Israeli-Palestinian peace through an EU lens
As regular readers of this blog might have figured out, I have a soft spot for outside-the-box thinking on a resolution to the long-running Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Without rejecting or admitting defeat of the two-state solution, I am a strong advocate of the power of creativity in moving forward a difficult and stalled process. When the same process can’t seem to move forward, it is sometimes necessary to look at the problem from a different angle in order to find the best path to reach your goal. In this case, the goal is sovereign homelands for the Jewish and Palestinian peoples that reflect and protect their national identities.
Yuval Ben-Ami wrote a piece for +972 Magazine Sunday with a creative, albeit impracticable, vision of a resolution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To reach the goals I mentioned above, he draws on the success of the European Union.
In some ways (don’t laugh), Israel and Palestine already resemble many aspects of the EU. We already form an economic and monetary union, and conduct significant trade with one another (albeit extremely lopsidedly). Of course, you’re saying to yourself that the EU has the European Court of Human Rights and the Schengen Treaty, which allows unrestricted movement inside the EU. However, it took decades for the EU to establish those modern and progressive institutions.
The idea of a union between Israel and Palestine in a manner resembling the EU is actually an eventuality, should the classical interpretation of a two-state solution be reached. The two political, geographic and economic entities are already so intertwined that it would be unthinkable for such close cooperation not to take place once there is peace. Furthermore, freedom of movement (perhaps with some limits) is a concept that most people (not living under occupation) cannot imagine living without.
Ben-Ami argues that by being in such a closely knit union, that the Jewish and Palestinian peoples would be able to hold onto their separate national identities while living together. This is a similar concept to those articulated by Mark LeVine, Mickey Bergman and Amjad Atallah, described in recent posts. Ben-Ami points to Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg) moving past centuries of conflict to live peacefully together in a unique union of economic prosperity while maintaining their sovereignty and national identities.
However, Ben-Ami is not proposing the creation of a union like the EU, he is proposing that Israel and Palestine join the European Union.
Since ethnocentric states are an archaic folly, and a non-ethnocentric state seems unmaintainable, perhaps what we should do is just stop thinking “state”. This isn’t my idea. For decades now an entire continent has been moving away from the nationalist dogma towards a new concept.
Currently in Europe, a Belgian is still a Belgian, but that is just one category in a chain. You are first of all human, then a European, the a Belgian, the a Wallon, then a Liegois. One solution that was raised for the Palestine\Israel question is cantonization. That’s a fine thought, but rather than emulating the Swiss, who reject the EU, I say, let us embrace it.
If we had here two national entities, each with a constitution that allows a limited bias of “national character”, and if both were members of the EU, then perhaps the whole juvenile question of who “rules” the place would become less meaningful, as it does now in Alsace, for example. Movement would be free between the two parts. One could live wherever one chose to and worship wherever one chose to.
Jews could live in Hebron, for example. They would simply have to live there as good neighbors, subject to the laws of the Palestinian entity, which would be drafted in accordance with EU principles. If Hebron Jews start acting like brutes, (as they often do now, while being guarded by the IDF,) consequences would follow.
Don’t get me wrong, I think this idea is pragmatically impossible. Both the Israelis and Palestinians violate so many preconditions for EU membership that it would take decades of cultural, legal, human rights, security, economic and religious reform to even get close to consideration. Additionally, let us not forget the experience of Turkey’s drawn-out and doomed application for membership in the EU. It is seldom said openly but widely understood that the EU is not interested in inviting a non-white, Muslim country into its pale-faced ,Christian union.
However, there are some attractive benefits of such a union. Firstly, it would solve the power imbalance that will continue to exist between Israel and Palestine even if a two-state solution is realized. Secondly, as Ben-Ami points out, what Iranian regime would even think of threatening an EU member-state. Thirdly, the economic opportunities and currency stability that come with EU membership are by themselves, meaningful enough reasons to make any country want to join.
There is one factor that Ben-Ami does not touch on: The European Union is based on stability. There is no way that the EU would even consider inviting two countries still embroiled in a 40-year violent conflict to join its peaceful union. A two-state solution and its peaceful sustainability would need to be accomplished long before consideration could take place.
Joining the EU is a great idea for both Israel and Palestine, it would solve innumerable problems. It is not, however, a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nevertheless, this kind of out-of-the-box thinking allows us to view our problems and possible solutions to them in a different light, giving us more hope for resolution and more tools to accomplish our goals.