Part Two: A vision of a bi-national state Israel-Palestine.
Ed: Part One can be accessed here.
For the time being, with the ongoing Gaza conflict and hostage crisis, my thoughts and arguments can be regarded as “visionary”. However I cannot imagine there is any other reasonable alternative for a durable peace. In the past every ‘peace process’ was obstructed by lack of good will and trust.
A ‘peace process’ is often hi-jacked by negotiations and partial agreements between certain parties at the expense of others. A real peace process should aim at acceptance by all parties.
Enough is enough. No more killings, no more suffering!
All previous efforts towards a comprehensive settlement have failed because they were either short-sighted or did not take into account all the necessary preconditions for a lasting success.
A comprehensive peace in and around Israel-Palestine has to be achieved on three levels, preferably in good coordination:
- The “domestic” aspect: the creation and maintenance of Israel-Palestine
- The regional dimension: the involvement of all relevant states and non-state groups
- The international level: international institutions providing legitimacy, major powers giving security guarantees and potent donors (states and individuals), giving incentives and rewards for success.
The creation and maintenance of a bi-national state, Israel-Palestine
It’s worth setting down the demographic reality. As noted in my previous article, the Jewish population world-wide comprises some 15.1 million people, less than half living in Israel today. The Palestinian people world-wide comprise some 14.5 million people according to Professor Jan Busse, in the German TV station, ZDF on 29 November 2023. Nearly six million Palestinians are living in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem (Wikipedia quotes 5.7, Busse 5.9).
These numbers indicate a near balance between the two nations. One major problem is of course the huge number of Palestinians, refugees or their descendants, living in other Arab countries. They are partly integrated and partly in refugee camps in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and the Gulf States, as well as half a million in Chile and a further 225,000 in other American states, including the US.
A functioning bi-national state demands equal rights for every citizen. When we look at bi-national states in Europe, like Belgium and Finland, we can observe that both national languages have to be accepted equally as a ‘state language’. In Finland, the rather small number of Swedish-speakers enjoy special rights for the protection of their cultural heritage. For example they have their own state-supported convention centres, theatres and libraries etc. The Aland Islands, part of Finland since the League of Nations’ decision in 1921, with an almost exclusive Swedish-speaking population, enjoy a far-reaching autonomy status in domestic self-government and cultural affairs. They even have their own stamps! In Belgium, where there is a rather clear diving line between the Flemish and French speaking populations, both languages are accepted as equal.
For Israel-Palestine this would mean that Arabic and Hebrew have to be accepted as official state languages, probably with English as a lingua franca. Arabic and Hebrew would have to be taught and learned at all schools and equally used in public discourse, legal proceedings and in Parliament.
Equal democratic rights for all inhabitants would also mean the right to live everywhere in the country, to rent or buy property. Because of the 46 years of occupation since 1967, those Palestinians who have lost their home should receive significant financial compensation – preferably not from the state budget but from an international donors’ fund.
To truly safeguard equal rights, Israeli and Palestinian experts should discuss and agree on a written constitution, spelling out the parliamentary system, as well as the rights and obligations of political parties. To safeguard stability, any change of the constitution should demand a high threshold, say two thirds of a parliamentary majority vote. Also elections should be by Proportional Representation, not the British ‘First Past The Post’. There should be a High Court, protecting the constitution, with equal representation of Jewish and Palestinian judges, absolutely independent from any political interference. The present Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, involved in three corruption charges, has tried to undermine judicial independence.
Religion and culture
The City of Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the bi-national state. The Holy Places of all three major religions and their free access should be protected.
In the cultural domain, an Arab University should be created, preferably in East Jerusalem, as partner of the world-famous Hebrew University, with the goal of involving Palestinian and international scholars in research and teaching. Both universities should develop a close, productive partnership.
An Institution for ‘Truth Finding’, involving Jewish and Arab experts, should be created to research, discuss and write a balanced history of their hundred years of conflict. The results should be discussed among the population and taught in both Arab and Jewish schools. This could start an ongoing process of reconciliation: recognizing the suffering of victims and learning to understand the motivations and fears of the other side.
There seems to be one more critical problem: the Palestinians’ “right of return” and the future of Jewish immigration. Given the relatively limited space and resources available, it seems reasonable to create a quota system: A certain number of people from both nations should be allowed to immigrate annually, depending on the new state’s ability to absorb returners and immigrants.
