What’s Behind the Latest Buzzwords: ‘Israeli-Palestinian Confederation’?


A lot has been written lately, in respectable media outlets by respectable scholars and observers, about a new formula—a new magic word—of solving the eternal Israeli-Palestinian conflict. ‘Confederation,’ that’s the keyword. No longer a ‘two-state solution’ but a ‘two-state federation.’ A two-state ‘light,’ with ‘soft’ borders and such. Luckily for you, I did the hard work and the long reading, and I’m ready to report to you on the outcome. Is it for real? Does it change anything on the ground? Does it have a future?

But first, let’s hear from Dahlia Scheindlin, who wrote a long piece about it in ‘The Century Foundation,’ titled “The Confederation Alternative for Israel and Palestine.” She writes: “A loose association of two states, based on freedom of movement, porous borders, residency rights and a shared Jerusalem—a confederation approach, in political science terms—holds the most promise.” And also, she writes: “It provides national self-determination for both peoples, while providing better solutions for daily life, with incentives and concessions to each side that did not exist in the earlier model.”

Will be back to examine it later, but here’s more, this time from Bernard Avishai and Sam Bahour in the NY Times: “Confederal institutions could begin to address thorny problems like the rights of Palestinian refugees and the interests, however arguable, of Israeli settlers; they could agree on how many Palestinian refugees could return to Israel and how many law-abiding Israelis could live in Palestine with permanent residency but not citizenship. As peace takes hold, confederal institutions could permit routine cross-border entry, perhaps to a chosen beach, with a signal from a car’s transponder.”

Science fiction almost, eh? And I like the authors’ “confederal institutions” expression, which they keep referring to in their article as if those institutions are already existing, or have any chance of existing soon. This is basically wishful thinking, a dreamy vision, or as we say in Hebrew: חזון אחרית הימים. Now, of course, the esteemed authors are aware of the situation on the ground in the West Bank and of the political forces in Israel and Palestine, who are opposed to any such resolution.

The thing is, a lot of what they are saying and what they are suggesting, make sense. You want it to succeed. But in essence, it’s still the same old two-state solution—declared dead here some eight years ago, now accepted almost everywhere as such—with different words and descriptions. I don’t see much new here that will change the facts on the ground. That will cause Israel, mainly—the occupier—to change its course an un-occupy. Currently, the one-state solution is winning. Big time. A one-state solution with two peoples, one the oppressor the other the oppressed. An Apartheid-in-progress. ‘Managing’ the occupation and situation, Netanyahu’s style. 

Admittedly, though, the idea of the federation—not that new, really—appeals to me. If only it could happen. They talk about soft, open borders, but Israel has already built a huge, awful wall; a ‘security barrier’ that separates the two peoples. The settlers travel on a separate expressway; they uproot Palestinian olive trees at will; they beat, maim, and kill Palestinian at will, sometimes with the Israeli Army looking the other way or in fact cooperating; Israel continues to confiscate Palestinian land for new settlements, new roads, or army training grounds at will. The Israeli public and political forces at play, therefore, allow for no such solution.

What gives, then? I tell you what. Good, wise people keep looking for solutions to the intractable conflict, spreading around some good ideas. But the bottom line is nothing changes. And nothing will change as long as the political situation in Israel remains deadlock at best, right-wing controlled at worst. The ‘confederation’ supporters call yet again for greater pressure from America on Israel to get moving in this peaceful road and direction. And yet there is no sign that such pressure will possibly come from Washington, due to its own political forces at play.

Furthermore: For almost fifty-six years now that the Israeli occupation is in force and expanding, under the leadership of both the Labor and Likud; mostly, though, the Likud. Peace with Egypt and Jordan had been achieved, with help from America. Only once an American president pressured Israel, and to good results. It was George Bush the father, now dead. The Trump administration, with Netanyahu in tow, pulled a rabbit from the hat in the form of normalization with some Arab countries; i.e. sheikdoms really. Mainly to distract from the main problem: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Which remains intractable, unsolvable, as long as the political situation in Israel stays the same. And it will. I don’t see it changing any day soon. Actually, it is getting worst. While over 70 percent of United Nations member states recognize Palestine as a state, and while the International Criminal Court is getting ready to investigate Israel’s crimes as an occupier, Palestinians are no closer to control their own destiny, and unleash themselves of the occupier. In reality, it’s now one state. And the future, in regard to solving this conflict, looks bleak.

