The Palestinian – Israeli situation has been an ongoing issue for nearly a century. Since Israel’s formation in May 1948, the two sides have been in conflict and various land areas have been in dispute based on shifting territorial boundaries. Israel currently rules over territory acquired during various military conflicts through a series of military orders, following Article 43 of the Hague Regulations. Translated from the original French, the Article reads: “The authority of the legitimate power having in fact passed into the hands of the occupant, the latter shall take all measures in his power to restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public order and civic life, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country” (Dinstein 2). One of the most fundamental questions is the status of the four million Palestinians in those territories. Are they Israeli citizens or not? Is a resolution possible between the two sides that will bring peace? Currently there are two proposals: the two-state solution involves partitioning the land into two independent states while the bi-national proposal involves a self-administering Palestinian entity with partial sovereignty over its borders and citizens. The United Nations has also passed numerous resolutions regarding this matter. Resolution 242, dated November 22, 1967, emphasizes “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every state in the area can live in security… [calls for the] withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict… [and] affirms further the necessity… for achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem” (“Resolution 242”). A new proposal is needed that merges both of the current proposals into a new idea: the “confederation one-state proposal.” Addressing in part the variety of concerns that have long been a source of contention, this solution could potentially move the peace process forward.
Neither the two-state solution nor the bi-national proposal as currently offered are viable answers to the conflict at this time, as they both fail to address key issues. The two-state solution envisions an independent Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel, with two independent sovereign political entities (one Palestinian and one Jewish). Fulfilling the original United Nations Resolution 191, which mandated a two-state solution, it would also grant the Palestinians autonomy in their own governmental affairs. On the other hand, the bi-national solution would create a single state in which Israelis and Palestinians, as well as the other ethnic minorities within Israel’s borders, live in peace as equal citizens. Both sides have strong views on such things as the issue of “right of return,” internal strife that is currently occurring within the Palestinian factions, security concerns by the Israelis, and unacceptability of armistice proposals that could lead to permanent borders based on peace treaties.
Advocates of the two-state solution want the Palestinian people to have the right of self-determination. Currently, the West Bank is governed by Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority while the Gaza Strip is governed by a unity government formed through an agreement by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, both likely stakeholders in whatever negotiations would occur. However, Hamas is unwilling to cease using violent actions against Israel, to recognize Israel’s sovereignty, and to abide by previously signed agreements between the Palestinian Authority and Israel; as recently as within the last year, Hamas fired rockets from Gaza into Israel and utilized the vast underground network of tunnels that run from Gaza into Israel. Meanwhile, Abbas’s government is having difficulty reconciling the different viewpoints between the two factions. Troubled by this plan, Israel is also unwilling to consider this proposal. For example, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, acknowledges that security is of primary concern to the Israeli people, stating “anyone who goes to create today a Palestinian state and turns over land, is turning over land that will be used as a launching ground for attacks by Islamic extremists against the state of Israel. That’s the actual reality that has been formed here in recent years” (qtd. in Shapiro). Netanyahu’s current priority is ensuring that the situation in Gaza is not replicated elsewhere as well as maintaining the Jewish character of Israel, making the prospect of being able to negotiate with the Palestinians less likely.
Furthermore, a two-state solution would require Israel to give up land holdings in exchange for the promise of peace, and those concessions would be irreversible. Three times between 2000 and 2008, Israel offered the Palestinians a homeland and both sides were unable to come to an agreement (Shapiro). Considering the current instability occurring in the region, returning to the original borders would give Israel less than 10 miles of strategic depth at its narrowest point, leaving Israel with indefensible borders in a partition plan, creating an unacceptable security threat. The United Nations Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine late last year “noted that realization of the two-State solution would fulfil the wish of all. However, to achieve that the one State occupying the other must withdraw… [the Palestinian people] did not lose sight of the two-State objective for a Palestinian state on all the territory occupied in 1967” (“General Assembly”). During his speech at the United Nations, Netanyahu states that “the likes of ISIS [would be] within mortar range – a few miles – of 80% of our population… The distance between the 1967 lines and the suburbs of Tel Aviv is like the distance between the UN building here and Times Square… That’s why in any peace agreement, which will obviously necessitate a territorial compromise… Israel [needs to] be able to defend itself by itself against any threat” (Netanyahu). The Palestinians want a return to the 1967 borders and the Israelis want defensible borders, leading to an impasse on this point as well.
An objection to the two-state proposal was raised by Yasser Arafat in the 1970s, who stated that the Palestinian movement was “based on three words: right of return” (Vick). The Palestinian refugees’ insistence on being allowed to return to land now in the state of Israel continues to be an intractable problem during negotiations. Palestinian activists continue to demand the right of Palestinians to return to Israel with full citizenship rights, and those demands for right of return remain easily manipulated by politicians as a bargaining chip for territorial issues. Even though the Palestinian factions currently are experiencing infighting, all sides continue to insist on maintaining the “right of return” at the present time, while the Israeli government is looking to maintain border security as well as the Jewish character of the state. The two parties’ aims are in conflict with each other; therefore, this proposal is also not currently a long-term solution to the problem.
