The final in a series of brief blog posts offering a perspective on the conflict in Palestine.
Human rights and the future of Palestine | Location location | A time between empires | Zionism as a colonial project | Jewish migration to Palestine | Dividing Palestine | The war of 1948 | Wars and rumors of war | Palestinian resistance | Creating a shared future in Palestine
Resolving the conflict in Palestine has occupied and defeated the best minds of several major nations. The British could not find a solution during their Mandate administration and clearly the USA has not been able to do any better since 1948. Nor have the Europeans, the UN or the Russians.
The Israeli activist, Jeff Halper, has suggested that Israel is seeking to achieve three outcomes, any two of which (but only two of which) they can have:
- Control of the ‘biblical lands’ from Dan to Beersheba
- A distinctively Jewish state
- A democratic society
As Halper says, Israel can control all of the biblical lands and create a distinctively Jewish state, but such a society will not be democratic. If it opts for the land with democracy, then the state will not be Jewish. It may, of course, relinquish its control of all the biblical lands and create a state which is both distinctively Jewish and democratic. The latter option is also known as the Two State Solution and is clearly not the preferred option of any recent Israeli government.
I propose a variation of Halper’s three options, by suggesting there are only four logical possibilities. None of them will be easy to achieve. Some are worth the effort.
Israel achieved dominance by military force and has sustained that dominance with the diplomatic support of the US. By adopting the 2018 Nation State Bill, the Israeli Knesset has opted to define Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people with its non-Jewish citizens having limited civil and political rights. Only Jews are permitted to exercise national self-determination with the State of Israel. While this law does not address the question of Israel’s borders, it reflects an assumption that Jewish values and Jewish rights will prevail wherever Israeli sovereignty is effective should there be any conflict with the civil or political rights of non-Jews. Irrespective of where the borders of such a Jewish state may be, any Palestinian living within such a state must accept that the nation is for Jews and not for them. Such a Jewish nation state may choose to retain military control of the Palestinian territories, even if local Palestinian areas are allowed some form of limited local autonomy. The closest historical parallel is, of course, the apartheid regime in South Africa. Very few people, including only a small minority of Jews, are likely to accept this as a permanent outcome of the conflict in Palestine.
The current preferred option for all the stakeholders is the so-called ‘two-state solution.’ This was the basis of the Oslo Accords but it has not been fulfilled in practice. We do not have two states living side by side in peace and security. This solution is widely seen as being on life support, if not already dead. It could be revived with sufficient political will from the international community, but only if the US stops rewarding Israeli intransigence with protection from the decisions of the UN Security Council.
There is growing for support for a single unified state that encompasses all the people living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, and possibly makes some provision for the eventual return and integration of the Palestinian refugees displaced in 1948 and 1967 (and their descendants). This need not require a single unitary nation-state with all decisions being made on the basis of universal suffrage. There are various models that offer ways forward which hold promise of good outcomes for the people. One such model recognizes that the Jewish and Palestinian populations tend to be unevenly distributed across the total area and provides for regional councils (cantons) which reflect the cultural and economic dynamics of their particular demographics. Most of these would be close to 100% Jewish or 100% Palestinian, while a few would be mixed. Jerusalem might be a unique case due to its religious profile. Within each canton people could choose to have regulations that reflect their identity and values, while certain functions (including foreign affairs, defense, energy and water) would be handled by a national assembly whose powers are limited to such matters and cannot legislate those affairs delegated to regional councils. This limited national federation would be elected by universal suffrage of all the people living across all of the regional cantons, but its capacity to shape the ethnic and religious character of particular regions would be curtailed. Such a proposal represents a modification of the concept of ‘nation,’ just as the European Community has done within its member states.
In the medium to long-term future there are possibilities for a regional confederation. This could be achieved whether the intermediate stage was a two-state model or a federation with autonomous cantons. The confederation could comprise, in the first instance, Israel and Palestine. It could easily be extended to include Jordan, and perhaps also Lebanon. Possibly even Syria might be considered as a member of such a regional confederation. The economic and cultural impact of such collaboration between current combatants could be immense as well as very positive. It may even prevent the rise of another empire seeking to impose order on the unruly Levantine region in the next 50 to 100 years. The current religious and political extremists would hate such an outcome, and that just may be the strongest argument in its favor.