The atrocities committed during the Hamas terrorist operation, and the ongoing Israeli response in the Gaza Strip, raise once again the question of political solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the role that other countries can play in trying to promote constructive developments. Can we still believe in the two-state solution, rendered obsolete in the view of many by the extent of the settlements on the one hand, but also, on the other, by a desire to deny the very existence of Israel and to eliminate its citizens, which has just taken on its most barbaric form with the killings and hostage-takings of the last few days? Can we still dream of a bi-national state, or is it not time to imagine an original form of confederal structure enabling two sovereign states to one day
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The atrocities committed during the Hamas terrorist operation, and the ongoing Israeli response in the Gaza Strip, raise once again the question of political solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the role that other countries can play in trying to promote constructive developments. Can we still believe in the two-state solution, rendered obsolete in the view of many by the extent of the settlements on the one hand, but also, on the other, by a desire to deny the very existence of Israel and to eliminate its citizens, which has just taken on its most barbaric form with the killings and hostage-takings of the last few days?
Can we still dream of a bi-national state, or is it not time to imagine an original form of confederal structure enabling two sovereign states to one day live in harmony? Such a solution is being mooted more and more often by citizens’ movements bringing together Israelis and Palestinians, such as the « A Land for All: Two States, One Homeland » coalition, which has developed innovative and detailed proposals. Too often ignored abroad, these debates deserve to be followed closely.
The Palestinian territories currently have a population of around 5.5 million, including 3.3 million in the West Bank and 2.2 million in Gaza. Israel has a population of just over 9 million, including around 7 million Jewish citizens and 2 million Israeli Arabs. In total, Israel-Palestine has a population of over 14 million, about half of whom are Jews and half Muslims (as well as a small minority of Christians: around 200,000). This is the starting point for the « A Land for All » movement. The two communities are roughly the same size, and each has historical, family and emotional reasons for considering the land of Israel-Palestine as its own, the land of its hopes and dreams, beyond the arbitrary and tangled borders bequeathed by the military scarring of the past. Ideally, we would like to imagine a truly bi-national and universalist state, one day bringing together these 14 million inhabitants and granting everyone the same political, social and economic rights, regardless of their origins, beliefs or religious practices. But before we get there, a long road will have to be travelled to re-establish trust, in the hope that the abject strategy of the terrorists has not destroyed this possibility.
The « A Land for All » coalition initially proposes the coexistence of two states: the current Israeli state and a Palestinian state taking over from the Palestinian Authority established in 1994. The latter, already recognised as a state with observer status at the United Nations since 2012, would exercise full sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza. What is new is that the two states would be linked by a federal structure guaranteeing freedom of movement and settlement between the two states, similar to the rules applied in the European Union. For example, current Israeli settlers would be able to continue to live and settle in the West Bank, on condition that they respect Palestinian laws, which means that the summary expropriations of Palestinian land carried out over the last few decades would have to stop. Similarly, Palestinians would be free to come to work and settle in Israel, provided they respected the rules in force. In both cases, those choosing to reside in the other state would have the right to vote in local elections.
The authors of the proposal make no secret of the difficulties involved, while showing how they can be overcome. In particular, they explicitly draw inspiration from the European Union, which since 1945 has enabled a century of war and bloodshed between France and Germany to be brought to an end through law and democracy. They also mention the complex case of the Bosnian federation established in 1995. The « A Land for All » coalition also stresses the key role of socio-economic development and the reduction of territorial inequalities. The average salary in Gaza is less than 500 euros, compared with more than 3,000 euros in Israel. The federal entity uniting the two states will have to lay down common rules on labour law, water sharing and the funding of public, educational and health infrastructure.
Is there any chance of this happening? That will depend above all on the Israelis and the Palestinians. Having often relied on Hamas in the past to divide and discredit the Palestinians, the Israeli right now seems determined to destroy the terrorist organisation. But after that it will not be content to close the lid on the Palestinian territories. It will have to find interlocutors and relaunch a political process.
This is where the rest of the world has a role to play, particularly Europe, which absorbs almost 35% of Israeli exports (compared with 30% for the United States). It is time for the EU to use its trade weapon and make it clear that it will offer rules that are more favourable to a government moving towards a political solution than to a regime playing the decay card. By guaranteeing the Israeli right the same trade rules whatever it does, turning a blind eye to violations of international law and favouring short-term financial interests, the EU has helped to weaken the Israeli left. Yet there is a lively and innovative left in Israel, as in Palestine, particularly among young people. These young people have often found themselves alone in the face of the indifference of governments in both the North and the South, who have made pacts with an increasingly nationalistic and cynical Israeli right. It is now high time to support the side of peace and penalise the side of war.