Many in the mainstream claim that a confederation is not the means to achieve peace between Israel and Palestine. They think that the idea is delusional, suggest that its proponents don’t know the difference between a federation and a confederation, and state that a confederation will lead to constant civil war. In their opinion, only full separation can be the basis of a solution to this conflict.
Before we answer this statement, here is a solid fact: Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs live intertwined between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea; within the State of Israel, in Jerusalem, and beyond the ‘67 lines. The economy is mixed, as are trade and labor. This fact may make some happy, some recoil, but it cannot be ignored. This situation will remain even if an agreement were reached based on the classic separation model. Even if some Israeli government had the political power to uproot 100,000 Jews from the West Bank, there would still remain 1.5 million Palestinian Arabs within the borders of Israel. Already, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman is suggesting that Umm el-Fahm be separated from Israel. Would a settlement necessitate the separation of Nazareth from Upper Nazareth? Or the city of Beersheba from the Beduin town of Rahat?
In Jerusalem, the situation is just as complex. Even if Jewish and Arab neighborhoods are separated, there is still the problem of the Old City. Even the proponents of separation don’t propose placing fences and obstacles in the Old City. The 50,000 inhabitants of this crowded and sensitive area, Arabs and Jews, extremists and moderates, are supposed to cooperate in creating a peaceful co-existence in the city’s alleys, under some kind of international oversight. If it isn’t possible to create a separation in the heart of the conflict, how will it be possible to create it overall?
It is no coincidence that there is a growing awareness that separation by closed borders is not the solution to ethno-national conflicts. History shows us that the separation in India, Ireland and former Yugoslavia gave birth to violence and deportation rather than peace and reconciliation. The models that ended the violence in Northern Ireland and in Bosnia- Herzegovina are based on a combination of self-determination and the inclusion of various ethnic groups in the government.
We, the Israeli-Palestinian movement A Land for All, follow this model exactly. It is obvious to us that aside from self-determination for each nation within its own state, extensive cooperation is required. We haven’t invented anything. The UN 1947 partition proposal, which caused the Zionist movement to dance in ecstasy, suggested this exact model. Two states, with an economic union, and Jerusalem as a special district. We call this solution “two states, one homeland.”
A confederation is based on separate sovereign states with clear borders, with a few joint institutions. This is the model that we propose, whether it’s called a confederation, a union, or the Abrahamic Commonwealth. Two independent states, with clear borders running along the 1967 lines. This means an independent sovereign Palestinian state, with a standing army, a flag, an anthem, and full representation in the UN.
To those who claim that a viable confederation doesn’t exist globally, here are some successful examples: Poland and Lithuania, Sweden and Norway, and for a short time, Serbia and Montenegro. Although these confederations eventually disintegrated, it was with no violence. The confederation structure contributed to easing the conflict into political and judicial channels.
And of course there is the most obvious example – the European Union. Whether the EU is defined as a confederation or not, it is very similar to the model we are proposing: independent states with open borders, freedom of movement, and shared institutions. Several years after the devastation of WWII the union founders understood that a peaceful Europe could only be achieved through cooperation, not separation. There are problems in the EU, but it cannot be disputed that it achieved the longest period of peace known to the continent in centuries.
A confederation, or a union, must include freedom of movement and open borders. This means that Israelis will be able to live in Palestine as Israeli citizens and Palestinian residents, and Palestinians will be able to live in Israel as Palestinian citizens and Israeli residents. According to our plan, this freedom of movement will evolve in a gradual and mutually agreed rate to avoid destabilizing both countries. This is how it was done in the EU.
Contrary to common belief, this model has considerable support on both sides. According to a survey conducted by Dr. Halil Shkaki and Dr. Dalia Shindline, a year ago 24% of Israelis supported this model, and today 33-39% of Jews and 70% of Arabs are in favor. The rising approval by Israelis is apparent across political sectors – Left, Right and Center.
Indeed, there are challenges in our model: the economic gap and the difference in regimes. In our Mission Statement, we write that the two states will be democratic and honor human rights as recognized by international law. This is not merely a formality. Those in the know regarding Palestinian politics can recognize clear signs of democracy. It can be assumed that joining Israel in a confederation will largely accelerate this process.
The same can be said of the economic gap. There is no guarantee that a confederation will be the “magic pill” for the Palestinian economy, but Gaza has taught us that strict separation is a sure recipe for worsening poverty on the Palestinian side. Clearly, not a recipe for stability.
In these dark days, it is difficult to imagine a different future. The confederate solution is anchored in a new narrative, based on mutual recognition of each nation’s bond with the entire homeland. Twenty-five years after the Oslo Accords, intellectual integrity is needed. The concept of total separation did not enable an agreement. Even worse, under its cover, the occupation, the conflict, and the violence deepened. It’s time we got rid of it.The writers are members of A Land for All, an Israeli-Palestinian movement advocating two states with open borders as a solution to the conflict in the Middle East.
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