Over the years, the cleavages in our society have grown deeper and the alienation that many Israelis feel today toward other Israelis has never been more unsettling. The “tribes” in our society, as former president Rivlin labeled them, have very few points of convergence, such that thoughts on dividing Israel into separate cantons or sub-states have begun to appear.
Israel and Judea is one such division that has been spoken about. The “state” of Tel Aviv and the “state” of Jerusalem is another way of viewing it. I live in Jerusalem in a neighborhood that was once considered to be secular. It is today being taken over by haredim. In fact, Jerusalem is much more religious today than ever, and I often feel that I am the only Jewish man on the bus or the train without a kippah on my head.
Jerusalem is further divided by the 40% of the Palestinians who live in their own neighborhoods, but during the day, can be found throughout the city performing all kinds of jobs in commerce, restaurants, hospitals and on public transportation. Likewise, a large number of Palestinian citizens of Israel live in the Galilee, the Little Triangle (a concentration of Israeli Arab towns and villages adjacent to the Green Line), the Wadi Ara and the Negev.
In the mixed cities and the settlements in the occupied territories, there are large numbers of national religious Jews. We are separated by political world views, values, lifestyles, where we study, where we shop, what we eat and where and how we spend our free time.
Unity which is often called for by politicians is a fallacy in Israel in 2023. It is true that the protest movement of the past 20 weeks has brought together groups of Israelis that have never demonstrated together in the past. There are common threads among those who are taking to the streets to save what they call Israeli democracy.
But there are many others in the society who are not part of the protests, even if they identify with some of the goals. And of course, there are others who are in a completely different camp. Palestinian citizens of Israel have not joined the protest movement because as long as the call to protect Israeli democracy does not include a constitutional law for equality, for revoking the nation-state law and for ending the occupation, the idea of a Jewish democratic state is total hypocrisy. I share that belief with them.
The haredim are in a completely different camp. They don’t care about Israeli democracy; they don’t want to protect the independence of the judiciary. They want to live their lives and get from the state what the state can give to them – and then be free from what the state might demand from them.
The national-religious camp, who are found in the so-called Religious Zionist Party and the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, would prefer Jewish religious law to Israeli civil law, and would also prefer if all the Palestinians would simply disappear from here.
THERE ARE of course exceptions to all of the generalizations in each tribe. But this is a picture of the trends and divisions within our society.
I don’t want to live in the haredi world any more than they want to live in my world. The only thing that I have in common with the haredi world is my ancestors were once like them. I don’t want to have anything to do with the Religious Zionist Party and the Otzma Yehudit camps as I view them as a mortal threat to my way of life and my values. I believe that they view me in the same way.
The Zionist ethos of the State of Israel – as it was created by the Zionist movement’s founders – no longer exists. Zionism was the secular answer to Jewish peoplehood in which religious Zionism was a small sect. The Six Day War in 1967 let loose messianic trends and the Gush Emunim settler movement.
The miracle victory in six days against Israel’s enemies – at a time when a much smaller and weaker Israel thought that the second Holocaust was upon it – led to the belief that God really was on their side, and that the calling was to fully settle the Land of Israel.
The belief that the deed to the Land of Israel was divinely granted to the Jewish people, is what has led to transforming the political conflict between opposing national movements over territory, into a war over identity and religion. Who owns this land and who did God give it to?
Looking forward, is our challenge to enable a relatively peaceful existence without violence, death and destruction between Israelis and other Israelis, and between Israelis and Palestinians?
How to bring peaceful coexistence with Israelis and Palestinians
Here are some thoughts on possible ways to move forward. Federal and confederal models are probably where we might find some solutions. To be clear, I am referring to the entire territory of the Land of Israel/Palestine between the river and the sea.
No existing model can be a copy and paste. We will need to do the hard work and come up with something which fits our own needs and circumstances. First, there are some basic principles that must guide us – equality for all people living on the land must be the North Star that guides us forward.
Equality is indivisible and must apply to all people, regardless of their religion, nationality, ethnicity, gender and so on. The second principle must be the entitlement to autonomy over issues of personal status, education, culture, and public space. Within that framework, there must also be certain guarantees to secure the rights of minorities who continue to reside in places governed by the majority identity group.
There must also be agreements between all different groups on the basic tenants of governance, the rule of law, core educational aspects, and an acceptance of the rights of other groups to exist freely within the borders of the newly defined state. There must also be agreements across all sub-states on environmental and public health issues because disease and pollution know no borders.
CANTONS OR sub-states could be defined geographically, others perhaps by a collective identity within a geographic area. The greater Tel Aviv area is one sub-state defined geographically. Wadi Ara and parts of the Galilee with large Arab majority populations could perhaps also be defined as a sub-state geographically. Beersheba and its Jewish satellite towns could also be a geographic sub-state, while the Bedouin communities in the area could be defined as another.
It is also possible to define a geographic area with diverse populations as a sub-state, while applying autonomous functions to those populations. In this way, the Galilee could be one sub-state with autonomy given in the fields of education and culture.
In all cases, based on the principles of equality and protection of minority rights, anyone can live anywhere in any sub-state without restriction by law. Likewise, in mixed sub-states all communities must have equal rights to develop, plan and build and share the natural and other resources available on an equal basis (including land and water).
Political representation could be based on voting districts according to the size of the population, where the number of representatives in the parliament is allocated according to the number of people in the district. The entire country would be divided in a way, thus allowing for equal representation of all population groups.
I also think it would be wise to consider creating a second legislative body as well that would be based on two representatives from each sub-state regardless of its size. Ideally, these two representatives would be one woman and one man from each sub-state.
I am not proposing a model. At this point, I have no preference for a federal model or a confederal model. I don’t know how we should move forward from here. I do believe, however, that our current state of affairs is broken – it doesn’t work anymore.
I was part of the so-called Zionist Left. The ideology I believed in has been broken by the failure to end the occupation and create genuine equality between all Israeli citizens. The rapid growth of the haredi population, very few of whom either serve in the military or enter the workforce, will lead to economic disaster for the country.
Ultra-nationalism and religious Zionists, with their racist attitudes toward non-Jews, have led to the creation of a new form of apartheid in Israel today. This is untenable and immoral. We need to adopt a new way of thinking; one in which all segments of the population – from the river to the sea – can sit round the table together. This is our collective challenge if we are to have any kind of shared future.
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to peace between Israel and its neighbors. He is a founding member of Kol Ezraheiha-Kol Muwanteneiha (All of the Citizens) political party in Israel. He is now directing The Holy Land Bond and is the Middle East Director for ICO – International Communities Organization.