed, it may become fertile ground for further growth.

    Energy costs are too high. Gas in Tel Aviv is $7.50/gallon right now. Solutions exist, projects exist, many of them joint — solar, wind, tidal, new lighting and cooling technologies.

    People continue, from one intifada to the next, to build real solutions together, in which are embedded the seeds of peace.

    One of many examples is EcoPeace Middle East (, where the heroic Gidon Bromberg is 25 years deep into these issues. If one truly cares, supporting organizations like this, and emulating them, learning about their network across the whole region, is a meaningful, heartfelt possible action.

  8. roger epstein

    this is a sensible positive usggestion.
    Wouldn’t it be nice if Obama used his last period as President to make a meaningful contribution to world peace, by facilitating a program to help end thie thorn in the world lion’s paw.
    aloha, rroger

  9. Joey Bortnick

    Basically, I know that Israel was originally promised more land than they received and went ahead and developed the tiny bit they did get. Opening up more land to the Jordanians (when was it they decided to call themselves Palestinians???) will only bring more terrorists into the area. I sadly do not believe that the arabs want peace with Israel. They want all of Israel for themselves. I don’t believe that they want peace. I wish I was wrong. I think they want to see an end to the Jewish state, a complete end.
    If the arabs laid down their weapons, there would be no more war. If Israel laid down it’s weapons, there would be no more Israel.
    Israel has always offered to share the land, but every time they did, they got terrorist attacks for their generosity. The “Palestinians” who are actually from Jordan, should go back to live in Jordan. Guess what? Jordan would not take them back. No other arab state would, only Israel agreed to live peacefully with them. and look what happened.
    It is very sad that Israel is surrounded by arab terrorists. We Americans would not give up land to people who wanted to demolish us. We did not give land back to the Native Americans, either. Why should Israel give land to the Jordanians, knowing that it would only lead to more confrontation?
    I don’t have a solution, but giving up more land is not what I think is right or fair.

  10. Judi Turner

    Does Shavit’s plan take place before or after the terrorists push Jews into the Red Sea? This is THE MOST NAIVE statement I have ever heard anywhere. Israel is the size of a match stick on a football field
    compared to the huge Arab countries. If all they want is jobs and hope they could have had it 75 years ago. They want the Jews OUT. These are also people who don’t keep their word. Is now a good time to start trusting them? How much proof do you need?

  11. Linda Newton

    Per usual, everyone who has written is right. And that is the point, isn’t it? Shavit proposes a 3rd way. The idea of the Saudis financing a peace could have traction. The Arabs and Persians are involved in a dangerous game. From the hopes of the Arab people to have an Arab spring to ISIS is frightening to say the least. It is frightening to the Saudis as well. I think a majority of the people of the region would appreciate a Saudi involvement on the side of peace–and an opening of democracy bit by bit. The people have been ahead of their governments for quite some time now. It would be a tragedy to have it all lost.

  12. Ren Feldman

    I really agree with Shavit on his third way. Israel is caught on the horns of a dilemma. As Shavit says, a Jewish state (born ideologically in the context of late-19th-century ethnic nationalism) is incompatible with a multi-ethnic democracy. Israel was also founded on a radical misconception, summed up in Chaim Weisman’s formula that it, Israel, was a land without people [sic!] for a people without land. For better or mainly worse, there were millions of people there just as the first time the Children of Israel entered the promised land and slaughtered the natives to redeem “God’s” promise. Tribal gods are incompatible with the needs of 21st-century humanity. If ever a people should have learned from their history what it means to be down-power from the mainstream, it is we Jews. Yet in Palestine-Israel, we are the up-power people defending our superimposed nation-state against its prior natives with the 4th most powerful military in the world. How the shoe has changed feet, and with what tragic consequences for all concerned! Anyway, Shavit makes a lot of sense. If it is all or nothing, it will be nothing, and 70% of something trumps 100% of nothing every time. Reynold Ruslan Feldman, Boulder, CO

  13. suzi rudd cohen

    First, Happy Turkey Day!
    I hope that you and your loved ones are well. As always, your posts are food for much debate and conversation. This last one, Ari’s proposal was insightful. It is a subject dear to our family’s heart and always in our thoughts. THANK YOU!!!
    Hugs, Suzi

  14. Yehuda

    I’m not a big fan of Shavit, he changes his mind so often and always expressing himself with the same certainty as he did when arguing the opposite position the day before yesterday. He’s a terrific writer, and very intelligent, but somehow I sense he’s usually not doing more than skimming the surface.

    As for the substance – I agree with the basic thrust of it, and yet as he presents it, it’s all a bunch of tired cliches, settlement freeze (which ones? where in J’lem does he draw the line), economic development (tried at Madrid and then Oslo and produced little due to endemic corruption and wishful thinking), political development (the Palestinians have never bee interested), uniliateral Israeli withdrawal (tried and failed in Gaza). Saudi money (they’ve put in billions already).

    I think the key is indeed a mix of cultivation of Palestinian political culture, conveying to Israel that it really will be able to keep settlement blocs, rethinking the meaning of security arrangements after Gaza and its tunnels. And in all likelihood, it will take a different American President, as Obama has sadly proved so utterly inept.

    The problem is essentially that both left and right in Israel are correct; occupying the Palestinians is ruinous for the country politically and morally. And the Arabs by and large really aren’t willing or able to give Israel the physical security it needs. That hard recognition, though, shouldn’t shut down the conversation, but rather mark where it should begin.

  15. Raven

    Like this blog a lot. There are far too many people bemoaning the difficulties or taking sides and feeding a destructive polarity – this is one of the first reasonable solutions I’ve heard expressed.

    Nice Work

  16. Barbara

    Another terrific piece of writing and insight. I love getting your blogs. I still recall the wedding trip quite vividly.

