Alternative Palestinian Agenda

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Proposal for an Alternative Configuration in Palestine-Israel

by Nasser Abufarha

www.ap-agenda.org

"If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it"
-- Albert Einstein

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As much as the Palestinians have failed to liberate their homeland and achieve their return, the Israelis have failed to arrive at their acceptance and naturalization in the region. Fifty-three years after the establishment of the state of Israel in Palestine, the Middle East continues to be in a state of instability and ongoing cycles of war and violence. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Arabs and tens of thousands of Israelis and continues to claim yet more.

There have been various attempts and initiatives presented and contemplated to end the Arab-Israeli conflict over the past 50 years. However, in the last 10 years, in the wake of the first intifada (Palestinian uprising), the international community was compelled to address the Palestinian question and Israel was pressured to engage in a dialog and a process toward a resolution of the conflict.

Unfortunately, the 'peace process' has focused on political definitions and cease-fire lines rather than the more substantive issues that address the concerns and aspirations of both Israeli and Palestinian society. Future initiatives need to provide a framework that enables both Israelis and Palestinians to accommodate the other so that the concerns and aspirations of both societies can be addressed.

Without this framework, it is not surprising that the current process failed. Now both societies are at a turning point in their respective histories. The future of the region depends greatly on what course each society takes from here. Without a fundamental shift in focus to real life issues that concern both societies, the conflict will spiral into misery and continue to deprive the children of Palestine-Israel the dream of life. Once we understand the reasons behind the failure of previous initiatives, we can set the parameters for constructive dialog that brings the conflict toward resolution. The effective collapse of the current process places us at a crossroads that demands that we develop an alternative process that comprehensively addresses all aspects of the conflict or be faced with even greater levels of confrontation and destruction.

This proposal presents a new initiative that comprehensively addresses the concerns and current realities of both Israeli and Palestinian society. It addresses the shortcomings of previous initiatives and how Israelis and Palestinians can accommodate each other. Specifically, this proposal offers a new political arrangement, guidelines for healthy ethno-national relations and an alternative territorial configuration based on current demographics and land use. This initiative would provide the framework for the resolution of all outstanding issues of the conflict that would serve as the foundation for the development of viable civic society in Palestine-Israel and allow for acceptance of Israelis by the peoples of the region.

Palestinian and Israeli Concerns and Aspirations

The general pursuit of happiness and prosperity is common across humanity. Since Palestinians and Israelis share the same land as their home, they can only strive toward this shared aspiration when both societies are able to understand and respect the concerns and aspirations of each other. In order to get beyond the misconception that concerns and aspirations of one society is independent of the other, we need to derive measures that bridge the concerns of both societies without negating each other's aspirations.

Israeli Concerns and Aspirations

The following Israeli concerns and aspirations represent the primary demands of Israeli society:

Security. Security represents the primary concern of Israelis. The nationalist aspirations of the Palestinians for independence and statehood continue to pose a threat to the very existence of the state of Israel. At the regional level, Israelis depend on their military superiority to protect them from their geographical vulnerability of being surrounded by nations that question their very legitimacy.

Acceptance. The majority of Israelis would like to be accepted as a state among the nations of the Middle East and enjoy economic and cultural relations across the region. However, nations in the region continue to view Israel as a foreign entity and do not recognize its right to exist as a state.

Character of the Jewish State. The majority of Israelis continue to support the idea of a Jewish state as a means of defending and protecting Jewish rights. Moreover, Western Jews feel a sense of security and personal fulfillment in Israel as a place of refuge should they become subject to racial or religious persecution and as an expression of Jewish identity. Atrocities committed against Jews in Europe combined with the religious and ideological commitment to the idea of Israel contribute to the desire to maintain a Jewish state.

Identity. Israelis have a strong sense of identity expressed through their attachment to the Hebrew language and their strong commitment to the state. This commitment is strengthened by the desire of both the immigrant population and the Israeli born to cut across cultural, social, and historical differences in search of a shared identity. Israelis are resistant to initiatives that may threaten to dilute, destroy, or negate this identity.

Peace. There is a growing consensus in Israeli society in support of arriving at an end to the conflict in order to live in peace in the region. The majority of Israelis are frustrated by their inability to move beyond the conflict and devote attention to life matters. They long for a peace that would free them of the political instability of the conflict that pervades their lives.

Jerusalem. Some Israelis worry that if they did not maintain exclusive control over the city of Jerusalem, they would lose access to a city which holds both historical and religious significance for them. Other Israelis represented by the Zionist leadership have a political commitment towards Jerusalem. Since the whole Zionist idea is founded on the Jewish state, and the city of Jerusalem is the symbol of the connection of the Jewish state to Palestine, they find that control over Jerusalem is essential to that commitment.


