To analyze this, we have to go back to the dilemma of Zionism – it had several goals, each in sharp conflict with the others:
1. to establish a new state where Jews will always be safely in the majority.
2. to do this by colonizing a heavily populated, mainly Muslim and Christian country
3. to make it a big enough state to encompass sensitive Jerusalem, even though the Jews are not strong in numbers
4. to make the state a democratic, open society
Despite the most energetic military and public relations offensives Israel can muster, these internal contradictions are just too extreme to sustain indefinitely.
The current sticking point is the right of return. Israel itself was founded on this very idea – the right of all Jews to “return”, after going on 100 generations, and even if they are not ethnic Hebrews. Can Israel be a democracy and deny this right to refugees who are still alive and waiting in camps after two generations? It cannot afford reparations, either – Israel’s economy is far smaller than Germany’s.
Looking closer at the above Zionist objectives, however, a modus vivendi becomes visible.
1. The conflict between a Jewish majority and the Arabs’ right of return can be solved, because residence and voting rights are two separate issues. The refugees could return to their home villages in “Israel”, if their votes were counted in another part of the federation.
3. Demographically, Jews will always be in the minority over the whole country. The most advantage compromise between 1) and 3) is for them to leverage their voting power in a three-state solution: one, the ethnically Jewish coastal area, “Israel”; two, the remaining Arab “Palestine”; and three, an ethnically-mixed buffer state in the middle – perhaps call it “Canaan”. It would include Jerusalem and Aqaba, and physically separate the Jewish and Arab states.
The three states ought to be roughly equal in size and population. This would make the Jewish state smaller than today’s Israel, thereby ensuring a permanent Jewish majority. On the other hand, the entire country and especially the central region would be very much in Israel’s political and economic sphere of influence.
The federation should have a special constitution aimed to provide stability through careful checks and balances, in spite of ethnic tension and diversity. Here are some ideas on that:
Permanent residence rights: Every citizen gets this right where they now live, or in the state of their ethnic group. Arab returnees and Jewish refugees from Arab countries get this right anywhere in the federation. (But many will prefer to stay close to their ethnic group.)
Voting rights (citizenship)
Votes of persons not now residing in the other ethnic state, who later take up residence there, whether as returnees or otherwise, would count in their own ethnic state, or in the middle state. (Special rules could be agreed for descendants of parents of different citizenship status.)
Travel rights. Any federal citizen may travel between the middle state and their state of residence or citizenship without undue formalities or visas.
New immigrants (i.e., not returnees). The rules for admitting immigrants, and the right of citizens to move to another state, could be decided by each state, or agreed by a convention between the states.
Capital city: to be Jerusalem for the federal republic and the middle state, administration of the ethnic states could be at Tel Aviv and Ramallah.
Old City of Jerusalem – religious sites. Should be administered by a religious council with 40% Muslim, 40% Jewish and 20% Christian seats. Simple majority of all three religions required to pass decisions.
Bicameral legislature. Lower house by popular vote. Seats in upper house apportioned one third to each state, requiring a simple majority of delegates from each state to pass laws.
Military and security – initially on basis of cooperation between states.
A constitutional law against racism.
Such a federation will achieve Ben Gurion’s objective, to establish permanent peace and security based on acceptance of Israel by its Arab neighbors. The peace dividend could be enormous, helping Israelis to invest profitably in their own or neighboring states of the republic.
This proposal embodies a huge concession on the part of the Palestinians: loss of citizenship in the land of their fathers, and a permanent acceptance of its takeover by foreigners.
For Israelis, it obviously means a total re-think. Yet I hope it is an idea whose time has come, if it is not already way overdue. Too much more delay, and the fate of South African racism and apartheid could overtake Israel, too.
An Arab Saying “I order you to assist any oppressed person, whether they are Muslim or not.” Muhammad
Mr. John-Paul Leonard is a free-lance writer and a regular contributor to Media Monitors Network (MMN)