The parties need to consider a different solution, one that addresses the “right of return” long advocated by the Palestinians, as well as the security concerns of the Israelis. The “confederation one-state proposal” I am advocating would be comprised of one nation (federally constituted), with individual states (districts) which are completely free to decide their own internal organization. Based on a government such as that of Switzerland, this proposal would be a unique solution to this impasse and allow both sides to come to a reasonable compromise. Switzerland is a confederation of a number of individual sovereign territories “except to the extent that their sovereignty is limited by the Federal Constitution. They exercise all rights that are not vested in the Confederation” (“Federal Constitution”). Not only would Israelis and Palestinians be able to have some level of determination over their governance, so would the Druze, Bedouin, and Christian populations. Areas with a majority population of Palestinians would be divided into six districts (split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip). The Druze population is primarily located near the Syrian border and would constitute one district; the Bedouin primarily live in the Negev, forming one district; a number of Christians live near Nazareth and could constitute one district; the remaining nine districts would encompass Jewish population centers (both secular and ultra-orthodox) throughout the rest of the country. Each group would thereby have some measure of representation in a central governing body responsible for protecting the country’s borders and foreign affairs.
In 2013 President Mahmoud Abbas indicated that “the Palestinians would abandon historic claims to land that is now in the state of Israel in the event of a far-reaching peace deal… stressing that a ‘just’ agreement would mean ‘the end of the conflict’” (Sherwood), but has more recently said that not only will the Palestinians not recognize Israel as a Jewish state, the capital of any future Palestinian state must be located in east Jerusalem, and there “would be no peace deal with Israel unless the Palestinian refugees can choose for themselves if they want to ‘return’” (Keinon and Toameh). The confederation one-state plan would deal with the “right of return”, as well as allowing Palestinians to be compensated for the loss of their property; in 2003 a researcher interviewed 4,500 refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank, and found that “only 10% said they would live in Israel if given the option, while 54% opted for monetary compensation and a home on the West Bank or Gaza. The other third said they would prefer to live in other countries, or rejected the terms described” (Vick). Palestinian leaders do not point out that according to U.N. Resolution 194, paragraph eleven specifically states:
That the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible. (“194 (III). Palestine”)
The Palestinian leadership, by denying the reality of possible financial settlement, thereby present a continuing obstacle to the peace process. As Jerome Slater, University Research Scholar at the State University of New York at Buffalo notes, “Palestinian leaders could call for a referendum, strongly recommend approval, and make an essentially irrefutable case that the Palestinians would be far better off if they gave up the right of return” (624). If the general Palestinian populace understood that monetary compensation was available, more of them might choose to accept such funds to build new homes, as the interviews suggest.
Netanyahu makes a reasonable point when he notes that the expectation that dealing with the Arab refugee situation created by the war that the surrounding Arab government started in 1948 against Israel is problematic (Keinon and Toameh). According to Resolution 194, the “loss of or damage to property… should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible”; this does not preclude a monetary settlement from those nations surrounding Israel from assisting in any number of ways, from contributions of money to a fund specifically chartered for payments to Palestinians for the property they left, to granting citizenship to those refugees that have been displaced, or choose to migrate to other surrounding nations in the region. Setting up a non-profit organization to assist the various displaced people (akin to that established in Germany after the Second World War, when massive displacements of German people occurred throughout Europe leaving many people as refugees), and allowing all people within the current borders of the state of Israel to gain citizenship but separating their voting status from the place where they live could potentially prove to be a realistic solution. People would be granted Israeli citizenship (much as Swiss citizenship is conferred upon all people who live in the various cantons within the Swiss Confederation). However, they would be allowed to choose what district they wished to vote in (conferring citizenship in a particular region), which could be separate from their actual residency status (permanent residency status in the district they currently live in). The territories themselves are severely overcrowded; according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the West Bank has a population density of 493 persons per square kilometer, while the Gaza Strip has a population density of 4,822 persons per square kilometer (Palestinian Central Bureau). Allowing Palestinians to construct new housing elsewhere, or move if they so choose to do so, would likely have an effect on the desperation that people feel, leading to fewer people supporting radical political entities.
Continued breakdowns in negotiations have made getting both sides to agree on anything extremely difficult. Palestinians, especially the “Arab citizens who comprise 20% of Israel’s population, are more likely to realize that their future is linked to that of Israeli Jews, whatever political form it may take” (Beinin). If both parties could give up some part of their intractability, the “federalist solution” may potentially work and lead to a two-state solution in the future. The attempt by the Israeli right to maintain a single state where Jews have power and Palestinians do not is fomenting conflict in the region; foreign interests that advocate for a one-state solution based on “one person, one vote” focus too heavily on the rights of the individual at the expense of communal identities. Not acknowledging those communal identities has not worked in the region as a whole to this point, as borders of the various countries in the Middle East were drawn with political instead of socio-ethnic considerations in mind and has continued the conflict within the various factions. As a result, giving all of the stakeholders in Israel an opportunity to share power has the potential to change the current dynamics enough to bring about the peace that has been discussed for so many decades.
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