Palestinian Concerns and Aspirations

The following Palestinian concerns and aspirations represent the primary demands of Palestinian society:

Statehood. Palestinian identity emerged around the turn of the century. The sense of identity among Palestinians grew stronger and stronger as their expression of identity was and continues to be denied. Their shared experience of exile and living under an occupation that refused to recognize their very existence made their commitment to their identity as the only definition of self. Statehood remains the modern expression of identity and is therefore at the forefront of the Palestinian agenda.

Right of Return. The right of return represents the central and most complex concern among Palestinians. The right of return refers to Palestinians and their descendents who were driven out of their homes in the wake of the establishment of the state of Israel in Palestine in 1948. Today the refugee population exceeds 3.7 million, which represents nearly half of the current Palestinian population in the region.

Ending the Occupation. The Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza has been under Israeli military rule since 1967 under which Palestinians have experienced continuous brutal harassment, including policies of expulsion, imprisonment without charge, collective punishment, land confiscation, restrictions on movement, trade, development, growth, and use of natural resources such as water. Moreover, they are denied freedom of assembly and association, freedom of speech, and freedom of worship (the majority of the Palestinian population is denied access to Jerusalem and its Christian and Muslim holy sites). This treatment has recently escalated into the direct bombardment of Palestinian towns and cities and a policy of assassination of Palestinian leaders.

Security and Democratic Rights of ‘Israeli Arabs.’ ‘Israeli Arabs’ are those Palestinians who remained in their homes after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and subsequently adopted Israeli citizenship. Due to their legal status as Israeli citizens and their identity as Palestinians, they are claimed by both societies. The government of the state of Israel confiscated the majority of the properties of this population in the 1950s and allocated them to the Israeli agricultural and industrial cooperatives of the Kibbutzim and Moshavim and continue to confiscate more lands to this day. In short, this population does not enjoy the same protection by the state of Israel as Jewish Israelis.

 

For example, residents of the Palestinian town of Saakhnin were killed when they protested the confiscation of their lands in 1976. More recently, the Israeli police failed to respond to calls for help from the residents of Nazareth and Jaffa in October 2000 when attacked by a Jewish Israeli mob. The state of Israel also denies this population their basic democratic rights of self-expression as is evident in the suppression of their Palestinian identity. For example, the Israeli police killed 13 ‘Israeli Arabs’ and injured hundreds of others in October 2000 when they demonstrated against ‘their’ state’s violent treatment of their fellow Palestinians in the occupied territories.

In addition to concerns over security and the democratic rights of ‘Israeli Arabs,’ Palestinians in Israel are also subject to discriminatory policies such as the state’s refusal to recognize over 40 Palestinian villages and the subsequent denial of basic services in an effort to evacuate their populations. Moreover, the state poses restrictions on movement on the Palestinian Bedouin population in the south of Israel in order to make them dependent on the state and become available for the labor market or the Israeli army.

Demographic Crisis in the Gaza Strip. The demographic crisis in the Gaza Strip is a direct consequence of the displacement of Palestinians in 1948 with the establishment of the state of Israel. Two-thirds of the 1.2 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip remain refugees in an area with a population density of 3000/km2. The Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip is confined to this area, which has essentially deprived it of the basic means of survival. This situation has grave social and political consequences as is evident in the radicalization of this population.

Jerusalem. The city of Jerusalem holds a special status in the hearts of the Palestinian population as the historical cultural center of Palestine. Moreover, it houses sacred sites to Muslim and Christian Palestinians alike such as al Aqsa or al Harim Ash-Sharif, known as the Noble Sanctuary and al Qiama, the church of the Holy Sepulchral, respectively. Israel has restricted access to the city for the majority of the Palestinian population since it took over the city in 1967.

Access has also been restricted for Palestinian residents of the city through the confiscation of their ID cards that effectively denies their ability to maintain residency in the city. This restriction is part of an accelerated effort by Israel for the judaeification of the city. All of these practices and policies have strengthened the commitment of the Palestinian people toward their holy city and their historical, cultural, and political center.

The city is also a central issue in the Arab-Israeli conflict as far as the Arab nations are concerned. All the populations of the nations of the region have strong historical, cultural, and religious ties to the city of Jerusalem. Since these nations have been denied access to the city since its occupation by Israel, they will continue to oppose exclusive Israeli control over the city.

The Failure of the Two-State Solution

The most contemplated solution in the past 25 years is the two-state solution, which the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) adopted in 1978 and is allegedly the framework of the current peace process initiated with the Oslo Accords of 1993. This solution is based on Israeli withdrawal from all Palestinian territories that it occupied in 1967 and the formation of an independent Palestinian state on those territories. Its significance lies in the fact that it moves beyond the respective programs among Palestinians and Israelis that call for either the total liberation of Palestine or the Zionist project of the complete takeover of all of historic Palestine. These ‘solutions’ are exclusive programs that are committed to confrontation and leave no room for peace. However, even though the two-state solution is considered the most responsive to Palestinian nationalist aspirations in terms of achieving an "independent state" and the Zionist ambition of preserving a "Jewish state," even this solution falls short of addressing the concerns and aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians.