The newly established bi-national state will not be able to survive in a regional vacuum. Therefore a process of mutual recognition and peace treaties with the Middle Eastern states will be necessary. Like the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE, 1975) regardless of the existing political systems in the states concerned, all existing borders will have to be accepted. In addition, there should be awareness that the colonial rule of the UK and France, which resulted in the creation of most Middle Eastern states, did not reflect the realities of many different ethnic and religious communities. Various agreements should be concluded on the protection of religious-ethnic minorities living in specific countries.
Domestic-cultural autonomy has often been a mechanism for lessening tensions within a given state. For just one example, the Shiites, living mainly in the South of Lebanon, have been supported by Iran since the 1980s. Hezbollah has become an important force, attacking Israel’s north and repeatedly provoking military counter strikes. Therefore, Iran has to be involved as an ‘equal player’.
The relationship between Israel-Palestine and Iran could be one major stumbling block for a regional reconciliation: Since the Islamic Revolution (1979) there has been a deep hostility between the Islamic Republic and Israel. Since the 1990s Israel has warned against Iran building nuclear weapons. Therefore, the nuclear problem will also have to be dealt with: Israel-Palestine and Iran should not only recognize each other but also agree to a ‘Nuclear-Free Middle East’, with the International Nuclear Energy Organization (IAEA) gaining full access to all relevant nuclear installations.
This will certainly be a highly difficult undertaking. However, the alternative could be the nuclearization of the whole Middle East: After Iran having acquired nuclear weapons, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and others might want to follow. A Middle Eastern ‘multipolar nuclear deterrence system’ would not guarantee ‘Mutual Assured Destruction’ (MAD), i.e. a “peace” based on nuclear threats, but rather invite pre-emptive attacks and major wars. This is what experts on “nuclear deterrence systems” have argued.
A regional peace is no complete dream. In 1993 the respected Israeli politician Shimon Peres wrote a book, titled “The New Middle East”. Pointing to the process of economic integration within the European Union (as it is called today), Peres wrote about the huge potential economic benefits for the Middle Eastern countries when following the European example.
In the case of post-war Western Europe, economic integration has indeed become the pillar of reconciliation and prosperity, something which even British ‘Leavers’ and Brexit enthusiasts might concede!
Facing new challenges, such as the shortage of water and the climate change, the Middle Eastern sun-rich countries would have an enormous potential to create renewable energy by jointly developing solar power. The deserts would offer enough space for it! ‘Green energy’ could also supply the desalination of sea water and the production of hydrogen. The northern EU countries in urgent need of green energy would be most interested customers.
The international level
Any settlement in Israel-Palestine and the whole region would need international legitimacy through the UN Security Council. This would mean involving even Russia (hopefully after the end of Putin’s dictatorship), with its rather close relations with Iran and Syria, as well as China, which recently negotiated some accommodation between Iran and Arab Gulf states. After all regional nuclear facilities have been transferred to solely peaceful purposes, the UN should also recognize the whole Middle East as a ‘Nuclear Weapons Free Zone’.
Given their historical record, the Western countries US, UK, France and Germany will have a special responsibility for sustaining the regional and international settlements. In the first transition period the US, the UK and the EU, under the auspices of the UN Security Council, should provide military guarantees to all regional states – thereby institutionalizing a regional collective security system, as foreseen in the UN Charter. Any aggressor would have to face the coordinated response of all the others. Later, after a consolidation of affairs, the military engagement should be very much decreased for the benefit of more economic aid.
Sustained economic aid could become the key for the consolation of domestic and regional peace in the area. Western countries, as already mentioned, and the energy-rich Arab Gulf states should commit themselves for sustained and very significant financial aid. World-wide private donors, foundations and religious communities – celebrating Jerusalem’s “re-unification in justice” – should join.
To be sure, over the last decades a lot of money has already been given to specific countries and certain groups in the Middle East. It possibly will hardly need much more additional funds – but a coordinated, fair transfer to those in need. There is already an international body in existence, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which has provided aid since 1949. UNRWA, under a new name, could be given such a comprehensive role.
The ideas and suggestions presented here are by no means complete. To bring this vision into reality would certainly demand an absolute radical change of attitudes. For the time being it looks completely illusionary. Yet, it would make the world a better place to live for all its citizens. Why not work for it?
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