A Zionist Plan for Israel’s Bi-national Future

I describe myself as an “ardent Zionist.”

These days such terms are in flux because Israel’s policies are turning her vision of borders into an ever expanding land-grab of what should become the West Bank State of Palestine, forcing a retrenchment of the once consensual vernacular. It has become such a ferocious divide among Jews (almost leaving the Arabs to become spectators at our Civil War), that my Zionism now actually feeds the other side’s anti-Zionism. But I will let them tell their own version, which I regard as forlorn and sterile. For my two prutot, the Netanyahu vilification of Jewish values by his coalition’s never-ending theft of Palestinian rights, dignity and land has no legitimate response in “anti-Zionism.” Netanyahu is not a Zionist. He is risen from gehinnom and to gehinnom we must send him back.

My Zionist dedication is to the principle of a Jewish State for the Jewish People to live and to be free to come to live, with their own chosen leadership, in the region we call Eretz Yisrael, the “Land of Israel.” It is as I have always imagined to be a state not excluding full and equal shared domicile to those Arabs and their descendants, who have been here, with their equality similarly fashioned for them in the model of a confederated construct, so that we have an operative bi-national, but unified state. To those who say how can you have a state of Israel both of Jews  and Arabs who are all Israelis, just ask the fifty states which make up the United States of America.

But before any improvement occurs to remedy the severe stress tearing apart the very parchment of our Torah’s values by  the degradation of Israel’s  Arab citizens, even daily threatening them with rumors of expulsion after enacting a theocratic “Nation State” law worthy of Meir Kahane, the never-ending cruelty toward those extra-terratorial, marginalized, occupied and subjugated Arabs, the Palestinians, must stop. We must formulate the basis for a new State of Palestine. In that spirit I offer the following plan.

AN ALTERNATE MODEL FOR THE TWO-STATE PEACE PLAN BETWEEN ISRAEL AND THE PALESTINIANS

A statement of purpose

The recent two-state plans offer no inherent and compelling respect for Arab history in the pre-1967 land of Israel, the history of that very Arab population which, along with its descendants are to be permanently separated by the terms of the two-state agreement. Consequently, if the envisioned plans are enacted, the Nakba (Arabic idiom,“catastrophe,” which refers to Israel’s birth as a nation) will remain a festering memory, and even the spirit of the Hamas Charter will continue to find life in many Arab quarters.

The following Alternate Model significantly enhances the opportunity of Palestinians living in the new state of Palestine to exercise a direct political relationship with the State of Israel, enhancing their historic connection to the land, including pre-1967 Israel, sharply reducing their sense of being a separate People deprived of their original homeland, diminished in dignity.

1. The following concept seeks to resolve several conflicting needs of inhabitants of Israel within the pre-1967 borders, and the Arab inhabitants of the region now occupied by Israel, as well as the Jewish population of settlers in the “settlements” established along the border after 1967, as well as Palestinians in their own diaspora who may wish a return to the region being considered in this plan.

2. The plan fully resolves the issue of sovereignty as it relates to East and West Jerusalem, excluding the “Old City” which should be resolved separately.

PART ONE

Opening agreement by all parties:

I.
It is recognized that Israel’s pre-1967 borders constitute the borders of a Jewish homeland, born of a historic right to exist, with such purpose to develop as it sees fit, its own religious, cultural and social practices as it chooses without any interference from within or without, fully excepted from existential challenge by international or national debate other than by its own laws and decisions according to Jewish law.
II.
It is recognized that Israel’s pre-1967 borders constitute the borders of an Arab Muslim and Arab Christian homeland, born of a historic right to exist, with such purpose to develop as it sees fit, its own religious, cultural and social practices as it chooses without any interference from within or without, fully excepted from challenge by international or national debate other than by its own laws and decisions according to Muslim law and Christian traditions.

PART TWO

Implementation: applying only to the region of Israel within her pre-1967 borders

“The State” of Israel will comprise the two homelands described above.

I.
The Knesset will become a bicameral body modeled after the American and British legislative branches of government. All citizens of pre-1967 Israel, or those who may subsequently become citizens within those boundaries, both Jews and Arabs, will vote for representatives only in the upper chamber. That chamber will be identical to the Knesset that now exists.

A “lower chamber” will, like the American House of Representatives, be voted by Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel living in the occupied territories and Jewish settlements. This is discussed further, just below.

PART THREE

Regions now outside the pre-1967 borders.