Security. The two-state solution for two independent states is a recipe for continuous war. The newborn Palestinian state would continue to be subject to intimidation by the superior Israeli Army. Moreover, Israelis would not feel secure watching a Palestinian state build an army next door knowing that there are millions of Palestinians who have many claims in Israel.

Right of Return. A Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza cannot accommodate the number of exiled Palestinians who are prevented from returning to their homes, nor does it address the concerns of the refugees in the West Bank and Gaza whose homes and lands are in what is now Israel.

Jerusalem. Both states claiming the city as their capital will continue to be a major obstacle in the way of a two independent state solution. Any sharing of the city will affect the sovereignty and independence of both states.

Security and Democratic Rights of ‘Israeli Arabs.’ A two state solution ignores the issues and concerns of the Palestinian population in what is now Israel. All the issues of security, cultural expression, land confiscation, respect for civil and human rights are not addressed under the two-state solution.

Settlements. The Israeli settlers in the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 would not feel secure under an independent Palestinian state and any Israeli arrangement for their security would jeopardize the independence of the Palestinian state. Furthermore, evacuation of the settlers from these areas is becoming increasingly difficult.

 

Demographic Crisis in Gaza. The Gaza Strip suffers from a great demographic concentration. Any rational solution should take into consideration allowing a breathing space in that area. The two-state solution leaves Gaza demographics the same, an issue that only become more complex as the population increases at a rapid rate in a contained area.

Israeli Acceptance in the Region. Failure to address the concerns of Israeli and Palestinian society would continue to stand in the way of Israeli acceptance among the peoples of the region. Without regional acceptance, Israel remains isolated and vulnerable.

Aside from these concerns, Palestinian groups that advocate a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza gain support for such a state as part of what is known as al Barnamij al Marhali (The Stages Program). This program was introduced by the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine in 1975 and then adopted by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1978. It calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state in any part of Palestine that is liberated or from which the Israelis withdraw.

To many Palestinians who support this program, they consider a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza to be a first step towards the total liberation of Palestine. The Israeli public understands this contradiction in the leading Palestinian politics, and this has created a great deal of skepticism and mistrust among Israelis. That is not to say that this is the real intention of the current Palestinian Authority leadership, far from it. The only program of this leadership is the program to maintain its leadership. But this program is the only way this leadership is able to promote the acceptance of a Palestinian state limited to the territories occupied in 1967 among the various segments of Palestinian society. This provisional acceptance is the same principle under which Ben Gurion accepted the UN Partition Plan of 1947. His policy was to establish the Jewish state on any part of Palestine and at the same time continue to acquire new territory by other means. This approach to statehood among the Palestinians far from advocates Palestinian acceptance of an Israeli presence in the region.

On the Israeli side the two-state solution is supported by the Israeli born generation that is interested in resolution of the conflict but did not look into what it would take to resolve it. It is also supported and led by Zionist intellectuals like Abba Ebban who see the two-state solution as a historical opportunity to save the exclusive Jewish state. Such advocates fear that control of Israel over all of historic Palestine would inevitably lead to shared governance, which would change the "character" of the Jewish state.

However, the current political leadership does not support the two-state solution even though it is seemingly engaged in negotiations towards it. The current Israeli political leadership’s vision for coexistence is to implement policies of containment on the Palestinian population. This is based on the urbanization of the Palestinian population in contained and isolated enclaves that would be given ‘autonomy.’

Joining Israeli and Palestinian Concerns and Aspirations

The Israeli and Palestinian concerns and aspirations outlined above are rooted in a genuine desire for peace and stability so that people can pursue prosperity and happiness. That is not to say that there are not forces whose aspirations represent political or ideological aims that disregard their impact on people’s lives and are therefore not conducive to peace. However, this proposal chooses to focus on the interests of the people whose lives are being held hostage by the conflict, be they Israelis or Palestinians, in order to offer these people a chance to move beyond the conflict by understanding how they can accommodate each other.

So far both Israelis and Palestinians have considered their concerns separate from the concerns of the other such that neither party has attempted to understand or accommodate the others’ concerns in their effort to address their own concerns. This approach has resulted in an overemphasis on winning attention for the concerns of their side only with total disregard for the other. This misconception assumes that peace can be achieved for one side and not the other. Moreover, both parties have addressed their concerns as separate issues that can be addressed independent of each other at different times.

