Open Forum: Alternatives to the One-State and Two-State Solutions

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VOL. 39


No. 2
P. 40
Open Forum: Alternatives to the One- and Two-State Solutions
Open Forum: Alternatives to the One-State and Two-State Solutions


JPS has always sought to provide a forum for discussion and productive debate on emerging trends in thought regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict and its peaceful resolution. It is in this light that JPS offers the following two pieces, without comment or endorsement, in the hope that they might inspire serious academic discussion, perhaps even within the pages of JPS. 

In recent years, faced with a stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process and Israel’s continued creation of facts on the ground, many have started to question whether it is still possible to implement a viable two-state solution, which is the peace process’s stated goal. A number of alternative ways forward in the conflict have therefore been suggested that go beyond the usual one-state solution. As part of an exercise of “thinking outside the box,” JPS is running two essays that suggest unconventional frameworks for dealing with the conflict.

The first essay, by Swedish diplomat Mathias Mossberg, places the Israeli Palestinian conflict in the context of a discussion of the concept of sovereignty and its erosion and outlines the basic elements of a “parallel states” structure as a possible vision for the Israeli-Palestinian future. This scenario is currently being studied in the Swedish government-funded “Parallel States Project” at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University. The project, launched in 2008, gathers Israeli and Palestinian academics and thinkers along with international experts to explore the implications of a parallel states structure involving two distinct states, Israel and Palestine, and distinct institutions sharing sovereignty over the entire area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. The project does not pretend to provide solutions or build a model, but to explore the issues and develop the questions that would arise from such a scenario. The project intends to present a first report at a conference in Lund in September 2010.

The second essay, by Israeli scholar Lev Grinberg, starts from a critique of the one- and two-state solutions to suggest an alternative vision including elements of both. The proposed formula is an Israeli-Palestinian Union with different layers of state institutions: a shared administration based on parity representation located in the unified capital of Jerusalem, two separate democratic nation-states, and seven provinces (or federal states) belonging to one of the two nation-states. The author sees this “1–2–7 states” vision of the future as a way of containing the conflict in the absence of an ideal solution.