  17. Harriet Kimble Wrye Ph.D.

    Hi, Sara–
    I forwarded your blog on Ari Shavit to my beloved nephew, Jim Sebenius–Professor of Conflict Resolution at Harvard (Co-author of Getting to Yes among other books). Jim has been shuttling back and forth to Israel for some time on this–turns out he knows Ari well and applauds his book! Thought you’d be interested!
    Hope you are well, and don’t forget your invite to Santa Cruz!
    xzzxxxx H

  18. Carol Anshien

    I heard Ari Shavit speak similarly at the JCC in Manhattan a few weeks ago. After this past summer’s devastating violence, once again, I was desperate for a solution to ending the occupation. The thought arose: Would it be possible to declare a “SHMITA” year (this year 5775) project on the West Bank? Stop all confiscation of property and new building in order to give the LAND and PEOPLE of Israel and Palestine a much needed REST? B’chesed, L’Shalom.

  19. Bonnie Pastor


    Thank you for posting Ari Shavit’s thinking on this issue. I read his book earlier this year and learned a lot. I am very impressed with him and his thinking.



  20. Richard Shane

    Oh, Sara, thank you for bringing my awareness to Ari’s ideas. A part of my heart is so much in despair about the middle east. Any new possibility is a light!

    ~ richard

  21. susan schwartz

    “There is no Gandhi, no Martin Luther King….” and in the absence of said leader, the people must lead themselves. The people — all the people — from both sides. As happened in the Arab Spring, the people (probably the young people) must come together for a greater good. Someone/something some force/inspiration must get a handful of people from both sides to put down their hatchets, their histories and their hates. They must become their own leaders — look into each others’ eyes and see themselves.
    From the beginning, this part of the world has been the prize jewel for some ruler or another…yet through this government, this country, this mandate, the people have survived. What is it about such a small piece of land that inflames people so?
    Everyone thinks/fights as though they know best. But/and G-d is one. Not your G-d. Not my G-d. One. One. One. One. One. When we get that, we all can live together.

  22. Joseph A. Horn

    The nation of Israel must exist until the Earth ceases to exist. Too many beautiful people devoted and gave their lives for its establishment and maintainance. To many Jews lost their lives because an Israel did exist. Even today, many French Jews are emigrating to Israel because of rising antisemitism in France. Without Israel, where would they go?
    The current Israeli/Palestinian situation is not sustainable and will get worse. This is not good for either side. If Israel’s attention, energy and resources are in large measure devoted to crisis management and self defense then it will be greatly impeded in development . If the Palestinian youth cannot envision a better economic future then they will turn to the only other game in town radical Islam and terrorist exploits.
    We must move to a two state solution, first by halting all future settlement in the West Bank to show good faith. if we cannot negotiate a peace plan now, we must, at least, move in the direction of peace, not away from it. Shalom

  23. Joseph Drew

    I agree with Shavit. Something needs to be done and his plan, a gradual approach combining economic development for the Palestinians with an end to West Bank Israeli settlements, is good.

    I volunteered in 1967, leaving Denver to go to Israel, and have been back — especially to a kibbutz called Yad Hanna — almost every year since. My doctoral dissertation was on an Israel-U.S. topic. This issue is an important one to me.

    It seems possible that under the Labor Party we might see a new burst of optimism — at least in Israel — after the elections. At least, I hope so.

    By the way I read his book when it came out and I thought it was terrific.

    Joe Drew

  24. Miles in Lutz, FL

    I have a mantra: Always a solution. No matter how rocky things get I try to hold that position. Naturally, I am thrilled when the voice of reason speaks and reveals a possible solution, at the very least a very good starting point. Brilliant.

  25. Jack Richard, M.D.

    I am in complete agreement with this proposal. What can we, as American Jews, do to promote it in Israel ?

  26. Joe Kurtz

    A friend who lives half the year in Israel an half in Boulder recommended Shavit’s book to me. I loved it. I thought I had a reasonable education re Israel but appreciated all that I gained from reading “My Promised Land.” This article makes a lot sense to me. Thanks for your good efforts.

  27. James Angleton

    Does the Sharia–Islamic Law–permit recognition of Israel by Muslims? I talked to a learned Israeli after the first Gulf War during a trip to Israel. He had emigrated from The Soviet Union and had come to Palestine when he was five. He served in the self-defense force, the Jewish Brigade, and in the War for Independence and retired from the government after a distinguished career. He told me that one will not find an Arabic speaking Muslim in the Middle East who will recognize a non-Muslim sovereign. His friend, Mr. Palmon, once Ben Gurion’s advisor on Arab affairs, agreed and cited Hafiz Al-Assad as an example. Hafiz Al Assad–like his son Bashir–was not a Muslim but an Alawite. The Alawites see Ali–Muhammad’s cousin–as superior to Muhammad. Thus Al Assad adopted a militant hostility against Israel to prevent the Arab Muslim countries from waging a Holy War against him. This strategy failed after Al Assad’s death and Syria disintegrated because of the refusal to accept Bashir Al Assad, a non Muslim sovereign. My host also indicated that long ago Butros Ghali, the Egyptian Coptic diplomat, wrote an article that suggested that the Sharia did not oppose conquering Israel by peaceful means and advocated making Israel dependent on the Nile waters–and Egypt offered use of the Nile to Israel during the peace talks but Israel–forewarned–rejected the offer. Finally when the Mongols besieged Baghdad in 1258 the Mongol general offered peace on the condition that the Caliph recognize the Khan as a suzerain. The Caliph replied that the leader of Islam did not recognize any suzerain and was trampled to death and Baghdad was obliterated. Finally, I suggest “Jews of Arab Lands,” edited by Stillman. Muhammad saw the Jews as enemies.

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