Friday, November 28, 2014

A New-State Solution for Israel and Palestine

PRINCETON – Imagine a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine in which Palestinians would have the right of return; Israelis could settle wherever they could purchase land in the West Bank; and Jerusalem need not be divided. This is not a fanciful vision, but a creative and eminently sensible reinvention of twenty-first century statehood. And US President Barack Obama’s just-completed visit to Israel provides an opportunity to explore genuinely new thinking.

Ever since Bill Clinton nearly succeeded in brokering a comprehensive settlement in 2000, the mantra among supporters of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been that, while a solution exists, Israeli and Palestinian leaders who are willing to reach it do not. The solution is a version of the deal that Clinton sought: two sovereign states based on the 1967 borders, with negotiated land swaps to reflect existing settlement patterns. The agreement would include a land corridor connecting Gaza and the West Bank; a divided Jerusalem with guaranteed access for all to religious sites; Palestinians’ renunciation of the right of return; Israel’s willingness to dismantle settlements outside the agreed borders; and recognition of both states across the Middle East.

But suppose that the reason that no Palestinians and Israelis willing to conclude such a deal have emerged is that the solution itself is domestically unsupportable on both sides. Suppose that as long as a version of this deal is the only game in town, the creeping physical expansion of the Israeli state and the demographic expansion of Israeli Arabs will continue to erode its foundation. For all the dire warnings that the window for a two-state solution is rapidly closing (or has already closed), it is the solution itself that is the problem.

In 2008, a Princeton University graduate student in philosophy named Russell Nieli gave a talk at the Princeton Center for Jewish Life that was so well received that he later expanded it into an article for the US-based magazine Tikkun, founded by Rabbi Michael Lerner. The article, “Toward a Permanent Palestinian/Israeli Peace – the Case for Two-State Condominialism,” was published with the express aim of stimulating “productive thinking among a younger generation of Jews and Arabs not bound by the restricted vision and failed policies of the past.”

“Two-state condominialism” is as visionary as the name is clunky. The core idea is that Israelis and Palestinians would be citizens of two separate states and thus would identify with two separate political authorities. Palestine would be defined as a state of the Palestinian people, and Israel as a Jewish state. Under “condominialism,” however, both Palestinians and Jews “would be granted the right to settle anywhere within the territory of either of the two states, the two states thus forming a single, binational settlement community.”

Think about that for a minute. As Nieli describes it, Palestinians “would have the right to settle anywhere within Israel just as Jews would have the right to settle anywhere within the territory of the Palestinian state. Regardless of which of the two states they lived in, all Palestinians would be citizens of the Palestinian state, all Jews citizens of Israel.” Each state would have the authority and the obligation to provide for the economic, cultural, religious, and welfare needs of its citizens living in the other state’s territory. These would be extraterritorial rights and responsibilities, just as the United States, for example, provides for its large numbers of expatriates, such as civilian dependents of US military personnel based abroad.

To make this work, the borders of each state would first have to be defined – presumably on the basis of the 1967 borders, with mutually agreed territorial swaps. Israeli Arabs would then be required to transfer their citizenship, national identity, and national voting rights – but not their residence – to the new Palestinian state. They would have a permanent right to live in Israel and would retain the benefits to which they are currently entitled as Israeli citizens, but they would now vote as citizens of Palestine. All other Palestinians living in Israel would have rights and benefits only under Palestinian law.

Condominialism recognizes the reality of the deep interconnectedness of Israeli settlers in the West Bank with the rest of Israel – through roads, water supplies, electricity grids, administrative structures, and economic relationships (just as Israeli and Palestinian parts of Jerusalem are interdependent). Instead of trying to separate and recreate all of these structures and relationships, it makes far more sense to build on them in ways that benefit both states’ peoples and economies. And, in a world in which many citizens spend an increasing proportion of their time in virtual space, de facto condominialism is already happening.

In the 1950’s, after four decades of war across Europe, the idea of a European Union in which member states’ citizens could live and work freely across national borders while retaining their political allegiance and cultural identity seemed equally far-fetched. (Indeed, the name of the political process by which the EU was to be constructed, “neo-functionalism,” was every bit as abstract and cumbersome as “two-state condominialism.”) Yet French and German statesmen summoned the vision and the will to launch a bold experiment, one that has evolved into a single economy of 500 million people.

Why shouldn’t another site of ancient enmities be the source of a new conception of statehood? Interestingly, many young people in the 1950’s, like my Belgian mother, ardently supported the vision of a new Europe. Today’s young Israelis and Palestinians pride themselves on their entrepreneurialism, with all the risk and vision that starting something new entails. Supporting and contributing to an innovative political start-up would be their generation’s defining act.

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    1. CommentedGary Tucker

      Intriguing concept. Consider if you will a tweak to the concept. I will not go into details but just say it is all covered in the link above. It is my contention that the solution for Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and the Palestinian Territories is to merge as one single nation with a Federal form of states and common constitution and parliament. I call it the Hashemite Kingdom of Syriaq with the capital in Amman.