THE PEACE PROCESS between Israelis and Palestinians is not making progress. There is neither peace nor process. Despite a new, seemingly determined, political leadership in the United States, prospects for a breakthrough remain bleak. Relations between Israelis and Palestinians have reached an all-time low. The current absence of large-scale violence cannot be taken as evidence either of stability or progress and is unlikely to continue.
In recent years, more and more observers have concluded that neither the physical nor the political basis for a viable Palestinian state still exists. Physically, the territory of the West Bank, which is supposed to constitute the heartland of a Palestinian state, continues to be consumed by Israeli settlements and new roads. Politically, Israel controls almost all the territory and shows little willingness to return the minimum necessary to make a territorially viable Palestinian state possible. The government’s refusal to accept a genuine settlement freeze has also dispelled any remaining doubts for many Palestinians about the ultimate intentions of Israeli leaders.
Has time run out for a traditional two-state solution, with two states living side by side sharing the territory between the river and the sea?
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has generally been seen as a conflict over land, and territory and borders have been key factors ever since negotiations began to be seriously envisaged following the 1967 war. Territory is at the heart of the two-state solution that was officially adopted by the Palestinians in 1988 and implicit in the Oslo process. Territory, borders, and sovereignty were also major negotiating elements at the failed Camp David summit of July 2000.
But while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has remained stubbornly focused on sovereignty and control of territory, a new understanding of the implementation of sovereignty has been emerging. The concept of sovereignty has eroded under the pressure of globalization and the impact of universal principles and transnational structures, suggesting new dimensions in how states relate to each other and to their citizens. Statehood has become less about territory and more about access to markets and technology and the rule of law. The meaning and importance of borders have been relativized. Thus, as international law and principles have been perforating national boundaries in ways and at a pace not earlier seen, international structures beyond the nation-state have started to have an important impact on the legislative space of national political bodies.
These changes in the implementation of sovereignty have led some commentators to claim that the Westphalian era is coming to an end. There is now talk about the nation-state not as the final product of the international system but more as a parenthesis in history, stretching from the mid-seventeenth century until present days.
This erosion of sovereignty affects a sovereign entity’s capacity both to act on the international level and to manifest itself internally vis-à-vis its citizens. In both cases, sovereign space has had to be ceded to other entities, including international institutions and nonstate actors.
This process has gone so far that the notion of the divisibility of sovereignty has entered the scholarly debate. According to one line of thought, the previously accepted “norm” of indivisibility of sovereignty is actually untenable. In reality, sovereignty has always been divisible and the norm of indivisibility has been a veil meant to conceal real power relations. In practice, the implementation of sovereignty derives from both external and internal sources and can thus be described as divided.
If sovereignty can be divided, it can also be partial and shared. The notion that sovereignty is not a given but gets its material content from decisions made by political bodies opens up new avenues, or rather confirms roads already embarked upon. There are many cases of shared sovereignty, for example in the form of federations and condominiums. A condominium is a historically well-established, if nowadays rather uncommon, form of governance, with two states sharing sovereignty over a given territory, normally in borderlands between them. Condominiums can be described as examples of horizontally shared sovereignty, whereas federations can be regarded as examples of vertically shared sovereignty. Another application of shared sovereignty is governance by international institutions that can be exercised over special sectors of society. Partial sovereignty is even more common if federative solutions are included in this category.
Thus it can be said that the exclusive link (traditionally viewed as sacrosanct) between sovereignty and territory began to erode long ago. The notion of parallel sovereignty, defined as two sovereign subjects voluntarily sharing power over a given territory, is a change in degree rather than in kind (compared to a condominium, parallel sovereignty means shared power not only over territory lying between the two states but over the entire area covered by the two states). Parallel sovereignty therefore constitutes just another form of shared sovereignty, even if its application implies a specific set of institutional arrangements.
