July 07, 2006

A federated Israel/Palestine?

Michael Rosen (isakofsky) recommended this Guardian article to me a few days ago but I've only just read it. It's written by Mathias Mossberg who is vice-president for programmes at the EastWest Institute in New York. He served as Sweden's ambassador to Morocco from 1994 to 1996 and he has been involved in Middle East peace negotiations since the 1980s.mmossberg@ewi.info

In the article headed Instead of two states side by side, why not one superimposed on the other? he argues for what he calls a "dual state."
Instead of the familiar formula in which two states exist side by side, Israel and Palestine would be two states superimposed on one another. Citizens could freely choose which system to belong to - their citizenship would be bound not to territory, but to choice. The Israeli state would remain a homeland for Jews and, at the same time, become a place in which Palestinians were able to live freely.

This basic administrative structure has worked elsewhere: for example, in the cantons of Switzerland. There people of different origins and beliefs, speaking different languages and with different allegiances, live together side by side. In the Israel-Palestine dual state, smaller territorial units could be given the right to choose which state to belong to, based on a majority vote. At the same time, individuals would be able to choose citizenship for themselves, regardless of where they lived. A person living in a canton that opted to belong to Palestine could continue to be a citizen of Israel and vice versa.

An Israeli and a Palestinian living side by side in, for example, an Israeli-administered area would share many of the same rights and live by many of the same laws. They would both be free to move about within the area now occupied by Israel and the territories. They would share a common currency, participate in the same labour market and contribute common taxes for a number of shared services.

Civil disputes could be settled by independently appointed arbitrators. Parents would be free to send children to the schools of their choice; government funding for education could be allocated on a proportional basis. Neighbours would vote for separate leaders in separate elections, but these elected representatives would harmonise legislation on a number of matters, such as taxation, criminal law and traffic regulations.

There would be no need for security fences or barriers, no need for corridors or safe passages, and no need for checkpoints. A joint defence force could secure the borders, and a joint customs service could ensure one economic space. Both states could keep their national symbols, their governments, and their foreign representation. Local affairs would be dealt with by canton administrators on a majority basis, while individual human rights and freedoms could be guaranteed by the two states in cooperation.

It is not difficult to imagine a Jewish-majority area consisting largely of present-day Israel, plus a number of major settlements. That area would be under Israeli jurisdiction but remain open to Palestinians who wished to live under Palestinian jurisdiction. Similarly, one can imagine a core Palestinian area, consisting of the West Bank and Gaza, and perhaps even parts of Israel where Israeli Arabs are the predominant population. The whole of this area would also be open to Jews living under Israeli law. Jerusalem could be subject to the same principle. The demographics of neighbourhoods would not change overnight - for example, the divisions between East and West Jerusalem would linger for some time - but there would at least be the opportunity for people to move and live freely.

To be sure, the road to such a "dual state" solution would create its own challenges. But, to a large extent, it could build on present realities and proceed one step at a time. Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, accompanied by the development of credible and lasting Palestinian institutions, could ignite the process. At some point, direct talks about shared economic, civil and defence responsibilities could begin to build the architecture for this new type of state.

Is this proposal completely unrealistic? Perhaps. But present realities are far from sane and sound. There is a crucial need for new thinking if the peace process is to take root. Perhaps by re-envisioning how statehood can exist outside the traditional notions of who owns what strip of land, Israel and the occupied territories can produce the first modern embodiment of the globalised state, where the intangibles of the 21st century can solve the most intractable territorial conflicts of the 20th century.
All a bit too un-zionist for zionists I think.

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