Two Scholarly Ideas by Jan Narveson

Narveson, Jan (Univ. of Waterloo, CANADA). "Two Scholarly Ideas for Peace in the Middle East." CPP Newsletter Vol. 23, Nos. 1-2 (Spring-Fall 2003).

We were, it seems, somewhere within sight of the road to peace in the Middle East – and then, as so often in the past, more bombs went off and things now look difficult again. Is there a way to get the process back into motion for real? I have two ideas about this.

One: There must be people on both sides interested in trying to get at the truth about the events, especially in the mid-twentieth century, that led up to the terrible standoff that has so long obtained between who we now call the “Palestinians”, together with the neighboring Arab people, and the Israelis.

My idea is that an informal commission be established, with an equal number (exactly equal) of Palestinians (or other Arabic scholars?) and Israeli scholars (or other Jewish scholars?), and an approximately (but not necessarily) equal number of “others”, who should be from places perceived as neutral, if there are any left (the Netherlands? Canada? Brazil?). What this committee would do is engage in much laborious research to sift through the evidence about disputed aspects of important events.

For example, approximately how many (if any) Arabic people were actually forced from their homes by the onset of modern Israel? Were international boundaries violated, and if so, by whom, and what was their claimed justification for doing so? Did anyone, in the war, commit what can incontrovertibly be regarded as “massacres”? And so on. My suggestion is that the people doing this research would be trying, sincerely, to reach agreement about the facts; and if that should prove impossible, to reach agreement about why and precisely where they disagree, and what would be needed to resolve the disagreement.

After quite a lot of such work, or even perhaps periodically as it proceeded, when agreement was reached, this should be publicized, in hopes of encouraging people, who have biased their attitudes toward one or the other “side”, to abandon misconceptions that have been proven mistaken. Possibly this could do quite a lot of good in the way of enabling people to look to the future with a better information base. I also suggest that this committee’s work be funded entirely by non-governmental sources, and secondly by people, again in preferably just about equal amounts, from both sides (with further funding from neutral sources far away, perhaps including Americans.) Perhaps in America, a sort of financial overseeing committee can be set up to enable funds to be secured from both the Arabic and the Jewish communities, again in equal amounts. All the funding, of course, should be handled in such a way that no contributor can expect that research supporting his side of the controversy will be favored.

Two: The cost of the ongoing confrontation, to both the Israeli and the Arabic people in the area, must be tremendous. It would be useful to be able to put real dollar figures on this. To that end, I would again propose a smaller committee, made up of economists from both sides, to make credible estimates of just how much wealthier people on both sides would have been had they been able to live at peace and have normal economic relations all these years.

Even if we just begin with the first year of the Intifada, the figures are surely enormous, probably staggering. People ought to know this. They ought to know that continued support, or even toleration, or those who engage in violence is not free. It costs people jobs and livings, as well as lives. Both of these more or less scholarly type endeavours could, I think, do a lot to promote peace in the Middle East.

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