Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Confederal Approach to Israel/Palestine

Or as Reagan might have said: "Mr. Netanyahu: tear down this wall!"
Earlier this month Dov Waxman and Dahlia Scheindlin published an op-ed in The Guardian proposing a confederal approach to peace in Israel-Palestine. They have a longer version of their argument in the Spring edition of the Washington Quarterly. It can be found HERE. What they outline is a two-state model with open borders and some joint federal structures on regional issues like water, power, communications (radio, tv, phone, internet), joint security, a federal court to uphold guaranteed rights, and the joint securing of an external border.

The key feature of what they outline is that citizens of both states would be able to live anywhere within the open border federal structure, with restrictions to be negotiated. Each state would control its own immigration and foreign policy, with restrictions to be negotiated. It raises the possibility that Palestine could grant a right of return to its refugees and that some of these refugees could live in Israel. It would permit Jewish settlers to remain in West Bank settlements. It would enable some of them to return to Gaza. It would turn all of Israel-Palestine into an open border Schengen area. It would allow Israel to maintain its Jewish character; and it would allow Palestine to maintain its Palestinian character. Guaranteed mutual rights for each society could be negotiated, and for individuals within each society, with a federal court to guarantee those rights.

What Waxman-Scheindlin are proposing is a two state solution with visions of a shared society dancing in our heads instead of divorce. The idea is not new. Bernard Avishai has been speaking of it for years (See e.g. THIS LECTURE on October 28, 2008). Yossi Beilin, who with Ron Pundak and Yair Hershfeld was instrumental in negotiating the 1993 Oslo Accord, said a year ago that the idea of a confederated arrangement animated some of his earliest discussions with Faisal al-Husseini, the lead Palestinian negotiator.

In an article in the New York Times (5/14/15), Beilin said he regrets this confederal path not taken in 1993. After Oslo, he said, "political leaders on both sides adopted the popular assumption that a final peace settlement must resemble a divorce — each side ridding itself of the other." After the break-down of the Oslo process in 2000, and the start of the Second Intifada, this divorce proceeded with acrimony and the construction of the wall. It has achieved radical separation. It has polarized the two societies. It has increased fear of the other.  "In hindsight," said Beilin, "it is clear that we should have been looking all along at confederation — cohabitation, not divorce." Too few opposed building a separation wall.

It's time to revisit confederation. It's time to tear down this wall.

The vision of the BDS movement, to the extent it has a vision, is the creation of one democratic state, with separation of church and state, with equal rights for all between the Jordan river and the sea. Now there's a pipe dream, imply Waxman and Scheindlin... and I think they are right. There is no support among the Jewish majority in Israel to give up on a Jewish state, and there is no consensus among Palestinians to give up on a Palestinian state.

There is support in Israel for a confederated model according to polling conducted by Scheindlin. The large advantage of confederation is it takes the pressure off border negotiations. It means settlements don't have to be evacuated. With open borders and free movement between the two states, the drawing of borders does not have to be dictated by settlement facts on the ground. With open borders and free movement, a shared Jerusalem is not an intractable problem.

But the idea of confederation does require a grass-roots movement in both societies if it is ever to have a chance. This requires rebuilding trust.

In Israel the NGO Sikkuy is working on "shared society" values among Palestinian and Jewish Israelis. They have a small annual budget of ~$1.2 million (2013 numbers). This type of work should be greatly expanded and extended to cover all of Israel-Palestine.

Here is a suggestion to the BDS movement: tie BDS to dismantling of the wall, to fewer and more efficient checkpoints, to freedom of movement across all of Israel-Palestine, to a confederal vision. Work on Hamas to come around to a confederal vision.

Now that would be something.

Follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles.

1 comment:

  1. I like the concept. Reaching the grass roots is a challenge. The likely new defense minister of Israel, Avigdor Lieberman is a right wing, ultra nationalist whom Netanyahu chose for short term political gain.
    The grass roots equivalent of the Tea Party love Lieberman's tough talk.
    At the same time, Hamas diverts cement from home building to military tunnels as part of it's war with Israel.
    As for the BDS movement…it does much more harm than good. Economic ties bring countries together. Isolating Israel economically is not a way forward. BDS suffers from the same affliction of many left wing extremists. It assumes that the aggrieved party, in this case the Palestinians will act in good faith once the Israeli state is less powerful. I don't expect, "with charity towards all and malice towards none," from Hamas, Islamic, Jihad, young attackers of random Israelis.
    This will not end until the Saudis and the Iranians make peace with Israel. I may not be alive to see it but that is the only end game that will bring peace to the region. It took the European nation states centuries to live in peace. Hopefully, the speed of change will be more swift in the Middle East.