As noted above, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has remained stubbornly territorial and the two-state solution is its present paradigm. Yet a reasonable territorial division no longer seems feasible. The web of Israeli settlements and roads has settled like a geological sediment over West Bank Palestinian society, and the Israeli “matrix of control” is slowly suffocating any substantial development. Moreover, decades of focus on territoriality as the fundamental issue have led nowhere, and prospects are dim for a mutually acceptable and sustainable agreement on this basis. Only when a serious effort is made to take a longer-term and fresher approach to the conflict can there be any hope of finding a way forward.
It is from this perspective that a discussion is called for about basic fears, concerns, and aspirations of the two sides. Obviously, any such discussion would initially elicit very different responses from Israelis and Palestinians, but it would also likely reveal basic elements common to both.
For the Israelis, the question of security in its widest sense is fundamental and indeed existential. The creation of the State of Israel made it possible for Jews to be in charge of their own destiny and have a secure place on earth; the Jewish state and the Jewish people’s specific attachment to the land of Israel are thus seen as closely linked to Jewish identity.
Yet the existential security of the Jewish people is felt to be under constant threat in two fundamental ways: first, the external physical threat against the Israeli state, and, second, the internal demographic threat, where the approximate parity between Israelis and Palestinians “between the river and the sea” is fast eroding in favor of the Palestinians. With regard to the first concern, despite the considerable improvement in Israel’s geostrategic situation over the last two decades through peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan and the disappearance of any military threat from Iraq, Israel’s sense of external threat has not abated, with fears now centered primarily on Iran’s nuclear development. With regard to the second issue, demographic developments are seen as representing a fundamental threat to the existence of Israel as a democratic and Jewish state. These fears crucially affect Israel’s preoccupation with control of territory and access to land.
For the Palestinians, the defining issue is not security as such but loss of land: three-quarters of their homeland was lost in the 1948 war and their access to land in the West Bank today is constantly shrinking under the impact of the separation wall, the continuing growth of settlements and roadworks, and ongoing land expropriations. The land issue for Palestinians is, of course, in itself a key security issue, bound up with fears of ultimate loss of identity. Moreover, Palestinians feel physically threatened wherever they are, in Israel, in the occupied territories, in refugee camps, in neighboring states, and in the diaspora. Besides access to land, security, and identity issues, the Palestinian situation entails a need for dignity, equality, and justice, and full recognition of the right of return.
For Israelis and Palestinians, the common issues can thus be boiled down to security, identity, and access to land. Most other issues can be subsumed under these headings. The question is whether there are ways to ensure mutually satisfactory solutions to these issues and if some kind of scenario can be devised based on these common denominators. Is it possible to end the occupation and fulfill the Palestinian right of return in a way that does not conflict with Israeli security needs and preserves a Jewish state, while at the same time giving both peoples access to the land? Could there be a scenario based on the principle of shared, or parallel, political authority? Is there a way to think in terms of two parallel state structures on the same territory?
In a parallel states structure as envisaged in our project, sovereignty and political authority over the entire territory would be shared between the two states. In other words, the two states would be superimposed on one another in the same territory, with a number of functions exercised jointly by the institutions of both states and others separately by each state. State sovereignty would be primarily linked with the individual and only secondarily with territory. Citizens of both states would be able to move freely and settle in the whole area, and internal physical barriers would be lifted.
Obviously, clear limits on the authority that each state could exercise over the territory and a clear division of powers between the two states would have to be established. There would also need to be some kind of permanent bilateral negotiation mechanism for solving issues and disputes as they arise. The two states could retain their national symbols and have separate citizenships and political bodies (governments, parliaments, administrations, and other state institutions), each responsible to its own electorate. Each entity would have a high degree of independence in both internal and external matters, tempered by the need to take into account the form and power of the other parallel structure and coordinate in matters of common interest.
