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  • Alon Ben-Meir 

    The following is a brief synopsis of a major peace proposal that would bring about an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under the framework of an Israeli-Palestinian- Jordanian confederation. The entire proposal was recently published online by World Affairs and it will be available in print in the second week of March.


    After 73 years of conflict, regardless of the many changes on the ground, the political wind that swept the Middle East, and the intermittent violence between Israel and the Palestinians, I maintain that the Palestinians will not give up on their aspiration for statehood. Ultimately a two-state solution remains the only viable option to end their conflict.

    The difference however between the framework for peace that had been discussed in the 1990s and 2000s where the focus was on establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza versus the present time is that many new, irreversible facts have been created: in particular the interspersing of the Israeli and Palestinian populations in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Israel proper; the status of Jerusalem, where both sides have a unique religious affinity; the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the majority of which will have to remain in place; the intertwined national security concerns of Israelis and Palestinians; and the Palestinian refugees, who need to be resettled and/or compensated.

    This leads me to believe that independent Israeli and Palestinian states can peacefully coexist and be sustained only through the establishment of an Israeli-Palestinian confederation that would subsequently be joined by Jordan, which has an intrinsic national interest in the solution of all conflicting issues between Israel and the Palestinians. To that end, all sides will have to fully and permanently collaborate on many levels necessitated by the above changing conditions on the ground, most of which can no longer be restored to the status quo ante.

    There are two critical truths that provide the rationale behind this proposal. First, contrary to the views held by successive Israeli governments, including the Bennett government, the current conditions are not sustainable and could only make the conflict increasingly intractable and potentially explosive, with diminishing returns for both sides. Second, the US, the EU, and the Arab states feel that the continuing conflict fuels extremism, destabilizes the region, and allows outside powers such as Iran and extremist groups to exploit the situation, all of which gravely undermines their geostrategic interests.

    No agreement on the establishment of a confederation, however, can be achieved and sustained unless it is preceded by a process of reconciliation of 5-7 years. All three sides need to agree from the onset that such a process will ultimately lead to the establishment of an Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian confederation. This proposal rests on six central pillars that make a confederation the only practical option to achieve permanent peace and security.

    Interspersed populations
    The fact that the Israelis and Palestinians are interspersed and anchored in their current places of residence makes it simply impossible to physically separate them. There are an estimated 2.77 million Palestinians and 400,000 Israelis in the West Bank, and in East Jerusalem, there are nearly 330,000 Palestinians and 215,000 Israelis who mostly live in the post-1967 Jewish neighborhoods surrounding East Jerusalem.

    Under no circumstances will any current or future Israeli government evacuate a significant number of settlements. The majority of settlers (more than 80 percent), especially along the 1967 border, and the Israelis and Palestinians who live in Jerusalem both east and west, will stay in place. The interspersed population will remain a permanent factor, and only in the context of a confederation can Israel and the Palestinians maintain their independence, albeit each side will have a minority of the other residing in each other’s territory, either as full-fledged citizens or permanent residents.

    Jerusalem
    There will be no Israeli-Palestinian peace unless East Jerusalem becomes the capital of a Palestinian state. Given the uniqueness of the city, only full collaboration between Israel, Palestine, and Jordan under the umbrella of confederation will provide a permanent peaceful solution. There are three reasons to support this argument: First, Jerusalem is home to the Jews’ holiest shrine, the Western Wall (the outer wall of the Second Temple), the third-holiest Muslim shrines, the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock (Haram al-Sharif), and the holiest sites in Christianity within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Under no circumstances will either the Palestinians, Israel, or Jordan allow any physical change that will alter the current status quo.

    Second, the city’s infrastructure and services—roads, electrical grid, communications, and maintenance—are all fully integrated. There is simply no way that these services and the interconnectedness between the East and West sides can be altered in any significant way. Third, East Jerusalem houses the largest mixed Jewish-Arab community anywhere in the world, with roughly 330,000 Arabs and 215,000 Israelis. Neither side expects that to change under any peace agreement. As such, full collaboration between all parties become a must, and only under the umbrella of confederation will this become possible.

    Borders
    The final borders will be determined by mutual agreement based on the disposition of the settlements, the extent of the land swaps to compensate for the settlements that will remain beyond the Green Line (June 4th, 1967, borders), and the political line that will be established between East and West Jerusalem.

    Security
    For obvious reasons, Israel’s national security and the Palestinians’ sense of insecurity are sources of great concern to each side. Therefore, security collaboration is central to any peace agreement. Even now, there is extensive security collaboration between Israel and the Palestinian Authority as well as very close security collaboration between Israel and Jordan. All three entities seek to further buttress their national security which are interlinked and can be best achieved under the canopy of a confederation.

    Under the framework of a confederation, the contours of the final borders will be established after a few years of reconciliation, be political, and appear on maps only. The time span of the transition from hard to soft borders will depend on the prospective interactions between the two sides on many levels, especially security, and including commercial ties, economic developments, tourism, and the nurturing of trust, which is at the heart of the process of reconciliation.

    Palestinian refugees
    Although the solution to the Palestinian refugee issue is not directly related to the confederation, there will be no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict until this troublesome issue is settled with definitive efficacy and execution. The solution to the refugee issue rests then, as it always has, on compensation and/or resettlement, mostly in the West Bank, and offering compensation for those who do not choose to relocate, be they in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, or beyond.

    In all previous negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, the latter agreed that the solution to the Palestinian refugee issue rest on resettlements and/or compensation, and that only a relatively small number of refugees would be able to return to Israel proper under family reunification. Under the framework of a confederation, the refugee problem will come to a proper and speedy resolution.

    Process of reconciliation
    Given the fact that Israelis and Palestinians have been estranged from one another, especially since the Second Intifada in 2000, and are profoundly distrustful of one another, a process of reconciliation must precede the negotiations, provided that the end game (the establishment of a confederation) is agreed upon in advance. The process of reconciliation consists of multiple government-to-government and people-to-people confidence-building measures that are central to gradually mitigate the deep animosity and distrust between the two sides over time, which cannot simply be negotiated at the negotiating table.

    The establishment of a confederation will allow the parties to realize and sustain their national aspirations. Israel will be able to secure its democracy and its Jewish national identity, the Palestinians will fulfill their aspiration for statehood, and Jordan will maintain its independence and further enhance its national security. Under such conditions of peace, all three states will grow and prosper together, and create a broader regional peace.

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    Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a retired professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He taught courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies for over 20 years.

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