It’s Time to Talk about Confederation
I didn’t think I would find myself agreeing with something President Donald Trump said, but when he threw doubt on the two-state solution being the only solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict I actually agreed with him.
The two-state solution has been bandied around as the holy grail to the conflict ever since 1967. But the concept of two states — Israel and Palestine — as two separate entities living side by side will not bring about peace, will not end the conflict and is simply unrealistic and unattainable.
Both right-wing and left-wing politicians in Israel speak about the two-state solution not in terms of peaceful relations between Israelis and Palestinians, but in terms of separation. Yair Lapid even calls it a divorce. Israelis on one side, Palestinians on the other side. Palestinian leaders call for the evacuation and removal of all Jews from the West Bank. The end to the conflict must mean real peace. Israel’s current peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, while of course very valuable, are not about real peace but are about arrangements between governments. Real peace would mean cultural exchanges and sports matches. When last did Israel play Egypt or Jordan in a soccer match? Real peace also means realism and pragmatism. The two-state solution, as currently envisaged, is neither of these.
So does this leave us with the one state solution. The one-state solution is at least realistic. It can actually be implemented. Of course a one state solution will mean either Israel ceases to be a Jewish state or a democratic state. Everyone knows this to be true. Even those calling for annexation of the whole or partial West Bank know this but it is a popular messianic mantra with a large section of the Israeli public. The one-state solution is the slippery slope to apartheid.
I have been working in the field of transboundary environmental management for close to twenty years. I travel extensively in Israel and the West Bank dealing with water management issues that need to be resolved for the benefit of both parties. Israelis and Palestinians are hydrologically intertwined. Most of Israel’s water resources originate beyond the Green Line or in Lebanon and Syria. A two-state solution currently proposed would mean that Palestine would develop a separate water and wastewater network from Israel. This is hydrologically impossible. Palestinians are upstream from Israel. Any water development by Palestine would mean some form of impact downstream on Israel. Evidence for this currently abounds due to a lack of coordinated watershed management between the parties. One example can suffice. Palestinians severely lack wastewater treatment infrastructure. The result is that untreated wastewater flows from the Palestinian territories downstream to Israel polluting groundwater, contaminating rivers and posing a health hazard. If a separate Palestinian state were founded next to Israel massive investment will be needed to build a water and wastewater network for the new state. This could take decades whilst in the meantime the pollution continues and even will increase as the population increases.
But what if Palestine did not need to do this alone but rather in a coordinated watershed based fashion with Israel? The tiny geographic space that both people inhabit makes the establishment of separate water, sewage, energy, etc. grids inefficient, unwieldly and expensive. But, a confederation between Israel and Palestine would mean that basic resource needs for both populations can be met via the establishment and management of a single network for water, wastewater and energy.
So how could a confederation look like? Here are some ideas worth considering:
The eastern border of the sovereign Israeli state will be the Green Line as it will be the western border of the sovereign Palestinian state. The border will be an open border that both populations can cross without the need for a passport. Border checkpoints will be manned by both Israeli and Palestinian police and customs agents and not by the Israeli Defense Forces. The Palestinian state will be demilitarized with the Israeli army given remote monitoring access to the Jordan valley border between Palestine and Jordan but no Israeli bases will be maintained anywhere in the Palestinian state. The Allenby border crossing to Jordan will be controlled by Palestine alone.
Because the concept of two states is being presented as one of confederation not one Israeli settlement needs to be evacuated from the West Bank. If Israel can be 20% Arab, then Palestine can be 20% Jewish. Israeli settlements will be transferred to Palestinian control in terms of all municipal services. Israeli settlers will be required to take Palestinian ID numbers. They will be given the choice to take Palestinian citizenship or dual Israeli and Palestinian citizenship. Those that do not agree to these terms will be required to leave the settlements and relocate to Israel in exchange for appropriate compensation. Jewish residents of Palestine will continue to work in Israel and will be able to educate their children according to the Israeli education system if they choose to do so. Jewish residents of Palestine will pay municipal taxes to Palestine and not Israel. Any expansion of existing Jewish communities or the building of new ones in Palestine will be according to Palestinian government planning and approval. Arab citizens of Israel will be given the option of dual citizenship to Israel and Palestine if they choose to do so. Israel and Palestine will enter into an agreement on the number of Palestinian refugees that can return to Israel and Palestine. Each state will maintain separate immigration policies. Palestinians will be allowed full access to jobs in Israel and Israelis can take on jobs or run businesses in Palestine with taxes and fees going to Palestine. Palestinians will be given full and unfettered access, with appropriate Israeli security control, to Israeli ports for trade and to Ben Gurion airport for international travel.
West Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel and East Jerusalem will be the capital of Palestine. But the city will remain united under a single Israeli-Palestinian municipality. There will be rotating Israeli and Palestinian mayors. During the term of the Israeli mayor there will be a Palestinian deputy mayor and vice versa. All religious sites throughout the confederation will be open and accessible to all but managed either by Israeli or Palestinian authorities depending on their location.
What about Gaza? Gaza will be able to join the confederation according to an Israeli-Palestinian agreement that will first require Fatah-Hamas reconciliation based on agreement to the confederation concept. Once Gaza agrees to join the confederation the Israeli blockade of Gaza will be lifted so long as appropriate and mutually agreed upon security concerns are met. Gazans will be given the same access to the Israeli economy in terms of jobs and trade as those from the West Bank. The confederation can consider infrastructure development for a port and airport for Gaza that will be open to all citizens of the confederation.
Water, sewage and energy grids will be managed by joint Israeli-Palestinian agencies. Power plants, desalination plants, wastewater treatment facilities, etc., will all be managed at a confederal-municipal level. Operation and maintenance costs, fees and tariffs and building of new infrastructure will be jointly decided upon at the confederal-municipal level.
Many may scoff at the idea of confederation as naïve and unrealistic. But many elements of confederation already exist in some fashion or other. Israeli water and energy networks are already connected to Palestinian networks. Palestinian commerce runs through Israeli ports and many Palestinians work in Israel. Of course this situation is one that now occurs with Israelis hegemonic over Palestinians in terms of the occupation but the seeds of confederation exist. Untangling these elements so that two separate states can be founded will be exceedingly complex as it will be expensive and overall simply redundant. And it will not bring peace. A confederation at its heart is where people move and mix and interact freely as equal citizens of their respective states and as citizens of a single confederation.
Of course I am also not naïve to think confederation will come anytime soon. Firstly, confederation is simply not in the discourse. The two state solution is the only discourse that is given space and this will need to change so that confederation can take a foothold in the conversation. But, however much confederation becomes a topic of discourse it will never become reality so long as our political leaders do not begin to talk about it in a serious and rational way. Unfortunately, we are in a large leadership vacuum on both sides as well as on the international arena. So long as we lack leaders with real vision and scope the solution to the conflict will remain ever elusive.
Finally, it is important to acknowledge that the idea of confederation is not new. It actually was a part of the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state with economic union between the proposed states, and for the protection of religious and minority rights. Somehow the idea of economic union has been forgotten and it is now time to bring it back as a rational, equitable and pragmatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one of confederation.