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Confederation can't answer the most important issue in Israel-Palestine

Any framework that comes to replace the two-state solution must aspire toward decolonization, and accept that Zionism and full civic equality are irreconcilable.

Israeli security forces guard as Jewish Israelis tour the Palestinian side of the old city market in the West Bank city of Hebron, June 15, 2019. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Israeli security forces guard as Jewish Israelis tour the Palestinian side of the old city market in the West Bank city of Hebron, June 15, 2019. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Changes on the ground over the past decade have allowed Israel to consolidate its rule between the river and the sea. While the final nail in the two-state coffin was hammered long ago, many international stakeholders are only now beginning to sing its requiem. In this seemingly new vacuum, without a clear path forward, some are reaching for alternative frameworks that could possibly establish — dare I say it — peace.

In a recent episode of The +972 Podcast, Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin presented an Israeli-Palestinian confederation as one such alternative. While confederation answers several of the most contentious issues that stood in the way of a two-state solution over the years, it falls short in addressing the inherent injustice of Zionism as well as the ongoing harm of Israel’s settler project, while offering only symbolic gestures to Palestinian refugees.

The advantages of confederation, Scheindlin argues, are its ability to balance open borders without compromising the national identities and national aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians. Palestinians have sought self-determination since 1917, when the Balfour Declaration granted legitimacy to Zionist aspirations in Israel-Palestine, and in more recent years Palestinian leaders have articulated this desire in the form of an independent state.

Statehood has always promised to free Palestinians from Israel’s oppressive rule in the occupied territories. What more, it offers a place in the state-centric international order, and provides access to unique legal and diplomatic tools. Particularly since the rise of the PLO, many Palestinians firmly believed that, if only we were granted the right to govern ourselves, the scars of forced exile, dispossession and the denial of our belonging to this land, precipitated by the Nakba, just might heal.

What’s missing from the confederation framework, however, is a genuine reckoning of the conditions that inhibit peace and justice between the river and the sea. Since its creation in 1948, Israel has established itself as a regional superpower. After more than 70 years of oppressive Israeli military rule over millions of Palestinians (inside its own borders until 1966 and in the West Bank and Gaza since 1967), it is both inaccurate and insufficient to describe the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians simply as a conflict to be resolved.

Palestinians look at a house which was demolished by Israeli authorities in the West Bank village of Khalat Aldabe, south of Yatta, June 17, 2019. (Wissam Hashlamon/Flash90)

Palestinians look at a house which was demolished by Israeli authorities in the West Bank village of Khalat Aldabe, south of Yatta, June 17, 2019. (Wissam Hashlamon/Flash90)

Perpetuating the language of “both sides would have to make concessions” implies equal responsibility for finding a solution. A more just strategy would be one that recognizes the stark asymmetry in power and exerts pressure on Israel to relinquish its claw of occupation.

More fundamentally, the confederation model does not address the exclusionary ideology and racist policies inherent in Zionism. According to the principles of the Land for All initiative, one of the prominent confederation movements, Palestinian citizens of Israel will be granted “national minority rights, civil equality and appropriate representation in government institutions, and a fair distribution of national resources.”

While on the surface, this sounds like the type of recognition that Palestinians — especially those inside Israel — have been working toward, it ignores the Jewish national supremacy espoused by Zionism, awarding privileges to Jews anywhere in the world, merely for being Jewish, over people who are of this land. The “demographic threat” that Zionism identifies in Palestinian existence and Arab influence remains unaddressed. In fact, by leaving it up to the respective Jewish and Palestinian states to “determine the nature of immigration into them,” this model can never achieve true civil equality.

The prospect of open borders — especially those that center on freedom of movement, as Scheindlin describes — is extremely tempting, particularly when contrasted against a reality of arbitrary checkpoints, separation walls, and segregation. But the model shields Israel from legal accountability by normalizing Israel’s settlement project in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. By allowing citizens of both countries to live anywhere across the land, specifically by allowing settlers to stay in place, a two-state confederation rewards Israel’s flagrant violations of international law and annexationist policies.

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“The countries will determine an agreed number of citizens to live in their territory and receive permanent residency,” the Land for All initiative envisions. By doing so, however, it equates a settler community that has stolen Palestinian-owned lands with the native populations that were conquered and subjected to Zionist rule.

What’s more, the confederation model addresses the Palestinian right of return by limiting those refugees who are allowed to return to being citizens of a future Palestinian state. Compounded with its endorsement of settlements, by denying refugee, diaspora, and internally displaced Palestinians the right to return to their original homes, confederation emboldens Zionism’s exclusive claim to this land over the Palestinians’ attachment to it.

