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An Israeli-Palestinian confederation? Not so fast

A new initiative seeks to find a new, creative way to solve the conflict. The only problem? It forgets about equality.

By Yuval Eylon

Jewish and Arab protesters march during a prtoest against the occupation, calling the Israeli government to resign, in central Tel Aviv, May 28, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Jewish and Arab protesters march during a prtoest against the occupation, calling the Israeli government to resign, in central Tel Aviv, May 28, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The latest hit in the peace plan business comes from “Two States One Homeland,” an initiative that eschews both the two-state solution and the one-state solution, instead envisioning a confederation between Israel and a future Palestinian state.

Founder Meron Rapoport fleshed out the movement’s core principles at the movement’s conference a few weeks ago: “We believe that the central aspect that was missed here over the past 22 years is the fact that the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is one country, while at the same time belongs to two peoples. Jews and Arabs are interwoven in every part of this land. The two nations have a deep connection to all parts of this land: Jews feel a connection not only to Ramat Hasharon but to Hebron, and Palestinians are connected to Jaffa and Haifa no less than to Ramallah. Dividing the land goes against these very emotions.”

Professor Oren Yiftachel explained the political need for such a solution: “The two-state solution was an empty slogan, which at its best will lead to a Palestinian state that lacks any real sovereignty,” and “the one-state solution looks like the wet dream of religious extremists on both sides. The idea of a single democratic state is an illusion.”

So what are we to do? Two States One Homeland proposes a confederation based on 1967 borders, freedom of movement, and joint institutions. The settlements will remain under Palestinian sovereignty, the settlers will be able to keep Israeli citizenship, and a similar number of citizens of Palestine will be able to live as residents in Israel.

Construction takes place in the illegal Israeli settlement of Har Homa in between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, West Bank. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Construction takes place in the illegal Israeli settlement of Har Homa in between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, West Bank. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

It seems that the biggest obstacle facing the two-state solution is the issue of West Bank settlements. The proposed solution is simply to leave them where they are, only under Palestinian sovereignty. The settlers themselves will be residents of Palestine, yet retain their Israeli citizenship. Why would Palestinians give in and agree to reward them for stealing Palestinian land? The answer is that in exchange a similar number of Palestinian citizens will be able to live in Israel as residents.

On paper it seems like a fair exchange. However with hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens in sovereign Palestinian territory, the Palestinian state will inevitably lack all sovereignty. The disparities in power ensure that Palestinian sovereignty will remain a formality, while actual sovereignty will remain in the hands of Israeli settlers. On the other hand the State of Israel will gain hundreds of thousands of laborers who lack both citizenship or even the very ability to become citizens of Israel.

Back to the box

The problem is fundamental. Before we look for a solution outside the box, we must remember what is on the inside. The box contains two drawers full of documents: the two-state drawer and the one-state drawer. They are very different, although they share one fundamental principle: political equality for all. On the other hand, and similar to Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s bantustan plan, the proposed plan for a confederation gives up on this principle.

Dimitry Shumsky explained: “In this framework […] those behind the plan (myself among them) see two levels of legal-political belonging: citizenship status, both Israeli and Palestinian, which expresses the national sovereignty of the two peoples, and residency status […], which allows a set number of Israeli and Palestinian citizens, as private people, to realize their religious, cultural, and national connection in the parts of the confederation that are not under their state’s sovereignty.

The division between citizens and residents goes against the basic principle of democracy: people have the right to decide the regime under which they live and the laws that they obey, and no one has the right to decide who will rule over the other. In other words, democracy assumes that the vast majority of residents will also be citizens. Issues of immigration will obviously necessitate some flexibility, but in general democracy is based on the consent of the ruled. Even in places where freedom of movement is made possible, such as the European Union, residency in one state is a step toward citizenship.

Let’s not forget that even national democrats also accept that residency is identical to citizenship. That is why the Zionist Left supports the two state solution: nationality establishes the borders of the state, such that the vast majority of its residents and citizens are Jewish, and thus it is possible to have both a democratic state and nation-state at once.

The movement abandons the principle of democracy. Instead it redefines the concept of ethnocracy: citizenship “represents national sovereignty.” It doesn’t matter where they live, who rules, and under which laws: Jews are citizens of Israel, Palestinians are citizens of Palestine. This is exactly the same approach that sends Palestinians to vote for the Jordanian Parliament, or allows all Israelis or Jews abroad to vote in national elections. This is how the right to vote ceases to represent a means for realizing resident-citizen sovereignty, and turns into a means for expressing national belonging.

Those behind the initiative realized that there are dangers in tying legal status to that of citizenship and nationality. Thus they made sure to add a separate clause that ensures the status of Israel’s Arab citizens. Good will, however, is not enough to make up for the fact that the proposed plan will create constant pressure to revoke their citizenship — it only makes sense that if a Jewish resident from the West Bank settlement Tapuach gets to vote for the Knesset, then a Muslim from Kafr Kassem votes for the Palestinian parliament. By implementing the vision of citizenship based on ethnocracy, the very existence of Palestinian citizens of Israel will become an anomaly in itself.

In the end, despite the good intentions, the significance of this plan will be the acceptance of the injustice and theft of the settlements, at the price of splitting up the Palestinian state, giving up on the principle of equal citizenship in a democratic state. Maybe it’s best we go back to the box.

