Ben Piven

Canaan confederation: Plan for peace post-Hamas & Bibi

A two-state confederation model is ambitious but achievable, requiring parties on all sides to make serious concessions for peace
True cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians hinges on mutual acknowledgement of the two states and their respective narratives, within a supranational confederation framework. (COGAT)
True cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians hinges on mutual acknowledgement of the two states and their respective narratives, within a supranational confederation framework. (COGAT)

Ever since Israel followed through on weeks of threats to invade the Gaza Strip, commentators and politicians have speculated wildly about “the day after.”

Yes, this brutal war in Gaza could last well into the new year. But it will eventually end, and millions of suffering people will emerge from survival mode to figure out what comes next. However, the United States needs a stronger strategic vision, now, to lead American allies proactively. 

The horrific Hamas massacre of Israeli civilians on October 7, the ongoing humanitarian disaster for Palestinians in the line of fire, and the intense regional reverberations may give way to a new Middle East overhauling old architecture with a sturdier foundation. 

What follows is a 12-step plan, catalyzed by regime change in Gaza, the return of the Palestinian Authority to the coastal enclave, and Israeli recognition of Palestine as a state.

The US can broker this transformation by widening the Abraham Accords to promote regional integration, counteract Iran’s axis of resistance, and realize a better tomorrow for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

The winning solution is two parallel states, in one homeland, based on the “confederation” model. This framework is ambitious but achievable, requiring committed parties on all sides to embrace a list of tangible and symbolic steps to settle the score: 

Step 1: Disarm Hamas by destroying tunnels and rockets

The military power wielded by the Palestinian Islamist-nationalist faction that has ruled Gaza since 2007 lies in hundreds of miles of subterranean concrete passages. It will take time (and likely much pumped seawater) to root out this underground network and force the leadership from their bunkers. But this is a prerequisite for lasting peace — not just to avenge unprecedentedly brutal murders by Hamas militants but to separate the Palestinian people’s legitimate political aspirations from a violent movement that provokes wanton destruction.

Israeli troops have set up five large water pumps near the al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City which are capable of flooding the Hamas tunnels within weeks by pumping thousands of cubic meters of water per hour into them. (Israel Defense Forces)

The key is to defang jihadists who are, by design, incompatible with democracy, while promoting a Palestinian future that offers dignity and human rights. Fan-blown air, diesel-generated light, and ample daily provisions have kept the fighters kicking, despite dreadful battles to clear them from lairs deep below hospitals and other fragile infrastructure.   

Step 2: Deploy temporary Arab-international force in Gaza 

Even once Hamas has been sufficiently dismantled, pockets of resistance could continue to carry out an insurgency against whoever is perceived to be acting in Israeli security interests, be they actual Israel Defense Forces, Arab coalition armies from the likes of the UAE and Morocco, or peacekeepers deployed by the United Nations. Regardless, the international community can coordinate humanitarian aid, interim governance, and border control via UN mandate to help the territory rebuild and transition — an approach also backed by the European Union.

Doubters highlight grave risks in creating a power vacuum where extremists can thrive. So, the Israelis want to retain flexibility to conduct raids indefinitely in any scenario. However, the correct formula for restoring calm needs successful buy-in from regional allies who can supply interim stability.   

Step 3: Normalize with Saudi Arabia, level-set with Qatar 

Israel and the US are reliant on cooperation with the Sunni Arab bloc to properly escape the war quagmire. And the biggest piece of this puzzle is Saudi normalization, which can only happen after an Israeli “victory” and ceasefire. The Abraham Accords should grow to include Saudi Arabia — and Palestine — in addition to Egypt and Jordan, who convened “Negev format” meetings in Sharm El-Sheikh and Aqaba.

Savvy diplomacy by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken could pave the way for expanding the Abraham Accords. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool photo via AP)

Riyadh wants US defense guarantees and nuclear energy, and Israel would benefit from full relations with Saudi Arabia — which in turn could be expected to contribute handsomely to Gaza reconstruction efforts like a sea port and renovated airport. Yet Israel would still be on the hook to lessen significantly its West Bank occupation with long-sought concessions to the Palestinians.  

In a related agreement, the US could ask close ally and CENTCOM host Qatar to invest generously in reviving Gaza after hopefully mediating to free all the hostages, expelling the Hamas politburo, and doing more to stop terrorist financing. Doha in turn could also receive enhanced American security benefits, but might avoid normalizing with Israel to preserve rapport with Tehran. 

Step 4: Champion post-Netanyahu unity government

A crucial aspect of this plan is turning the page on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reign as well. While the Startup Nation has reached great technological heights under his rule, the dual policies of liquidating the Palestinian national cause and containing Iran have failed. 

