In such a situation, the best solution is to concentrate on a pragmatic approach that will benefit both peoples, yet not impinge on the sovereignty of either the Jewish state or its Palestinian counterpart. Such an approach may lay the groundwork for peace, by focusing on joint decision making on non-politically charged issues.
For some time now, the Israel-Palestinian Confederation (IPC) has pursued this option. It believes that one possible solution involves electing a confederation government comprised of Israelis (both Jewish and Arab) and Palestinians. How exactly would such a confederation work? Approximately 10 million people live in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza: 6 million are Jews, and 4 million are Arabs. Dividing the entire region into 300 districts apportioned by population should result in a legislature divided approximately 60/40 in favor of the Israelis. However, if the relative birth rates of Palestinians to Israelis maintain its current ratio, in the not too distant future, Palestinians will outnumber Israelis.
The legislature will tackle issues that the Israeli and Palestinian governments, for internal political reasons, find difficult to address. The legislature will also deal with the day-to-day quality of life issues where cooperation is required including, but certainly not limited to, locating public facilities such as water lines, highways, schools and hospitals.
To encourage consensus and to prevent the majority from riding roughshod over the minority, confederation legislation requires a supermajority of 60 percent of the 300 delegates and at least 25 percent of the minority on any given vote. The Israeli and Palestinian governments will be given a veto power. To illustrate this point: in a 300-seat legislature, 180 votes are necessary to pass anything. However, if the balance between Israelis and Palestinians is 180 Israelis and 120 Palestinians, if Israeli sponsored legislation is enacted, it would require that of the 180 votes at least 30 came from Palestinians.
This supermajority voting requirement coupled with protections for the minority as well a veto power for the Israeli and Palestinian governments will foster cooperation, since any legislation promoting the national aspirations of one side at the expense of the other will easily be blocked. As a consequence, the representatives will concentrate on initiatives that improve their constituents' lives.
The IPC believes that confederation legislation reached by consensus will discourage the governments from exercising their vetoes. If legislation has wide popular support among the two peoples, it may be untenable for the one government to veto the legislation without undermining its own legitimacy.
In this sense, a confederation will serve as a bridge between the Palestinian and Israeli governments Because neither the Israeli government nor the Palestinian Authority is likely to willingly relinquish its monopoly on governance, initially, the Israeli-Palestinian Confederation will have to hold a private election. This also will establish the independence of the body showing that it is not a tool of either the Israelis or the Palestinians.
Direct representation elections for Gaza, Israel and the West Bank is nothing new. Israel has been a functioning parliamentary democracy throughout its existence, and the recent Palestinian elections have been recognized as honest, open and free.
The 300 representatives will not be targets for an extreme or violent group, because members of those groups are motivated by antagonism against their own or the other's government. These elements believe they can derail the peace process by forcing their respective governments to act aggressively toward the other. A confederation legislature comprised of representatives who do not represent the entire nation will not be considered a threat and any attack on it will not lead to the desired reaction of causing the Israeli or Palestinian governments to lash out.
While there is now no mechanism for the Palestinians and Israelis to solve daily and long term issues for the benefit of both sides, and there are no rules to resolve conflicts when they erupt, the confederation, once effective in demonstrating that Israelis and Palestinians can govern together, will become the de facto authority to establish rules to settle issues, solve problems, and enhance working and living relations between and among the peoples of the region. At a UCLA symposium held Feb. 26, 2006, Alan Dershowitz surprised many guests with a general approval of a, "Loose confederation, based on the kind that now exists in parts of Europe with economic and other forms of cooperation involving natural resources and water."
Dershowitz stated that "The Confederation idea is worthy of consideration as long as it does not mean a one state solution."
He went on to say, "any kind of a Confederation would require that Israel retains its sovereignty, its ability to defend itself, its ability to reflect Jewish culture and history."
Former President Bill Clinton in a personal letter to this writer was very encouraging of the Confederation idea, perhaps reflecting on his own experience with Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat, The European Union is a multinational union of independent states. It is an intergovernmental union of 25 states, each maintaining its own government and identity. Ever since its establishment in 1992 the EU conduct an election every five years for the Common European Parliament. The EU manages to maintain a separate common government for all of the 25 states but yet each one of them has its own separate government.