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Reflections on the Elections


One: Stalemate. As was predicted here in last month’s post, pre-elections, the most likely outcome of Israelis going to the polls is another deadlock. An intractable division in which no side—right, center, or left—can form a governing coalition. In this early stage some unknown factors remain, but it will take a ‘Passover Miracle’ for anybody to form a coalition. And if successful, it will be so razor-thin a margin that it won’t last long.

Two: Bibi Netanyahu. Despite his election-night claim of victory—what else?—he lost. Not only he lost five members of Knesset (MKs) in his party (more than 10%), but his ability to establish a governing coalition has been reduced dramatically as a result. He has 52 MKs at his camp, and even with ‘Yamina’, a party to his right and a natural ally with 7 MKs, he won’t make it. He needs the help of the ‘United Arab List’, a Muslim Arab party which throughout the years he declared as the enemy of Israel and Zionism. Fat chance there, then, if not totally out of the question since he is not only fighting for his political life, but his personal life; i.e., to stay out of jail.

Three: Benny Gantz. As my readers know, I supported his move to join the coalition with the treacherous Netanyahu, and even stuck with him through thick and thin before the elections, calling on Israelis to vote for him. Apparently—they heard me. He and his Blue & White party are probably the biggest surprises of these elections. Predicted by experts during the campaign to not even pass the electoral threshold, and therefore not get into the Knesset, he now has 8 MKs and it’s the fourth biggest party. Even combat friends—such as previous prime Minister Ehud Barack –called on him publicly to withdraw from the election. Party friends and members deserted him. Yet he stuck with it. And the outlandish scenario I’d laid out before you in my last post, of him ending up being the Prime Minister as a result of this, and that of next elections’ stalemate, took another step forward to become an (unbelievable indeed) reality.

Four: Mansour Abbas. He is an Arab Israeli and the leader of the ‘United Arab List’ (Ra’am), who’s also one of the few winners of this round of elections. He’d split from the Joint Arab Party and was also not predicted to pass the electoral threshold. And yet he has passed with 4 MKs, and now finds himself in the enviable position of being declared a potential ‘kingmaker’. He can extract any price now, any deal, in order to solve the problems facing his constituency in the Arab society, in return to joining—or even just supporting in the Knesset without joining—either camp. Yes, even the rightwing Likud camp.

Five: Labor and Meretz. Another surprise. The rebirth of the Labor Party—the old party of the ‘giants,’ who fought, build, and sustained Israel from pre-independence to 1976—came out from the dead with 7 MKs, with a strong (almost Golda-like) woman leader, Merav Michaeli at its helm. Meretz, a party even left to the Labor party, which was predicted to not pass the electoral threshold too, did so with 6 MKs, enough to survive in the Israeli political arena. They should unite again, that’s my opinion, yet I’m delighted and encouraged to see them in the Knesset.

Six:  Religious Zionism. This party on the extreme right, led by Bezalel Smotricv, also won with 7 MKs. Without them Netanyahu doesn’t even have a prayer. They are the fervent supporters of ‘Eretz Shlema;’ the whole of Israel from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. This is the settlers’ party, with “lawmakers who back expelling ‘disloyal’ Arabs and vow to ‘put the Torah first’.” (Haaretz). This party includes “Itamar Ben-Gvir… the leader of this extremist right-wing party… a disciple of Meir Kahane.” Not only he’s in the Knesset, but he might be in the government too.

Seven: Israel is stuck. Split into two halves, left of center and right of center. One begins to think the whole political system has to change sooner or later before a significant change could come. Or Netanyahu is finally removed for power—before he grabs it for good—and goes to jail. Even he, the “political genius,” the  “Fox,” couldn’t muster a win. Twelve ongoing years in power, in control of everything, hailed as the coronavirus pandemic miracle worker, a receiver of tremendous political gifts from President Trump, establishing peace and normalization with about four Arab states, and yet he has lost. The problem is intractable, and even a united front of the center-left parties—very unlikely—might not bring a solution, as we saw in the first three election rounds.

Eight: A miracle. Fifth elections without decision. Benny Gantz becomes Prime Minister on November 17 because of the current coalition agreement and law. Netanyahu goes to jail eventually, or resigns with a plea agreement and is ordered to stay out of politics for good, yet a free man. This will shuffle the cards, will bring new elections with hopefully a new leader in charge. Fat chance, you say. I agree. Yet one can still hope.

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