This seems to be the one issue that is in consensus not only amongst Israelis but also amongst Palestinians. This is also what I heard from the more than 100 Israelis and Palestinians across the political spectrum on both sides that I have been consulting with over the past three weeks. Internationally – in private – most of the members of the diplomatic community in Israel and Palestine, representing almost the entire world say the same. The only people who refuse to admit it are the individuals who are the direct stakeholders either politically or economically in keeping the myth of Oslo and the peace process alive. Most Israelis and most Palestinians also agree that their leaders, Netanyahu and Abbas, are incapable of negotiating a peace agreement between them.
The overwhelming number of Palestinians believes that Abbas needs to pack up and leave the presidency and hold new elections, but almost no one in Palestine knows how to end the rift between Fatah and Hamas and put an end to this disastrous split in the Palestinian political house. Palestinians also lack a clear choice for a leader after Abbas. Israelis know that Netanyahu will not bring peace with the Palestinians, but neither would any of the political figures who contend to be an alternative prime minister. For Israelis, the Palestinian issue of peace has been off the agenda for many years. For Palestinians, the issue of peace has never seemed further away from their daily reality, especially now with possible Israeli annexation around the corner.
During the course of the past three weeks I have been presented with eight different detailed models of Israeli-Palestinian federations or confederations, and at least one more detailed model is on the way. Interestingly, all of the models have supporters from both Israel and Palestine and the supporters cross political lines of left and right. All of the models have been launched and developed by Israelis and Palestinians – some separately and some together – with the recognition that the separation paradigm of Oslo (“us here and them there with walls and fences in between”) is no longer valid. All of the models have recognized the importance of the entirety of the Land between the River and the Sea to both peoples. Clearly all of the models attempt to confront the four main elements of the conflict: equality (or lack of), identity, territory and security.
Some of the models stress and others ignore the importance that most Israelis and Palestinians place on national-ethnic self-determination. Those that de-emphasize self-determination propose a supra-national non-ethnic, non-religious identity that could develop. Some of the models de-emphasize the issue of personal security taking the (naïve) view that the implementation of the model will create peace and everyone will have security. Some of the models focus on equal rights for all who live on the land as the most important principle that is necessary for genuine peace.
All of the models try to enable free movement, as much as possible – a response to the confining limitations that currently exist – more for Palestinians than Israelis, but Israelis are also limited in today’s reality in their lack of free movement. Some of the models try to erase borders while others insist that borders must be delineated and defined. All of the models hope that eventually we will be able to reach free movement across those borders.
Some of the models attempt to create quotas and limitations on the numbers of one community (Jews or Palestinians) living within the other community, yet all of the models accept the principle that within the states or districts or governorates there should be a minority community of the other side. Some proponents of different versions of federal models see the one state and its parts having a predominant identity of one of the sides – Israeli or Palestinian – even to the extent of calling the whole federation either Israel or Palestine.
ALL OF the proponents of a particular model believe that their model answers the most basic and important needs of both peoples.
Some are convinced that it is easier to sell a confederation model which preserves the basic tenets of the two-states paradigm, which has existed since 1936, while enabling people to live in either state (with quotas) based on separating residency status from citizenship. In this way it is possible to preserve the political identity of both states by having their citizens vote in the national elections, regardless of the state in which they have residence. The keeping of quotas on the size of minority populations by limiting immigration – by right of return of Palestinian refugees, or by the Law of Return within existing Israeli law for Jews – enable their expressed need to maintain clear majorities for both national groups within the official borders of their own states.
The basic proponents of the federal models contend that we need to have an overriding constitution that guarantees both complete equal rights for all and enables communities to have expressions for their identities in the laws of the federation and its separate parts (districts, states, governorates, etc.).
It is clear that trying to come up with a model or principles for models which look towards ending the conflict and the Israeli control over the Palestinian people is quite difficult to do when it seems so far away and completely detached from reality. It is important to point out that the most dramatic events of the second half of the 20th century, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall and of the Soviet Union, the end of apartheid in South Africa, the genocide in Rwanda and its successful rebuilding, and more, were all events that the experts did not predict. Change can happen quickly and it is usually not predicted or assessed by the experts.
My way of looking forward is to help to launch a process in which increasing numbers of Israelis and Palestinians together will begin to design models for their future beyond Oslo. There is work on this that can and should be done separately – by each single nationality – but the really important and essential thinking and design planning must be done together. The more diverse the groups of thinking Israelis and Palestinians can be, the more successful we will be in confronting the issues that are most important to us all.
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine was published by Vanderbilt University Press. It will soon appear in Arabic in Amman and Beirut.