Come June 2017, Israel will have been in control of the West Bank for 50 years and ruling the lives of nearly 3 million Muslim and Christian Arabic-speaking Palestinians. Conventional wisdom still calls for a State of Palestine to exist alongside of the State of Israel but, with over 400,000 Israeli Jews now living in settlements scattered throughout the West Bank, it becomes increasingly hard to imagine how to return to the status quo ante that approximates the 1967 borders.
On the Israeli side, the continued growth of its settlements in the West Bank — and the zealous attachment of many of the settlers to staying put — have seemingly made an Israeli withdrawal from Judea-Samaria/ the Occupied Territories all but impossible, or possible only at the cost of a near civil war. Even though a majority of Israelis remain committed to the two-state solution, the continued building of settlements makes an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank increasingly seem like a remote possibility.
And on the Palestinian side, Hamas is still committed to the destruction of the State of Israel and its replacement by a single Islamic Palestinian Arab state. In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority languishes, caught between the ever-expanding Israeli settlements, the desire of its own people for liberation from the Israeli occupation, and its own need to bolster its nationalist credentials. For many Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, the possibility of the two-state solution seems less and less feasible, and if reached, it too could only be implemented at the cost of much internecine war.
Given the untrammeled religio-nationalist aspirations of large swaths of the Israeli and Palestinian populations and the apparent inability or unwillingness of leaders on both sides to breakthrough the political stalemate, it is worthwhile to consider alternatives to the two-state solution.
The recent $12 million bilateral program agreed to by the Israel Innovation Authority and Canada’s Province of Québec gave me pause to consider Canada as a potential model for Israeli-Palestinian co-existence, with the two nations living separately side by side and together under one national umbrella.
Before there was a Canada, there were English colonies in what is now Ontario and the Maritime provinces (not to mention the Thirteen Colonies) and the French colony of Québec. This situation changed in 1763 when the English won a decisive victory over the French forces and occupied Québec. In 1867, the Articles of Confederation brought together Québec and the other provinces in an uneasy relationship under the British crown.
Old loyalties don’t die, they just slowly fade away. For example, Québec’s blue and white flag with fleurs de lis hearkens back to its royal French origins while the other provinces’ flags (save Newfoundland/Labrador) either have the English Union Jack or royal lion, reminding one and all of their English roots. Only in 1964 did the Canadian government jettison its English-based “Red Ensign” flag adopting in its place a new, neutral national flag meant to transcend these ancient English and French rivalries. Similarly, after decades of struggle, English and French were recognized as the two official national languages and, although both are taught in the schools, many people speak only one.
Today, Québec is still a primarily French-speaking, predominately Catholic province, while the rest of the country speaks mostly English and is a mix of many Christian denominations and other faiths. There are pockets of French speakers outside of Québec just as there are pockets of English-speakers living in Québec. And, as the recent Québec – Israel agreement shows, a province can act independently of the state. Although there have been ups and downs in the relationship since Confederation—and separatist movements and even terrorism—today Canada is a model of what a bi-national state can be.
Perhaps it is time to reconsider a bi-national federated state on the Canadian model, with a state of Palestine comprised primarily of Palestinians alongside a predominately Jewish state of Israel, each flying its own flag yet also joining together under a new flag that symbolizes their shared republic. Hebrew and Arabic would be the official national languages of both states but each state would have its own distinct culture. Disputes would be resolved through negotiation rather than armed conflict.
A federated bi-national state is not the same as a one-state solution because each people would have their own state to rule and run but would share responsibility for those matters of national importance to both peoples. Jews could remain in place in Palestine and an agreed-upon number of Palestinian refugee families could join the Palestinians who already live in Israel as citizens. In this way, both the Zionist dream of enabling Jews to settle anywhere in the Land of Israel and the Palestinian dream of the right of return would be respected. Neither dream actually is dependent on establishing sovereignty on the nation-state model.
Perhaps it’s an idea whose time has come.