A small group of archaeologists is hoping to make a difference in one of the world's most divisive conflicts. At a private gathering in Jerusalem yesterday, Israeli academics proposed a plan for divvying up antiquities and control of religious sites between Israel and Palestine when--and if--peace is ever achieved. The idea is to ease political negotiations by taking the controversial issue off the table. But some just learning of the plan are skeptical it will succeed where past efforts have failed.This is very cool. And the plan looks quite reasonable (though, reason rarely feature prominently in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict):
At issue is control of archaeological sites and material. Since the 1967 War, Israelis have excavated extensively in the West Bank, removing artifacts to storage facilities controlled by the Israeli government. If a Palestinian state is ever created, the question is whether some or all of that material would be repatriated.
For the past 5 years, Lynn Dodd and Ran Boytner, archaeologists at the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles, respectively, have worked on the plan in near secrecy, conferring with a small team of Israeli and Palestinian archaeologists. The two sides have never before "sat down to achieve a structured, balanced agreement to govern the region's archaeological heritage," says Dodd. "Our group got together with the vision of a future when people wouldn't be at each other's throats, and archaeology would need to be protected irrespective of which side of the border it falls on."
The plan calls for a protective "Heritage Zone" around the oldest part of Jerusalem, extending to the city's 10th century boundaries during the Crusades. Archaeological sites in the zone would be made accessible to anyone, regardless of nationality, and any manipulation of sites would have to be done with full transparency. The plan also recommends the repatriation of all artifacts to the state in which they were originally found since 1967. To house all the material on the Palestinian side, new museums and conservation laboratories would be created.This sounds good. But is it going to really work?
Despite the warm reception, the plan faces an uphill battle. "There have been many, many plans, blueprints, and road maps produced over the years," but previous efforts never won consensus on both sides of the divide, says Patrick Daly, an archaeologist at the Asia Research Institute in Singapore who has been visiting faculty at An-Najah National University in Nablus in the West Bank. "When plans supported by the E.U., Russia, and the American president fail to actually change the situation there, I am doubtful that an unofficial document drawn up by some well-meaning archaeologists will make any difference."The skepticism regarding the success of the proposal is justified. But, at least they are making a fair and sincere effort. Read the full story here.