It would seem obvious that any parallel states structure would entail decentralized regional and/or local structures, especially since two separate “heartlands” reflecting existing population concentrations would most likely be formed. A Jewish heartland around the coastal plains, particularly around greater Tel Aviv, would seem logical, as would a Palestinian heartland in areas around Ramallah and other cities in the West Bank, as well as in Gaza. Jerusalem is a special case that would require its own approach.
The economic dimension of a parallel states system is perhaps less difficult to imagine than its overall structure, because the Israeli and Palestinian economies—despite the very unequal dynamics and the core-periphery relationship between them—can already be said to constitute one macroeconomy. Elements of an economic union are already present (external customs envelope, common currency, elements of a joint labor market, flow of goods) and could serve as the basis for integration. A viable economic structure would require extensive harmonization, not only of economic policies but also of business laws and regulations as well as tax systems. The most daunting task would be building up the Palestinian economy in the aim of balancing Israeli economic supremacy. Only if the present inequalities are substantially reduced could a viable joint Israeli-Palestinian economy possibly be sustained.
Legal pluralism is nothing new. Two or more legal systems have existed side by side within the same territory throughout history. Medieval Europe is one example, with the Catholic Church, princely fiefdoms, the guild system, and other entities all exercising their own jurisdiction over their members regardless of geographic location. The Ottoman millet system is another example, with Muslim, Christian, and Jewish jurisdictions with their own civil laws existing side by side.
In a parallel states structure, each state would in principle have jurisdiction over its own citizens. This would be rather uncontroversial in areas of Jewish and Palestinian concentrations (heartlands). In border areas between the two communities, in mixed areas, as well as in Jerusalem, a certain element of “extraterritorial” jurisdiction could be envisaged. Each side could keep its court system, but a system of mixed courts may have to be developed to handle clashes of jurisdiction and other conflicts likely to arise in a structure of parallel legal systems.
Clearly a large part of the jurisdiction would have to be joint or at least harmonized, applying to all citizens. This area of the law would without doubt be the most difficult to negotiate and would involve land issues, immigration, and other thorny questions.
A parallel states structure in principle meets both Palestinian and Israeli aspirations to be able to live and work in the whole area of Mandate Palestine. Moreover, it provides for the emergence of an independent Palestinian state, while at the same time allowing the Israeli state to be both Jewish and democratic.
A parallel states structure would bring an end to Israeli military occupation. By allowing the free movement of people over the entire area, it addresses as a matter of principle both the Palestinian right of return and the Israeli settlements issue, thus offering a possible means of resolving two of the most intractable elements of the conflict. The structure could also accommodate the aspirations of both peoples to have Jerusalem as their capital.
But if many of the fundamental and underlying issues are addressed in principle, a parallel states structure also entails daunting challenges, not least in the realm of security. These include how to achieve a workable balance in the security sphere, how to organize internal security, and how to deal with immigration and border control. The problems of shared jurisdiction, notably regarding land and immigration (potential deal breakers), have already been alluded to. It should be borne in mind, however, that many of the thorniest issues in the parallel states structure are similarly difficult in the one- or two-state scenarios. Most likely, international involvement in a number of areas would be called for.
Needless to say, even to negotiate (much less implement) a parallel states structure would require an enormous amount of confidence on both sides, perhaps especially on the Israeli side. Indeed, it is legitimate to ask why such a scenario would have any appeal to the party that today has full control over the one-state solution (in its current manifestation) and that would control the parameters (at the very least) of a two-state solution. Clearly, relative to its present situation, Israel would have the most to give up in such a shared sovereignty arrangement. At the same time, Israel is well aware that the present situation is untenable in the long run. From this perspective, a scenario that assures its most basic needs (to be a Jewish democratic state without being threatened by an emerging Palestinian majority; to gain long-term acceptance as part of the region), even while being the fairer of the three options for the Palestinians, is surely the scenario that has the greater chance of enduring.


