Commentary Magazine


Another Fair and Equitable Plan

Peace processors frequently rely on important-sounding adjectives to give their plans an unearned persuasiveness.  Take, for example, the article in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs by Daniel C. Kurtzer and Michael D. Bell.

Kurtzer and Bell argue that the issue of Jerusalem requires serious attention, that unlike some other peace processors they have given it that attention, and that they have come up with a solution:

In the context of a two-state solution, fair, equitable, and sustainable governance arrangements for the Old City can be designed if both the Israelis and the Palestinians are ready to treat it as a single entity. . . . Understanding and addressing all of the stakeholders’ deeply rooted spiritual and practical needs is the only way to find a viable solution.

It is hard to oppose a solution that is “fair, equitable, and sustainable.”  If it is “viable” as well, it is even better.  And addressing everyone’s “spiritual and practical” needs – “all” of them — seems a great way to reach a fair, equitable, sustainable, and viable solution.

But exactly how would this work?  Kurtzer and Bell say the core of the conflict is multiple claims to Jerusalem’s overlapping and indivisible holy sites, so they propose having a third party run them:

Given these sites’ immense religious, cultural, and emotional power, they must be administered fairly and equitably. The involvement of an impartial third-party administrator — chosen by the Israelis and the Palestinians together — is essential, as it would build confidence between the two sides and reinforce it over time.

An “impartial” third party would be great, if there were such a thing.  It would undoubtedly build confidence over time – especially if it were fair and equitable.  But what exactly would the third party ensure?  Kurtzer and Bell answer:

It would ensure fair and appropriate access to the holy sites and security for Christian, Jewish, and Muslim worshipers.

Fair and equitable governance arrangements, which would administer the sites fairly and equitably, and ensure fair and appropriate access.  Why didn’t anyone think of something viable like this before?

Actually, somebody did.  Since 1967, there has been fair and equitable access to all the holy sites in Jerusalem, as well as security for worshippers of all faiths.  So Kurtzer and Bell’s rhetorical solution addresses a problem solved 40 years ago.