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Israeli-Palestinian confederation offers the only solution for sustainable peace

By Alon Ben-Meir - posted Tuesday, 10 August 2021


Introduction

After 73 years of conflict, regardless of the many changes on the ground, and irrespective of the political wind that swept the region and the intermittent violence between Israel and the Palestinians, the Palestinians will never give up on their aspiration to establish a state of their own. Ultimately a two-state solution remains the only viable option to end their conflict, yet independent Israeli and Palestinian states can peacefully coexist and be sustained only through the establishment of a confederation.

The conflict became increasingly intractable due to the failure in previous negotiations to come to an agreement, as new conditions have been created on the ground and both sides sought concessions to which the other could not acquiesce. An agreement in principle on the establishment of a confederation from the onset as the ultimate goal could allow both sides to jointly resolve and manage common issues which are not subject to dramatic shift and are central to reaching a sustainable peace agreement.

Confederations are defined as "voluntary associations of independent states that, to secure some common purpose, agree to certain limitations on their freedom of action and establish some joint machinery of consultation or deliberation." [emphasis added] Such a confederation would join independent Israeli and Palestinian states together on issues of common interest that can only be addressed in full collaboration under the framework of confederation, such as the interdispersement of the Israeli and Palestinian populations, the future of Jerusalem, national security, the fate of the settlements, and the Palestinian refugees.

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To reach that ultimate goal, a process of reconciliation for a period of 5-7 years will be required to mitigate the deeply entrenched distrust between the two sides and create a new atmosphere conducive to peaceful coexistence. Such a process would involve government-to-government and people-to-people interactions (confidence-building measures) on every level that would also mitigate the emotional and psychological barriers that have been haunting them for too long.

Conditions on the ground that make confederation central to enduring peace

Interdispersement of the population

The fact that the Israelis and Palestinians are interspersed and anchored in their current places of residence makes it simply impossible to physically separate them. There are an estimated 2.77 million Palestinians and 400,000 Israelis in the West Bank, and in East Jerusalem, there are nearly 330,000 Palestinians and 215,000 Israelis who mostly live in the post-1967 Jewish neighborhoods surrounding East Jerusalem. Although the majority of Palestinians live in East Jerusalem, they move freely across the city and throughout Israel.

While some Israelis living in small settlements scattered throughout the West Bank can be relocated to larger ones, the vast majority of settlers will stay in place. As was agreed in previous negotiations, the Palestinians will be compensated through land swaps (approximately four to six percent of territory), comprised mostly of the three large settlement blocs along the 1967 border which encompass approximately 80 percent of all settlers.

Other settlements, such as Ariel, will undoubtedly remain on Palestinian-controlled land. The Palestinians have no choice but to accept that hundreds of thousands of Israelis will continue to live in settlements in the West Bank, and that removing all settlements outside the three blocs is a non-starter.1 However, some small settlements will be removed or relocated in order to create land contiguity for the future Palestinian state.

Under a confederation, there will be a need to differentiate between citizenship and permanent residency. Israelis living in the West Bank can vote or be elected in Israel while maintaining permanent residency in the West Bank, provided they adhere to local laws and ordinance; the same is applicable to Palestinians, especially those living in East Jerusalem. To maintain the national identities of both Israel and Palestine, relinquishing citizenship for the other will be allowed only on rare occasions, such as when intermarriage occurs.

Jerusalem

Jerusalem is unique in that both Israelis and Palestinians have a special affinity to the city. There are four major factors that attest to the city's uniqueness. First, East Jerusalem houses the largest mixed Jewish-Arab community anywhere in the world. Second, the city's infrastructure and services are all fully integrated, and there is simply no way that they can be divided. Third, Jerusalem is home to some of the holiest sites in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Fourth, the political status of the city continues to be a point of contention.

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Under any circumstances the city will remain united physically, regardless of any political delineations, especially given that the majority of the population in East Jerusalem is Palestinian. Thus, the city's administration must be multifaceted.

While East and West Jerusalem would be independent municipalities with their own laws and administrations-East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state and West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel-a joint Israeli-Palestinian commission covering the entirety of Jerusalem must be established to handle any issues or services that have an impact across the two sections of the city. Such issues include municipal services, cross-border crimes, and development projects, to name a few examples.

Jordan will continue to control the Muslim holy shrines, and Israel will maintain its control over the Western Wall. The two sides will have to cooperate and work closely to ensure the security and future development of these sites.

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About the Author

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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