Peace, multiple layers of jurisdictions

A vision of peace takes into consideration the special needs of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. It encourages and rewards cooperation while preventing one side from taking advantage of the other. It encourages generosity between its participants while discouraging pettiness and triviality. It encourages transparency and open dialogue while rejecting secrecy.

The vision of peace for the Israelis and Palestinians assumes trust and cooperation. Palestinians and Israelis will eventually feel safe with each other and respect each other’s religious and holy sites. They will maintain their separate national identity and language but will be able to share culture and commerce. They will deal with the painful past and fully accept and admit their mistakes. They will create a system where most of their common issues will be dealt with in a transparent and democratic manner. The Israelis and the Palestinians will eventually reach the point where they recognize that a system of cooperation enables a far better quality of life for both. They will recognize not only their common cultural background but also their mutual strategic interest.

A realistic peace could be defined in terms of multiple layers of jurisdiction. This is common in many countries in the world, including the U.S. and Europe. Having multi-layer jurisdictions is a practical way to preserve the special nationalistic feelings and attachments people have toward an idea or territory, including religious identity, while reciprocating the same respect to those who do not share the same sentiments. It is a mechanism to overcome differences and suspicion between peoples of different backgrounds or national ideology while allowing them to maintain their own unique identities.

Many of us live and function very well within a system of multi-layer jurisdictions. Our home is the first jurisdiction. We each have our own rules and customs in our homes. When someone else enters our home, she or he must obey our rules and honor our customs. We then look to our homeowners association. The rules of our homeowners association apply only to those who belong to the association or enter the association territory. We then look to our city. Each city has its own ordinances and laws, which may differ from other cities. When we reside in or visit a city, we must abide by that city’s rules. Each state has its own laws. The residents or visitors to the state must comply with that state’s laws. The residents of a nation must comply with that government’s overarching laws.

A constitution provides the framework for separate governments to work independently of each other. It provides certain guidelines that allow those governments to maintain their identities and individual aspirations but at the same time preserve the overall needs of the entire nation. A constitution also creates a mechanism to resolve conflicting laws and determines how those laws will be interpreted. A constitution provides for such basic values as freedom of speech and right of assembly, which must be protected at all times for all people. A constitution provides for the individual’s equality and protection under the law. I have always believed that America’s success is based on the legal system that is founded in the U.S. Constitution.

Most Jews who arrived in Palestine, and subsequently Israel, came from autocratic countries in Europe and the Middle East. Most had never experienced democracy or democratic elections until they arrived in Israel. Likewise, Palestinians never experienced a democracy and never voted in an election until very late in the 20th century. Israeli Arabs did not participate in democracy until the creation of the state of Israel.

The process of adaptation when people move from autocratic countries to democracies is well documented. They seem to accept the democratic values right away, and with enthusiasm. Most Israelis and Palestinians are secular and open to democratic principles. The creation of a common government for both peoples together, as long as it does not conflict with their own national government, is likely to be adopted by both.

The recent strong democratic expression in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Palestine and Israel could have a positive effect on the formation of an Israeli Palestinian Confederation. People of the Middle East are demanding democracy for themselves rather than abandoning their own country and moving to democratic countries. They are taking on a great task: to convert thousands of years of autocracy into a new form of government. The recent demonstrations now known as the Arab Spring were started by a few young people who connected with each other through social media and who were able to influence thousands. This shows not only technological sophistication but also intellectual vision. These movements are a classic example of the 2 percent solution, in which a small minority motivates or affects a much larger population.

Like most people, I was mesmerized by the upheavals and particularly by the genuine expression of democratic values. I remember watching an interview with a young demonstrator who said the goal of their movement is to create a democratic government that emphasizes institutions over individuals, and that the people are tired of being dependent on individuals interested only in their political control and not the well-being of the people.

About the Author
Josef Avesar is founder of the Israeli Palestinian Confederation, which advocates for a mutual third government for Israelis and Palestinians. An American-Israeli of Iraqi background, he practices law in the U.S., but travels frequently to Israel and Palestine.