Ambassador Mathias Mossberg has held a number of high-ranking posts with the Swedish Foreign Ministry and has been involved in Middle East peace negotiations since the 1980s. He currently heads the “Parallel States Project” at Lund University’s Centre for Middle Eastern Studies (for more information, see

IMAGINATION IS A NECESSARY but insufficient precondition for political change. Equally crucial are the political capacity to negotiate and compromise, a relatively even balance of power, and the authority (and popular support) to implement agreements. In addition to a lack of any shared vision, all these elements were absent in the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” of 1993–2000. Two charismatic leaders allegedly committed to the two-state solution, Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat, failed to agree on borders, postponed negotiations, and neglected to take steps to start decolonization. Their failure, compounded by subsequent developments on the ground, critically jeopardized the two-state solution’s future chances of success. The one-state scenario on the other hand has not even reached the table. In light of the obstacles in the way of these two most commonly mentioned solutions, this essay suggests an alternative vision of how to contain the conflict in the absence of reaching a “solution.”
Democratic political institutions are not designed to solve conflicts but to contain them through negotiations and legitimize the compromises made by the elites representing dominant and dominated groups. In the absence of agreed political institutions, violence becomes the basic expression of the conflict and a means to achieve goals. Dominant groups use state institutions to rule unilaterally, including by stepping up military repression, and dominated groups react by using violence aimed at achieving recognition of their leadership and claims. [1] 
Democracy is a specific set of institutions that developed in Europe in the nineteenth century as a result of increasing class conflict and the formation of nation-states. The two structural preconditions of democratization were a balance of power between dominant and dominated classes and a clear demarcation of borders (physical and symbolic) defining the potential citizenry. Without these preconditions, it is difficult to establish democratic institutions capable of containing conflicts, and without such institutions conflicts easily deteriorate into violence: civil wars, authoritarian regimes, or both. But while European states tended toward internal democracy, their expansion was at the same time based on disproportionate economic and military power relative to other regions of the world, and they used this power to impose nondemocratic institutions on these regions to rule them unilaterally. The struggle of the peoples dominated by Europe to gain recognition and inclusion in the polity could not be contained by these state institutions because they were imposed unilaterally by external colonial and imperial power.
With regard to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the basic factors preventing its success were the power imbalance between the two parties and the inability to determine borders between the mutually influenced and penetrated Israeli and Palestinian political arenas. With regard to the latter, Israel’s own contradiction between democracy and colonialism—which it attempted to mask by way of a “dual democratic-military regime”—stands as a major obstacle. This dual regime, comprising a formal democracy within the 1949–67 borders and a military regime in the West Bank and Gaza, [2] involves two separate struggles: a democratic struggle for equal rights within the sovereign and recognized borders of Israel and a struggle to end the occupation in the Palestinian territories. [3] In addition to the Israeli and Palestinian political arenas, there is also a third arena of interrelations—an Israeli-Palestinian political arena—that includes individuals, groups, organizations, and institutions of both communities. Indeed, the peace process itself was really an attempt to coordinate and synchronize the opening of these three political spaces. [4] A key impediment to achieving this goal was the agreement under Oslo to start democratization (via Palestinian elections) combined with the decision to postpone the decolonization of the occupied territories (i.e., dismantle Jewish settlements, grant economic sovereignty to the Palestinians, and end military rule). A broader reason for the failure to find a peaceful solution to the conflict, then, was the complex interaction among the three political arenas, and this complexity will continue to be a crucial factor in the future. Two conclusions flow from this: Israeli power needs to be balanced by international intervention, and political institutions should be put in place that are able to contain conflicts by opening space for representation and mediation in these three political arenas.
To design the institutions necessary to contain the conflicts in the Israeli-Palestinian matrix, it is necessary to understand the specific tensions involved. This is a matter of institutional design requiring a new vision of the future. Whether or not the agreed institutions can be installed and consolidated depends on the political will of the elites and the popular support they can mobilize. It is true that the one- and two-state solutions are also visions of the future, but they do not sufficiently address the complexities of history and the Israeli/Palestinian societies’ present situation, nor do they account for the need to contain conflicts through facilitating institutions. In other words, neither provides for institutions that can work as containers of expected social conflicts.
Until October 2000, the most popular vision for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was two separate nation-states. Since then, however, the one-state solution, understood as the promotion of one binational state, has been gaining popularity among Palestinian intellectuals due to the failure of the Oslo process. [5] Neither of these solutions, in my view, is viable in the present reality, necessitating a search for a new formula, possibly one that combines elements of both.
The two-state solution is based on the European model of nation-states, whereas the one-state solution is based on the European model of liberal democracy. But as mentioned above, neither model reflects the current economic, political, cultural, and military realities in Israel/Palestine or offers any plausible transition from the current dual military-democratic regime. Moving toward either scenario from the present reality would at best create tensions while being incapable of containing the tensions and conflicts inevitable after their implementation.
