Encountering Peace: Two nation-states, two national minorities

I propose, therefore, that the future peace agreement ensure two nation states with two national minorities.

PM Netanyahu and President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas in Washington, 2010 (photo credit: GPO)
PM Netanyahu and President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas in Washington, 2010
(photo credit: GPO)
We must seek to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not just to manage it. Resolving the conflict means reaching a political agreement between the legitimate leadership of both sides and then translating that agreement into a new reality on the ground.
The easy part is reaching the agreement; there is no perfect agreement. There is no agreement that both sides will perceive as fulfilling full justice for their side. There is probably no agreement that will resolve the underlying disputes coming for the opposing narratives of both sides. There are possible agreements that could enable maximum justice for both sides (not absolute justice) and that will be something that both sides can live with (literally and figuratively). There are certain principles that must be included in such agreements for them to be translated into a reality of peace.
One of the most basic principles is one that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used to bring up in every speech he made – mutuality and reciprocity. That begins with not denying the deep connection of the Jewish people to all of the Land of Israel, including Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), nor the deep connection of the Palestinian people to the lands, which are the sovereign State of Israel and the territories occupied by Israeli in 1967.
Another principle is that any solution to this conflict that aims to lead to peace must recognize that peace is built on changing the relations between people and not just changing the border – and those relations must be developed through cross-border cooperation. Israelis and Palestinians must be able to move, relatively freely, across the borders of their states. Both peoples have proven their willingness to fight, die and kill to have a territorial definition of their identity. The conflict is about territory and it is about identity.
Mutuality and reciprocity means that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people and Palestine is the nation-state of the Palestinian people. Resolving this conflict means recognizing that there is a large – 20% – Palestinian Arab national minority in the State of Israel. To resolve this conflict there will be a large Jewish national minority in the Palestinian state.
I travel all over the West Bank, every week. There is today a large Palestinian Arab majority there and a large Jewish national minority as well. The building of settlements by Israel is in violation of international law. I know many of my readers don’t agree with that and don’t like to hear it. But that is the simple fact. But in resolving the conflict there is no way to turn back the clock. There is also little chance that any Israeli government will be able to evacuate large numbers of Jewish Israelis from the Palestinian state.
There are all kinds of proposals, such as “two states, one homeland,” that suggest the notion of settlers being residents as opposed to citizens of the Palestinian state – retaining their Israeli citizenship, and in a kind of exchange for legitimizing the settlements, Israel would allow and equal number of Palestinian refugees to return to the State of Israel proper. But in order not to set off the demographic devil, they would be citizens of the Palestinian state and residents of Israel.
I grew up on the American heritage of “no taxation without representation,” which here translates into the point of view that large communities of national minorities must be citizens of the country where they live. The prospect of national minorities of both sides of the conflict within the state of the other people actually provides for the opportunities and possibilities, through mutuality and reciprocity, to ensure the political, civil and national minority rights of both national minorities. Furthermore, the existence of a national minority in Israel and Palestine seriously challenges democracy and serves as a mechanism to enlarge and deepen the rights of both national minorities.
I propose, therefore, that the future peace agreement ensure two nation states with two national minorities. The border between the two states would be the 1967 borders and the settlers who wish to remain would apply for citizenship within the state of Palestine. They could, if both sides agree, retain their citizenship in the State of Israel, just as the Palestinian citizens of Israel could, if both sides agree, receive citizenship in the state of Palestine.
The solution for collective national identity would be resolved within each nation state. The national minorities would have full civil and political rights, national minority rights for expression of identity in areas such as education and culture, but the national rights will be expressed only in their respective nation-state. The right of return, or the law of return for refugees or for people living in the respective diasporas would be to the respective nation state.
There are consequences for decisions made by leaders and peoples. The Palestinians decided to reject the 1947 UN partition plan and tried but failed to prevent the birth of the State of Israel. That decision had horrible consequences for the Palestinian people. The clock cannot be turned back.The decision of Israeli governments since 1967 to build settlements and to move more than half a million people to them has consequences, and the clock cannot be turned back.
The consequence for the Palestinians is having to accept a nation state in a small part of what they define as their national territory. The consequence for Israel of the settlement building is to either forgo the chance of ever reaching real peace with the Palestinians and other Arabs, or to accept the creation of a national minority within the Palestinian state.
This conflict will not be resolved by “might makes right” and there is no military solution, or one that involves violence. Both sides are attached to all parts of the land, but it is not possible for each to have it all, nor do they wish to share it as equals in a non-nation state devoid of national-ethnic-religious identity. No agreement will be reached or translated into genuine peace without a sense of mutuality and reciprocity. It will be a painful process, but one that will be necessary.
The author is the founder and co-chairman of IPCRI – Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives. His new book, In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine, has been published by Vanderbilt University Press.