It is not working. Our weapons continue to improve. Our tactics continue to improve. We have allowed government entities like the CIA, NSA, and FTA egregiously overstep boundaries for the sake of keeping us safe. We give billions to countries that hate us, only to see those resources used to empower tyrants and warlords and thereby further fuel that hatred. The total combined cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is estimated to be between $4 trillion and $6 trillion. (Our current GDP is $16.7 trillion.) Even the founder of Blackwater says that the war on terror has become too big! While we have certainly landed a succession of crippling blows to the major terrorist organizations of the world, it seems that we will never be able to beat them to death completely, especially so long as we continue to incur “collateral” human costs in the process – such as the tragedy that occurred to Nabila Rehman. It may be foolish to say that fighting terror as we have been doing is unnecessary, but it is clearly insufficient. We need a new play – a new paradigm, a new philosophy altogether. We need something that will elicit not just shock and awe, but appreciation and respect as well. We need to not only stop existing terrorist groups, but also to halt the creation of new terrorists. Death to terrorists may come with missiles and bombs, but death to terrorism will only come as a result of a series of strategic ideological victories.
While there are many flashpoints feeding terrorism across the globe, there is none more important to the ideologies of our enemies than the ongoing conflict in Israel/Palestine. To describe the situation as complicated would be to make one of the greatest understatements in human history. In a nutshell, the Israelis and Palestinians continue to fight a war of walls, attack helicopters, and bulldozers against tunnels, rockets, and homemade bombs. To continue supporting Israel as we have long done would be to continue supporting an oppressive military occupation condemned by nations all around the world. To cease supporting Israel would be to leave that small republic at the mercy of enemies who have called for the extermination of its people for decades. Creating an independent nation from the Palestinian Territories would be an affront to Israel as the entire motivation behind its maltreatment of the people in Gaza and the West Bank is a pressing sense of vulnerability, which would probably only worsen. I submit that the most viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be to carry out an act of international cooperation eclipsing even that which resulted in the creation of the modern state of Israel: we need to build a New Palestine, a place to which oppressed Palestinians can voluntarily relocate, where they can maintain a distinct Palestinian identity without being oppressed or feeling the need to trust in ruthlessly violent groups for their salvation.
The Scope and the Cost
The total population of the Palestinian Territories as of 2013 is roughly 4.5 million. To be sure, building housing and infrastructure for such a crowd would be a massive and expensive undertaking, and it would surely require attention to no shortage of sociopolitical issues. However, we should not underestimate the potential of modern engineering, properly applied. For instance, based on one supplier’s estimation, it is reasonable to price a “house in a box” of 555 square feet – big enough to reasonably accommodate a family of four – at about $19,000. This comes to $4,750 per person, or roughly $24 billion. For electricity, by going to the high end of an estimate of $2.50 to $4.00 per watt for the building of infrastructure, we could expect that it would cost roughly $16 billion to construct concentrated solar plants to power New Palestine. Based on an estimation of $500 per person, water and sanitation infrastructure would cost about $2.5 billion. To set up a water desalination infrastructure, based on the $300 million Carlsbad plant that serves 100,000 households, a conservative cost estimate for New Palestine’s needs would be $4 billion. Assuming a need for about 1,500 miles of road at a cost of $300,000 per mile, one could round up to an estimate of $0.5 billion for roads. Even doubling this total to account for public buildings and other infrastructure costs, this comes to less than $100 billion. While this is certainly no paltry sum, it is much smaller than the estimated $6 trillion total cost of the War on Terror in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
In short, as a cooperative project among the various nations of the world and the organizations that operate within them, even if the cost is considerable, it is still within reach. How many wars and conflicts could be averted through a peaceful and complete neutralization of the long-standing crisis of violence, fear, and oppression in Israel/Palestine?