Whatever political framework ends up rising from the ashes of the two-state model, it cannot be the same idea with a minor facelift. A just resolution must recognize the asymmetry of power and apply pressure on Israel and Israelis to relinquish their privileges and comply with international law. It is imperative that we shift from a peace-making system obsessed with resuming a distorted negotiation process, to a rights-based approach that aspires toward decolonization, and accepts that Zionism and full civic equality are irreconcilable.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated that Palestinian refugees would only be allowed to resettle in a future Palestinian state. It was changed to say that they could only become citizens of a Palestinian state.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Lewis from Afula

      Essentially, I agree with the author. We must accept that the de novo fabrication of a fake nationality (fakestinyanism) is irreconcilable with full civic equality. That is specially the case when the artificial peoplehood imagines itself as dispacing & destroying the existing State of Israel. The idea is patently absurd.

      Reply to Comment
      • Some-one.

        So Lewis you are fine with one democratic state essentially?

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          Yes.
          One democratic state of ISRAEL with the JORDANIANS re-patriated home.

          Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        More news from Afula! “Rights group begins legal action after Israel park bans Palestinians…The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel – better known as Adalah – has begun legal action against the northern Israeli city of Afula, after it banned non-residents from using a local park in a bid to prevent Palestinian citizens of Israel from using the facility….”

        https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20190702-rights-group-begins-legal-action-after-israel-park-bans-palestinians/

        Reply to Comment
        • Rivka Koen

          Ironic also that Afula was an Arab city and that Lewis lives there only as a result of ethnic cleansing

          But I know, our Jewish souls entitle us to ethnically cleanse a city that Arabs have been living in for over a millennium and move ourselves in.

          Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Ironic also that Gdansk was a German city (Danzig) and that Poles now live in because of ethnic cleansing.

            But I know, those Polish souls are entitled to ethnically cleanse a city that Germans have been living in for over a millennium.

            There, fixed it for you, Rivka.

            Reply to Comment
      • rslustig@gmail.com

        The region of Palestine has been recognized by that name since ancient times, including by the Greeks and Romans.

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          The region of Palestine has been recognized by that name since ancient times, including by the Greeks and Romans.

          Exactly, the REGION of Palestine has been recognized.

          But the “Country of Fakestine” is a fictional entity only invented in the 1970s.
          It has NO: Borders, Capital, Constitution, Census, King, Royal Palace, Unique Language, Distinctive Religion, Constitution, Army, Literature, Arachaeological Record etc etc etc.
          In short, it NEVRR EXISTED & NEVER WILL.

          Reply to Comment
          • Bruce Gould

            @Lewis: For approximately 13,000,000,000 years there was no such thing as “Lewis From Afula”, then all of a sudden “Lewis From Afula” popped into existence, apparently out of thin air.

            How is this even possible?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ray

            By your logic, there’s no such thing as Jordan, since it only gained statehood in 1921.

            How about Gaul? There was never a Gaulish “nation,” but try telling any historian that the Gauls didn’t exist.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Firentis

      Well, thanks at least for being clear that no solution that allows Israel to exist is acceptable to you.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Firentis: Everyone knows perfectly damn well what the solution is: a demilitarized Palestinian state roughly along the 67 borders with parts of Jerusalem as its capital, with the right of return of Palestinian refugees to the new state and a token number – 5,000 or 10,000 being allowed to return to Israel proper.

        Maybe in 1980 the PLO was the main obstacle to peace, but in 2019 Israel is the main problem.

        Reply to Comment
        • Firentis

          That wouldn’t be enough for Henriette. You should really talk to her about this solution everyone knows about.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            @Firentis: You distort what Henriette Chacar is saying—actually you just ignore what she is saying in favor of a tangential talking point. See my reply to Paul Norton below, about the asymmetry of power (an asymmetry the benefits of which you luxuriate in and feel eternally entitled to and will not ever give up without it being pried from you or made to come at a price you finally are not willing to pay). You don’t get it, Firentis, and don’t want to get it.

            Reply to Comment
          • Firentis

            She is saying that she won’t be satisfied until Israel has been eliminated. That is the only way to read this article.

            It’s not that I don’t get it. Actually I already have it. A country of my own. And I am not going to give it up.

            I love the idea that the ‘asymmetry of power’ is something that should mean demanding that Israel cease to exist. It is so insane to demand from the stronger party to surrender *because* it is strong, but it keeps getting repeated.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            It should be obvious here that Firentis is deliberately ignoring the glaring fact that Chacar’s article’s *starting* point in pursuing a viable peace is the long ago death of the two state solution. A death Israel’s right wing governments have obviously engineered with frank deliberateness. They openly brag about it.
            Firentis ignores that so that he can insert a stock propaganda response that, in moving forward from that death, anybody who is now conceiving of anything but total Israeli Jewish domination and annexation must be demanding Israel “cease to exist.” Classic Israeli having-it-both-ways-ism and fake-existential-threat-ism. The only existence threatened is the existence of Firentis’ far right, supremacist, militarist version of Israel, a degenerate version that is a very long way from that envisioned by Israel’s own founders.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ray

            Charlotte doesn’t even mention a solution of her own. Just that any solution should accept that Zionism is incompatible with civic equality.

