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A Federation in Israel/Palestine – Addressing the One-State Reality

The only Israelis’ and Palestinians’ peace, the two-state solution, is losing favor. “one-state reality” is an option. How does it look?

One-State Reality (screen capture: YouTube)

by Emanuel Shahaf

Israel is undergoing considerable turmoil as resistance grows against the government’s efforts to change the liberal democratic system into a more authoritarian one. This impending autocratic shift is cause for concern as it threatens the democratic principles and values that have been a bedrock of the country since its establishment.  Moreover, amidst this internal struggle, there is a lack of acknowledgment of the urgent need to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which continues to simmer and fuel tension in the region.

However, the present crisis can also be an opportunity for a paradigm shift, forcing both Israelis and Palestinians to address the fundamental issue of their intertwined destinies. The notion of a two-state solution, long believed to be the only viable option for peace, faces growing skepticism and resistance. Reality on the ground points towards an increasingly entrenched “one-state reality.” In light of this, a different approach is required – a federation between Israel and Palestine.

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Resistance to Authoritarianism

In recent years, Israel has witnessed noticeable attempts to gather public support for a style of governance less inhibited by independent judicial review, almost the single element of what in most democracies would be only one part of a system of checks and balances to prevent governmental overreach. Ever since PM Netanyahu has become an object of police investigations and has been indicted, members of his government and he himself have systematically derided the legal system and undermined public trust in an independent judicial branch, raising considerable concerns among citizens and the international community. These developments threaten to erode the democratic values and institutions that have been the foundation of Israel’s identity.

Civil society, opposition parties and IDF reservists serving in elite units have recently been energized by the government’s urgency to pass legislation that would clearly enable executive branch overreach. Hitting the streets in crowds of hundreds of thousands, they are pushing back against these attempts to concentrate power, recognizing the importance of preserving democratic norms and protecting individual liberties. They argue that a strong democracy is crucial not only for Israel’s domestic well-being but also for maintaining its economic prosperity, its international standing and security partnerships.

Amidst the turmoil, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains unresolved and there seems to be a lack of political will to tackle this longstanding issue. Despite sporadic attempts at peace negotiations, the current focus on internal matters and an unhealthy dose of denial has relegated the conflict to a secondary concern. However, the present crisis should be used as an opportunity to reevaluate traditional paradigms of conflict resolution and explore alternative pathways to an arrangement.

The One-State Reality: the Inevitable

The article presents a compelling argument that the two state solution, long seen as the most feasible path to peace, is becoming increasingly untenable. The expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, ongoing de-facto economic unification, the entrenchment of Hamas in Gaza and political and demographic realities have all contributed to the creation of a de-facto one-state reality.

In this one-state reality, Israel and Palestine share the same geographic space and sovereignty but remain divided along ethnic and national lines with distinct sets of laws, governance structures and institutions. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza (non-citizens) are governed by different political entities while those within Israel (citizens) continue to face challenges concerning their civil rights and integration into society. This fragmented reality leads to mutual mistrust, perpetuates violence and exacerbates the conflict.

Recognizing the one-state reality allows for a shift in focus. Instead of clinging to the idea of an unattainable two-state solution, attention can be redirected towards creating a shared future for Israelis and Palestinians that guarantees their rights, security and self-determination.

The 30 cantons of the federal government
The 30 cantons of the federal government

Federating Israel and Palestine – A New Path to a Shared Future

An article published in the Times Of Israel suggests an innovative approach to address the one-state reality in Israel-Palestine. This approach admittedly was proposed already in the 30ties and 40ties of the previous century by Zionist luminaries that included Chaim Weizman, Berl Katzenelson, Zeev Jabotinsky, and David Ben Gurion before, in the wake of the holocaust, a Jewish majority state became an option. The proposal advocates for creating a federation that allows Israelis and Palestinians to retain their national identities and autonomy while collaborating in areas of mutual interest.

Israel is already the de-facto sovereign in the whole area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Certain areas are under control of the Palestinian Authority, the settlers, the IDF, of course the Israeli Government and Hamas in Gaza. The key is to reorganize this partially controlled mess in a way it can become a functioning federation or a hybrid structure (Gaza separate), roughly in line with guidelines set by the Cohen Commission convened by the Israeli Ministry of the Interior in 2021 to propose regionalizing Israel (within the Green Line) and establish 20 provinces which would have the autonomy to run themselves. While not quite a federation (the Cohen report was careful not to mention the word) it clearly points in that direction, in order to disperse the immense amount of power, both economic and governmental presently concentrated in the hands of Israel’s central government.

We are talking about a modified one-state formula, a Jewish-Palestinian federation in Israel that incorporates the West Bank. This approach would enable the integration of all residents, regardless of ethnic or religious backgrounds, into the federated State of Israel while protecting and respecting cultural and religious freedoms for all who live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

The Gaza Strip would remain separate to make this approach politically implementable in Israel. It would be given all the support necessary, including a port, an airport, and border passage arrangements to develop and prosper as an independent Palestinian city-state that could eventually join the Federation as a canton or in a confederative arrangement as a sovereign state.

Based on the Swiss model, the federation would include 30 autonomously governed regions (cantons) that send elected representatives to the federal government in Jerusalem. The federal government would operate based on a secular Federal Constitution defining the cantons’ autonomy and protecting all citizens’ civil and political rights. Twenty of the cantons (blue and gold) would have a Jewish majority, ten (green and purple) would have a non-Jewish majority thus reflecting the roughly 65% – 35% population ratio in the extended Israel. The nationality of all citizens in the Federation would be Israeli.

Israel would remain a Jewish state by virtue of Jews being the majority and keep its name and symbols. Each canton would have the right to express the unique national, religious or cultural characteristics of the majority population as reflected in the desires expressed in free elections, limited only by the jointly written Federal Constitution. The establishment of an upper house in the Knesset and a double majority clause would prevent changes to the system of government unless sanctioned by a demographic majority and a majority of the cantons.

The Federal State of Israel would be bi-lingual. Still, other than that and a basic civics curriculum, the individual cantons would be free to determine education and other responsibilities of local government, just as these are dealt with in 27 other federations, including the United States, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, and Austria.

The proposal aims to create a state of all citizens with a civil state identity while maintaining expression of ethno-religious nationalities in the regional cantons. Immigration policies could be normalized over time, permitting anyone with roots in the area to apply for citizenship and maintaining a demographic balance by using a quota system, as long as this would be relevant.

While not an easy sell, a serious, well-funded campaign would make this approach palatable politically among both the Jewish and the non-Jewish population, keeping in mind that it could be implemented unilaterally by Israel, even if that is clearly not desirable. The lack of viable alternatives makes the federation an even more interesting proposition.

A federation is certainly a worthy vision for Israel in the new millennium. In terms of both Jewish and universal values, it would go a long way to bring the state back in line with what its founders likely had in mind and expressed in Israel’s Declaration of Independence according to which “the state of Israel will promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; will be based on precepts of liberty, justice, and peace taught by the Hebrew prophets; will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens without distinction of race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education, and culture; will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of shrines and holy places of all religions; and will dedicate itself to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

The author Emanuel Shahaf, served in the Prime Minister’s Office as a member of the intelligence community, is Vice Chairman of the Israel-Indonesia Chamber of Commerce, Vice-Chairman of the Israeli-German Society (IDG), Co-Chair of the Federation Movement, member of the council at and author of “Identity: The Quest for Israel’s Future.”



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