Israeli-Palestinian confederation is a way forward for peace - opinion

While both Palestinians and Israelis fear that a confederation may serve the other’s hidden agendas, a confederation has important benefits.

 THEN-MK Yossi Beilin meets with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah in 2007. (photo credit: Loay Abu Haykel/Reuters)
THEN-MK Yossi Beilin meets with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah in 2007.
(photo credit: Loay Abu Haykel/Reuters)

Palestinian-Israeli relations are stuck at a crossroad. They desperately need a boost. The two-state solution, calling for Israel and Palestine to live alongside each other in security, peace and prosperity, remains the most logical and reasonable. It enables Palestinians to advance their search for freedom, independence, and statehood without being anti-Israel, and it enables Israelis to have their security and well-being without being anti-Palestinian.

What would facilitate the two-state solution is a confederal framework between Israel and Palestine. The idea is not to totally separate the two peoples, i.e., “divorce,” but to empower them to “cohabitate” in the two respective sovereign states. This would allow for greater cooperation and movement between them.

The initial step would be to negotiate a permanent agreement and establish an independent Palestinian state, without the confederal umbrella. An implementation period of up to 30 months would follow. Palestine and Israel would live side-by-side as sovereign states and only at the end of the implementation period, they would form a confederation between them, if they wanted it.

Upon the signing of the permanent agreement, Israel will officially recognize the Palestinian state and the government of the new state will become Israel’s partner for all the arrangements toward the full implementation of the agreement. 

If during the period of implementation, there is a decision by one or both States to give up on the confederation idea, then the two states will renegotiate parts of the agreement, which stem from the idea of the confederation.

 Yossi Beilin attends a memorial ceremony of the Meretz political party for late Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin, in Rabin's Monument site at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on November 4, 2021.  (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90) Yossi Beilin attends a memorial ceremony of the Meretz political party for late Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin, in Rabin's Monument site at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on November 4, 2021. (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

The aim is not to have a Palestinian-Israeli peace treaty that will prevent the two parties from changes, but the other way around: to institutionalize the way to change it, and mainly to add components to the confederal structure. 

This process should be inscribed in the peace agreement, so that both governments will meet, especially for that purpose, at least, every five years, assess the experience of the past period, and suggest new ideas for the future. Such a structural process will not prevent the parties from discussing structural changes much more often, once one of the parties suggests it.

While both Palestinians and Israelis fear that a confederation may serve the other’s hidden agendas, a confederation has important benefits.

First, the entire area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is small. The partition borders are largely artificial. A permeable border would be beneficial to both Israel and Palestine.

Second, a confederal solution may mitigate the unavoidable price of partition and reduce ethnocentric tendencies. Partition accompanied by a commitment to cooperation and coordination may help to allay fears that relinquishing sovereignty or direct rule over a certain part of land will make it inaccessible.

Third, unlike the status quo and the one-state solution, the confederal solution offers a horizon for the long-term realization of both the mainstream Zionist vision and ethos, and Palestinian mainstream aspirations for national self-determination in an independent, sovereign nation-state.

Fourth, Palestine and Israel share a vital interest in addressing various common issues, including internal security and border defense, planning and zoning, public health, the use of natural resources, ecological challenges, tourism and criminal matters.

Fifth, a confederal solution would establish Jerusalem as a partially open city, to be extended later. The Old City of Jerusalem could host some of the joint authorities, paving the way toward dual sovereignty or other creative solutions over that sensitive area.

The hope is that the confederation between Israel and Palestine will have permeable borders, freedom of movement for people and goods, joint political institutions, parallel to the separate states’ institutions, and the residents of the confederation will feel that they live in one framework. 

If the parties decide to step back, it will not become irreversible, and if they decide to proceed quickly toward more proximity between them, no article in the peace agreement will restrain them.

Dr. Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli minister of justice, is the head of the steering committee of the Geneva Initiative and the chairman of “Hillel-Israel.” He initiated the Oslo Process in 1992, the “Beilin-Abu Mazen agreement” in 1993-1995, and the Geneva Initiative in 2001-2003. Dr. Saliba Sarsar is professor of political science at Monmouth University and president/CEO of the Jerusalem Peace Institute. He is the author of Peacebuilding in Israeli-Palestinian Relations and the coeditor of Continuity and Change in Political Culture: Israel and Beyond.