Switzerland has two chambers in the Legislative Branch. The National Council representing the people and the Council of States representing the cantons.
The Swiss National Council has 200 seats with each canton contributing representatives in proportion to its size. The Council of States has two members for each canton and one member for half canton. The Swiss system is meant to create a balance where the small cantons will be protected from the large.
Indeed, the United States and Canada have a similar formula which combines a federal government overlapping with separate state governments. Each of the 50 states has its own constitution and legislative body. However, each state sends two senators and a proportionate number of congressmen depending on its population size to a common federal government.
The idea of a confederation is widely accepted around the world. It is designed to achieve a mechanism of cooperation while preserving the identity and special needs of its states. An Israeli-Palestinian Confederation would pass legislation on many issues that are unlikely to pass by each government independently. For example, a confederation government could pass legislation to borrow $10 billion from Arab and other countries to construct utility and transportation grids extending from Haifa to the West Bank to Jerusalem and Gaza. Such a project could substantially increase the economy of both the Israelis and Palestinians. It is unlikely that the Israeli or Palestinian governments would veto such legislation given the potential benefits to their people.
Common legislation could pass to enhance the life of the Israeli and Palestinians people in many areas including Roads Natural resources Tourism and Security. A confederation government would act as a mediator between the Palestinian and Israeli governments.
Would a confederation pose a threat to the existence of the future Jewish State? What if Arabs become a majority? The Confederation is not a one-state solution. The Israeli government and the Palestinian government remain sovereign and independent of each other. The division of land between the Israeli and Palestinian States will remain subject to negotiations between the two governments.
A confederation is not tied to the ultimate outcome of such negotiations. A confederation is necessary whether the Israelis and Palestinian agree on the division of land or not. A confederation is a third government designed to enhance the life of the Palestinians and Israelis much like the European government is designed to enhance the life of the German and the French.
It is predicted that the Muslim population in the region will outnumber the Jewish population at some time in the future. Palestinians will outnumber the Israelis with or without a confederation. Even assuming that in 50 years the Israelis will be a minority, under the constellation suggested in this article they will be protected, since legislation will require 25 percent of the minority to accept the legislation and the Israeli government will maintain its veto power. However, Israelis must act now to extend the same courtesy to the Palestinians, since it is unlikely that Palestinians will agree to extend a veto power to the Israelis if the Israelis did not allow them the same power when the Palestinians were in the minority.
A confederation government utilizes a second dimension to the conflict that has been clearly neglected. Up until now, the conflict was viewed strictly in terms of land. All peace discussions focused mostly on the divisions of land between the Palestinians and Israeli governments. This approach ultimately failed, mainly since the governments were too weak and the area is too small. The combination of shared holy places and natural resources in this tiny area makes a resolution almost impossible. The confederation government will approach the issues on the basis of People -- not strictly on the division of land. It will manage the daily life of the Israeli and Palestinian People and will create a mechanism to deal with each others daily and economic life. Each representative to the Confederation will mostly focus on benefiting his constitutes from his own district and not the National aspiration of his country. This new mechanism of passing legislation is likely to encourage agreements between representatives based on the interest of their constituents. Israeli and Palestinians representatives would find themselves on the same side of an issue. The Palestinian and Israeli governments that ultimately will posses the veto power would watch for the national interest of their people. They will be justified in exercising their veto power when a significant national interest is threatened. However they may face national and international pressure if they attempt to veto reasonable legislation.
An Israeli-Palestinian Confederation is an idea whose time has come.
On Sunday Nov. 12, The Israeli-Palestinian Confederation will have a symposium to examine the ideas presented in this article. The speakers will include Ian Masters, professor Benjamin R. Barber, Col. Uri Dromi, professor Norman G. Finkelstein , professor Mark LeVine, Ambassador Edward L. Peck and Sami Mashney.
Israeli-born Josef Avesar practices law in Encino and is founder of the Israeli-Palestinian Confederation.