Problems and Concerns
Upon sharing the basic aspects of this idea with a friend, I received the following concern: “If the Palestinians were to move elsewhere, would they not be displacing yet another people? We do not want to simply set off a chain reaction of injustice upon injustice.” This is a valid concern, but we should remember that, despite the problems encountered in Israel, it is possible for two peoples to coexist peacefully. Also, there are plenty of virtually uninhabited desert areas throughout the world still – even close to Palestine. While it would require some ingenuity and proper application of new technologies such as the construction of desalination plants, the Palestinians could live in these areas.
Erecting skyscrapers is one thing. Transplanting nations is something entirely different. For instance, much of the Palestinian economy relies upon things like olives, and they would not be able to simply transplant their olive orchards. All that can be said about these concerns is that, as things currently stand, these orchards will probably be paved over and turned into Israeli subdivisions soon anyway, regardless of what the rest of the world does. One aspect of this effort will certainly consist of the combined efforts of international entities to retrain Palestinians for roles they can fill in their new home, as well as economic policies that will welcome foreign investment into the development.
It could be that, seeing that foreign powers have provided an attractive way out for Palestinians, the Israeli government would feel justified in escalating its settlement plans to encourage Palestinians to hurry up and leave, making the migration not quite as voluntary as intended. This would be a concern to bear in mind, but probably not a deal-breaker.
Corruption and Violence
One of the great fears associated with creating New Palestine would be that Hamas and other such groups would be transplanted there along with the Palestinian people at large, leading to an empowerment of terrorist activities and the possibility that they could hijack the government. However, there are a few forces that could limit their power:
- Public sentiment would not have the same tendency to fall in line behind terrorist groups because much of the impetus would be gone. Without the need to fight for independence, without Israeli bulldozers turning neighborhoods to rubble, and with a presumable increase in economic opportunities and personal freedoms, your average Palestinian would feel much less disposed to go blow himself up.
- A foreign power could be put in charge of an interim government for a prescribed amount of time, helping to transition into representative government without any militant groups exerting undue influence.
- Oaths of allegiance could be required of all individuals seeking citizenship, including a requirement that they disavow such groups.
Raising the Funds
The money for such a project could come from a number of sources, both as donations and investments. A single entity could be created to receive the funds, with donors and investors being governments, corporations, non-profit groups, and individuals. One option would be to carry out a public bond issuance to cover all or part of the main portion of costs, but this would be a massive undertaking indeed. For instance, the total national debt of Pakistan, a country of 180 million inhabitants, is around $283 billion. Unless the development of New Palestine were to immediately trigger a massive inflow of foreign direct investment such that tax revenues could quickly be used to service the bond debt, most of the cost would probably have to be covered by charitable donations. One option for making bonds a significant source of funds, though, would be to get a consortium of nations to agree to guarantee the bonds. This would be difficult of course, but not impossible.
Perhaps the trickiest aspect of the New Palestine proposition would be the matter of location. No nation is likely to happily relinquish sovereignty over any of its land – even desert land – for the creation of a new state. However, the massive economic investment that the project would require could prove beneficial to any neighboring country, as it would immediately result in a new market for trade just next door. It may be that a number of countries would be willing to part with a relatively small parcel of unwanted desert land (about 10,000 square miles) for a reasonable price with the hope of spillover from the massive international investment going into New Palestine. Allowing the donor nation to maintain a certain percentage of mineral rights could be a reasonable bit of gravy for the deal.
Of course, it seems a prohibitively massive undertaking. However, this does not necessarily make it a foolish or impossible one. At one point, someone stood before the Emperor of China and said: “Let’s repel invaders by building a wall across our entire northern border!” The idea of a human being setting foot on the moon, while often entertained in fiction, probably seemed utterly ludicrous – centuries away – in 1959. While an undertaking such as this would certainly involve trials that cannot even be foreseen let alone planned for, the money can be made available, the technology is already in use, and the need for action is apparent. Our question, then, is this: How much is peace worth to us?