The Palestinians and the Israelis seem to agree on one thing: that the other is at fault. Each side, either explicitly or implicitly, wants recognition by the other that they are innocent victims, that the other side is wrong or has acted unfairly or unjustly, and demands that the other relinquish crucial aspects of its identity.
Concentrating on a pragmatic approach that will benefit both peoples, yet not impinge on the sovereignty of either the Jewish State or its Palestinian counterpart, may lay the groundwork for peace, by focusing on joint decision-making on issues that are not politically overheated.
The Israel Palestinian Confederation (IPC) believes that one possible solution involves electing a confederation government comprised of Israelis (both Jewish and Arab) and Palestinians.
Approximately 11.5 million people live in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, of whom six million are Jews and five and a half 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 their 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 yes vote by 55% of the Israeli and 55% of the Palestinian Parliament members. The separate Israeli and Palestinian governments will be given a veto power.
This supermajority voting requirement coupled with protections for the minority, as well as 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. This election is now scheduled to take place on December 12, 2012. At present time there are already 312 candidates running for parliament and for president.
Direct representation elections for Gaza, Israel, and the West Bank are 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 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 nations as entities 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 our UCLA symposium which took place on February 26, 2006, Alan Dershowitz, an outspoken advocate of Israel’s right to defend itself, expressed his opinion on the subject, surprising many guests with general approval for 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.”
Mr. 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 Clinton, in a personal letter to this writer, was very encouraging to continue with the Confederation idea, perhaps reflecting on his own experience with Barak and Arafat.
Other Confederations: 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 conducts 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, 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 US 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 congressional representatives, 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.
Legislative Powers: An Israeli-Palestinian Confederation would pass legislation on many issues which are unlikely to pass by each government independently. For example, a confederation government could pass legislation to borrow 10 billion dollars from Arab and other countries, to construct utility and transportation grids extending from Haifa to the West Banks 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 Palestinian 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 of the Jewish state? What if Arabs become a majority? Answer: 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 Germans and the French, for example.
It is predicted that the Muslim population in the region will outnumber the Jewish population sometime in the future. When this occurs, it will not be because of a confederation. 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 55 percent of the Israelis and 55 percent of the Palestinians to accept the legislation, while the Israeli and Palestinian Governments will maintain their veto power.
A confederation government will be an independent entity common to both Israelis and Palestinians. It will utilize a dimension which has been clearly neglected in the conflict. It will develop and independent and flexible tract to achieve peace.
Up to now, the conflict was viewed strictly in terms of land. Peace discussion 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 made 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 address the daily lives of the Israeli and Palestinian people. Each representative to the confederation will mostly focus on benefiting his constituents from his own district. This new mechanism of passing legislation is likely to encourage agreements between representatives based on the interests of their constituents. Israeli and Palestinians representatives would find themselves on the same sides of issues.
The Palestinian and Israeli governments who ultimately will posses the veto power would watch for the national interest of their people. They will be justified in exercising there veto power when a significant national interest is threatened. However, they may face national and international pressure if they attempt to veto reasonable legislation.
For more information about the elections and to see the candidates or read the Constitution go to ipconfederation.org.
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Josef Avesar is an Israel-born attorney who practices law in California and the President of the Founding Committee to promote the elections for an Israeli Palestinian Confederation.