The two-state model involves a return to the pre-1967 borders (with minimal agreed territorial exchanges) and the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza connected by a passage that traverses Israeli territory. This solution assumes both a recognized border separating both states and military forces capable of controlling these borders and protecting their respective citizens. But the demarcation of borders and their effective defense seem almost impossible given the mutual penetration of populations in this relatively small piece of land, not to mention other particularly intractable issues such as sovereignty over Jerusalem and the holy sites. [6] 
Democracy and security represent two additional major obstacles to the two-state model. With regard to the former, this solution assumes that Israel is the state of the Jews, [7] yet some 18 percent of Israel’s citizens are Palestinians unwilling to accept their inferior status whatever agreements the PLO might sign. This means that the two-state solution maintains the national conflict within the borders of the Jewish state, which will be unable to contain it by the democratic means of equal representation. Security, meanwhile, is the primordial problem in Israeli discourse. The idea of an eternal and a historical insecurity, while rooted in the traumatic past of the Jews in Europe and the Holocaust, as well as in ancient religious texts, has been the national myth since 2000. Even before, a clear Israeli precondition in all negotiations has always been disarmament of the Palestinian state so as to rule out the possibility of any Palestinian military force capable of confronting the Israeli military. Moreover, given the unlikelihood that a Palestinian state could ever be allowed to attain real independence and sovereignty or autonomy, the Palestinian opposition would have good reason to continue violence against its powerful neighbor. In such a situation, it is not unreasonable to assume that after withdrawal from the occupied territories a revisionist Israeli political movement could win elections on a platform calling for the military reoccupation of the Palestinian state. [8] 
The one-state solution is ideologically opposed by most Israelis and, more importantly, by the Jewish state, which can easily obstruct it. Moreover, both national communities still prefer to remain autonomous, independent, and undetermined by the other, their lingering attachment to the two-state solution being based on the illusion that it will allow each to be rid of the other. Indeed, Palestinian advocates of the one-state solution sometimes seem to press the issue mainly to emphasize the antidemocratic nature of the Israeli military occupation and the Jewish state rather than with the aim of designing political institutions able to contain the conflict in the future.
The idea of one democratic liberal state can be very attractive in principle, but without conditions of deep mutual recognition between the two communities, formal democratic institutions cannot guarantee political stability. Instead of opening political space to new agendas in civil society common to Jews and Palestinians, the one-state solution, if implemented, could institutionalize their national mobilization against each other and neutralize potential space for shared interests. Indeed, in the charged mutual hostility characterizing Israeli-Palestinian relations, democracy itself could be a source of conflict, exacerbating the demographic race, strengthening mutual fears, and encouraging disputes over migration (the Palestinian right of return and the Jewish Law of Return). A democratic state without additional political institutions could only enhance the politicization of religion and the polarization of extremist ethno-national trends.
Looking beyond the present impasse, a major effort of institutional design is required to invent political frameworks capable of containing inevitable conflicts by agreed-upon rules that produce representation and dialogue. These institutions must embody the positive aspects of both the one- and two-state solutions and overcome their obstacles. It is not my intention to enter into details about the specific institutions, which need to be worked out by research institutions and think tanks before being negotiated and implemented, but it would seem obvious that a system responding to the above criteria would involve some creative combination of consociation, confederation, and federative institutions.
The solution I propose is an Israeli-Palestinian Union (IPU), which would include one shared administration based on parity representation located in the unified capital of Jerusalem, two separate democratic nation-states, and a minimum of seven provinces (or federal states) that would be part of either nation-state and would enjoy relative autonomy. [9] The vision of the “1–2–7” IPU is mainly based on my interpretation of the Israeli-Palestinian triple matrix of relations, [10] but it is also informed by models of the European Union (EU) and German federal institutions.
The separate governments of the two national states would administer everything that can be separated: land, education, health, police, local government, tourism, culture, religion, sports, and so on. The IPU government would administer everything that is indivisible: infrastructure, communications, water, energy, transportation, ecology, the sacred places, and Jerusalem. In contrast to the national states, where demographic changes would be democratically represented, the IPU institutions would be founded on the principles of parity and mutual veto. One of the main tasks of the IPU shared administration would be to erase the demographic fears fanned by democracy—namely, Jewish fears of the Palestinian right of return and Palestinian fears of Jewish immigration, territorial expansion, and displacement. During the early years, the IPU government would probably require the participation of an international body to mediate disagreements and foster compromise.
Two more complex issues are security and the economy: while violence would be the most likely factor to sabotage any political agreement, the second would probably be the economic gap between Israelis and Palestinians. These two areas would require the most creative efforts, supported by international institutions. With regard to security, it is highly improbable that a peaceful solution could survive without the total disarmament of all civilians, Jews and Palestinians, and the backing of a major international peace force, which would need to have a clearly defined mission, to protect Palestinians from Israeli military forces.