I. The “occupied” West Bank and Gaza

Arab residents of these areas shall have two options:

A. They may vote for representatives in the lower chamber of the Knesset’s bicameral legislature, and declare themselves citizens of Israel.

[Much like the current legal status of Arab residents of East Jerusalem, they will be free to travel throughout Israel–but not to own property within the pre-1967 borders.] Other rights shall accrue: Extended stays for work, education and vacation.

As declared citizens of Israel, they will also have the right to vote in national elections, just as the Arab citizens of Israel do today with one major difference: Their votes will not be included in the votes for any party to win seats numerically necessary to join a governing coalition. This stricture prevents the Arab population outside Israel’s pre 1967 borders from deciding the makeup of the executive leadership of Israel’s government, including offices of Prime Minister, Defense, Interior and Education. Only the votes of Israel’s citizens living within the pre-1967 borders will count toward establishing the ruling executive leadership of Israel’s government. (Further, see addendum “e.” below.)

B.Arabs living outside pre-1967 Israel may decline becoming citizens of Israel and choose to be citizens of “Palestine,” the new state having its own legislature and leadership according to whatever provisions it may choose to enact.

Arab citizens of Palestine may ultimately have the ability to travel in pre-1967 Israel, much in the manner of one whose visa permits visiting. Time and trust will shape the course of these salutary changes.

C. The land.
The settlements will be regarded as Israel.
All land in the occupied areas, other than the settlements will be deemed “Palestine.”

D. Property
The property which is the habitation of an Arab resident(s), and is either owned or rented for such purpose, or is occupied for the purpose of doing business, becomes, under terms of this agreement, Palestine. According to the following terms, those Arabs who reside in the new state of Palestine and declare themselves citizens of Israel, will be accorded the legal right to continue their prevailing occupancy and equity in the property–but as leasees from the government of Palestine, not as owners of the buildings or property in question. These leases shall be afforded the same legal status as owned or rented properties based on their “grandfathered” histories, and such leases are established as estate equity. Taxes on the property will be due the Palestinian administrative authorities, and income tax based on income generated in Palestine, likewise.

II. The Jewish population in the settlements and occupied areas

Jews in these areas will have the right to either move to pre-1967 Israel, or to remain where they are, as citizens of Israel accorded the same rights as Arabs who opt for Israeli citizenship (IA., above). To wit, if they do not return, their votes will be limited to the lower chamber and national elections, with the same limitations as imposed on the Arab citizens of Israel outside the pre-1967 borders, provided in PART THREE Section IA, above. Further, their taxed income for work done in the State of Palestine, including inside the settlements, will be payable to Palestine.

Note: The two houses of the Knesset would interact in legally formulated ways which might finally depend on scholarly input from political historians.

PART FOUR

The Palestinian Diaspora

I. Palestinians who can demonstrate prior ownership of land or houses within pre-1967 Israel shall have the right of first refusal when and if such property is placed on the market for sale by its owner. In the event the property is purchased by a Palestinian, he or she may take full proprietorship and residency, with consequent requirement of allegiance to the State of Israel as a new citizen.

II. Palestinians may return to the currently occupied regions, to become “Palestine,” in whatever number they choose. Such “returnees” will not have the option of becoming Israeli citizens.

PART FIVE

Jerusalem

General observation:
East Jerusalem is an Arab area. It has numerous Arab villages and homes–and there are no Jewish residences to speak of. Recently the demolition of Arab houses and confiscation of East Jerusalem land to presumably make it a habitation for observant Jewish families is plainly contrary to any reconciliation.
Therefore:
East Jerusalem should be kept as it is, and may become the “capital” of the new state of “Palestine.” The fact it does not include any Jewish holy sites frees it from the potential issue of such a religious conflict ever arising. As a part of Jerusalem, agreed law should require that there should be no hindrances placed upon Jews seeking to visit East Jerusalem, nor should there be hindrances placed upon Palestinians wishing to visit West Jerusalem

Regarding the Temple Mount and contested areas in the “Old City”: A creative formula for sharing administrative cooperation remains a challenge. The issue of sovereignty over the four quarters of the “Old City” is not resolved in this agreement.

The scheduling of prayer services to prevent disturbing others is a simple courtesy. Observing the protocols of keeping polite distance from sacred shrines is as well.

If religious leaders of good will join in thinking through these sensitive differences, accommodation will be achieved. Rotating sovereignty is not incomprehensible. It is a matter for joint discussion and peaceful resolution.

