The road to federal consociationalism

Many Israeli Jewish intellectuals, activists and politicians over the years have spoken out clearly for a one-state solution. They were very aware of the consequences of war and conflict, and arrived at the conclusion that we must live together, sharing food, water, resources, and even politics.  

Abdalhadi Alijla
11 August 2013

Despite the so called breakthrough in bringing the Palestinians and Israelis to the negotiating table again, there is little hope that it will put an end of the conflict in this tiny geographical area of land on the eastern Mediterranean. The younger generation of the Palestinians are fed up with negotiations and its gurus, and convinced that these efforts will not break the impasse.

Netanyahu has accepted Kerry’s proposal in order to smooth the path to new US-Israeli discussions on Iran. He decided to resume talks to make the American administration happier with him and halt American pressure on him. Despite the fake smiley faces seen in Washington (Livni-Kerry-Erikat), a new plan to build hundreds of houses in settlements in the occupied territories has been approved. According to Natan Sachs, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institute, both parties "basically agreed to disagree, and to talk about that.” Ramzy Baroud, a syndicated Palestinian writer wrote recently, ‘Predictably, it will come to an abrupt ending followed by a protracted blame game. Knowing how mainstream western media which is the majority of the time biased towards Israel operates, Palestinians will likely be the party responsible for the failure of the "talks" that are yet to start.’  So what we have is the last unsuccessful attempt to bring the peace process alive.

It is time to question both the aim of negotiations and the two-state solution. After more than 20 years of negotiations between them, Israelis and the Palestinians seem to agree. “The Oslo paradigm does not work and it’s time to think outside the box, the two-state solution is not feasible and neither is the continuation of the status quo, which will lead to international de-legitimization of Israel”, Israel’s Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely from Likud said at Tel Aviv University, marking twenty years since the signing of the Oslo Accords. Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister and the Quartet Committee representative warns, "the window of opportunity will be open for only a short space of time," speaking in Jerusalem at the 2013 Presidential Conference hosted by Israel's President Shimon Peres.

Efforts to bring peace to the region in the 80s and 90s, signing the Oslo peace accord and clinically separating the two people from interacting have undermined any efforts to build trust between them. Instead, it has increased hostilities through the actions of the radical and racist policies that Israel has taken. After twenty years of negotiations, Israel is still confiscating more and more land, continuing to expand the apartheid wall, increasing the number of checkpoints and road blocks, and creating rifts between Palestinians as well as between Jews and Arabs by sewing hatred, fear and violence.

As Edward Said stated in the early 90s, “the effort to separate has occurred simultaneously with the effort to take more and more land, which has in turn meant that Israel has acquired more and more Palestinians. ” It is clear that the current situation is benefiting Israeli Jews in the short run. But will this ensure Israel’s security in the long run? Of course not. Israel has already been there, done that, although not successfully, and now faces new security challenges. Moreover, it has more than 1.5 million Palestinians who live inside Israel. In the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem (Palestinian land that the UN recognizes as also occupied territories and that the Palestinian Authority would like to see as a Palestinian state) live more than three million Palestinians. Inside the West Bank, more than half a million Jewish settlers live throughout the Palestinian cities, using bypassing and Israeli-citizen-only roads.

Looking at the geographical, ecological and environmental realities, a two-state solution is unrealistic. What is happening now is heartbreaking, if not bloody. Netanyahu and his radical parties in and outside Israel will not give up confiscating more land and their wish to separate Jews from Arabs. Gaza has been deemed as the largest open-air prison and what is more, it is also an explosive place, given the fact that Israel is surrounded by Arabs and has a huge number living inside Israel. Oslo only succeeded in managing the conflict by giving the Israelis the chance to dream of permanently separating two people and the land.

Today, my generation, the current generation, of Palestinians, see things differently. We have experienced two Intifadas and lived through the wars in Gaza.  In contrast to our parents and grandparents, we did not experience the Nakba directly, but the memories of the Palestinian catastrophe live on in our daily lives, as well as some of its symbolism, such as the UNRWA tents, camps and other visual reminders.  Meanwhile, we accept that we can live side by side with the Israeli-Jew in one state that recognizes our rights as human beings (civil, economic and political rights). 