If the economic institutions are improperly designed and implemented, they could easily undermine political support for the agreements and ultimately derail the process. A major Israeli and Palestinian motivation in the initial peace negotiations was economic: Israelis wanted to participate in the globalized economy and Palestinians wanted stable jobs, investments, and growth. [11] Ultimately, Israelis achieved their goals, but the Palestinians did not. [12] Learning from earlier mistakes, all economic agreements would have to aim at closing the economic gap through state intervention and counterbalancing the power of Israeli technology, financial institutions, and industry. The dominant economic position of Israeli elites helps them benefit from “free markets,” whether these are “free trade zones” or “custom unions.” [13] The economic arrangements of the IPU must therefore consciously work against a direct link between identity and material welfare, or an explosive situation could arise.
The economic policy must be designed to counterbalance economic gaps, mainly between Israel and Palestine, but also within each national community. This is one of the main goals of the IPU administration and the seven regional states, which would be designed according to salient economic gaps between areas of the IPU. The central administration would collect taxes and allocate them within an equalizing logic. The model I have in mind is the German federal financial system. The principle is that the IPU administration would collect progressive taxes according to the wealth of distinct areas and would later redistribute them according to the number of citizens in each state and their needs. The social security system would follow the same logic in relation to individuals and families. All these systems would have to be very well planned at the technical, professional, and administrative levels and would need the advice of international institutions.
The division of each nation-state into three or more regional states would have not only an economic equalizing goal but also a pluralistic and representative democratic logic. The various regional states could have very different cultural and religious preferences and complex community relations. The differences between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Gaza and Ramallah, are examples of these internal national differences. The IPU’s division into regional states, the establishment of local parliaments, democratic deliberations in each state, and even local legislation, could be expected to open space to multicultural and multireligious communities, which might be ignored, repressed, or misrecognized within the two dominant identities.
Throughout past Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Israel has been consistently determined to avoid any third-party intervention (except that of the United States), believing that such involvement would support Palestinian claims. [14] From this, I conclude that in order to reach an agreement, third-party mediation is precisely what should be done: without international intervention consciously aimed at balancing Israel’s power and reducing U.S. and EU military, economic, and political support, no fair and durable agreement can be achieved. In direct negotiations, no substantial Israeli compromise can be expected, and if Palestinian negotiators accept Israel’s conditions out of weakness and dependency, the implementation of the agreement will fail because other Palestinian actors will reject or sabotage it.
From 1992 to 2008 various U.S. administrations have supported the position of the Israeli moderates in the best case (Bill Clinton) or even converged with the most extremist Israeli government (George W. Bush). [15] The only times when international intervention played a positive role in Israeli peace negotiations (notably by balancing Israel’s powerful position) were related not to Palestine but to the Arab states. The first time was in the 1978 Camp David negotiations between Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat under Jimmy Carter; the second was when George H.W. Bush forced the Israeli government to participate in the 1991 Madrid Conference. In both cases, the interventions directly influenced internal Israeli politics, empowering actors supporting peace and compromise. In the Israeli-Palestinian arena, the need for intervention is even greater and obviously depends on the international context, not only local developments.
Since Barack Obama was elected president of the United States in late 2008, expectations of U.S. pressure on the Israeli government to negotiate a peaceful agreement with the PLO have mounted. International pressure on Israel is indeed a necessary precondition to balance its power vis-à-vis the Palestinians. However, if the pressure is to implement the two-state solution, it will almost certainly fail and might even enhance the Israeli tendency to impose unacceptable conditions on the Palestinians and later blame them for any failure. This has been Israel’s strategy since 1947, refined during the Oslo negotiations for the two-state solution, and most dramatically following the Camp David summit in 2000. [16] 
The general goal of negotiations must not be to establish two states or one, but to abolish Jewish supremacy over all the land and build political institutions capable of containing expected tensions in the future in the three separate political arenas of Israel, Palestine, and Israel/Palestine. Obviously, such a major step cannot be made in the present violent situation of Israeli military domination, economic strangulation, and nonrecognition of the elected government in Gaza. An interim hudna (truce) must be reached to change this situation and facilitate creative and constructive negotiations. The fundamental elements of a hudna could serve as the point of entry into the occupied territories for an international peace force, which would allow freedom of movement and economic development for Palestinians and start the dismantlement of Jewish settlements. Only after a truce is signed and the Palestinians and Israelis begin to feel some relief and trust in the possibility of reconstruction can a new future be imagined. Only then can we start thinking about how to build our shared future in Israel/Palestine.


