The following is the third installment in a series of three articles. The first addressed how Israel lost its way, the second dealt with how the Palestinians lost their way. This article offers a way out of their 75-year-old bloody and perilous conflict.
It is time for Israel and the Palestinians to face the bittersweet truth and accept certain realities on the ground that neither side can change short of a calamity. These inescapable realities will frame the contours of a peace agreement in the context of an Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian confederation
Righting the Wrong
During the 55 years of occupation, Israeli and Palestinian leaders subjected four generations of youth to the same horrifyingly misguided fate as their fathers and even grandfathers. Neither side can significantly change the fundamentals to even remotely justify more sacrifices borne by the next generation. It is time for both sides to recognize that a solution to their conflict rests on accepting that the conflict has transformed and that irreversible facts on the ground have developed, which are not subject to dramatic change in any significant way short of a catastrophic event.
The following will demonstrate why coexistence based on a two-state solution is a must and why I maintain that the Palestinian state must be established in the context of an Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian confederation. Finally, I will demonstrate why such a confederation may ultimately prove to be the only enduring, viable solution.
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] In an Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian confederation, independent states would join together on issues of common interest that cannot be addressed except under full collaboration under a confederative framework, such as interspersed populations, Palestinian refugees, national security, and Jerusalem.
The establishment of a Palestinian state The Palestinians' determination to establish a state of their own will not change under any circumstances. I challenge every Israeli to show me how, when, and why the Palestinians would ever abandon their aspirations for statehood. However oppressive the Israeli occupation becomes, the greater the Palestinians' violent resistance will be as the continuing flareup in violence and the ever-rising death toll clearly demonstrates. Moreover, every regional and global power has and will continue to support the Palestinian cause.
Although Israel has thus far successfully defied the international consensus, it can never maintain the status quo of the occupation and enjoy a day of peace. The current Israeli government led by Netanyahu-who openly calls for annexing much of the West Bank, expanding and building new settlements, and legalizing illegal ones-must answer the public as to where Israel will be in 10-15 years if it continues to pursue its ambition of creeping annexation and how the Palestinians will react during this increasingly brutal occupation. It does not take a prophet to augur that the violence will escalate to a boiling point and a massive Palestinian uprising with untold death and destruction will become only a question of when, rather than if.
Israel will risk the unwavering support of the US, and push the EU to fully side with the Palestinians and potentially sanction Israel. Furthermore, Israel will fail not only to normalize relations with other Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, but seriously risk previously normalized relations with some Arab countries under the Abraham Accords. World Jewry will be divided, which is already happening, many Israelis will emigrate from Israel, capital in billions will flow out of the country, and foreign investments will slowly dry up. To be sure, Israel will shamelessly become a certified apartheid state that betrayed the vision of its founders as a Jewish and democratic state that holds human rights, the rule of law, and democratic values supreme.
Given that the Palestinians will never give up their right to statehood, the dangerously deteriorating relations between Israel and the Palestinians, and the utter lack of trust between them, a Palestinian state is inevitable. A one-state solution will categorically be rejected by Israel as it would threaten the Jewish majority of the state; thus, two states is the only option, which will also lay the foundation for a confederation. Israel will not agree on a bilateral confederation with the Palestinians.
A solution to the conflict will be found in my view only in the context of an Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian confederation. Jordan, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 and fully collaborates with it on multiple fronts, has intrinsic long-term security concerns tied to the conflict, and for its part will not agree to form a confederation with the Palestinians unless a Palestinian state is established first. Jordanian officials with whom I spoke made their position on this issue categorically clear: if Amman were at one point to join an Israeli-Palestinian confederation, this prerequisite must first be met.
The Israeli and Palestinian populations are interspersed in the West Bank, where there are approximately 2.3 million Palestinians and about 432,000 Israelis. In East Jerusalem there are roughly 361,000 Palestinians and 233,000 Israelis, and in Israel proper there are 1.8 million Israeli Arab citizens and about 6.6 million Israeli Jews. In Jordan, the population is estimated to be somewhere between 55 to 70 percent of Palestinian origin, which translates to roughly 6 to 8.2 million people. And while the nearly 2 million Palestinians in Gaza are separated from Israel proper, they maintain deep ties with their fellow Palestinians in the West Bank with whom they interact regularly.
This reality of interspersed Israeli-Palestinian and Palestinian-Jordanian populations is not and will not be subject to change in any substantial way, other than perhaps relocating 70,000 – 80,000 Israeli settlers to other larger settlements under land swaps, which both sides have agreed to in the past in principle. Thus, the coexistence of Israeli and Palestinian populations under any conditions of peace or hostility is permanent. Neither side can ever dislodge the other from the territories they currently occupy, nor do they have any other choice but to accept this fact on the ground regardless of the intensity of the violence between them and however long it might take.
A vastly expanded version of this article was published in World Affairs in Spring 2022; a special issue of the journal dedicated entirely to this proposal was published in Winter 2022.