Why Not a Joint Israeli-Palestinian Democratic State?
by Jerome F. Winzig
The perennial negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians cannot be resolved without a new approach. High-powered American intervention, even when accompanied by offers of massive subsidies to both sides, cannot solve the problem. The Israelis and the Palestinians lay claim to the same land. Both parties attach religious significance to parts or all of that land. Jerusalem, with religious shrines that are important to Jews, Moslems, and Christians, is an especially difficult obstacle to peace and coexistence.
The recent proposal to declare God as the sovereign of all of Jerusalem's religious locations offers some hope, because it reminds everyone involved just whose land it really is. In spite of this reminder, however, neither party is willing to give up its claims of secular sovereignty to the rest of what some call Israel and others call Palestine. And they both want Jerusalem as their capital city. This issue of sovereignty is key to any Middle East peace settlement, and drawing new boundaries or creating new partitions cannot solve the problem.
However, there is a more radical solution that never gets discussed. That solution would be for the Israelis and the Palestinians to form a new Israeli-Palestinian nation founded on democratic principles and dedicated to sharing power among all of the inhabitants of Israel/Palestine. This solution would require enormous sacrifices on both sides. But because those sacrifices would be equitable, it also offers the possibility of long-term peace.
There would obviously be significant opposition to this idea. First of all, many Israelis and Palestinians would denounce such a proposal as coming from an outsider who could not understand their viewpoints. However, the United States is not a disinterested bystander to the Middle East conflict. Each year the United States provides several billion dollars in foreign aid and other assistance to Israel and to Egypt, and to other countries in the region.
Many in Israel would find the idea of an Israeli-Palestinian state appalling. It would require abandoning the concept of a Jewish state. It would call into question immigration policies that encourage Jews from all over the world to immigrate to Israel. In a country where the answer to the question "Who is a Jew?" has secular citizenship repercussions, it would change the tone of religious discussions between branches of Judaism.
Many Palestinians would also find the idea of an Israeli-Palestinian state difficult to consider. Palestinians determined to evict those whom they regard as intruders would find co-existence difficult. Moslems and Christians would have to learn how to share holy sites with Jewish believers. Extremist groups such as Hamas would not readily abandon their terrorist ways. And there would be difficult questions about resolving the Palestinian refugee question.
The creation of a broad-based democratic state would also mean changes for both sides. While Israel justly deserves congratulations for having created a democracy, that democracy has significant flaws that need correction. Israel's economy is heavily controlled by the government and is overly dependent on foreign aid. Laws are skewed in favor of those who are Jewish, making it possible for Jewish settlers to take land and homes from long-time Palestinian inhabitants.
On the Palestinian side, Yasser Arafat, a non-elected leader who is accountable to no one, could not accept democracy. His Palestinian Authority has already acquired a reputation for imprisoning dissenters, running a corrupt police force, and rewarding cronies with government funds and perks.
So why even consider a solution that both sides would consider outrageous? For four reasons. First, an Israeli-Palestinian state would offer the possibility of long-term peace by eliminating the battle over the same piece of turf. Second, a democratic solution would allow both Israelis and Palestinians to live on the same land. Third, both Israelis and Palestinians would be able to claim Jerusalem as their capital city. Fourth, a free market economy would open up desperately needed new opportunities and offer prosperity for all Israelis and Palestinians.
The last point is no small matter. Israel's state-dominated economy is heavily dependent on massive U.S. subsidies that accomplish little more than preserving the status quo. On the other hand, many Palestinians, particularly those living in refugee camps, lead desperately poor lives. An Israeli-Palestinian democratic state could provide a free market economy that would improve the daily lives of both Israelis and Palestinians.
It's a solution worth considering.