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What Comes Next: Towards a bi-national end-game in Palestine/Israel
Jeff Halper
Dec 03, 2013

This post is part of “What Comes Next?: A forum on the end of the two-state paradigm.” This series was initiated by Jewish Voice for Peace as an investigation into the current state of thinking about one state and two state solutions, and the collection has been further expanded by Mondoweiss to mark 20 years since the Oslo process. The entire series can be found here.

In our struggle for a just peace in Palestine/Israel, we find ourselves at a precarious crossroads. It is clear that the two-state solution is dead and gone, the victim of deliberate Israeli policies of settlement, territorial confiscation and Israel’s refusal to relinquish control over Palestinians’ lives. Yet the Palestinians, whose lead we must follow, have only just begun formulating alternatives, mainly around the notion of a single democratic state. Finding ourselves locked in a political struggle with no end-game for which to advocate is dangerous and self-defeating; it only invites other forces to step into the breach and impose their own agendas.

The need to formulate a just and workable end-game is also urgent. The fall of oppressive regimes shows a pattern. Apartheid South Africa, the Soviet Union, the Marcos regime in the Philippines, the Shah in Iran, Mubarak in Egypt – all seemed overwhelmingly strong until the very end, and then collapsed suddenly. So it might well be with Israel’s Occupation. The failure of the Kerry negotiations are likely to trigger a chain of events, sooner rather than later, that will open up political possibilities not available to us at this time.

This, then, is the moment when Palestinians and critical Israelis should be entering into serious strategizing, in concert with our international partners. Governments manage conflicts, they do not resolve them, and they certainly do not resolve them in accordance with international law, human rights or the desires of the oppressed. If we, the people concerned, want to be actors in determining our own future, we need to begin formulating immediately an end-game to the conflict. Yet Palestine/Israel is too small a unit for resolving all the outstanding issues – refugees, water, security, economic development and self-determination, among others. Even as conflicts embroil our region,we need to envision a just and inclusive Middle East if we are to have a hand in fashioning it. The outlines of a vision and plan presented here are intended to contribute to those most urgent of tasks.

Where Do We Begin?

Before we enter into the details of constructing a just and workable political system encompassing the two peoples of Palestine/Israel – the end-game – we must identify the essential elements of any just and sustainable settlement. In my view, they are as follows – and all of them must be present for any plan to work.

1. A just peace must accept the bi-national reality of P/I and be inclusive of both peoples. The national identities of Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews, both seeking self-determination in a common land, cannot be ignored or denied if a workable, substantially just resolution to the conflict is to be realized. This is perhaps the hardest element for Palestinians to accept, since it implies granting legitimacy to Jewish national claims embodied in Israel and the Zionist movement. Just as the ANC made a strategic decision to pursue a multiracial South Africa out of a recognition that to exclude the Afrikaners would tear the society apart and lead to further violence and injustice, so, too, could the Palestinians decide that the political reality of Palestine has become bi-national and, accompanied by measures of restorative justice such as the settling of the refugee issue, redistribution of land and reparations, would provide a better basis for the future than the pursuit of absolute justice. This is the element upon which all else depends.

2. A just peace must find a balance between collective rights (self-determination) and individual rights (democracy). This suggests a dual political system: bi-nationalism combined with one person-one vote.

3. A just peace must conform to human rights, international law and UN resolutions in respect to both the collective and individual rights of both peoples. If power negotiations alone determine the outcome, Israel wins and the conflict becomes irresolvable.

4. A just peace requires that the refugee issue be fully resolved. This, plus relinquishing exclusive claims to the Land of Israel, represents the most difficult element for Israeli Jews to accept. It involves not only technical matters of repatriation, resettlement and financial compensation, but requires two additional symbolic acts upon which closure and eventual reconciliation depends: Israeli acceptance of the refugees’ right of return as set down in UN General Assembly resolution 194, and Israeli acknowledgement of its responsibility in creating the refugee issue.Within a common state joint planning bodies could then comprehensively address the various facets of refugee return: returning to the actual sites of the their villages and rebuilding; return of their urban properties or fair compensation; and integration of Palestinians into Israel’s cities, towns and villages, as well as into the settlements of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, thus nullifying their control. Without a full and genuine resolution of the refugee issue any plan of peace is still-born.

