Middle East 7
For an Israeli-Palestinian Federation
With Jerusalem As Its Federal Capital
The lack of a sufficient set of common goals with regard to future political structures has become abundantly clear with regard to the Middle East conflict. And the exaggerated emphasis on nation-state structures has made achieving any peace, not to mention a lasting and just peace, even more difficult.
The perpetuation of the two militantly antagonistic camps through the creation of two antagonistic nation-states in an area occupied on both sides of whatever dividing line by two peoples who both regard the land in its entirety as their ancient homeland would lead to the establishment of a hostile foreign entity in the eyes of a significant portion of both peoples and the creation of a new Jerusalem problem as a result of the division of the city common to both peoples. This would bring no real peace.
In contrast, there could hardly be a better demonstration of the advantages of an interethnic federalism than in the case of Israel and Palestine forming a (binational) Israeli-Palestinian federation or confederation or, even better, an Israeli-Palestinian federation in the form of a cantonization following the Swiss example (with cantons such as Gaza, Hebron, Ramallah, Nablus, Western Galilee with its original Arab majority and Jerusalem - the latter potentially as the half-cantons of East and West Jerusalem) as semi-sovereign member states with personal autonomy of regional minorities (in complement to the equalizing effect of a federal citizenship).
The historic example of the transformation of Switzerland into a federation, a political-legal union of states maintaining their basic constitutional autonomy, in 1848 - one year after a civil war between an alliance of Protestant cantons and an alliance of Catholic cantons - led to a large measure of self-determination of the member cantons and achieved remarkable stability on the basis of a federalistic division of sovereignty.
In addition, the Swiss Jura plebiscite of 1974 (actually a series of three plebiscites) contributed a model for wide-ranging conflict resolution on the basis of a federalism permitting the greatest possible articulation of the self-definition of member states (an important element of popular sovereignty), an example which demonstrates that a federal system is capable of solving problems arising in the future within the framework of federation.
A highly developed form of federalism (complemented by the personal autonomy of regional minorities) combines the necessary divisions of power with the commonality of a territorial homeland on the basis of the equality of status between the federal union and the member states (or ethnic groups) as well as a great measure of self-determination and a proper balance of rights and obligations for all concerned.
When such goals are clearly set from the start, the peace process can be more easily moved forward and brought to a successful conclusion. In addition, it might be possible to achieve an agreement under which Israel would agree to include the occupied territories it is not yet prepared to surrender completely under a temporary condominium arrangement, if not immediately, as part of a new form of border-transcending federalism. Independent of whether a Palestinian state is declared or not, the future of not only Palestine but of Israel as well depends upon the establishment of an adequate framework for a stable and just peace providing the greatest possible individual and collective freedom. These are basic principles of federalism. Without such a peace, the future of Israel cannot be secured by mere militancy.
As desirable as it may seem in view of the majority Palestinian population in Jordan and the many common interests between Cis- and Transjordan, a Palestinian-Jordanian federation, a common constitution for Palestine and Jordan, cannot be realized between two fundamentally different systems of government, a republican system on the one hand and a monarchy on the other. However, an international treaty could provide the legal basis for a union between states which would, in effect, amount to a confederation.
In any case, a Palestinian-Jordanian federation or confederation could not provide an adequate solution for the existing structural problems between Israel and Palestine. Only an Israeli-Palestinian union can do so.
A differentiated federalism in which the member states (cantons) are allowed to assume differing dimensions of competencies, such as in the system of differentiated regionalism practiced in Spain, can respect the differing degrees of autonomy desired by the individual regions and can thus enhance the measure of their self-determination.
Federalism achieves its full capacity for conflict resolution only when it is differentiated in order to respect special conditions and wishes in accordance with the subsidiarity principle. Unfortunately, however, in contrast to the already existing differentiated regionalism in Spain, this more flexible form of federalism has not yet been taken seriously, even though it could have much to offer in solving the conflicts in the Basque region, in Catalonia, in Quebec, in Mexico and elsewhere.
In this form of federalism, the member states (cantons) may, according to their own wishes, assume differing degrees of autonomy in financial matters and other competencies and also establish differing degrees of the limitation of their autonomy by the federal constitution. Such differentiation would respect the varying ethnic, subethnic, cultural, demographic, historical, geographical, economic and other preconditions as well as the necessity or desirability of demilitarized areas.
Groups of cantons as well as communities of scattered minority groups should also be allowed to form associations for a certain range of functions such as cultural communities. Such a model of genuine federalism with the provinces as cantons or member states together with the cultural communities formed by both the cantons and the ethnic groups has been recommended in Belgium.
As in the case of Belgium, an Israeli-Palestinian federation would present the possibility of a new form of triple-tiered federalism which could serve as a highly progressive model, even for the European Union, where even a four-tiered federalism has to be taken into consideration..