Netanyahu shows a map of ‘The New Middle East’ with no indication of ‘Palestine’ as he addresses the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly, September 22, 2023. (AP/Richard Drew)

Next year, Netanyahu will face a massive domestic inquiry into the many facets of what went wrong in the lead-up to October 7. His political career will end when those responsible for letting down the country’s guard are held accountable in court and at the ballot box. What replaces his incompetent far-right government could be a centrist coalition led by Yair Lapid or Benny Gantz, perhaps the best-suited figures to return Israel to normalcy — especially for border communities ravaged by war — and engage in genuine diplomacy with the Palestinians.  

Step 5: Return the PA to Gaza and recognize Palestine

At present, the Palestinian Authority is beleaguered financially and electorally. But there is a growing consensus that a reconfigured PA would have the capacity to take back Gaza. US President Joe Biden is on board and his Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer recently said, “There is no other game in town right now, in terms of an organized, institutionalized Palestinian political entity.” Undoubtedly, more resources would be required to boost its popularity and potentiality under President Mahmoud Abbas — and his successor.  

US officials insist they are on the same page as Israel’s leaders about Palestinian governance needing to be ‘revitalized’ before extending Ramallah’s control to Gaza. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Hussein Al-Sheikh, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, says the Palestinians have been waiting for “a serious American initiative that would force Israel to abide by [the 2-state solution], to commit to it. This current US administration is capable of doing that.”

So, in exchange for the PA’s resumption of political control in Gaza City, both Israel and the US should finally acknowledge the State of Palestine’s right to exist in peace and security. “Final” details of sovereignty would only later be solidified, with mutually-agreed land swaps including the major settlement blocs — along the lines of the Abbas “napkin map” from 2007. But explicit recognition of statehood would effectively normalize relations and remove the biggest blocker to troubleshooting other core issues. 

Step 6: Establish the Canaan confederation 

With previous peace talks, the Israelis and Palestinians each appointed ad hoc negotiating teams, with top aides, security officials, and intelligence figures vested with bargaining authority. This structure has fallen short for myriad reasons. Importantly, the parties haven’t felt an enduring, unified, and authentic sense of destiny around the Western character of “Oslo” and “Annapolis.”

A nascent confederation with homegrown supranational institutions is the best way to negotiate painful issues, first, and then actually govern, second. More than a mere branding exercise, the name of this umbrella entity subsuming the two interdependent states is integral to the respect it commands: “Canaan” cements deep historical bonds in a shared, local, secular, and inclusive framework.

Women Wage Peace is among the many dozens of nongovernmental organizations fighting for Israeli-Palestinian togetherness in the Land of Canaan. (Flash90)

An international fund following the Ireland example would energize civil society and grassroots cooperation by bottom-up peacemakers supporting the top-down confederation departments across healthcare, education, and environment. Reducing economic disparities is also paramount, along with coexistence pillars like civic empowerment, interfaith dialogue, and cross-cultural understanding. The power of shared food, music, language, and heritage is incredible for transcending differences.

Step 7: Launch truth and reconciliation commission

To make meaningful progress, psychological rapprochement would help both sides come to terms with the unfathomable loss and tragedy they’ve experienced as oppressors and victims. Admittedly, ending incitement is only possible once emotional scars are healed through a truth and reconciliation commission, as done in South Africa. 

Mutual “land acknowledgement” is vital to accepting that both Palestinians and Israelis are indigenous, with unique roots that reflect native origins and foreign influences. Bending the narratives together means decolonizing legacies from the diaspora and instilling pluralism. 

Their worst-ever war’s aftermath could induce Palestinian and Israeli societies to welcome big changes for around 7 million of each people — almost equal numbers of Arabs and Jews — to co-exist in the Land. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Symbolically, the whole of the Holy Land is Palestine and Israel, at the same time. There need not be cognitive dissonance in people’s identity, preferred flag, or name for the Promised Land shape. Palestine will be free when Israel is liberated from its own postcolonial and Holocaust trauma, as both become mentally secure with their lot and more amenable to compromise. 

Step 8: Restrain Israeli settlers in West Bank

While much can be debated about the ideal contours of an Israeli-Palestinian confederation, the crux of such a robust and flexible system of overlapping states is that some Israeli settlers could become law-abiding permanent residents of Palestine, and Arabs within Israel have the option of taking Palestinian citizenship, without moving.

To that end, rampant disregard for the safety of Palestinian villagers must stop under a justice system that prevents everyday abuses. Nationalistic harassment of farmers picking olives is morally wrong under any Abrahamic code. And ordinary Palestinians shouldn’t be petrified to drive through places such as the historically peaceful Jordan Valley. 

