An Israeli-Palestinian confederation? Not so fast

A new initiative seeks to find a new, creative way to solve the conflict. The only problem? It forgets about equality.

By Yuval Eylon

Jewish and Arab protesters march during a prtoest against the occupation, calling the Israeli government to resign, in central Tel Aviv, May 28, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/
Jewish and Arab protesters march during a prtoest against the occupation, calling the Israeli government to resign, in central Tel Aviv, May 28, 2016. (photo: Oren Ziv/

The latest hit in the peace plan business comes from “Two States One Homeland,” an initiative that eschews both the two-state solution and the one-state solution, instead envisioning a confederation between Israel and a future Palestinian state.

Founder Meron Rapoport fleshed out the movement’s core principles at the movement’s conference a few weeks ago: “We believe that the central aspect that was missed here over the past 22 years is the fact that the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is one country, while at the same time belongs to two peoples. Jews and Arabs are interwoven in every part of this land. The two nations have a deep connection to all parts of this land: Jews feel a connection not only to Ramat Hasharon but to Hebron, and Palestinians are connected to Jaffa and Haifa no less than to Ramallah. Dividing the land goes against these very emotions.”

Professor Oren Yiftachel explained the political need for such a solution: “The two-state solution was an empty slogan, which at its best will lead to a Palestinian state that lacks any real sovereignty,” and “the one-state solution looks like the wet dream of religious extremists on both sides. The idea of a single democratic state is an illusion.”

So what are we to do? Two States One Homeland proposes a confederation based on 1967 borders, freedom of movement, and joint institutions. The settlements will remain under Palestinian sovereignty, the settlers will be able to keep Israeli citizenship, and a similar number of citizens of Palestine will be able to live as residents in Israel.

Construction takes place in the illegal Israeli settlement of Har Homa in between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, West Bank. (Oren Ziv/
Construction takes place in the illegal Israeli settlement of Har Homa in between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, West Bank. (Oren Ziv/

It seems that the biggest obstacle facing the two-state solution is the issue of West Bank settlements. The proposed solution is simply to leave them where they are, only under Palestinian sovereignty. The settlers themselves will be residents of Palestine, yet retain their Israeli citizenship. Why would Palestinians give in and agree to reward them for stealing Palestinian land? The answer is that in exchange a similar number of Palestinian citizens will be able to live in Israel as residents.

On paper it seems like a fair exchange. However with hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens in sovereign Palestinian territory, the Palestinian state will inevitably lack all sovereignty. The disparities in power ensure that Palestinian sovereignty will remain a formality, while actual sovereignty will remain in the hands of Israeli settlers. On the other hand the State of Israel will gain hundreds of thousands of laborers who lack both citizenship or even the very ability to become citizens of Israel.

Back to the box

The problem is fundamental. Before we look for a solution outside the box, we must remember what is on the inside. The box contains two drawers full of documents: the two-state drawer and the one-state drawer. They are very different, although they share one fundamental principle: political equality for all. On the other hand, and similar to Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s bantustan plan, the proposed plan for a confederation gives up on this principle.

Dimitry Shumsky explained: “In this framework […] those behind the plan (myself among them) see two levels of legal-political belonging: citizenship status, both Israeli and Palestinian, which expresses the national sovereignty of the two peoples, and residency status […], which allows a set number of Israeli and Palestinian citizens, as private people, to realize their religious, cultural, and national connection in the parts of the confederation that are not under their state’s sovereignty.

The division between citizens and residents goes against the basic principle of democracy: people have the right to decide the regime under which they live and the laws that they obey, and no one has the right to decide who will rule over the other. In other words, democracy assumes that the vast majority of residents will also be citizens. Issues of immigration will obviously necessitate some flexibility, but in general democracy is based on the consent of the ruled. Even in places where freedom of movement is made possible, such as the European Union, residency in one state is a step toward citizenship.

Let’s not forget that even national democrats also accept that residency is identical to citizenship. That is why the Zionist Left supports the two state solution: nationality establishes the borders of the state, such that the vast majority of its residents and citizens are Jewish, and thus it is possible to have both a democratic state and nation-state at once.

The movement abandons the principle of democracy. Instead it redefines the concept of ethnocracy: citizenship “represents national sovereignty.” It doesn’t matter where they live, who rules, and under which laws: Jews are citizens of Israel, Palestinians are citizens of Palestine. This is exactly the same approach that sends Palestinians to vote for the Jordanian Parliament, or allows all Israelis or Jews abroad to vote in national elections. This is how the right to vote ceases to represent a means for realizing resident-citizen sovereignty, and turns into a means for expressing national belonging.

Those behind the initiative realized that there are dangers in tying legal status to that of citizenship and nationality. Thus they made sure to add a separate clause that ensures the status of Israel’s Arab citizens. Good will, however, is not enough to make up for the fact that the proposed plan will create constant pressure to revoke their citizenship — it only makes sense that if a Jewish resident from the West Bank settlement Tapuach gets to vote for the Knesset, then a Muslim from Kafr Kassem votes for the Palestinian parliament. By implementing the vision of citizenship based on ethnocracy, the very existence of Palestinian citizens of Israel will become an anomaly in itself.

In the end, despite the good intentions, the significance of this plan will be the acceptance of the injustice and theft of the settlements, at the price of splitting up the Palestinian state, giving up on the principle of equal citizenship in a democratic state. Maybe it’s best we go back to the box.

Dr. Yuval Eylon is a senior lecturer of philosophy at The Open University of Israel. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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