A regional federation — call it the "Middle East Union" perhaps, not unlike the European Union — might be one answer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, suggests an Israeli activist opposed to his government's current policies.

"In my view, the two-state solution is gone," says Jeff Helper, referring to the proposal to have an Israeli state alongside a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank. Instead, he says, why not a "two-stage solution" in which the Palestinians accept any land they can get "on the condition that it has the international community's guarantee that after five or 10 years a regional confederation would emerge."

Helper is coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, the outspoken Jerusalem-based group opposed to Israel's destruction of 12,000 Palestinian homes, as well as settlement expansion and other policies that disenfranchise Palestinians in Israel. He's in Salt Lake City this weekend to speak to several groups, including the Equestrian Holy Order of the Sepulchre.

A Middle East Union —made up of Israel, a Palestinian state, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt — would grant everyone the right to live and work anywhere in the region but would allow any individual to have citizenship in only one country, Helper told the Deseret Morning News editorial board.

The Bush administration, the American media and both presidential campaigns have been ignoring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he says, when in fact it's "the most destabilizing situation in the world."

"Go anywhere in the Muslim world," he says, "and if you scratch the surface, the issue of the Palestinians comes up." The conflict is "emblematic for the Islamic world," considered the perfect example of how the Western world treats the East, he says.

Helper calls Osama bin Laden a "civilizational terrorist," as opposed to the Palestinians, who are not terrorists, he says, but are engaged in a "political struggle." But as long as the Palestinians are in this conflict, he says, "the civilizational people have all the ammunition they need."

"This is not seen an an Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is seen as an American-Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because the United States is so heavily involved," Helper says, pointing to U.S. military exports to Israel and $12 billion in loan guarantees. "Israel is essentially attacking unarmed people with American arms."

But the American-Israeli Political Action Committee, Israel's lobby in Washington, constantly reminds Congress that if they vote against arms to Israel they're "killing the goose that lays the golden egg." Most members of Congress, he notes, come from districts heavily dependent on the defense industry.

Israel, he argues, is a "superpower" that is the world's fifth largest producer of arms. It has 300 to 500 nuclear warheads, plus biological and chemical weapons, has never signed any nuclear non-proliferation treaty and has never allowed weapons inspectors in.

Palestinian suicide bombers are "a terrible thing," he says, "but it's a symptom, not a cause." Resolve the grievance that keeps Palestinians "occupied," he says, "and you'll solve the issue of suicide bombers."

"The conflict blocks everything. Once the logjam is removed, then very quickly you'd begin to get civil society institutions and economic development" in the region, he says.


E-mail: jarvik@desnews.com