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A federated state for Israelis and Palestinians
By JAY BUSHINSKY
03/05/2012
If anyone gains from the national election likely to take place in early September, it probably will be incumbent PM Netanyahu.
 
If anyone gains from the national election likely to take place in early September, it probably will be incumbent Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

At least one major public opinion poll gives his right-wing Likud party a two-to-one edge over its closest rival, the Labor party.

A reaffirmation of Netanyahu’s leadership for up to four more years will enable him to change the partisan and personal make-up of his next coalition government.

In that case, the losers might include the Yisrael Beytenu party of Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman.

This blunt and gruff Moldavian-born politician helped set the stage for the seemingly unnecessary election by declaring that he and his followers no longer were bound by the strictures of Netanyahu’s current coalition.

Under other circumstances, an election this year could have determined whether negotiations on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute can get under way.

That would have given the balloting international importance. But the fact that the Palestinian Authority has lost control of the Gaza Strip amid the fact that its current domain is limited to the West Bank seriously detracts from the election’s relevance.

The negotiations, if they were renewed and am agreement were reached, would result in the existence of three states instead of two in pre-1948 Palestine, and that is a non-starter.

Gaza’s Hamas rulers have declared that they oppose recognition of Israel. The Islamic organization’s deputy leader, Moussa Abu Marzuk, who until recently was based in Damascus along with its supremo, Khaled Mashaal, has said that any agreement reached with Israel would be regarded only as a hudna, meaning a temporary arrangement.

His stand is based on Hamas’s overriding ideological principle: That all of pre-1948 Palestine is an “Islamic legacy” and therefore must be governed by an Islamic regime. This was the view of Hamas’s founder, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, and it has not changed since his death.

Consequently. the impending Israeli election will have to focus on domestic issues only, the most prominent among them being the institution of a new law covering military conscription. The legislation favored by Netanyahu not only would reduce the number of deferments extended to ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students to a minimum, but also would draft Israeli Arabs for military or other national service such as work in hospitals and other humanitarian institutions.

If Netanyahu manages to forge a new coalition that would have the middle-of-the-road Kadima party as a major component and leaves the Jewish religious and nationalist extremists on the parliamentary sidelines, he may escape the pressure constantly bearing down on him from the West Bank settlers who constantly seek territorial acquisitions.

Theoretically, he could then launch a process that would require the dismantling of a substantial number of settlements and the removal of unauthorized outposts further to the east.

A proposed exchange of territory that might enable many of the settlements to remain intact already has public support from Kadima. Its newly elected leader, Shaul Mofaz, is on the record as favoring a deal of this kind. But the transfer of thousands of hard-line settlers from the West Bank to ante bellum Israel would be a daunting if not politically impossible task.

This apparent fact of life bears out the contention that the permission given by the incumbent government and several of its predecessors for 350,000 to 500,000 Jewish settlers to move into the West Bank was a major mistake.

The financial cost of relocating them would be prohibitive, not to mention the fury of the inevitable social backlash in ante bellum Israel that would be a by-product.

All of these considerations suggest that it would be wise for Netanyahu, his party and the electorate as a whole to consider seriously whether there indeed are alternatives to the seemingly inoperable two-state solution.

One of them may be the hitherto unthinkable one-state solution: Annexation of the West Bank and extension of Israeli citizenship to its Palestinian inhabitants on the basis of total equality and political freedom.

This notion has been resisted in the past by Orthodox religious politicians who fear that it would set the stage for intermarriages between Jews and Arabs. But where and when did such an esoteric issue like intermarriage form the basis of any country’s political program? That has not been the case in Ireland, Ceylon or Nigeria where rival ethnic or religious groups also are required to live under one political roof.

In the local case, the one-state solution would take the form of a federation made up of two entities – one primarily Jewish and the other primarily Arab (in demographic terms).

Each entity could have its own parliament and governmental administration.

The state as a whole could have a federal government which would be responsible primarily for national security (for the entire territory of the federated state) – foreign policy and economic affairs including a common currency for both entities (as already exists in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip). The federal government’s personnel and leadership would be drawn from the two entitities.

Ironically, annexation was originally proposed by the late Chaim Herzog when he served as the first military governor of the West Bank immediately after the Six Day War.

He was opposed then by the National Religious Party which was destined to spawn the ideological core of Gush Emunim and other Jewish settlement movements.

Its rationale then too was that annexation would foster intermarriage.

It all boils down to the likelihood that the prospective election will give Netanyahu a chance to implement domestic reforms, especially in the economic and social spheres.

These should include a more equitable distribution of private income so as to reduce or (preferably) eliminate the phenomenon of so-called “tycoons” lording it over the rest of the economy, and reduction of the cost of new or suitable housing so that young couples will be able to afford it and the deterioration of overcrowded neighborhoods can be stopped.

The winner (presumably Netanyahu) also might be in a better position to rehabilitate the tens of thousands of Africans who entered Israel illegally in the past five years, by integrating as many of them as possible and facilitating the emigration or deportation of those who cannot adjust to Israeli society to alternative destinations elsewhere in the world. These steps certainly are preferable to letting them converge on neglected urban areas, especially south Tel Aviv, and turning them into crime-infested slums.

The writer is a veteran foreign correspondent.
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