Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Palestinian-Israeli Federation, Following the Two-State Solution !
By Uri Avnery
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, August 13, 2013
A Federation – Why Not?
AVRAHAM BURG (58) was a member of the Labor Party and for some
time the Chairman of the Knesset. His late father was a long-time cabinet
minister and a leader of the National-Religious Party, before it became a
rabid messianic mob. The relations between Burg sr. and me were quite
friendly, largely because we were the only two German-born members of the
Burg jr., who still wears the kippah of an observant Jew,
joined the Labor Party and was a member of the “eight doves”, a moderate
grouping in the party.
Last week Haaretz published an article in
which Burg proposed linking the “two-state solution” with a two-state
federation. He used the metaphor of a building, the first floor of which
would consist of human rights, the second floor would host the two states,
Israel and Palestine, and the third the federation.
This brought a
lot of memories to my mind.
IN THE spring of 1949, immediately
after the signing of the original armistice agreements between the new
State of Israel and the Arab countries which had intervened in the war, a
group was formed in Israel to advocate the setting up of a Palestinian
state next to Israel, and the signing of a covenant between the two
At the time, that idea was considered heretical, since
the very existence of a Palestinian people was strenuously denied in
The group consisted of a Muslim Arab, a Druze Arab, and
me. After some time, when our attempts to form a new party failed to get
off the ground, the group dispersed. (Curiously enough, all three of us
later became members of the Knesset.)
We were of one mind
concerning a salient point: the borders between the two states must be
open for the free movement of people and goods. We did not use the word
“federation”, but something like that was on our minds.
1956 Suez war, a new group took up the idea. It was founded by Nathan
Yalin-Mor and me and attracted an impressive array of intellectuals,
writers and artists. Yalin-Mor was the former leader of the Fighters for
the Freedom of Israel, branded by the British as the most extreme Jewish
terrorist organization and known to them as the “Stern Gang”.
called ourselves “Semitic Action” and published a document, “The Hebrew
Manifesto”, which I still think was and has remained unique: a complete,
detailed blueprint for a different State of Israel. It contained among
many other things the plan for the establishment of an Arab-Palestinian
state alongside Israel, and a federation between Israel, Palestine and
Jordan, to be called “the Jordan Union”.
In the 1970s, Abba Eban
floated the idea of a Benelux-type solution, a name derived from the
federation-like arrangement between Belgium, the Netherlands and
Luxemburg. To my surprise, when I first met with Yasser Arafat during the
siege of Beirut in 1982, he used the very same term: “A federation between
Israel, Palestine and Jordan, and perhaps Lebanon too – why not?” He
repeated the same idea, in the same words, at our last meeting, just
before his mysterious death.
In the course of time, I dropped the
word “federation”. I had come to the conclusion that it frightened both
sides too much. Israelis feared that it meant diminishing the sovereignty
of Israel, while Palestinians suspected that it was another Zionist ruse
to keep up the occupation by other means. But it seems clear that in a
small land like historical Palestine, two states cannot live side by side
for any length of time without a close relationship between them.
It must be remembered that the original UN partition plan included a kind
of federation, without using the word explicitly. According to the plan,
the Arab and the Jewish states were to remain united in an economic
THE WORLD is full of federations and confederations, and
no two are alike. Each one is a unique structure, formed by local
circumstances and history. All are based on a covenant – foedus in Latin,
hence the term.
The terrible US civil war was fought out between
a federation (the North) and a confederation (the South). The federation
was conceived as a close union with a strong central government, the
confederation as a loose cooperation between semi-independent states.
The list is long. Switzerland calls itself a confederation. Post-Soviet
Russia is a federation. Germany is a “federal republic”, and so on.
A federation between Israel and Palestine, with or without Jordan, will
have to find its own character, according to its unique circumstances.
But the main point is timing.
Since Burg likened his proposal
to a building, it follows that it must be built floor after floor, from
the bottom up. That’s how I see it too.
The first floor is the
two-state solution. This must be implemented first of all. Any idea about
what may come after is meaningless without it.
This means the
foundation of the State of Palestine along the 1967 borders, with East
Jerusalem as its capital, as a free, independent and sovereign
nation-state of the Palestinian people.
As long as this basic
idea is not implemented, and the solution of all the connected problems
(“core issues”) agreed upon, nothing else has much meaning.
occupation is a bleeding wound, and it has to be healed in the framework
of peace before everything else. There can be no meaningful talk about
federation between oppressor and oppressed. Federation presumes partners
of equal status, if not of equal strength.
The two-state solution
promises peace – at least the formal peace that puts an end to the
hundred-year old conflict. Once this peace is achieved, one can – and
should - think about the next stage, the deepening of the peace and
turning it into a day-to-day reality that shapes people’s lives.
LET’S ASSUME that this round of negotiations, or some future round, will
lead to a formal peace treaty, and an end to all mutual claims, as John
Kerry puts it. It’s then that the idea of federation should be considered.
What do we have in mind? A close federation or a loose confederation?
What functions are the two sides ready - of their own free will - to
transfer from the national to the federal level?
Israel will not give up its freedom of decision-making concerning its
relations with the world-wide Jewish Diaspora and immigration. The same is
true for Palestine’s relation to the Arab world and the return of
What about foreign relations in general? I believe that
in all existing federations and confederations, the central authority is
in charge of these. In our situation this constitutes a problem. Military
and security matters are even more problematic.
As I see it, a
federation will be mostly concerned with economic matters, matters of
human rights, freedom of movement and such.
But the main point is
this: the negotiations between the State of Israel and the State of
Palestine concerning a federation must be free of pressure, conducted in
good faith between equals.
WILL THIS be the end of the
road to real peace? I like to think that these are only the first few
If the two-state solution is the first floor, and the
federation is the second, one may imagine that the third floor will be a
regional union, on the lines of the present European Union.
the current turmoil in our region, it is hard to imagine that the Arab
Spring will lead to any kind of stability. But our memory is short.
The EU was the direct offspring of the most terrible of all wars – World
War II, with millions of Europeans among the casualties.
regional organization (I used to call it a “Semitic Union”) that includes
Israel and Palestine will be advantageous to all partners in a world where
regional groupings are playing an ever expanding role.
crown of a new order will be some kind of world governance, which is
sorely needed even now. I am fairly sure that it will come into being
before this century is over. This is no more utopian than was the idea of
a European union a hundred years ago, when a handful of far-sighted
idealists first brought it up.
At this point in time, there are a
host of problems that can no longer be solved on the national, or even
regional, level. The saving of our planet from environmental catastrophe.
The regulation of a globalized economy. The prevention of wars and civil
wars. The safeguarding of human rights everywhere. The achievement of real
equality for women. The protection of minorities. The ending of
hunger and diseases. All these need a new world order.
an order will necessarily be similar to a worldwide federation. This need
not mean the disappearance of nation-states. These will probably continue
to exist, as they exist today within the European Union, but with
Can such a world order be democratic? It
must be. Some day, humankind will elect a world parliament, as Europeans
today elect a European parliament which is steadily taking on new
THESE ARE dreams for the future, though it is
worthwhile to think about them even now.
But for us, in this
small country, the task for today is to achieve peace – the peace between
two nations living in harmony in two sister-states.