When asked my opinion on the chances of a two-state solution succeeding, I have long answered that that two states are ideal but that the current two-state paradigm has been dead in the water for many years. The permanency and ideological nature of settlement expansion, the issue of Palestinian refugees, the Zionist need for a Jewish state, the split between Fatah and Hamas, the West Bank and Gaza, and a host of other issues have made the prospects of the classical two-state solution very grim. Add into the picture that the majority of both Israelis and Palestinians have been raised to view the entire area west of the Jordan river as their own, and the zero-sum nature of the problem seems even more insurmountable. A recent article in Foreign Policy Magazine provides fresh, creative thinking about a different way of approaching a two-state settlement.

There are ways for Israelis and Palestinians to have their cake and eat it too – still within the rubric of a two-state solution and still within the confines of their nationalist narratives. There are ways for settlers to maintain their ties to the “Land of Israel” and for Palestinian refugees to re-establish their relationship to “historic Palestine.”
A Permanent Residency Status can help expand the pie by offering a new and creative solution that adds flexibility and space to final status issues. A Permanent Residency Status law can be composed of a set of mutually agreed upon arrangements between the state of Palestine and the state of Israel. It opens the space to separate the material livelihood and political aspirations of both peoples, leading to a sustained national majority in the political system of each state, while making the physical movement of people a matter of personal choice.

The authors propose a settlement where Israelis settlers are given the choice to remain in a future Palestine as permanent residents.

It would be an attractive offer to many settlers to provide them with the opportunity to remain in their homes with Permanent Residency Status in Palestine. The opportunity to still remain physically tied to the land of Judea and Samaria, to own property, to enjoy religious freedom, to vote in local municipalities and to enjoy equal rights with Palestinian citizens of the state while retaining their Israeli citizenship and exercising their political aspirations in Israel might be an option taken by many.

The same idea would apply to Palestinians living in Israel (Israeli-Arabs).

They could choose to maintain their citizenship in Israel and become full Israeli citizens with all the rights and obligations that entail to any Israeli citizen including military or national service. There is already precedence for this in the case of the Arab Druze community in Israel. If they choose to become Palestinian citizens, they could assume Permanent Residency status and they (and their offspring) would continue to live, work, and pray in Israel but would vote in Palestinian national elections.

Although this idea addresses many of the same fears expressed by Avigdor Lieberman (the prospect of an Arab majority changing Israel’s Jewish character through changing demographics and democratic means), it takes a different approach in dealing with them. Instead of redrawing borders to create two ethnically pure states, the authors propose a much more liberal path of letting individuals decide where to live, and at the same time allowing them to choose their citizenship without affecting their place of residency or giving up property rights. This is an attempt to reconcile the illiberal foundations of the two-state solution (two ethnic nation-states comprised almost exclusively of either Jews or Arabs) with the contemporary liberal standards of the world.

It has to be emphasized that contrary to the wishes of some right-wing politicians in Israel, it is absolutely prohibited in international law to forcibly de-nationalize the Palestinian minority or to create restrictive conditions that would ultimately serve the same purpose. This would have to be a genuine choice that would allow each individual to live in accordance with their own definition of identity.

While there are many obvious flaws in this idea, I am drawn to it for three reasons. Firstly, it is fresh thinking. One of the most damning flaws of all “peace processes” in the past decade has been that the parties keep trying to slam the same square block into the same circular hole, hoping that the other might magically decide to change its shape – or knowing all along that the pieces will never fit.

The second reason this idea is appealing is that it deals with the realities that neither party wants to deal with: Both peoples have a right to self-determination, both peoples have overlapping ties to the entire and, and that the populations who find themselves on the wrong side of the far-too-clean ’67 borders will not be easily convinced (maybe they shouldn’t be convinced) to abandon their homes and homelands in the name of an oversimplified idea of two states for two peoples.

Thirdly, as someone who was raised in liberal, multi-cultural and individualistic America, the idea of maintaining ethnic majorities as a matter of state policy has always heavily conflicted with the idea of Zionism, which is important to me. The authors are attempting to reconcile the two.

The reality is that there are two peoples living in one homeland, with conflicting needs for national identity and self-determination. Whether or not this idea is workable, I give the authors credit for constructively addressing the needs of both peoples while acknowledging that “the idea of population transfers, colonization, and ‘pure’ ethnic states belong to a disastrous by-gone era.”