            I guess it really IS permissible to lie, if it’s in the name of Eretz Israel.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Paul Norton

      What cannot be gotten away from is that there are two nations (one of which is currently oppressing the other) involved. Both nations have the right to national self-determination, and a just solution which ends the oppression of one nation by another must be one that (a) assures both nations the right to self-determination and (b) is able to be democratically agreed to by majorities of both nations who can cooperate to make it work. Dr Dahlia Scheindlin’s proposal is a constructive effort towards such a solution. It is not clear that Ms Shacar accepts such a solution.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        @Paul Norton: In your last sentence I think you are distorting what Ms. Chacar says by ignoring her main point (a point to which everything she writes, and writes quite sensibly and reasonably as a response to Dahlia Scheindlin’s concepts, is linked): the stark asymmetry of power. And how that asymmetry would actually play out and how Scheindlin and other confederation enthusiasts on the Israeli side tend to blithely ignore this. I listened to that podcast with Scheindlin and I too heard what it looks like Chacar heard, heard from even the liberal and well-meaning Scheindlin: a low key, unacknowledged or unwitting liberal Zionist arrogance and Jewish nationalism and a blitheness, or at least a fatal naivete, about the power asymmetry issue. After so much Israeli arrogance of power, no one should dismiss Henriette Chacar’s warning about this.

        Reply to Comment
      • Lewis from Afula

        Paul:
        The fake entity of “fakestine”, invented in the 1970s, does not constitute a real national movement. Rather, it represents an anti-national movement, whose entire raison d’etre is to destroy their neighbors’ country. That is why a peaceful solution was NEVER found and NEVER will be.

        Rather of thinking about “compromises”, Israel should consider forced re-patriation of the illegal JORDANIAN squatters.
        This is the only solution that has NOT yet been tried.
        Why not give TRANSFER a chance ?

        Reply to Comment
    4. john

      zionism and equality are contradictory, because zionism will always treat jews differently for being jewish.

      Reply to Comment
      • Lewis from Afula

        Greek nationalism and equality are contradictory, because greek nationalism will always treat Greeks differently for being Greek.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ray

          Most Greeks are probably not “Greek Nationalists.” Neither is their government. It may come as a surprise to you, living where you do, but the vast majority of normal people don’t identify as “nationalists.”

          Reply to Comment
        • john

          i’m sure judaism will outlast zionism

          Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Here is a much more genuine analogy to match the real project of LfA (only he doesn’t like it so much when the shoe is on the other foot, for some reason):

          “French White Catholic nationalism and equality are contradictory, because French White Catholic nationalism will always treat French White Catholics different for being French White Catholics. And the Jews, the fake-French, who invented the idea that they belong on French territory, better not complain or we will transfer them out. The Germans once upon a time, before they became social justice nutters, had the right idea about the fake-French and the fake-Germans.”

          Reply to Comment
          • Bernard Bohbot

            Ray, are you really stupid? Most DP’s were not allowed to immigrate to the US after the war. As for the Palestinians they would have not been expelled had they accepted the partition plan (or had they accepted to renegotiate it). Now, I don’t blame them for having refused to share their land with the Jews. I’m just trying to explain that Zionism was not a choice for most Jews who moved to Palestine, it was a necessity.

            Reply to Comment
          • john

            i’m of the impression that tying jewish safety to a colonial state makes jews as a whole, and israeli jews specifically, more unsafe than working to end racism in their homelands.

            Reply to Comment
          • john

            “Now, I don’t blame them for having refused to share their land with the Jews.” totally unaware that palestinians have been jewish and muslim, druze and christian for centuries before the advent of zionism.

            Reply to Comment
    5. Bernard Bohbot

      This is a stupid article, and it just shows that Henriette Chacar, just like most Palestinian intellectuals doesn’t understand that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict opposes two legitimacies. The Jews had no other choice but to move to Palestine, as they were persecuted. There is no doubt that the Palestinians suffered a great deal because of Zionism, but if Henriette Chacar really believes that the Jews should have accepted to be persecuted instead of coming to Palestine, she should say it clearly instead of using her post-colonial gibberish.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ray

        So Palestinians should suffer and leave their homes, on account of someone ELSE’s suffering?

        Plenty of Jews went elsewhere after the war. Like America.

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          The s called “fakestinyans” never existed & ever will.
          So your question is utterly meaningless.
          The end game is that the JORDANIANs illegally squatting im Judea & Samaria go home.
          The End.

          Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        @Bernard Bohbot:

        “if Henriette Chacar really believes that the Jews should have accepted to be persecuted instead of coming to Palestine”

        Nowhere does Henriette Chacar say this or hint this. Instead of offensively calling people “stupid” you might pay attention to your habit of missing the point and creating distracting straw men.

        Reply to Comment
    6. Recognizing a truly independent Palestinian state belonging to the Palestinian natives, who are — as Ben-Gurion and Ben-Tzvi realized — true descendants of ancient Judeans, poses an insurmountable existential dilemma for the white racist colonial-settler invader-genocidaires, who have stolen Palestine on the basis of a ridiculous fairy tale of their own descent from ancient Judeans.

      Reply to Comment
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