PART SIX

Security

If this plan is enacted, Arab neighbors now living under occupation may share a table for dinner, one an Israeli citizen, the other a citizen of Palestine. Across the street, in a Jewish settlement, another Israeli citizen may have reason to greet both as neighbors no longer at war or filled with fear and hate.

The police, at least for an interim period, might be comprised of both Arabs and Jews, for the first time sharing a hope that the future will be bright.
Addenda:
A.
Regarding the Right of Return of Jews in settlements to pre-1967 Israel. According to the plan, the Arabs in the occupied region will only have such rights under very limited, specific circumstances (as described). Settlement Jews may exercise the same Right of Return as Jews of any other nation in the world, and make pre-1967 Israel their home and homeland. But there is an important proviso should they choose to do so: Under no circumstances will they be able to keep their ownership of their settlement habitat, nor will it be saleable except to others already inhabiting the settlements. By design, the settlement families are to have a finite lineage and not become a separate nation. If no settlement buyer is found for a privately owned property, it will be purchased by the State of Israel and maintained as unbuilt land.

B.
The role of two “houses” of the bicameral Knesset and the representational format of the “lower house” relating to legislative prerogatives in shaping budgets and laws are matters demanding the sophistication of outstanding legal minds. Certainly the American model may be a helpful guide in showing that such governance will promote effective administration to enhance the lives of Israelis (Arabs who have chosen Israeli citizenship living in Palestine) as well as Jewish settlers who have not returned to the pre-1967 borders. Benefits to Arab Israelis living in Palestine might range, for example, from educational subsidies, to medical coverage, to legal defense (the latter, in the context of Palestinian law, in the new state of Palestine.)

C. In the event that a vast majority of Arabs in the new state of Palestine do not opt to become Israeli citizens, but choose to be Palestinian citizens, an issue may arise as to the viability of a lower house of the Knesset: who it would represent and whether there would be sufficient numbers of voters to elect such representatives.
In these circumstances, dictated by a numerical formulation, a Palestinian council of Arab citizens of Palestine, people in good standing devoted to the principle of a shared future as enacted, would be accorded dual citizenship, carrying both Palestinian and Israeli national identity, and asked to serve in the lower house, as representatives of Arab Israelis living in Palestine, perhaps without a formal election. Their selection might be by a joint Israeli-Palestinian commission. Representatives of the Jewish settlers in the lower house would be satisfactorily based on the ample number of inhabitants eligible to vote.

D. Laws governing the settlers

As stated, the land of the settlements is to be regarded as Israel. Therefore, the settlers are subject to Israeli law. Here, an important provision is applied: In the event a settler or settlers act in such a way as to impede, challenge, or harm the spirit or efficacy of this agreement, they shall be brought to pre-1967 Israel for trial. If guilty, they will never be permitted to return to the settlements and will additionally face whatever other punishment is applicable.
Note: I believe such cases of conflict between Arabs and Jews in the region outside pre-1967 Israel, should be comprised of respected jurists of both communities and heard by a special court. If the offense is committed by Arabs against Jewish settlers, the judicial proceeding will depend on whether the Arab(s) are Israeli or Palestinian citizens. The former would be tried in pre-1967 Israel, the latter in Palestinian courts.

E. In order to prevent the Arab population of the West Bank from opting for Israeli citizenship in order to take over the government of Israel by voting for a National Arab Knesset majority, the eligible votes for Prime Minister and Knesset seats counted toward a ruling coalition will be by citizens living within pre-1967 Israel borders. Political parties not represented in the formed government coalition, but with representation in the upper chamber of the Knesset, may be chosen by votes which include the Arab citizens of Israel living in the occupied West Bank as well as the Jewish settlers.

F. See above, for the updated version which has a paragraph added regarding the ownership of property in the new state of Palestine by Arabs who declare themselves to be citizens of Israel under terms of this agreement. PART THREE Id. “Property”

About the Author
Abram Epstein, a New Yorker, has served as Director of Education for several synagogues and actively participated in the Manhattan Educators’ Council. His graduate studies at New York University’s Hagop Kevorkian Center focused on ancient Near Eastern religion and Biblical Judaism. He is a recipient of the university’s prestigious Founders’ Award for Academic Accomplishment and has a screen credit as Historical Consultant for "The Seventh Sign" starring Demi Moore. His other books include, "The Historical Haggadah," "The Matthias Scroll," "A Documented Biography of Jesus Before Christianity," and most recently, "The Matthias Scroll–Select Second Edition." Abram invites communication on his FB page: "Abram Epstein" or "Abram's Historical Writing."
Comments