This piecemeal approach to resolution of the conflict has failed repeatedly and will continue to fail since the rationale behind it is flawed. The concerns of one side cannot be addressed individually nor can they be addressed separate from the others’ concerns. In other words, peace is a prize that can only be won jointly by comprehensively addressing the concerns of both parties in the conflict. Otherwise, the addressing of one concern becomes the negation of another and does not resolve the conflict nor bring us closer to peace.

Let us now consider all the concerns and aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians in order to identify in what ways they are interdependent and how we can respond to them in order to enhance peace rather than undermine it. If we discuss each of these concerns and aspirations with respect to each other, a path to resolution of the conflict will emerge.

Security is the primary concern of Israelis, but both parties need to understand that security cannot be guaranteed for only one party. In other words, the security of Israelis is directly linked to the security of Palestinians. Defense of Israeli security cannot override the security of Palestinians without further jeopardizing Israeli security and vice versa. This begs the question of how both sides can be secure given the additional concerns and aspirations discussed above.

The escalation of confrontation between Israelis and Palestinians has added a sense of urgency to ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This escalation demonstrates that continuation of the occupation is a threat to the security of both Israelis and Palestinians. However, ending the occupation alone does not in and of itself guarantee security due to the fact that it does not resolve other concerns and aspirations relevant to the conflict.

First of all, the population of the West Bank and Gaza Strip only represents roughly one third of the Palestinians. Thus, the concerns of over half of the total Palestinian population – who live in the region in Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria – would not be addressed simply by ending the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. This majority of the Palestinian population consists mainly of refugees, but also includes Palestinians in what is now Israel (‘Israeli Arabs’) and therefore their concerns are different from those of the residents of the West Bank and Gaza. Furthermore, of the population in the West Bank and Gaza, roughly 25% are refugees whose primary concern is their right to return, which also would not be addressed by ending the occupation. In fact, ending the occupation without addressing the right of return would further intensify the conflict and pose even greater security threats to both sides.

The commitment of Palestinian refugees to the right to return cannot be underestimated. After all, it is their displacement from Palestine that remains the core of the conflict and therefore cannot be ignored without inviting bitter outrage. Palestinians cannot be expected to accept Israelis’ right to live in their Palestine if they remain homeless. The majority of this population has been living in refugee camps in a perpetual state of unemployment, poverty, and deprivation. This population, through the shared experience of exile for over 53 years, has developed a strong sense of identity and solid commitment to return. Many of these people still hold the keys to the homes they left behind in Palestine, even though many of these homes no longer exist. In short, the Palestinian refugees see their lives and future in the context of their return.

This commitment is also reflected in the emergence of new grassroots organizations in the refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria in order to address their concern over their right of return since the ‘peace process’ has virtually ignored their plight. Failing to recognize the interdependence of these concerns promises to undermine resolution of the conflict.

The demographic crisis in Gaza is to a great extent related to the refugee problem since two thirds of the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip are refugees. Consequently, ending the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip while ignoring the right of return does not address the refugee problem and the demographic crisis in Gaza and would therefore remain a security threat to the state of Israel. Mounting frustration over this crisis is already reflected in the increased attacks against Israel throughout the second intifada. Such attacks originate primarily in the refugee camps of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

The demographic crisis in the Gaza Strip and the occupation itself has compromised people’s lives such that increasingly people feel they have more to die for than to live for. Nevertheless, Palestinians have managed to maintain their ‘lives on hold,’ particularly in the Gaza Strip, through the nationalist and increasingly religious movements, which are written off as ‘radical’ or ‘extremist’ by Israel and the US. Radicalization of these communities is bound to continue until the alternative of life is available to them.

Ending the occupation would also not affect the concerns of Palestinians in Israel (‘Israeli Arabs’). Due to their status as Israeli citizens, they have been left out of the peace process and yet their existence as Palestinians demands that their concerns be included in negotiations. After all, some of them remain internally displaced since they were driven out of their homes in 1948. Their democratic rights are not being addressed by the very state that supposedly represents them. The root of their neglect is their presence as Palestinians in what is being called paradoxically both a democracy and a Jewish state given the current demographics within Israel. Their Palestinian identity is relevant to any solution and the circumstances under which they live which negate their culture, language, and ethnicity, leads us to yet another integral component of final resolution to the conflict.

Israel’s commitment to the preservation of a Jewish state in spite of the reality that half of the population under Israel’s control is not Jewish is fundamentally problematic. Moreover, 25% of the current population of the state of Israel is Palestinian (‘Israeli Arabs’ – citizens of Israel). Maintaining a Jewish state given this fact would necessitate discriminatory measures against the non-Jewish population, which is already the case. Such an arrangement is neither compatible with Israel’s own claim of being a democratic state nor international trends toward democracy and the protection of human rights nor would it contribute to resolution of the conflict. A policy of transfer or expulsion – which has been promoted by some right-wing Israelis – cannot be considered a serious option. Aside from constituting the gravest of human rights violations against Palestinians since their displacement from their homes in 1948, transfer of this population would simply create an even larger refugee problem and even greater regional antagonism toward the state of Israel, which can only be a threat to the state of Israel and peace.

