Monday, July 03, 2006


In the midst of all the killing and hate can the idea below be considered preposterous, utopian, or a way out. (The regular edition of the Oread Daily will return within a couple of weeks).

Superimposing a Solution
Foreign Policy

By Mathias Mossberg

Posted June 27, 2006

What if Israelis and Palestinians forgot about borders and security fences? What if the long and bloody road to creating a two-state solution was abandoned in favor of a new concept of statehood? It’s called a “dual state,” and it’s more realistic than you may think.

For more than half a century, Israelis and Palestinians have been fighting over the same tracts of earth. Numerous proposals for dividing the land have come and gone, and none has proved workable. Israel’s most recent effort to end the territorial stalemate by pulling out of Gaza and dismantling some of the West Bank settlements has drawn criticism for being too little, too late. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has outlined plans to finalize the country’s boundaries by 2010, but as long as the Palestinians demand a return to the 1967 borders, few expect the deadlock to be resolved. With Hamas unlikely to meet conditions for talks and the controversial Israeli security barrier still under construction, a peaceful and mutually agreed-upon two-state solution remains elusive.

But in today’s world, control of geographic territory doesn’t mean as much as it once did. Statehood has become less about territory, and more about access to markets, technology, and the rule of law. What if the Israelis and Palestinians were able to separate somehow the concepts of statehood and territory and explore new ways of living together? What if both peoples were given the right—at least in principle—to settle in the whole area between the Mediterranean and Jordan?

I’ll admit that it might not be the easiest thing to imagine. When we think about states, we naturally think about borders—real, specific, definable borders that you can plot on a map. What I have in mind is utterly different, and no doubt somewhat far-fetched. (That said, given the failure of all the “realistic” solutions of the past 50 years, forgive me for suggesting it may be time to consider other possibilities.)

You might call it a “dual state.” Instead of the familiar formula in which two states exist side by side, Israel and Palestine would be two states superimposed on top of one another. Citizens could freely choose which system to belong to. Their citizenship would be bound not to territory, but to choice. The Israeli state would remain a homeland for Jews, and at the same time, become a place in which Palestinians were able to live freely.

This basic administrative structure has worked elsewhere, for example, in the cantons of Switzerland. There, people of different origins and beliefs, speaking different languages and with different allegiances, live together side by side. In the Israel-Palestine dual state, smaller territorial units could be given the right to choose which state to belong to, based on a majority vote. At the same time, individuals will be able to choose citizenship for themselves, regardless of where they live. A person living in a canton that has opted to belong to Palestine could continue to be a citizen of Israel and vice versa.

An Israeli and a Palestinian living side by side in, say, an Israeli-administered area would share many of the same rights and live by many of the same laws. They would both be free to move about within the area now occupied by Israel and the territories. They would share a common currency, participate in the same labor market, and contribute common taxes for a number of shared services. Civil disputes could be settled by independently appointed arbitrators. Parents would be free to send children to the schools of their choice, and government funding for education could be allocated on a proportional basis. Neighbors would vote for separate leaders in separate elections, but these elected representatives would harmonize legislation on a number of matters, such as traffic laws, taxation, and criminal law.

There would be no need for security fences or barriers, no need for corridors or safe passages, and no need for checkpoints. A joint defense force could secure the borders, and a joint customs service could ensure one economic space. Both states could keep their national symbols, their governments, and their foreign representation. Local affairs would be dealt with by canton administrators on a majority basis, while individual human rights and freedoms could be guaranteed by the two states in cooperation.

It is not difficult to imagine a Jewish-majority area consisting largely of present-day Israel, plus a number of major settlements. That area would be under Israeli jurisdiction but remain open to Palestinians who wish to live under Palestinian jurisdiction. Similarly, one can imagine a core Palestinian area, consisting of the West Bank and Gaza, and perhaps even parts of Israel where Israeli Arabs are the predominant population. The whole of this area would also be open to Jews living under Israeli law. Jerusalem could be subject to the same principle. The demographics of neighborhoods would not change overnight—for example, the divisions between East and West Jerusalem would linger for some time—but there would at least be the opportunity for people to move and live freely.

To be sure, the road to such a “dual-state” solution would create its own challenges. But, to a large extent, it could build on present realities and proceed one step at a time. Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, accompanied by the development of credible and lasting Palestinian institutions, could ignite the process. At some point, direct talks about shared economic, civil, and defense responsibilities could begin to build the architecture for this new type of state.

Again, is this proposal completely unrealistic? Perhaps. But present realities are far from sane and sound. There is a crucial need for new thinking if the peace process is to take root. Perhaps by re-envisioning how statehood can exist outside the traditional notions of who owns what strip of land, Israel and the occupied territories can produce the first modern embodiment of the globalized state, where the intangibles of the 21st century can solve the most intractable territorial conflicts of the 20th century. Such a state would be an innovation in world politics, international law, and constitutional design. But it would in many ways be a codification of the new world in which we already live, where our lives are no longer tied to the land in the same way they once were. For Israelis and Palestinians, forgetting about the land may be the only way they both will ever be able to live on it.

Mathias Mossberg is vice president for programs at the EastWest Institute. He served as Sweden’s ambassador to Morocco from 1994 to 1996.