A related measure that the Palestinians should institute is halting so-called martyr payments to those convicted of attacks against Israeli civilians. Understandably, the families of true victims and political prisoners deserve compensation. But the policy ought to be recalibrated so as not to reward acts of violence.

Step 9: Enhance Temple Mount status quo 

The Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City is the religious focal point of the entire conflict. A multilateral settlement in this area would be subject to Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian cooperation preserving privileged access for Muslim worshippers.

The Israeli side should accept that the monumental gold-domed Islamic shrine already embodies the concept of the Third Temple and forgo attempts to change the awe-inspiring landscape unilaterally. However, they should be able to carve out Jewish visitation rights within a reasonable and functional framework.

Hamas named its October 7th operation ‘Al-Aqsa Flood’ in reference to Jerusalem’s epicenter, where clashes have often erupted whenever extremists on both sides raise tensions. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

The Palestinian side will be hard-pressed but historically right to appreciate the biblical Israelite connection to the Al-Aqsa compound. Yet all supremacists can be kept at bay by responsible leaders easing understandable concerns about offensive measures or malicious encroachment. 

Step 10: Upgrade Jerusalem capital status

Joint sovereignty of the Holy Basin will require complex demarcation of security and civil control around the Old City. Extending the distinctions of Areas A, B, and C makes sense for Jerusalem too.

While Israeli government bodies should certainly stay put in West Jerusalem, the Arab neighborhoods of the capital can be governed by the Palestinians. Foreign embassies in Israel deserve to stay mostly in Tel Aviv, whereas embassies to Palestine could simply remain in Ramallah — and the new parliament perhaps in Abu Dis. But Jerusalem symbolically will be referred to as the capital of the Palestinian state.

Confederation offices can be built across the East Jerusalem envelope around the seam lines where many Jewish-Arab gatherings already take place in relatively neutral settings. 

Step 11: Repeal the rights of return

Israel could be obliged to accept tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees over a decade, but this may be limited to a token number and act of goodwill.

The confederation’s immigration office would be responsible for adjudicating rights to settle in the Land. But a good starting point would be simultaneous sunsetting of both the Israeli Law of Return (applicable to an estimated 18 million people) and the Palestinian dream of repatriating all descendants of 1948 and 1967 exiles (around 7 million people). As indicated in the Clinton Parameters of 2000, both sides must make uncomfortable sacrifices.

The time has come for decades-old temporary refugee status to transition into more permanent and regular arrangements, with the continued help of the international community. (AFP Photo / Hazem Bader)

In addition, the PLO and PA would effectively merge into components of the Palestinian state, along with UNRWA, whose original mandate ought to be concluded.

Step 12: Apologize for the Nakba and declare the conflict over

The Israeli-Palestinian confederation would deal with nuances in everything from borders, security, land use, and free movement to water rights, currency issuance, electromagnetic spectrum, and tourism. The long-term business of governing will always be complicated, and political relationships will evolve naturally.

But the single most underestimated gesture the Israeli state could make is officially saying “sorry” for the Palestinian catastrophe caused by its founding. Arab states can do the same for the Mizrahi Jewish populations that fled from lands in the Middle East and North Africa. 

Declaration of an end to the conflict could happen after sufficient reparation funds go to exiled refugee families, largely in exchange for forfeiture of claims to inhabit the Land — in favor of newly equal citizenship status in Lebanon, Syria, and other countries. 

Obviously the steps above have many dependencies, and the war-time situation remains highly unpredictable. But the overarching idea for Gaza is to avoid past mistakes made in seeding groups like Hezbollah and ISIS, by failing to cultivate the support of moderates and inadvertently radicalizing the masses. Instead, post-war planners should look to capitalize on the peace dividend to sap support from the haters on both sides.

In the regional context, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati has tried to prevent the spread of war by inviting Iran into a peace framework. Although this may be impossible, the geographic scope of the fighting can and should definitely be limited. 

While Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei taunts Israel in Hebrew about being reliant on American assistance, some analysts correctly argue that US aid can be conditioned on good-faith efforts by Israel’s government to follow the path of righteousness.

Only time will tell whether the ideological current represented by Hamas can integrate into the future Palestinian polity. But surely the biggest triumph over the resistance is rebuilding Israeli-Palestinian peace on the horizon. 

About the Author
Ben Piven is co-founder of One Sem, a cross-cultural organization within the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP). He is co-author of the Samaritan Cookbook and spent over a decade as a content editor for Al Jazeera, Haaretz, and other outlets. With extensive experience in the languages and societies of the Levant, the Baltimore native was a Fulbright Scholar in cultural geography. He studied digital media at Columbia University School of Journalism.
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