That is not to say that Jewish Israelis must forego their Jewish state as a protectorate of world Jewry, but it does challenge the idea of a Jewish state as a state for Jews and not its citizens. The reality of the existence of both Palestinians and Israelis poses the question of how to accommodate the democratic rights of Palestinians and not place the national rights of Jewish Israelis above those of the Palestinians. This challenge does not strictly apply to those Palestinians living in what is now Israel, but rather to all Palestinians of the region whose lives remain subject to Israeli control either directly or indirectly. Without taking into account these demographic realities, the current commitment to the idea of a Jewish state not only fails to serve as a safe haven for Jews in general, but poses a real security threat to Jewish Israelis in particular.

Even though an exclusive Jewish state does not and never did exist, an Israeli society has emerged such that Israelis today are native to the region and their concerns revolve around the conflict and its resolution just as the native Palestinians live and breathe the conflict and live their lives in the context of its resolution. The new reality of two native populations, one Israeli and one Palestinian, fundamentally changes the dynamics of how to resolve the conflict.

Jerusalem is an excellent example of the interconnectedness between Israeli and Palestinian society and the need to cater to both societies in order to resolve the conflict. It symbolizes both people’s attachment to what they call Israel and Palestine, respectively. Just as the Israelis fear losing control of their spiritual and historical center, the Palestinians cannot be expected to tolerate their Jerusalem being held under the exclusive control of Israel. Both Israelis and Palestinians live in and love this city and in this very real sense it is theirs. And it must be addressed in this context in a resolution to the conflict.

Statehood for Palestinians would provide long overdue recognition to Palestinian identity and reestablish unity for a fragmented community consisting of residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, refugees, both in Palestine and neighboring Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, and the Palestinians in Israel. Protection is also due for the new local Israeli identity and therefore must be figured into any discussion of statehood since statehood represents protection of identity. Thus, a viable notion of a Palestinian state must be relevant for all Palestinians.

At the same time, Israeli statehood must reflect Israeli identity. In order to do so, it must free itself of the burden of the Israelization of Palestinians in its midst in order to leave room for mutual respect of an Israeli and Palestinian identity. The current composition of the state of Israel that continues to contain Palestinian identity within its own self-expression will continue to compromise and challenge this new Israeli identity. Thus, reconfiguring the notion of statehood in Palestine-Israel is vital to the protection of Israeli and Palestinian identity and resolution of the conflict itself.

Such a reconfiguration would lead to mutual Israeli-Palestinian acceptance once the concerns and aspirations of both societies are addressed. This reconfiguration paves the way for regional acceptance of Israel and Israelis. Anything short of a configuration that addresses all the concerns and aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians would perpetuate the conflict and deny Israel regional acceptance and continue to pose a threat to its very existence. Peace treaties between Israel and neighboring countries demonstrate this point since the peoples of these countries continue to reject Israel and any dealing with its people, its companies, or its institutions. After 23 years of a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, the Egyptians still boycott any company that deals with Israel and there is no cultural exchange between the two countries. The same applies to Jordan. Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan in 1996 but the Jordanian anti-normalization committee has more influence on Jordanian companies and institutions than the Jordanian government that is trying to promote open relations with Israel. This rejection is rooted in the failure to address the concerns of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which lie at the heart of the Arab-Israeli. The state of Israel is still not accepted, because it is obvious to the people of the region that no matter how many peace treaties it signs, Israel is still far from addressing the concerns of Palestinians. Only by resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the human level can Israel and Israelis be naturalized in the region.

Since resolution of the conflict is dependent on addressing the concerns of Israelis and Palestinians, acceptance is grounded in respect for the other. Just as Palestinians cannot accept Israelis if their concerns are ignored, neither can Israelis accept Palestinians if their concerns are not addressed. Acceptance is about respecting each other’s right to exist as Israeli and Palestinian and respecting the concerns and aspirations of the other. At the same time, it means respecting that the concerns and aspirations of one society cannot marginalize or negate those of the other. The extremes of either society do not leave room for such respect and are therefore not part of a solution, however real their sentiments. Concerns and aspirations addressed with the other in mind leave room for the other and room for peace. Anything short of such respect can only invite rejection and stand in the way of peace. Let us now consider how peace might look between Israelis and Palestinians given these concerns and aspirations.

