The US administration’s map of the shape of their vision of peace between Israel and Palestine seems destined to join a long list of maps of failed attempts at dividing the land between two states over the last 70 years. This one notably portrayed the Jordan Valley as a part of Israel. Mr Netanyahu, in a show of bravado, now muses about annexing the Jordan Valley as early as July. Sure, Israel has the military might to impose this ‘vision of peace’ unilaterally, but at what cost to Israel, let alone the inhabitants that would suddenly find themselves unwanted non-citizens?
There is another way for Israel to be joined with the Jordan Valley: Ditch the two state solution and form a federal state with the West Bank. There are many ideas for a federation of Israel and Palestine, some resembling annexation of the West Bank, and others a genuine partnership. Although no-one asked for it, here is my idea of how to enshrine bipartisanship in a new federal legislature and executive, while maintaining self determination in the two constituent territories.
Instead of leaving peace negotiations to the two governments, filled with tired old men shoring up power in their respective constituencies, how about empowering the broad spectrum of Israeli parliamentarians to meet with their counterparts in the Palestinian Legislative Council in Ramallah to discuss a shared future. However defunct this Palestinian institution may be, its members are the duly elected representatives of the West Bank. Extremists in parliament may boycott, but surely moderates will find common ground. The sole purpose would be to find grounds, legal and practical, to form a joint parliament and ultimately a federal state or ‘commonwealth’. The legislature would be made up of two chambers, one that represents Jewish aspirations both in Israel and the West Bank settlements, the other Palestinian including Arab Israelis. The current MKs and MLCs could be the original members, but if a new constitution eventuates, so too would new elections.
This commonwealth parliament would be charged with electing a Swiss style seven person executive council to lead the commonwealth government. There would be no Prime Minister or President, but seven equal wise Israeli and Palestinian parliamentarians, who would seek ways to govern for mutual benefit (hopefully the executive will be mostly women, often better at finding shared interests). Legislation proposed by this bipartisan leadership would need the assent from both the Hebrew and Arabic parliamentary chambers to become law and thus neither side could unilaterally impose their will. If the Executive Council were reflective of the current population of Israel and the West Bank, there would be four Jewish executive councilors and three Palestinian. Shared interests include peace, security, prosperity and good relations with the Arab world, so there would be a lot to discuss and on which to co-operate. Chambers of parliament divided on ethnic, language and religious lines may seem unpalatable, but would be the parliamentary equivalent of the separation barrier, unsightly but practical. It would structure not stop dialogue.
The Israeli and West Bank assemblies and their executives would continue to function in regulating vital areas of government such as health, education, and housing in the two territories. In areas of nationhood, such as foreign affairs, immigration and economic development, the commonwealth parliament and its bipartisan executive council would prevail. Defense would be a commonwealth responsibility, but maybe there could be a transition where the IDF remains intact, until the existential threat to Israel, both internal and external, no longer exists or diminishes. Jerusalem City would be neither Israeli nor Palestinian exclusively, but a separate Commonwealth territory, an iconic unifying symbol of this new entity, thus named the Commonwealth of Jerusalem.
Gaza cannot be left to fester, and could initially be an associated territory, with full admission to the commonwealth dependent on recognition of Israel as the Jewish homeland. Adding that sizable chunk of Gaza voters as a separate territory with its own assembly would not change one bit the balance of power in the Israeli or West Bank assemblies, and in the commonwealth parliament, the Hebrew chamber could still veto measures as it sees fit. The current violent sectarian conflict will thus be eroded and replaced by parliamentary debates and the dramas of the political contest. If only one step towards peace thus arises, it will still be a step back from the perilous journey of unilateral annexation proposed by Mr Netanyahu and the US administration.