Dr. Yuval Eylon is a senior lecturer of philosophy at The Open University of Israel. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    1. Bruce Gould

      For those folks who still believe the term “occupation” doesn’t really mean anything, this recent article in Politico, titled “How Israel Is Inciting Palestinian Violence – Inside The Oppressive and Far-Reaching Occupation Designed To Give Palestinians the Feeling of Being Chased” will explain the machinery:


      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        And in regards to the machinery, Israel thinks it can be like a store with a pretty shop window out front, while no one sees what goes on in the back and no one asks questions:

        Gideon Levy on Ya’alon:
        “Ya’alon wants a leadership that heads a “model society.” That’s noble. According to Ya’alon, a model society is one where people eat with their mouths closed, behave politely, maintain democracy, respect the media, don’t incite and inflame emotions – and completely ignore everything in the backyard. The false messiah Ya’alon thinks such a creature exists – does the right thing in its shop window and commits crimes where nobody can see. A democracy in front and a dictatorship in the back; a state of law whose soldiers and officers execute human beings; enlightenment with mass political imprisonment without trial; an enlightened occupation that need only be contained and managed. There is no such thing, nor will there ever be….
        Deceivers of Ya’alon’s ilk are the greatest danger of all: they’re the ones who enable Israel to continue doing so much bad and feeling so good.”

        Reply to Comment
    2. Lewis from Afula

      Yes, a confederation between authoritarian polygamous, gay-hating, honor killers who use one alphabet/calendar AND democratic, monogamous, equal rights for gays & women, democrats who use a different alphabet/calendar.


      It will work as well as other nearby countries eg Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Libya, Yemen etc where the cultural differences are negligible.

      Reply to Comment
    3. i_like_ike52

      Let’s look objectively at the situation. An independent Palestinian state, resulting from the “2-state solution” would inevitably be a failed state, wracked by instability and violence and this would spill over into israel, because the two peoples live cheek-by-jowel, particularly in Jerusalem. Jerusalem would become a permanent war zone. The precedent is what happened in Gaza after the Israeli withdrawal.
      Okay, so you want a single state multi-ethnic state where everyone is supposedly “equal”. You end up with another failed state like Lebanon, Syria or Iraq. How many hundreds of thousands of dead and millions of refugees? Won’t work out either.
      The ONLY possible solution that really takes into account the lives of the PEOPLE involved, instead of working only on “elegant” political solutions involving the leaders only is having the West Bank as an Palestinian-Jordanian-Israeli conferedation, which to some extent already exists. The fact that the Palestinian Authority is a corrupt, mostly non-functional non-democratic entity means that it is up to the Palestinians to fix it. Israeli settlements would remain, Israeli military control would be reduced to a minimum, in accord with the security situation and the Palestinians would have links to the more stable Jordanian regime, with relations between them and Palestinians to be worked out among themselves. The Palestinians have seen what happened to their Arab relatives in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq and particularly what has happened to their brothers in the Yarmouk Refugee Camp in Syria, so if they want to improve their lives and get on with a maximum amount of autonomy consistent with Israeli/Jewish security interests and historical rights on the West Bank, they should cooperate with all the three bodies involved to look after their interests. There is NO other way.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        The Palestinians in the West Bank don’t even have freedom of movement from one of their little Bantustan areas to another. Maybe they could develop a functional democracy if they didn’t have another people standing on their necks.

        Reply to Comment
        • i_like_ike52

          None of the Arab states have formed functioning democracies, and you can’t blame Israel for that. Why do you think the Palestinians could? What about the murderous hatred that divides their political society between HAMAS and FATAH, for instance? One might think their close contact with Israel for the last 50 years would have led to some concept of democracy rubbing off on them, but it didn’t.

          Reply to Comment
          • Mark

            Why do you think the Palestinians could form a democratic state?

            Perhaps proximity to Israel to see how it’s done, and Arab states nearby to see how not to go about things. Meanwhile, I cannot actually see any signs of economic policy, development policy, equality & diversity policy etc.

            Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Nonsense, Ike. Israel wants to keep the Palestinians corrupt and divided. If Israel wanted to it could put one tenth the energy it puts into dividing and conquering into unifying and supporting, with a vastly different outcome. The chicken little sky will fall prognosis is hasbara. It seems like right wing Israelis will think, say and do anything except own up to what must be done after 50 years devoted to making facts on the ground as hard to undo as possible. Israel made this bed, now it had to sleep in it one way or another and I suggest engineering at long last a fair and viable two state arrangement will be the least painful. Cries of helplessness don’t convince. Israel needs a Shin Bet of the Occupation Reversal and an Economic Ministry of the Anti-Occupation. Staffed with the best talent it always says it generates. What happened to all that Israeli startup nation ingenuity and brash confidence all of a sudden? Strange how it evaporates whenever peacemaking is the project. Israelis do occupation with tactical excellence. They can do occupation dismantling and peaceful neighboring state promoting with equal tactical excellence. If they want to. A big “if.” But they’re running out of time before the decisions will increasingly be out of their control.

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          RE: Israel wants to keep the Palestinians corrupt and divided.

          Not much effort needed – the fakestines (who called themselves Jordanians in the 1950s and 1960s and South Syrians earlier) are already corrupt and divided.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Ben Gurion called himself Grün, Sharon called himself Scheinermann, Netanyahu called himself Mileikowsky, Ya’alon called himself Smilansky, and on and on and on. Shall we call them the Isfakeis? The Fakeraelis? Your trivial and quite stupid epithet and your contempt for the Palestinians and their experience, your anti-Palestinianism, directed at Arabs, is akin to anti-Semitism directed at Jews.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            How can one be anti-Goblin when goblins don’t exist?
            Similar to “South Syrians”, “Unicorns” of “fakestines’
            You cannot hate a creature that is fake.

            Reply to Comment