Alternative Configuration

None of the solutions proposed over the years of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have adequately addressed the outstanding issues and concerns as discussed in the previous section of this proposal. Even the two-state solution, which continues to receive the most serious consideration among Israelis and Palestinians alike, falls short of addressing the concerns and aspirations of Israeli and Palestinian society. A major source of this problematic lies in its failure to comprehensively consider the various segments within both societies, be they Israelis, Palestinians in what is now Israel, Palestinians under occupation, or exiled Palestinians. In particular, the issue of the exiled Palestinian population has been pushed aside throughout every attempt to arrive at resolution of the conflict even though the plight of the Palestinian refugees lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies in the displacement of one civil population of a country and the settlement of another civil population in its place. Had the occupation of Palestine been limited to a colonizing army, the nationalist liberation program would have constituted the only approach to a solution for the Palestinians. But since the colonialist forces have transformed into a civil population in Palestine and the historic violation of Palestinian national rights was not resolved in a timely manner, we are confronted with a far more complex situation today.

Today there are over 4.5 million Israelis that constitute an established civil society in what Palestinians still regard as Palestine. Although Jewish immigration continues, Israelis have moved beyond an immigrant society. The majority of this population today was born and raised there and, hence is native to the region and is therefore entitled to its own expression of identity. This new Israeli identity has fundamentally changed the landscape of historic Palestine and represents a new reality that demands accommodation of two local identities in what can only now be referred to as Palestine-Israel. Similarly, there are an equal number of native Palestinians in Palestine-Israel and a substantial number of exiled Palestinians in the surrounding countries. This reality presents a unique historical case whereby the current demographic composition of the area consists of two main ethnicities: Palestinian and Israeli. Any rational vision for the future of Palestine-Israel would therefore have to respond to the concerns and aspirations of both societies regardless of ethnicity or religion.

Some Palestinians have faced up to the fact that Israelis have the power to impose their presence and that they should let go of their dream of historic Palestine. These people were willing to settle for a mini Palestinian state in parts of Palestine. However, facing up to the facts should not require bowing down to Israeli might, but rather constitute a rational political choice based on the new reality of an Israeli civil presence that must be accommodated. At the same time this recognition should not compromise Palestinians’ national rights.

Similarly Israelis need to come to terms with the fact that Israel is inhabited by non-Jews and therefore there cannot be a Jewish state in a land that is equally inhabited by non-Jews. Thus, democratic co-existence that respects the national, civil, and human rights of all ethnic and religious groups that currently compose the population in Palestine-Israel represents the only rational option. Since both Israelis and Palestinians inhabit the same land and consider it their rightful home, resolution of the conflict must reflect that reality. At the same time, the protection of an Israeli and Palestinian identity is essential. Since statehood is foremost the protectorate of identity, total separation of these societies would undermine the demographic reality of a shared space. Therefore, resolution must allow for a form of statehood that supports both the protection of identity and a shared space, in short, a bi-national state.

In the early 1990s the bi-national state solution was first presented and discussed by Azmi Bishara, member of the Israeli Knesset and leading figure in the Palestinian nationalist movement of the Palestinian population in what is now Israel. Although Bishara discussed a bi-national state as an idea, this idea was never formally presented as a proposal. Bishara maintained that a bi-national state arrangement should be proposed only if the Palestinians fail to secure an independent Palestinian state in the territories occupied in 1967.

The position of Azmi Bishara is echoed by many Palestinian intellectuals in the West Bank and Gaza who would call for the bi-national state option only if they are unable to achieve an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza. When the bi-national state option is discussed as a last resort rather than a choice, such endorsements become questionable. The bi-national state solution is based on the realization that the two state solution is not a viable option for resolution of the conflict and recognition of the fact that Palestinians and Israelis are integral components of a shared space. This solution is rooted in the current demographics over the landscape of Palestine-Israel that hosts two main ethnicities, nearly half of which are Israeli Jews and half Palestinian Arabs and surrounded by nearly 2 million additional Palestinians who were exiled from the same space and demand their return.

In the late 1990s, the idea of a bi-national state became a subject of interest to the Palestinian intellectual communities, especially in the West Bank and Gaza, Israel, and the US. Today roughly 20% of the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip support this idea. However the bi-national state solution has not been detailed or defined sufficiently for people in either society to determine whether such a state represents a viable option to resolve the conflict. Exactly how this concept would address the concerns and aspirations of both societies remains to be explored.

In what follows, a comprehensive proposal is presented that first and foremost takes the concerns and aspirations of Palestinian and Israeli society into consideration. This proposal is unprecedented in that it protects both people’s national identity and aspirations and offers measures by which both peoples can democratically share the land of Palestine-Israel.


The Proposal

A bi-national state would necessitate a reconfiguration of the shared space of Palestine-Israel. This proposal outlines the political and territorial configuration of two sovereign states, but in one political and economic union, namely the Federal Union of Palestine-Israel. This reconfiguration is based on the current demographic distribution of both populations and the need to accommodate the returnees from the exiled Palestinian population.

