Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Is a Palestinian-Israeli Federation Possible?
By Uri Avnery
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, April 18, 2016
||Gaza neighborhood of Al-Shuja'iya
destroyed by the 2014 brutal Israeli war
Squaring the Circle
I LIKE the President of the
State of Israel, Reuven ("Rubi") Rivlin. I like him very much.
may seem a bit strange, since he is a man of the Right. He is a member of
the Likud party. He believes in what is called in Hebrew "the whole of the
Land of Israel".
However, he is a very humane person. He is kind
His family has been rooted in Palestine for many
generations. He sees himself as the president of all Israelis, including the
I believe that he harbors a secret contempt for
Binyamin Netanyahu and the likes of him. So how was he elected president?
The President of Israel is chosen in a secret ballot of the Knesset. I
strongly suspect that he did not get all the votes of the Likud, but was
elected by the votes of the Left.
President Rivlin published a peace plan.
That is not a usual act by a president, whose office is mainly ceremonial.
His plan is based on a federation of
two "entities" – a Zionist-Jewish entity and an Arab-Palestinian one.
He did not go into detail. He obviously believes that at this
stage it is better to float a general idea
and get the people used to it. This may well be wise.
also makes it difficult to judge the plan seriously. As the saying goes,
the devil is in the details.
It can be a very good plan or a very bad plan. Depends. Depends on the
Yet the very fact that Rivlin published this idea is
positive. In present-day Israel, ideas are frozen. This helps to entrench an
atmosphere of resignation, indifference, even despair. "There is no
solution" is a very general attitude, fostered by Netanyahu, who drew the
convenient (for him) conclusion: "We shall forever live by the sword".
THE IDEA of a federation is not new.
I myself have thought about it many times. (I must therefore
ask for forgiveness if I repeat things I have mentioned before.)
Before the 1948 war, some of us believed that the Hebrews and the Arabs in
this country could fuse into a new, joint nation. The war relieved me of
this notion. From what I witnessed, I drew the conclusion that we have in
this country two distinct nations, and that any realistic solution must be
based on this fact.
Immediately after that war, in early 1949, a
small group met to find a solution. The group included a Muslim and a Druze.
It created what is now called the Two-state Solution in the land between the
Mediterranean and the Jordan, and perhaps beyond. Today this is an
overwhelming world consensus.
It was clear to us that two states in
a small country like ours cannot exist side by side without very close
cooperation between them. We considered whether to call this a federation,
but decided not to do so, fearing that this would frighten both sides.
Immediately after the 1956 war (in this country, we are always "immediately
after the war") we formed a much larger group which called itself "Semitic
Action". It included Nathan Yellin-Mor, the former commander of the
underground (or terrorist) Lehi, known to the British as the "Stern Gang",
the writers Boaz Evron and Amos Kenan, and others.
We devoted a
whole year to producing a document, which, I believe, remains unparalleled
to this day. In it we drew up a blueprint for the complete restructuring of
the State of Israel, in all spheres of life. We called it the "Hebrew
This manifesto included a federation between the State
of Israel and the State of Palestine, with the necessary joint institutions
at the top. It also advocated the creation of a "Semitic Confederation" of
all Arab states, Israel and perhaps also Turkey and Iran (which are not
strictly Semitic countries, though they profess a religion with Semitic
SINCE THEN, the idea of a federation or a confederation
has come up at different times and in different circumstances, but has not
The terms themselves are imprecise. What is the
difference between them? In different countries, they have different
meanings. Russia is now officially a federation, though it is not clear what
rights the components have. Switzerland calls itself a confederation. The
German Bund is a "federal republic". The European Union is for all practical
purposes a confederation, though it is not called so.
It is more or
less accepted that a "federation" is a much closer union than a mere
"confederation". This was made clear by the American civil war, when the
"federal" North was battling the "confederate" Southern states which tried
to secede from the union, which was too close for their liking.
