Israeli and Palestinian representatives propose 2-state confederation to work on peace efforts

Israeli security forces deploy as Palestinians plant olive trees on their land with the help of Israeli peace activists. (Photo by JAAFAR ASHTIYEH/AFP via Getty Images)

Israeli and Palestinian public figures have crafted a new proposal for a two-state confederation that they hope will offer a way forward after a decade-long stalemate in Middle East peace efforts.

The plan includes several controversial proposals, and it is unclear whether it has the support of leaders on either side. But it could help shape conflict debate and will be presented to a senior US official and the UN Secretary General this week.

The plan calls for an independent state of Palestine in most of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, territories seized by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war. Israel and Palestine would have separate governments but would coordinate at a very high level on security, infrastructure and other issues that affect the two populations.

The plan would allow the estimated 500,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank to remain there, with large settlements near the border annexed to Israel in a one-to-one land swap.

Settlers living deep inside the West Bank would have the option of relocating or becoming permanent residents in the State of Palestine. The same number of Palestinians – likely refugees from the 1948 war surrounding the establishment of Israel – would be allowed to settle in Israel as citizens of Palestine with permanent residence in Israel.

The initiative is largely based on the Geneva Accord, a detailed and comprehensive peace plan drawn up in 2003 by prominent Israelis and Palestinians, including former officials. The nearly 100-page confederation plan includes detailed new recommendations on how to address core issues.

Yossi Beilin, a former senior Israeli official and peace negotiator who co-founded the Geneva Initiative, said that by taking the mass evacuation of settlers off the table, the plan could be more favorable to them.

Israel’s political system is dominated by settlers and their supporters, who view the West Bank as the biblical and historical heartland of the Jewish people and an integral part of Israel.

Palestinians view settlements as the main obstacle to peace, and most of the international community views them as illegal. Settlers living deep in the West Bank – who would likely end up within the borders of a future Palestinian state – are among the most radical and tend to oppose any territorial partition.

“We believe that if there is no threat of clashes with the settlers, it would be much easier for those who want a two-state solution,” Beilin said. The idea has been discussed before, but he said a confederation would make it more “feasible”.

Many other sticking points remain, including security, freedom of movement and perhaps most critical after years of violence and failed negotiations, lack of trust.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry and the Palestinian Authority declined to comment.

The main Palestinian figure behind this initiative is Hiba Husseini, a former legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team since 1994, from a prominent Jerusalem family. Other contributors include Israeli and Palestinian professors and two retired Israeli generals.

Husseini acknowledged that the settler proposal is “highly controversial”, but said the overall plan would meet the fundamental Palestinian yearning for a state of their own.

“It’s not going to be easy,” she added. “To achieve statehood and to achieve the desired right of self-determination that we have been working on – since 1948, in fact – we have to compromise.”

Thorny issues such as conflicting claims to Jerusalem, final borders and the fate of Palestinian refugees might be easier to resolve by two states in the context of a confederation, rather than the traditional approach of trying to settle all details before a final agreement.

“We reverse the process and start with recognition,” Husseini said.

It has been nearly three decades since Israeli and Palestinian leaders met on the White House lawn to sign the Oslo Accords, launching the peace process.

Several rounds of talks over the years, punctuated by outbursts of violence, failed to yield a final agreement, and there have been no serious or substantive negotiations for more than a decade.

Israel’s current prime minister, Naftali Bennett, is a former settler leader opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who is expected to take over as prime minister in 2023 under a rotation deal, backs a possible two-state solution.

But neither is likely to launch major initiatives as they lead a narrow coalition spanning the political spectrum, from hardline nationalist factions to a small Arab party.

On the Palestinian side, President Mahmoud Abbas’ authority is confined to parts of the occupied West Bank, with the Islamic militant group Hamas – which does not accept Israel’s existence – in power in Gaza. Abbas’ presidential term expired in 2009 and his popularity has plummeted in recent years, meaning he is unlikely to be able to make historic compromises.

The idea of ​​the two-state solution was to give the Palestinians an independent state, while allowing Israel to exist as a democracy with a strong Jewish majority. Israel’s continued expansion of settlements, the absence of any peace process and repeated cycles of violence have, however, considerably complicated hopes of partitioning the territory.

The international community still sees a two-state solution as the only realistic way to resolve the conflict.
But the ground is changing, especially among young Palestinians, who increasingly see the conflict as a struggle for equal rights under what they – and three human rights groups eminent – ​​regard as an apartheid regime.

Israel vehemently rejects these allegations, considering them an anti-Semitic attack on its right to exist. Lapid suggested that reigniting a political process with the Palestinians would help Israel resist any attempts to label it an apartheid state in world forums.

Next week, Beilin and Husseini will present their plan to US Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Beilin says they have already shared projects with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

Beilin said he sent it to people he knew wouldn’t reject it out of hand. “No one rejected it. That doesn’t mean they’re adopting it.”

“I didn’t send it to Hamas,” he added jokingly. “I don’t know their address.”

Maria D. Ervin