      Also as a part of the plan, much as your Condominialism the plan also includes the two Sinai governorates becoming part of Syriaq. The great majority of citizens in the Sinai are bedouins and have much more in common with Palestinians and Jordanians than Egyptians. However in the same manner those Egyptians currently living in the Sinai would still own their property and be either Egyptian or Syriaq citizens. Their choice. Egypt oil companies would still own and operate the oil fields in the Sinai, just the taxes would go to Syriaq.

      In my proposal Israeli citizens would be allowed to own land and live anywhere, not only in the West Bank but anywhere in Syraiq that they chose to do so. This would be included in a Syriaq protection of all religious groups. Hopefully over time that area of comfort would expand a great deal.

      In return I do not go so far as to consider Syriaq's living anywhere within Israeli borders but I do consider the concept of Israeli Arabs and Druze choosing to live within Israel and becoming Syriaq citizens. But a choice not a requirement. And any Syriaq citizen could live within the West Bank region, Gaza and the Sinai.

      I do however make one never mentioned proposal that all the land the Israeli's "swap" in the West Bank be traded for Eilat and then moving north a ways. Thus Aqaba, Eilat and Taba become one single city. It would become a great land bridge for all Arabs and Muslims that have been divided by the Negev for decades now. However, again, Israeli's would still continue to own land and live in Eilat

      I also propose that only Druze, from all nations, be the only citizens allowed to live and own land in the Golan Heights. A shared autonomous region if you will.

      The final major concept, not covered in my proposal but I have mentioned elsewhere is the concept of a Palestine Credit Union. Exactly like American credit unions and Credit unions found in other countries around the world.

      Only Palestinians would be allowed to be members of the Palestinian credit union all across Syriaq.

      Land that Israeli's could not show clear title too in the West Bank would then be owned by the Credit Union and leased under long term lease to the Israeli's. Sensitive land blocks in Al Quds would also be owned by the Credit Union.

      I would also propose that the Credit Union would own 40% of all, as yet not out for bid energy blocks in the Isreali Mediterranean sector. These royalties, over time, would go a long way towards rebuilding Palestinian lives all across Syriaq.

      Finally, the long held idea of a Med/Red/Dead Sea pipeline would be expanded to raise the Dead Sea to something like -1050 to 1100 feet below sea level. This would create a vast shoreline on the West Bank and virtually cut off access from the East Bank to the West Bank except for a very small passage on the north end.

      This would also require the movement of the industrial ponds and a few small cities to higher ground. This would be to instill a greater sense of barrier for Israeli's while providing hopefully an entirely new set of industries for the Palestinian Side and a moisture pump of great size for the Eastern Side of the Dead Sea.

      The main thrust of my argument for both Syriaq itself and Palestinian membership in Syriaq is that a united country such as Syriaq, with vast resources and what is now a huge rebuilding need all across the entire nation, that the citizens of Syriaq would be so busy for decades to come in building and rebuilding a nation that the focus on Israel would diminish as some sort of agreement between the Syriaq's and the Israeli's was reached to end the uncertainty of Syriaq boundaries in the sector.

      It is also my belief that by Palestinians joining in creating a much expanded national identity of Syriaq that many of the long simmering problems of Palestinian hardships would be replaced by a great need for them to join to build a common nation with 70 million others.

      And ironically what all Syriaqs, from every nation, have in common is their bond with the ideal of the Palestinians. That they are a part of Syriaq would be an emotional bond that I think would be very crucial in the early years of the new nation.

      So again a very intriguing concept. However as it stands now it does seem to favor more pluses for Israel, i.e. land ownership possibilities etc as most land in Israel is owned by Trusts and so the possibility of Palestinian purchase would seem virtually nil.

    2. CommentedCarol Maczinsky

      Wow. Like the US with its Indian gnocide first hand experience. Reservations and homelands for the Palestinians.

      Actually it is very easy to resolve the conflict, first install a Egyptian protectorate and give them Egyptian citizenship. Second, compensate palestinians for the land stolen in the past.

    3. CommentedJules Pierre

      It'd be great if it worked but I do not believe in it for a second. A treaty cannot prevent economic and/or social tensions and discriminations.

      However, it is a refreshing view of the two-states solution and highlights that realistic solutions cannot ignore existing cross-border interests.

    4. CommentedFrank O'Callaghan

      Wildly bonkers article! The kind of raving insanity that can only be proposed in the context of unquestioned power gone mad.

    5. CommentedHll Dlgz

      Thank you for such a creative proposal. This two-state with citizens` rights within each state is fascinating. However, in the EU there are EU supranational institutions which ensures equality and implementation of EU laws. In the two-state of Israelis and Palestinians if individual states remain only competent authorities, who will ensure possible inequalities or biased policy implementation by one of the states?