5. A just peace must be economically viable. All the citizens of Palestine/Israel must have equal access to the country’s basic resources and economic institutions. Once viable economic and political structures are in place, the Palestinian Diaspora will likely invest in the country, supporting in particular the Palestinian sector, a source of economic parity seldom taken into account.

6. A just peace must address the security concerns of all in the region.

7. A just peace must be regional in scope. Israel-Palestine is too small a unit to address such regional issues as refugees, water, security, economic development and the environment. Any peace process must provide a suitable regional environment in which P/I can integrate, ultimately leading to a regional confederation.

Towards a Bi-National, Democratic State in Palestine/Israel

Once these elements are accepted (perhaps with others I have missed, this alone being a fruitful discussion to have, one that highlights differences and issues that must be resolved), the best political system to express both the desires of the two national communities of Palestine/Israel for self-determination and of its individual citizens for democracy would seem to be a consociational democracy. Based on power-sharing, this form of government is the most appropriate to a post-conflict situation, since it avoids the competition for power that undermines cross-communal trust and present the once-antagonistic communities with common, transcendental issues of joint governance.

In brief outline, in order to address the dual needs of self-determination (collective rights) and (democracy) (individual rights), the parliament of the country would consist of two houses, one representing the national communities and the other the wishes of the electorate as a whole. Each voter would thus have two votes: one for the house of parliament representing the community to which s/he belongs or identifies (Palestinian Arab or Jewish Israeli);the other for the house representing his/her constituency. Each house would legislate laws which would require the approval of the other house, thus creating a system of power sharing rather than competition.

Since no overarching identity yet unites Palestinians and Jewish Israelis, each national community might found a national university, a national museum and a national theater, as well as operating newspapers, television channels and schools – all significant expressions of self-determination. At the same time, however, public institutions would exist for those who wishing to develop a common civil identity: non-sectarian schools and universities, common cultural spaces and inclusive labor movements, not to mention mere neighborliness. And instead of being the repository of national identity, thus raising the irresolvable question of who the state “belongs” to,” a relatively weak executive – a Federal Executive Council composed of three members elected by parliament: a representative of the Palestinian community, a representative of the Israeli Jewish community, and a representative of the general electorate – would administer the technical affairs of the country, much as in Switzerland.

A bi-national solution avoids one of the major pitfalls obstructing the resolution of the conflict: ending the Occupation. Since the entire country becomes the normal territory of a common state, settlements will lost their exclusive nature and controlling functions by the very fact of their natural process of integration – given, of course, proper restitution for the Palestinian owners of the land. If Ma’aleh Adumim becomes a mixed Palestinian/Israel city, then who cares? The Occupation will be neutralized in the very course of establishing a state in which all enjoy parity (again, after a process of restorative justice creates parity among the communities and citizens). Palestinians and Israeli Jews will finally be able to genuinely address the needs of both peoples within a common geographical space.

Envisioning a Regional Future: Towards a Middle Eastern Confederation of Cultures

A bi-national state would address the most urgent need at hand: resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But Palestine-Israel is too small a unit to truly address such issues as refugees, water, economic development or security, all of which are regional problems that cannot be resolved within its narrow confines. Peace-making and development must occur evenly across a region. A flourishing Palestine-Israel cannot exist in a highly militarized region characterized by poverty, inter-communal conflict and autocratic regimes. The establishment of a state in Palestine-Israel, then, would be but a first stage in creating a comprehensive political and economic structure necessary for stabilizing and developing the region as a whole.

The wider region of which Palestine/Israel is a part of historic “Greater Syria,” which also includes Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, a potentially powerful economic bloc – and the regional struggles arising out of the Arab Awakening offer a window of opportunity if progressive civil society can begin to articulate an appropriate future vision. What political form would best “fit” the cultural needs, political aspirations and economic concerns of all the peoples of that conflict-torn region, home to dozens of national, cultural, linguistic, religious and political communities? Again, a consociational federation of communities – Palestine/Israel writ large – seems most appropriate, administered, like the European Commission or the Swiss federal government, by a weak Executive.