But, as I said, these terms are very fluid. And they are not really
important. It's the substance that matters, and the substance necessarily
varies from place to place, according to history and circumstances.
FOR OUR country, the beauty of the idea lies in the fact that it squares the
What do both sides want?
The Jews want a Jewish
State, a state that is based on Jewish culture and history, speaks mainly
Hebrew and is connected with the Jewish Diaspora. Except for a tiny little
minority, this is an ideal common to all Jewish Israelis. Many Israelis
would also like to keep the country, and especially the city of Jerusalem,
The Palestinians want a free state of their own, at long
last, where they will be their own masters, speak their own language, foster
their own culture and religion, free from occupation, under their own law.
A (con)federation can solve this seeming contradiction, squaring the
circle. It would allow both peoples to be free in their own states, with
their own identities, national flags and anthems, governments and soccer
teams, while at the same time saving the unity of the country and solving
their joint problems in unity and close cooperation. The border between them
will necessarily be open for free passage of people and goods, without
I am no expert on Northern America, but it seems to me that
something like that already exists between the US, Canada and Mexico (at
least until Donald Trump becomes president), in spite of the cultural and
social differences between the three peoples.
should not be satisfied with airing the idea. He should do something about
it, despite the limitations of his office.
I would suggest that he
set up a high-level conference of experts to meet in his residence and start
to go into the details, in order to find out how this could look in
I don't believe that either side will be content
with an "entity". Jewish Israelis will not give up the statehood of Israel,
nor will the Palestinians be content with anything less than a "state".
First and foremost there is the problem of the army. Will there be two
separate armies, with some apparatus of coordination - unlike the very
unequal relationship that exists now between the Israeli army and the
Palestinian "security force"? Can there be one unitary army? Or something
That's a hard one. A much easier one is health. There, a
lot of cooperation already exists between the peoples, with Arab doctors and
medics working in Israeli hospitals, and Israeli doctors advising
Palestinian colleagues in the occupied territories.
education? In each of the two states, education will naturally be based on
its own language, culture, history and traditions. In each state, all pupils
must learn the language of the other side, much as Swiss pupils learn one of
the national languages other than their own.
That is not enough. On
both sides, teachers must be re-educated, learn at least the basics of the
other side's culture and religion. And textbooks must be freed of the traces
of hatred, and present a true, objective narrative of the events of the last
The economy poses serious problems. The average income of
an Israeli is 20 times (yes, no mistake. Not 120%, but 2000%) larger than
the average income of a Palestinian in the occupied territories. There must
be a federal effort to narrow this incredible gap.
Of course, not
everything can be planned and decreed. Life will take over. Israeli
businesspeople who want to prosper in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, for example,
will look for Palestinian partners, and Palestinian entrepreneurs could use
Israeli expertise and capital to do business in the Yemen and Morocco.
Friendships will be struck. Here and there, inter-marriages will occur. (No,
God forbid, strike the last sentence out!!!)
Mutual contacts have
their own logic. Wherever muftis and rabbis meet, they discover the
incredible similarities between Islam and Judaism (much more than between
either of them and Christianity). Money bridges the gap between
businesspeople. Academics easily find a common language.
will, of course, be immense difficulties. What about the settlers? Can
Palestinians be persuaded to let some of them stay? In exchange, can
Israelis allow some of the refugees to return? I trust life.
Jerusalem remain united as the capital of both states and of the federal
Where will be the borders between the jurisdiction of
the two national governments and the federal institutions?
overstate the importance of the role President Rivlin can play in all this.
Just by inviting experts to his residence and playing host to their
theoretical deliberations, he can send a clear signal, without compromising
The deliberations themselves can have a strong mental
influence, change the atmosphere, revive hope, create optimism.
Rivlin is an optimist by nature. So am I.
Without optimism, nothing
will change for the better.
The President can show to normal,
decent people on both sides: yes, the circle can be squared!
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