A three-tiered Israeli-Palestinian federation could achieve a high degree of realization of the subsidiarity principle. Like the federation itself, the cultural tier should be permitted to engage in international relations, as, for example, the Belgian province of Wallonia today nurtures direct cultural links with distant Quebec. Similarly, not only the overall federation but also its Israeli and Palestinian member cantons could maintain direct cultural and other relations with the U.S. and Europe or the Arab world.
The solution of the Jerusalem issue and other advantages
All occupied territories including East Jerusalem would achieve their freedom, which could hardly be accomplished in a nation-state structure. What is more, on both sides, but especially in Jerusalem, the national and ethnic groups living there would not become national minorities in a foreign country. Instead, they would all be citizens of an Israeli-Palestinian federation - and in particular of a common federal capital city - with equal rights.
The solution of the Jerusalem problem can only be achieved within the framework of an Israeli-Palestinian federation as a compromise between historic Palestine and the present state of Israel. Apart from its religious significance, Jerusalem is the heart and the wellspring of the common homeland and it is also the area with the greatest ethnic mix. Only as the capital of a common federation can Jerusalem permit not only a permanent solution to the conflict on the basis of individual and ethnic identities freed from repression by either side as well as the greatest possible extent of democratic integration and self-determination.
Jerusalem as a federal territory or, even better, -- in the event of cantonization -- as a separate canton (possibly consisting of two half-cantons) would, from the viewpoint of the other territories involved, be the ideal federal capital, whereas it otherwise would present a serious problem, even if the more central city of Ramallah might serve as the Palestinian capital (rather than East Jerusalem, which would still belong to Palestine) and thus somewhat alleviate the problem.
The overall advantages of an Israeli-Palestinian federation with a cantonal structure along the lines of the Swiss model would be considerably greater than those of a binational federation - and not just with regard to particular cases such as the Arab majority in Western Galilee or in the Jerusalem question.
In particular, a renewed settlement of the territories beyond Israel's Green Line, in today's "occupied territories" could be carried out, of course only in connection with a right of return for Palestinian refugees.
The principle of federalism as a system defining equal relations between the member states and the federal union setting limits to their constitutional autonomy (which goes beyond a largely ignored personal or "integral" federalism independent of territorial majority and minority relationships) has unfortunately not yet achieved much recognition in the world beyond the few already well-established and genuine "federal states" or federations.
Nevertheless, Israel and Palestine would present an especially urgent opportunity to prove the principles of federalism (including personal federalism), since any other solution or seeming solution (be it with or without a peace treaty) would involve losses of Palestinian territories, the perpetuation of minority problems as well as other problems arising from the consequences of the continued divisions of a once common region, problems which could at any point in the future once again rage out of control.
The significant direct and indirect consequences (of greater import for Europe than for the rest of the world) must lead Europe to intensify its efforts at realizing federalistic solutions not only for its internal problems of self-determination but also for the similar problems among its neighbors, especially for the Middle East, where the crisis presents an ever-present danger. But in Europe as well as in Israel there has been a lack of effective initiatives.
In Israel in 1977 and 1978 "Federalism and Political Integration" and "Federal Solutions for the Israel-Arab Conflict" were the topics of two conferences of the Jerusalem Institute for Federal Studies of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (under its now deceased president Prof. Daniel Elazar) of the Bar-Ilan University. As one of the speakers, this author supported the concept of an Israeli-Palestinian federation or cantonization. In his presentation, the then chairman of the Israeli Labor Party, Shimon Peres, described an Israeli-Palestinian federation as the best, but also the most difficult, solution before going on to support the "Jordanian option" in the form of a federation between Palestine and Jordan. Peres remains the only leading politician in Israel to have clearly spoken out in favor of a federalistic solution. Other experts, such as Dan Diner, who have proposed federalistic structures have remained a minority.
Nevertheless, with the example of an Israeli-Palestinian Federation the principle of a genuine federalism could prove itself as an instrument to achieve equal rights among two native populations and could also provide an example for the conflict resolution by means of ethnic federalism, in particular because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been such a tragic and dangerous one.
Switzerland provides an example of how hostilities which (in 1847) led to civil war can be resolved through the establishment of a federation (in 1848) which bound the former foes in a permanent system which not only secured the peace but also contributed a significant positive impetus to the political and economic development of the federation. Perhaps a federalization of Lebanon, which for a short time at least (although without genuine federal structures and thus with little legitimacy) was known as "the Switzerland of the Near East", could also lead to a similar positive development.
Within the framework of something akin to a West Asian Community (after the model of the European Community) contributing to the economic and social development as well as the political stability of the nations of the community, Israel and Palestine, that is an Israeli-Palestinian federation, could greatly stimulate such a positive development, even if such a community (much like the early European Community) included at first only a small number of countries.
Prof. Fried Esterbauer, Innsbruck