One state, two state, three state, four – Part III
This is the third and final part of a three-part series exploring alternatives to the two-state solution in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Part one examined attitudes and approaches to the one-state solution. Part two looked at the option of an Israeli-Palestinian federation.
Prospects for a two-state resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict have dimmed in recent months and years. Over 60 percent of both Palestinians and Israelis think it is unlikely a Palestinian state will be created in the coming years, according to a recent poll. An equally large majority on both sides opposes accepting the other’s conditions for returning to negotiations toward that goal. Frustrated that interim stages have become a permanent status quo and lamenting the lack of any process, Oslo peace process architects Yossi Beilin and Ahmed Qurei, have both recently called for the dismantling of their design.
Meanwhile, the one-state solution is cast as the only alternative, one that negates both current Zionist political thought and the goals of the Palestinian national movement. Other alternatives are rarely discussed, even as the conflict appears increasingly intractable.
Alternatives to the two-state solution, like the Oslo process itself and any other model for conflict resolution, need not be accepted as absolute prescriptions. Although not necessarily viable, the model outlined below, “parallel states,” offers new ideas for resolving the conflict that can be mined and applied in other ways to advance the all-but-dead peace process. Its radical and creative approach can be valuable in helping to reimagine certain fundamentaly flawed approaches of the two-state solution that have contributed to and perpetuated its failure.
The parallel states model is actually easier conceptualized as overlapping or superimposed states. Its basic idea is that two states, Israel and Palestine, can exist not side-by-side with territorial and demographic boundaries between them, but rather in the same land.
As described by the Parallel States Project:
Can one imagine a scenario with a two state solution, one Israeli state and one Palestinian state in parallel, each for the whole area and with civil rights to all, Israelis and Palestinians, built upon existing political, economic and physical structures? Such a scenario would mean a decoupling of the exclusive link between state and territory, and the notion of two state structures parallel with each other, or “superimposed” upon each other. Both state structures would cover the whole area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.
The people in the whole area would be able to choose freely which state to belong to and at the same time have the right – at least in principle – to settle in the whole territory. Citizenship would be the result of the individual’s free choice and thus follow the citizen, not the territory.
The concept addresses some of the deepest pitfalls of the Oslo-conceptualization of a two-state solution: Both Israelis and Palestinians claim and want more territory than can be divided in such a small land, and; both demand the right to live in territories that would fall on the other side of the border in a two-state solution.
By removing the traditional territorial boundaries encompassed in the modern concept of state sovereignty, those issues become much smaller, all the while satisfying both Israelis’ and Palestinians’ deeply invested desire in the quest for national self-determination, albeit in an alternative and less exclusive manifestation.
Citizens can choose to be citizens in the state they feel most associated with and represented by, which would carry separate national symbols and identities. Reality on the ground would be much closer to a one-state solution.
Palestinians could live in Israel proper and Jews would be allowed to live in the West Bank. As citizenship is decoupled from territory, the idea of demographics threats to a state whose character is defined by the religion and ethnicity of the majority of its population can be cast aside: The increasingly difficult prospect in Israel of balancing “Jewish and democratic” would become irrelevant.
Some areas of governance not necessarily linked to geographic control could be placed under the separate jurisdictions of respective Palestinian and Israeli states, including overseas diplomatic representation and some areas of civil and family law. Other areas of governance, such as security, infrastructure, policing and taxation would be conducted jointly.
Admittedly, the idea is far fetched and has more problems than can be touched upon in such a topical examination. But by reimagining the model for post-conflict coexistence, new ideas for resolving the conflict can be gleaned.
After nearly 20 years of failed attempts at finding and implementing various models for a two-state solution, there can be no harm in examining other, new and even admittedly unviable alternatives. Although its advocates will continue pushing to advance the two-state solution with hopeful stubbornness, one must also recall a quote often attributed to Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.”