December 12, 2007

The four-state solution

I've been daydreaming about the Palestinian conflict again, and the following idea is insisting that I post it. I'm aware that there are pragmatic roadblocks, of course.

With all the recent stuff between Gaza and the West Bank, it's clear (if it wasn't before) that these two areas house populations that are not exactly the same, though they have a lot in common. Furthermore, one of the big problems with the so-called two-state solution is that there is no good transportation link between the two pieces, and any such link would necessarily cut through southern Israel. Some have half-jokingly referred to a "three-state solution", but of course that by itself is problematic because of the lower viability of a state the size of the Gaza strip with a population of 1.5 million.

Simultaneously, one of the big stoppers all around is the status of Jerusalem: the West Bank Palestinians insist on, at least, East Jerusalem, while Israel demands that Jerusalem remain whole (and that their capital be there). As a location of many holy sites for Jews, Muslims, and Christians, it's a place a lot of people want control over, and it's a sticky problem.

Meanwhile, in any solution there's the issue of Muslims in the Jewish side, Jews in the Muslim side, and Christians, Druze, and others on both sides. Israel is scared of any solution that might give non-Jews a majority in the Knesset, though with 20% of Israeli citizens being Arab and Muslim, there is some room for compromise. There is also fear for the status of Jews living in settlements in the West Bank, many of whom (at this point) were born, raised, and grew up there, and want to stay there, even at great cost.

So, here's the ("the") solution: four states, federated.* I've heard proposals for a federation of a Jewish and a Muslim state, but this version addresses several more of the issues. The fourth state, of course, would be the (entire) city of Jerusalem, a city-state of just under a million people, roughly 70% Jewish, serving also as the seat of federal government. Constituent states could, at their option, also use it as their capital (a situation not unknown in many parts of Europe, where a provincial or regional capital sits outside the region itself, in an adjacent city that comprises its own region). Israel would obviously make use of this; possibly the West Bank also, though presumably Gaza Strip would use Gaza City as its state capital.

Individuals would be citizens of one of the four states and thereby of the federation. The three outer states would not be required to give citizenship to just anyone, and could impose restrictions (e.g. "must be Jewish") on new citizens. The city-state of Jerusalem would not impose such restrictions, and otherwise unattached citizens of the federation would thus be citizens of the capital city-state. Here's the catch: although the outer states could restrict their citizenship, and thus their state parliaments, law-making authority, and judiciary, they would be constitutionally prohibited from restricting citizens from the other states in the federation from living, working, or travelling there. That cuts both ways: long-displaced Arabs with citizenship in West Bank, Gaza, or Jerusalem will be able to move into Israel, but Jews with Israel or Jerusalem citizenship will be able to (continue to) live in West Bank. (But, more about settlements in a second.)

Internally, each state would set up its own governmental structure. Federally, there would be a bicameral legislature, with one house being strictly proportional to citizenship counts, and if the state wants to do district-based allocation of its representatives, it has to allot (at least) one district for its citizens living elsewhere in the federation. The other house would allocate, say, fifteen seats per state, elected at-large, and work under additional restrictions: votes requiring a majority of the seats would also require at least 1/3 of the votes in each delegation, and votes requiring a supermajority overall would also require a majority within each delegation. This is very important, as it gives any one state a veto against unwanted legislation. Constitutional changes would require 3/4 within each delegation plus ratification by the legislatures of all four states, again as an extra-strong protection against abuse.

On to the settlements. As I understand it, several of the most-pressing concerns ostensibly about the settlements have already been dealt with in this solution: no more Israeli-only roads, no more ghetto wall, no more preventing villagers from getting to the lands they work. These, of course, were the "easy" part, because the claims were so lopsided. When it comes to the actual houses and villages of the settlements, though, the dual claim is stronger: "I've lived here my whole life" vs. "My ancestors had lived here for centuries before your ancestors kicked them out." The only thing that makes this any different from the situation with American Indians or the Australian Aborigines is that the initial kicking-out was a few years more recent. And what's more, there's even less of a difference between the West Bank settlements and more or less the entirety of Israel. Assuming you believe the State of Israel has some right to exist, you are on pretty shaky ground to let Israel keep Israel but draw some line that requires all the Israeli settlers to pull out; but for the descendants of the Arabs displaced both from West Bank settlements and from the current State of Israel itself, there is a recent claim that can't be completely dismissed either. This would be among the hardest sells in the solution, but it would have to be the case that A) descendants of any property-holder in British Mandate Palestine in 1948 would have to be able to make a claim on that property, either to reclaim the property itself or be paid some high percentage of market value for it, AND B) the choice of whether the payment was monetary or the property itself would have to be up to the current "owner" of the property. Some significant percentage of this cost would have to be covered by the State of Israel (and international donors, no doubt): either to subsidise the "owner" to pay the claimant, or to subsidise their move to somewhere else.

Security would also be an important concern, and a cornerstone of the solution is an integrated federal military. Having Jews and Arabs serving side-by-side will go a long way to furthering understanding and knocking down prejudices, much as the integration of the US military was a key precursor to the civil rights movement here. In a federated four-state situation, it would take some time to get this up to speed, of course, and likewise for integrating the federal police force, necessary for putting down the inevitable initial clashes. While the federal forces were integrating and retraining, the states would need to be protected and policed by an external force led by Canada and Japan. (Why those two? Most disinterested developed nations I could think of, with the former having small but significant and roughly equal minorities of Jewish and Muslim citizens, and the latter having vanishingly small percentages of either, and neither country having any compromising commitments to Israel or Arab countries that I know of.)

It's a pipe dream, of course, but any successful solution is going to have to include many of these elements. Separately, any of the various proposed states, including Israel, have limited viability on their own, and of course no sovereign state wants to entrust its security to another that it doesn't control—not to mention, the borders between any of the constituent states in any solution like this would be fundamentally indefensible. (That's what triggered the 1967 war, really.) Having separate Israeli and West Bank and/or Gaza militaries would inherently make for a very tense cold war at best; whereas with a unified and integrated military, all parties get to take comfort knowing that every single unit has a mix that includes citizens of all the states, a neat little insurance policy against rogue commanders, considerably more secure (for everyone) than most of the other solutions I've heard.

*This is radically different from the "four-state solution" you'll see if you google that phrase—in all of these, the Kingdom of Jordan is the fourth, setting up a three-against-one dynamic that's about as far from the above system as you can get. Jordan is more homogeneous, viable on its own, and doesn't need to be part of anything like this—there'd be no reason for them to want to commit to anything like this, and many reasons for the federation not to want them in. Likewise for neighbours Syria and Egypt, obviously, although I could imagine Lebanon eventually wanting in as a fifth state if the federation seemed to be working.

"The computer is simply a testing ground for a well-thought-out idea." --Natasha Chen

Posted by blahedo at 7:43pm on 12 Dec 2007
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