Under this arrangement, areas predominantly inhabited by Palestinian are recommended to be included in a Palestinian state and areas predominantly inhabited by Israelis are recommended to be included in an Israeli state. Areas that are lightly populated and can sustain population are recommended to be included in the Palestinian state in order to accommodate Palestinian refugees. Jerusalem would fall under a separate shared district and would constitute the capital of the Federal Union of Palestine-Israel.

The Palestinian state would include the population of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Galilee (al Jalil) in the north, the centrally located areas known as the Triangle, and the Bir es Saba’ region in the south. The Palestinian state would absorb the bulk of exiled Palestinians based on a new territorial configuration that reflects the current demographic distribution of Israelis and Palestinians. Similarly, the Israeli state would comprise those areas where Israelis compose the majority population. Each of the states would have sovereignty over its territories and have its own legislative council. Residents of each state would fall under the jurisdiction of that state regardless of their ethnicity.

A transitional period would allow for the implementation of the new configuration and the achievement of stability between both states before permitting residents from either to establish residency across states. However, residents of either state would fall under the jurisdiction of that state regardless of ethnicity. These two states would represent a federal, political, and economic union, which would encompass political representation, external security, and interethno-national relations of its citizens.

The district of Jerusalem would include both East and West Jerusalem, the city’s suburbs, and the city of Bethlehem. This district would have its own council that would be independent of either state’s legislative councils. The Council of Jerusalem would govern the district’s affairs and would represent the district’s residents. The Council would develop measures regarding the establishment of residency in the district that would treat Palestinians and Israelis equally. The Council would also oversee provisions for visitation and pilgrimage for all religious parties and communities around the world that are connected to Jerusalem.

What follows is a detailed description of the main components of the proposed configuration: state and federal political composition and structure, ethno-national relations, internal and external security, territorial distribution, and boundaries. This proposal is meant to provide an explicit framework for addressing the concerns and aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians that could lay the groundwork for resolution of the conflict that would pave the way for reconciliation and the development of a multi-ethnic civic society.

Political and Economic Union

This proposal calls for a political and economic union for the administration of all matters of common interest in order to enable the two peoples to share the land and its resources and peacefully interact in light of the new territorial configuration.

Senate. The Senate would constitute the highest legislative body of the Federal Union of Palestine-Israel. The Senate would be composed of an equal number of seats for each state regardless of the population and the district of Jerusalem would be represented by an additional 25% of the respective state’s representation in seats. For example, if the Senate is composed of 45 seats, 20 would be representative of the Israeli state, 20 of the Palestinian state, and 5 of the district of Jerusalem. Members of the Senate would be elected by the residents of each respective state regardless of ethnicity. Residents of the district of Jerusalem would elect its representatives.

Parliament. The Federal Union of Palestine-Israel would also have a parliament that would be elected by all citizens of the two states and the District of Jerusalem based on the proportional distribution of the population. Under the supervision of the Parliament and the Senate, there would be an Executive Administration of the Federal Union of Palestine-Israel elected by the Parliament that would be approved by the Senate.

Executive Administration. The Executive Administration would administer areas of common interest to both states. These areas would include the following:

 

Language. The Arabic and Hebrew languages would both be the official languages of the Federal Union. All documents, records, announcements and publications would be published in both languages.

Currency. The Federal Union of Palestine-Israel would introduce a single currency system and administer one central bank.

Trade. There would be completely free trade within the Federal Union, between the two states, and between either state and the district of Jerusalem.

Federal Employees. Operation of all departments that falls under the Federal Union would be staffed by employees recruited from both states or from the district of Jerusalem on a non-discriminatory basis.

State Authority
Citizenship. All permanent residents of each state would have the right of citizenship of that state. Residents of a state may elect to maintain citizenship of the other state, but are subject to the judiciary system of the state in which they establish permanent residency.
Language. Each state would have its own language as the official language of the state. All documents, publications, announcements, and records would be published in the official language of the state.
Flag. Each state would have its own flag and national anthem.
National Holidays. Each state would adopt its own national holidays and celebrations.
Legislative Council. Each state would have its own legislative council elected by all citizens of that state regardless of ethnicity, religion or gender.
State Government. The elected state council would form an executive state government that would administer the following areas:
Natural Resources. Each state would utilize the natural resources of its territories and be responsible for preserving the environment and natural beauty of the country.
Economic Planning. Each state would initiate and implement its own economic planning and development projects.
State Tax. Each state would collect state income tax from the permanent residents on its territories. Each state would develop special provisions regarding the income tax of residents of a state who are employed in the other state.
Urban Planning. Each state would administer its local municipalities and develop its own urban planning programs.
State Highways and Transportation. Each state would administer its local traffic, transportation, and local state roads.
Judiciary System. The legislative council of each state would set its own laws and regulations that respect the civil, social and religious rights of all residents of the state on a non-discriminatory basis.
The District of Jerusalem
The District of Jerusalem (DJ) would include the united city of Jerusalem (East and West), its suburbs, the neighboring villages including those destroyed in 1948, and the city of Bethlehem as described in the section on Jerusalem under Territorial Configuration.
Districts guidelines:
Ethno-national Relations
For this union to succeed, it must be based on mutual respect by both peoples and their authorities to every citizen of the country regardless of ethnicity. Real democratization of governance and institutions will enhance the living conditions of the general public and respond positively to the general pursuit of prosperity. This in turn will promote mutual understanding of the two communities toward one another and healthy interaction. The following measures are proposed to promote normalization and diffuse tension between the two peoples:

