Gerard Errera
The Wall Street Journal (Opinion)
June 29, 2011 - 12:00am

The United Nations General Assembly is currently on track to endorse the unilateral proclamation of a Palestinian state in September. The United States will oppose the measure, while a majority of Europeans nations will approve it and the Israel-Palestinian conflict will only deepen. This is why French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé announced recently that France will convene an international conference in Paris to try to resolve the issue.

American policy makers are ambivalent about this move, but they shouldn't be. The Paris conference could be the last opportunity to avert disaster—especially if the attendees focus on solving two fundamental sticking points: security and the issue of Jerusalem.

Security is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. History and religion justify the right of the Palestinian people to build a state in their holy land, but that doesn't authorize them to expel Jews who have lived there for centuries, maintained their presence and perpetuated their faith and commitments to the area. History and religion justify the right of the Jewish people to live in their state in their holy land, but that doesn't authorize them to claim all of the territories where Jewish tribes lived or wandered through in the past. Israel needs to evacuate the West Bank, as it did Gaza and the Sinai.

The problem is that Israel claims that accepting the 1967 borders with "minor rectifications" and evacuating West Bank settlements would compromise its security. Credible international guarantees are the only solution. The permanent members of the U.N. Security Council should deploy troops to both sides of a future Israeli-Palestinian border. Other countries and the Islamic Conference Organization could supplement this effort. To avoid the precedent of 1967, when the U.N. Secretary General withdrew the blue helmets from the Straits of Tiran, U.N. troops could not be removed without the explicit authorization of the Security Council.

Security alone, however, will not be enough. The crucial question of Jerusalem, and more precisely the question of its holy sites, has to be solved. After all, the 2000 Camp David negotiations collapsed primarily because of this issue. Israel claims the western part of Jerusalem as its capital, just as the Palestinians claim the eastern part for theirs. That is perfectly possible.

The real issue is the holy sites. Set aside the concept of sovereignty and drop the old concept of a corpus separatum, or an international mandate over the whole city of Jerusalem as the U.N. proposed in 1949. Israel, Palestine and the international community should instead deal primarily and pragmatically with the core issue: the protection of Islamic, Jewish and Christian holy sites.

Mandated representatives of the three religions should meet and agree on the following: a consolidated list of holy sites to be protected; a detailed list of measures to protect and guarantee the management of the sites (in particular environmental safeguards, real-estate and personal tax and custom rights exemptions, and visas for religious officials and pilgrims); and the establishment of a monitoring mechanism. If there are infractions, the supervisors could refer violations to an international body such as the U.N.

Let's face it: The Israelis and the Palestinians won't make peace if they consider, rightly or wrongly, that a peace proposal violates their interests or their creeds. That's why the French conference is a
unique opportunity to address their concerns and interests in a pragmatic and meaningful manner, divorced from biased rhetoric or shortsighted electoral considerations. France and Britain should take the lead and join forces to convince their American ally that now is the time to act with this new approach in mind. History will not forgive them if they miss this opportunity.


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