For some Palestinians, this is acceptable because we are the weaker party and we are losing day after day. But others, like me, argue that this is the only visible way to put an end to such a bloody conflict. Saeb Erikat, chief negotiator of the Palestinian Authority, said that after the collapse of the peace process, the Palestinians are officially going to adopt a one-state solution, "it is time to  refocus their attention on the one-state solution where Muslims, Christians and Jews can live as equals... It is very serious. This is the moment of truth for us."

This is not only for us as Palestinians; many Israeli Jewish intellectuals, activists and politicians over the years have spoken out clearly for a one-state solution. Uri Ariel, Berl Katznelson, Martin Buber, Judah Magnes, Hannah Arendt and Meron Benvenisti were very aware of the consequences of war and conflict, and arrived at the conclusion that we must live together, sharing food, water, resources, and even politics. 

So, if it is true that we have reached the end of the road, what now should be done?

What is next? Variations on consociationalism

The first step is the most difficult to take. Israel, which has neither defined borders nor a constitution, must admit the right of return for Palestinians. Without that, no solution will be viable. The negotiation should be on how to reconcile two peoples whose history motivated one of them to colonize the land of the others. And the first step involves a stark choice. As Tony Judt put it, “The true alternative facing the Middle East in coming years will be between an ethnically cleansed Greater Israel and a single, integrated, binational state of Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians.”

Then there are two governance options. One is consociationalism as introduced by Arend Lijpahrt in his well-known article; ‘Constitutional design for divided societies’ in the Journal of Democracy. And the other, a new form that might be called federal consociationalism.

Consociationalism makes for power sharing in deeply divided societies. Israel as a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multicultural state could easily expand the notion of citizenship to include the Palestinians in the Gaza strip, the West Bank and receive the refugees who were expelled out of their homes in 1948. The Palestinians should be equal to Jews in every sense and the resulting democracy based on “one person, one vote and one state.”

In a one-state solution, the president, prime minister and the speaker of parliament take it in turns to preside over time among the different ethnic groups, based on a written constitution with unchangeable laws and rules designed to dismiss Jewish fears of oppression by the Palestinians. History tells us that Jews had equal rights to Muslims and Christians in Palestine prior to 1948. This form of governance has to be organized in a hierarchical way, taking local governance as the main building block for the state. Urban governance, environmental and economic policies will contribute to the prosperity of this state, turning it into an economic and tourist hub.

But the problem of the demographic threat as seen by many Jewish commentators can only be resolved through a second governance model: federal consociationalism. This requires that each state has its own defined borders, and that its demographic mobility is restricted.  This form of democracy also meets the demand for a newly recognized state of Palestine, with its own institutions.  The Palestinian state must be recognized as a state from the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital, which constitutes 22% of historical Palestine. Israel’s borders must be defined as well, based on international law. The Palestinian refugees must return based on the agreement that Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barack reached that 250 thousand refugees return to Israel and the rest to the Palestinian state.  The two entities constitute a federal state under consociationalism, sharing resources, the economy and strategic political decisions.

This form of governance and power-sharing will give the two sides a chance for a serious partnership. Israel has long relevant experience for such a solution, having encouraged hundreds of thousands of Palestinian workers to work in Israel on a daily basis prior to the second Intifada. This was for economic reasons, but when it comes to conflict resolution, this would have to be enshrined in the constitution of the one-state. Israel has more than one and a half million Palestinians living inside Israel, who will constitute more than 30% in the next 20 years. Israel already has a citizenship concept that embraces this fact, even though it is discriminatory based on ethnicity and identity.

While federal consociationalism may make Palestinians and Israelis ‘equal’, it would also create an entirely separate territory for each. This solution would offer a federalist system with provinces (Israel, West Bank and Gaza) that share resources and power and have majoritarian rule at the provincial level. The Federal Government could be consociationally organized, with ethnic quotas in the legislation and a presidency that alternates between Palestinian and Israeli.

The only alternative is a continuous bloody costly conflict, with European and American governments helping to sustain it by giving Israel considerable political space to develop its apartheid regime. Being a second generation expelled Palestinian, it seems to me that this is the last chance for the international community to save the region from eternal conflict. Palestinian youth, of whom I am one, are frustrated and hopeless. The coming explosion will go beyond the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Remember the words of Edward Said, “Unfortunately, injustice and belligerence don't diminish by themselves: they have to be attacked by all concerned.”

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