It’s incredibly difficult right now, understandably impossible for many, to start thinking and talking about the “day after” for Israel and Palestine. Five long days later, Hamas’ ghastly actions on October 7 are still painful and fresh, and new revelations about the massacre only sharpen the gruesome picture. And for the civilian population of Gaza, the recurring nightmare is just getting started, as calls are made within the Israeli governing coalition to inflict a “Nakba” upon the Palestinian people and as Israel cuts off essential life-supporting services, food, fuel, electricity, and water, to 2.3 million Palestinians in the Strip.
But if the people of the region are to have a “day after” in which their shared homeland emerges from the violent morass it has tragically descended into, there must be some positive horizon, beyond a ceasefire and the obligatory freeing of hostages, to which Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, and, even the international community, can yet aspire. Otherwise, then surely, we are doomed, Groundhog Day-style, to revisit these days of immeasurable and escalating violence and suffering again and again and again, and yet again.
“Too soon,” I’m sure will be the reply of many, if not most. Perhaps. As I write these lines, I’m busy doubting myself. Does what I’m arguing here make sense – or is it entirely ridiculous? Perhaps both? And, indeed, it is far too soon to expect the grieving and frightened peoples of Israel and Palestine, or even international diplomats, to pore over specific plans and initiatives.
Like it or not (and I clearly side with the “not”), the coming weeks, perhaps months, will be a time in which the guns will do almost all the talking. But is it too soon to modestly reiterate that, ultimately, the guns, the rockets, the bombs, the calls for “armed struggle” or to “Let the IDF Win” will provide no real solution? Israel and Palestine have been hit by a near-constant barrage of violence, punctuated by repeating mini-wars over the last two decades – in June 2006, November 2006, February 2008, December 2008-January 2009, March 2012, November 2012, July-August 2014, November 2019, August 2022, May 2023. And now. None of them brought more than a few months or scant years of “calm”. Certainly, none have brought peace.
The people of Israel and Palestine need a new, better way forward – better than the strategy of “managing” a conflict that defies such management, as two peoples, one free, the other not, cling to the same small piece of land. And better than “us here, them there”, the legacy spirit of the Oslo Accords – agreements that, while reciting the lyrics of peace, ultimately amplified the tune of separateness and segregation, which inevitably lead to othering and dehumanization.
The people of Israel and Palestine need a new, better way forward – for, without such a horizon, even if dim at the moment, how else will they not retreat into their tribal encampments and wish and cause death, destruction, and disappearance on the other side. How else will the most hateful and extreme on either side not become the only voices left who are outlining and implementing a vision, terrible though that vision is.
While refining the details will take years of work, the guiding principles are clear: It must begin with a recognition of the humanity and equality of all Israelis and Palestinians and their equal right to personal and national freedom, security, opportunity, justice, and dignity. There must also be recognition that the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River is the cherished homeland of two peoples, which seek there their national expression and self-determination.
Fortunately, some prominent Israelis and Palestinians have already been seeking ways to implement these principles. Realizing the inherent limits and flaws, as well as impracticalities, of hard separation, they have been trying to develop, refine, advocate for what some call a “modified two-state solution”, an arrangement that would bring the State of Israel and future State of Palestine into a confederal relationship.
One group doing this work is the Israeli-Palestinian movement, A Land for All (ALFA), which stresses that any true peace will require Israeli-Palestinian equality and partnership, rather than a harsh “divorce”. ALFA believes that a confederation between Israel and Palestine, featuring two sovereign states, a shared Jerusalem, shared confederal institutions, and freedom of movement throughout the shared homeland, can provide solutions to the seemingly intractable sticking points that obstructed negotiators for decades. A similar, if not identical, approach is the Holy Land Confederation (HLC) plan, authored by former Israeli Justice Minister, Dr. Yossi Beilin, and Dr. Hiba Husseini, former Legal Advisor to the Palestinian peace process delegation.
Hope is at a premium at the moment, as a period of warfare now awaits the people of Israel and Palestine. And we are still far, far from the day when plans such as ALFA’s and HLC’s might be adopted by respective Israeli and Palestinian leaderships. But although some might mock talk of solutions right now, it is precisely at this dark moment that visions of a brighter future might yet prevent the worst abuses that are born of absolute despair.