Region

Palestinian Population

Israeli Population

al Jalil

471,100          

33,991          

District of Tabaria

1,060          

2,308          

Bisan Plateau

8,104          

2,343          

Marj ibin Amer

3,580          

2,996          

Upper Triangle

99,232          

4,635          

Lower Triangle

77,240          

0          

The South Region

27,340          

4,103          

Total

687,656          

50,376          

Source: State of Israel, Central Bureau of Statistics, List of Localities,
Their Population and Codes, 31 XII 1998, Jerusalem 1998.
The current residents of these territories are:(*)
Palestinians
687,565
93.2%     
 
Israelis
50,376
6.8%     
 
Total Population
738,032
 
Note: These figures do not include the Palestinian population of the cities of Jaffa, al Lyd, al Ramla or the Israeli population of the cities of Natsrat Ilit and Karmi'el. The Bedouin population in the south and the population of Palestinian villages unrecognized by Israel are also not reflected in these figures. The information furnished by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics with respect to the Bedouin tribes does not provide this information, nor does the Bureau provide statistics on the unrecognized Palestinian villages.
District of Jerusalem
The district of Jerusalem as described in Exhibit B of UN Resolution 181, November 29, 1947 is proposed to be separate from either state authority and to be the capital of the Federal Union of both states. This proposal recommends the same arrangement whereby the district would run its affairs separate of either state. The boundaries of this district as shown in Map 3 include the city of Jerusalem, its suburbs, the neighboring villages, the city's destroyed villages, and the city of Bethlehem. These are the same boundaries that were adopted in UN Resolution 181. These territories also include the sites of five Palestinian destroyed villages, four of which would be redeveloped. Due to the special status the city holds for all, such allocation will guarantee equal access to the district and its holy sites for members of all faiths.
Conclusion
Previous discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has focused on the power structures of relevant parties rather than the concerns and aspirations of Palestinian and Israeli society. Moreover, such discussions have ignored the historical context of the conflict as well as the current realities of the shared space of Palestine-Israel. Negotiations have set the Palestinian refugee problem aside, left the concerns of the Palestinians in Israel for 'internal' Israeli consideration, overlooked the severity of the demographic crisis in Gaza, and failed to recognize the now native born Israeli population as a fundamental change in the dynamics of the conflict that seeks regional acceptance.
Just as Palestine is the historic homeland of the Palestinians, Israel has become the homeland of a new native Israeli society. Together, these historical truths have given rise to Palestine-Israel, the homeland of the present day Palestinian and Israeli society. These two societies comprise the shared space of what has become Palestine-Israel. This new reality lends itself to the political expression of a Federal Union that guarantees access to the whole space of Palestine-Israel, and at the same time protects the national identity and cultural expression of both societies through sovereignty over designated territories based on the natural landscape and current demographics of this shared space.
This proposal is born out of historical necessity. Failure to address the concerns and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians has led to a state of tragic misery and chaos that blinds both sides from recognizing the historical destiny of a common future. Certainly the historical aspirations of both Israelis for Israel and Palestinians for Palestine are emotionally charged, but without recognition of current realities which demand accommodation of the other, the state of Israel will continue to be challenged in the region, and Palestinians will threaten to re-inscribe the very injustice they suffered in their pursuit of 'liberation.'
This proposal addresses the concerns and aspirations of both Israeli and Palestinian society and thereby would effectively end a decades long conflict of local, regional, and international significance. It is not intended as a political statement, but rather to lay the grounds for a responsible, rational, and practical discussion at the people's level in order to demonstrate the prospects for a political arrangement that will facilitate constructive relations between Israeli and Palestinian society. Resolution of the conflict depends on creating acceptance of one another. Such acceptance can only come through democratic relations and mutual recognition. Only under such a healthy state of interaction can the conflict come to resolution. The final resolution is not a political arrangement that can be drafted. It is a process in which both societies must engage. This proposal offers guidance toward initiating that process.

Review Maps

Map 1 - 1947 UN Partition Plan

Map 2 - Proposed Territorial Configuration for Palestine-Israel

Map 3 - Boundaries of the Proposed District of Jerusalem

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