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Lev Grinberg, a professor of political sociology at Ben-Gurion University, is the author of Politics and Violence in Israel/Palestine: Democracy versus Military Rule (Routledge, 2010). A longer version of this article appeared in Arabic in Qadaya Isra’iliyya, no. 34 (Summer 2009), pp. 41–48.

1. For an expanded theoretical background of my interpretation of political institutions, conflict, and violence, see Lev L. Grinberg, Politics and Violence in Israel/Palestine: Democracy versus Military Rule (London: Routledge, 2009).

2. Lev L. Grinberg, “Israel’s Dual Regime Since 1967,” MIT Electronic Journal of Middle East Studies 3 (Spring 2008), pp. 59–80.

3. Dual regime is the basic concept; however, there are several specific forms of military domination in different areas. For example, conditions in East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip are very different from those in the West Bank. Each area is dominated differently.

4. For an interpretation of the Israeli Palestinian triple matrix of relations, see Lev L. Grinberg, “A Theoretical Framework for the Analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” International Review of Sociology 1 (1994), pp. 68–89.

5. Jamil Hilal, Where Now for Palestine? The Demise of the Two-State Solution (London: Zed Books, 2007).

6. For a discussion of the reasons for the failure of the peace talks, see Grinberg, Politics and Violence.

7. Israel’s recognition as a Jewish state has already been raised in the negotiations, see Ian Lustick, “Abandoning the Iron Wall: Israel and ‘The Middle Eastern Muck’,” Middle East Policy 15, no. 3 (Fall 2008), pp. 30–56.

8. This is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main argument against Palestinian independence: we already withdrew from Gaza and the Palestinians reacted with Qassams. This is obviously a propaganda manipulation, but it is expected to work as a mobilizing nationalist argument in the future, including against Netanyahu if he signs a withdrawal agreement as a result of international pressure.

9. The number of federal states would depend on political negotiations and the criteria used by the negotiators to determine their borders. The seven I refer to are Jerusalem, Beersheba, al-Khalil/Hebron, Gaza, Haifa, Ramallah, and Yaffa-Tel Aviv, the capitals of the federal states I envisage. There could be up to fifteen federal states if the areas were further divided according to economic gaps, demographic composition, and geographic obstacles.

10. See Grinberg, Politics and Violence.

11. See Amira Hass, Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land under Siege (London: H. Hamilton, 1999); Uri Savir, The Process: 1,100 Days that Changed the Middle East (New York: Vintage, 1999); Gershon Shafir and Yoav Peled, Being Israeli: The Dynamics of Multiple Citizenship (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

12. See Sara Roy, “Decline and Disfigurement: The Palestinian Economy after Oslo” in Roane Carey, ed., The New Intifada: Resisting Israel’s Apartheid (London: Verso, 2001); and Leila Farsakh, Palestinian Labour Migration to Israel: Labour, Land and Occupation (London and New York: Routledge, 2005).

13. See Lev L. Grinberg, “Economic Strangulation Ring: Three Turning Points in Forty Years of Economic-Military Control” [in Hebrew], Theory and Criticism 30 (2008).

14. Savir, The Process.

15. Rashid Khalidi, Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and America’s Perilous Path in the Middle East (Boston: Beacon Press, 2004).

16. Yoram Meital, Peace in Tatters: Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East (Boulder: Lynne Reiner Publishers, 2005).