TOWARDS A BI-NATIONAL END-GAME IN PALESTINE/ISRAEL –
WHILE IMAGINING A REGIONAL FUTURE
In our struggle for a just peace in Palestine/Israel, we find ourselves in a precarious crossroads: while it is clear that the two-state solution is dead and gone, the Palestinians, whose lead we must follow, have only just begun formulating alternatives, mainly around the notion of a single democratic state. Yet being engrossed in a political struggle with no end-game to advocate is fraught with danger. Other forces may step into the breach, able to impose their own agendas in the absence of one supported by progressive civil society.
While any initiative to address Palestinian national rights must be led by Palestinians themselves, non-Palestinians play an important role in raising issues and proposals (as in this Zochrot conference), while critical Israelis, also with a fundamental stake in the political outcome, can play a key role in clarifying issues, formulating a way forward that would include Israeli Jews and developing effective strategies and campaigns for achieving our collective ends. It is that spirit that I offer my remarks. We Israeli and other non-Palestinian compatriots, cognizant of the urgency of achieving a just outcome and aware of the challenges posed by Israel and its allies on so many levels, represent crucial allies. If our views are solicited, valued and integrated into the Palestinians’ own efforts, they will only contribute measurably to
The Essential Elements of a Just and Sustainable Israeli-Palestinian Peace
The process of constructing a just and workable political system encompassing the two peoples – the end-game – must begin by identifying those elements upon which it must rest. In order to begin that process, I offer the following:
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. If this principle is accepted by both parties, the process of constructing an inclusive yet bi-national society is eminently possible.
2. A just peace must find a balance between collective rights (self-determination) and individual rights (democracy), between a shared state system and one that gives each people substantive space for cultural expression.
3. A just peace and the negotiations leading up to it 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 requires Israeli acceptance of the refugees’ right of return as set down in UN General Assembly resolution 194; Israeli acknowledgement of its responsibility in creating the refugee issue, a symbolic act upon which closure and eventual reconciliation depends; and only then technical solutions involving mutually agreed-upon combinations of repatriation, resettlement elsewhere and financial compensation.
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 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 State in Palestine/Israel
All proposed solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict begin with a state structure, if only because the international system is organized on that basis. A state structure that is appropriate as possible, however, will reflect the bi-national character of Palestine/Israel; indeed, it will borrow both from the democratic structures and procedures (such as elections) of European states, based as they are on an atomized body of citizens, and the ethnic, national, cultural, religious and political associations that comprise it, traditionally the fundamental building blocs of the body politic in the Middle East, where multi-culturalism was the norm.
In order to represent the interests and views of both the national communities of Palestine-Israel and its individual citizens, a “consociational democracy” based on power-sharing might be mixed with direct democracy. Each voter would have two votes: one for whichever representative of the community s/he belonged to (or most identified with) that s/he prefers; the other for a representative from his/her constituency. The parliament would accordingly be composed of two houses, the communal, representing the national communities, and that representing the wishes of the electorate through constituent elections. Each house could legislate laws which, if passed within its chambers, would require the approval of the other house. Through the parliament each sector would elect a representative to the governing Federal Executive Council, which would therefore be composed of three people: a representative of the Palestinian community, a representative of the Israeli Jewish community, and a representative of the general electorate. In this way Palestine/Israel would, unlike Western states, validate the national identities of its two constituent communities. And instead of being the repository of national identity, thus raising the irresolvable question of who the state “belongs” to,” the relatively weak executive acts merely as an administrative unit, as in Switzerland or Belgium.
To further enhance each people’s national heritage and self-expression, each might found a national university, a national museum and a national theater, as well as operating newspapers, television channels and schools – all alongside, however, public institutions for those who wishing to develop a common civil identity: non-sectarian schools and universities, common cultural spaces and inclusive labor movements, not to ment
ion mere neighborliness.
And since a bi-national solution does not require the dismantlement of settlements – their very integration will neutralize their exclusive and controlling character – it does not require “ending the Occupation,” the main obstacle to the two-state solution. It simply transforms the entire country into the normal territory of a state.
Towards a Comprehensive Middle East Peace
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. And I would argue that the Palestinians are the only “gatekeepers” capable of bridging the many communal divides in the region; only they can create the conditions of dialogue necessary for forging a regional political arrangement.
A bi-national state in Palestine/Israel is thus but the first stage towards a just and comprehensive peace in the broader Middle East. Stage Two would entail a regional economic confederation among Palestine-Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, the historic geographical, cultural, economic and political unit of this part of the Middle East. This would create a powerful economic bloc capable of participating in the global economy as well as laying the foundations for genuine pan-state development in which conflict would be rendered counter-productive. Such an economic confederation, resembling more the looser Common Market of 20-30 years ago than the current European Union, should be seen as an integral extension of Palestine-Israel peace.
Nor is it to early to envision even more fundamental regional developments, since visions must precede concrete plans. Stage 3 in a comprehensive regional arrangement would see the emergence of a Middle East Confederation of Cultures and Peoples, more congruent with the multi-cultural heritage of the Middle East than a small number of non-representative states. Indeed, this Confederation would rest on a number of assemblies representing the key constituencies of the region. The Constituent Assemblies, whose membership would be both voluntary and overlapping, would include :
- A People’s Assembly which 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 others);
- A National Assembly representing those who choose to identify with their national communities (Palestinian, Israeli, Jordanian, Syria and Lebanese, perhaps also Kurds and others);
- An Assembly of Religions for those for whom their religious identities are primary (Muslims, Jews, Christians others in their many denominations);
- A Free Assembly of citizens giving expression to individuals who choose to identify with whatever pan- and post-state identity emerges;
- A Women’s Assembly;
- A Children’s Assembly; and
- An Assembly of Political Groups representing constituencies organized around cross-cutting issues and ideologies.
Now is the time to brainstorm, envision, strategize and act.