The Confederation of Cultures and Peoples would thus be based on the communities that traditionally comprised Middle East society rather than on states, inappropriate political structures imposed by Europe. Governance of the Confederation would therefore devolve to its constituent communities. One way to organize for governance, then, might be to create (say) seven Constituent Assemblies whose membership would be both voluntary and overlapping. Functioning on local, regional and pan-Confederation levels alike, the assemblies would engage all the diverse communities in common issues of governance and cooperation, while maintaining close connections with the decision- and consensus-making institutions of each community. The Constituent Assemblies might include:

A People’s Assembly would represent the many ethnic and cultural groups of the region, many of whom have territorial allegiances (Bedouins, Druze, Circassians, Samaritans, Alawites, Maronites, Roma, Armenians, Mizrahi Jews, Greeks and many others).
A National Assembly would represent those who choose to identify with their national communities whose territorial attachments often overlap (Palestinian, Israeli, Jordanian, Syria and Lebanese, perhaps also Kurds and others).
An Assembly of Religions would represent those many for whom their religious identities are central, if not primary (Muslims, Jews and Christians in their myriad denominations, some overlapping with their national identities, plus Bahai, Samaritans, Druze and others).
A Free Assembly, for people like me and probably most of you reading this, would represent or give expression to citizens of the Confederation who choose to identify solely as individuals or with whatever pan- and post-state identity emerges, or for whom participation in the wider body-politic complements their participation in other Assemblies;
A Woman’s Assembly;
An Assembly of Youth; and finally,
An Assembly of Political Groups would represent constituencies organized around cross-cutting issues and ideologies (political movements and parties, religious groupings such as Hizbollah or Hamas, feminist and LGBT communities of interest, environmentalists and businesspeople, to name just a few).
Alongside the Executive, a Confederational Assembly comprised of representatives of the various regional assemblies would serve as the legislative arm of government–a truly consociational, power-sharing form of government, built upon strong communities, the genuine building blocks of Middle Eastern society. A key element of regional confederation would be the ability of all the Confederation’s inhabitants to live and work anywhere within the region, much as in Europe today.

It’s Up To Us

The manner in which Israel’s warehousing of the Palestinians has been allowed to progress unfettered by the US and Europe highlights a key fact of international politics: as long as any situation can be quieted to the point where it ceases to disrupt the world system, it can be tolerated. Governments will invariably choose the course of least resistance, preferring repressed injustice to the difficulties of pursuing genuine justice.

It is therefore up to us, the international civil society led by Palestinians and critical Israelis, to formulate and promote a just solution. Actually constructing the most appropriate political structure is not a tremendously difficult problem. Models exist upon which we can build. Most crucial is to decide what political community are we talking about: a shared bi-national one, an electorate composed merely of individual voters, or a polity based on the domination of one people over the other (or even the exclusion of the other). This is the issue on which everything depends, upon which a political structure is built. And to a large degree it is the Palestinians who must signal what options they accept before we can progress.

Envisioning the future state and society, and beyond that a more just and multicultural Middle East, constitutes the primary agenda before us. In this process the Palestinians possess great leverage; they are the gatekeepers. Only they can signal an end to the “conflict,” and only they can legitimize the presence of Israeli Jews in the Arab and Muslim worlds, under conditions of transformative justice. As a dynamic society with democratic traditions and a history of resistance, Palestinians also hold a key to articulating a vision of a new Middle East and mobilize regional civil society.

We are truly at a cross-roads. The inevitable failure of the Kerry initiative will likely trigger two developments: the end of the Palestinian Authority and Israel’s unilateral annexation of Area C. Having the air finally cleared of the two-state solution, which we will all be able to agree is gone, the raw fact of Israeli occupation, apartheid and warehousing will finally come to the fore. Collapse of the reality we have known since 1967 is by itself a welcome thing, yet we must anticipate it and be prepared. We cannot begin to scramble after the fact – and the “fact” might come by April, if not before. Now is the time for us to brainstorm, envision, crystallize a just solution of our own making, and be prepared to act. We do not possess the mechanisms or forums to do that, but communication – which means ending the self-defeating practice of “anti-normalization” with even anti- or non-Zionist Israeli groups – is the necessary and urgent first step.

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