Read part one of this series here

Many supporters of the two-state solution are apprehensive that its failure would eventually lead to one state, bringing to an end its Jewish character. However, there are several well-articulated alternatives that should be examined.

The two-state solution has faced a number of problems that appear to be becoming more and more insurmountable. The question of territory and geographic boundaries lies at the heart of many of those concerns. Israel’s continued settlement enterprise eats away at the territory slated for a future Palestinian state. Furthermore, much of mainstream Israeli thought says that withdrawing to the 1949 Armistice Lines (the Green Line) would leave Israel with “indefensible borders.”

Equally important is the question of whether an independent Palestinian state within the Green Line would actually be viable. The lack of territorial contiguity between the West Bank and Gaza Strip is highly problematic. While the most commonly accepted solution to territorial contiguity is an under- or above-ground safe passage between the two territories, that too is far from ideal and in many ways falls short of truly linking the two regions of a future Palestinian state.

For these and a number of other reasons, no matter what the territorial arrangements reached in negotiations resulting in a two-state solution, the borders will likely result in a situation where one party sacrifices far more than the other. In the modern nation-state model (based on Westphalian sovereignty), those boundaries define what a government controls, and are therefore of great importance.

One of the options being discussed as an alternative to the one-state and two-state solutions is confederation.

A federal model can mitigate much of the win-lose nature of sacrificing territory in order to reach the end goal of a resolution to the conflict, or as Israelis refer to it, the land-for-peace model.

In his paper on a federal option, Daniel J. Elazar writes:

“Although borders would be expected to remain open under a federal arrangement, they still must be agreed upon. In drawing the borders, someone wins and someone loses. Yet under a federal arrangement rights beyond the borders are designed to compensate for actual territorial loss.”

Most models for federation between Israel and Palestine acknowledge the intimate and geographically small nature of the land, while addressing the desire or need for national self-determination or self-rule for the different communities and ethnic groups.

Most viable models envision a number of administrative regions – cantons or larger units ranging in number from 3 to 12 – which are given a large measure of local rule while but are subordinate to a federal government whose jurisprudence is limited in scope to those areas of shared concern. The sovereign concept of territorial control is maintained, while removing the limitations of two separate states. Furthermore, the federal model addresses the interspersed Palestinian and Israeli populations and would obviate the need for further transfers or one becoming a demographic threat to the other.

Some examples of various types of federations are the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom.

The federal model also offers an interesting solution to the question of Jerusalem. Just as Washington DC is the seat of the American federal government and essentially an administrative district beyond state control of any of the states, so Jerusalem could serve such a function. If the holy city is put under the control of a joint Israeli-Palestinian federal government, it would inclusively satisfy both nations’ demands that it be their capital.

In the model propagated by the 1947 UN Partition plan and rehashed ever since, Jerusalem was slated to fall under the control of a third party. In the federal model, it would be jointly controlled by Palestinians and Israelis.

The federal model has many problems, perhaps the largest of which is that mutual consent and trust must precede its implementation. Another issue is the great disparity in economic might between Israeli and Palestinian populations as they are constituted today. A third question is who controls the military, its role and what restrictions are placed on it.

But while these unanswered questions can be used to discredit the viability of a federal solution to the conflict, it is important to note that any model, including the two-state solution, is burdened with hurdles that must be overcome.


This series will continue in several parts in the coming days and weeks, each examining creative and previously sidelined proposals that either reject or significantly modify the two-state model for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Among the ideas that will be explored are an Israeli-Palestinian confederation, models based on the European Union and rethinking the very concept of sovereignty. Stay tuned.

Follow Michael Omer-Man on Twitter: @ConflictedLand