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Yossi Beilin’s back to the future confederation

Israel/Palestine
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This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

Back to future, once again?

Perhaps it’s time for Yossi Beilin and those of his generation on both the Jewish Israeli and Palestinian side to retire to whatever country they choose and is willing to accept them. This would allow the rest of us to get on with our lives. For when we are saddled with politicians and negotiators whose failed policies and visions only encourages them to propose more failed ideas as a possible future for Israel-Palestine, cynicism rather than hope for the future is the take-away.

Beilin’s latest New York Times missive, “Confederation is the Key to Mideast Peace”, encourages cynicism about the future by recycling the old idea of an Israeli and Palestinian confederation. Overall, Beilin’s scenario proposes that the Jewish and Palestinian populations on both sides of the 1967 borders participate in their own governing authorities. At the outset, this seems like a vision worth taking seriously. However, the devil is in the details. When Beilin’s plan is analyzed closely his confederation plan is weak, perhaps even misleading.

Beilin’s introductory paragraph sets up his argument:

The new Israeli government, right-wing and fragile, holds no immediate hope for progress toward peace. But peacemakers should not give up. Precisely because of its vulnerability — in Israeli politics, and in the opinions of the wider world — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government may feel pressured to show a commitment to peace. Israel’s more moderate parties might even join a unity government, if they were promised a freeze on settlement construction and a reopening of serious talks with the Palestinians.

Politically speaking, Beilin may know something the rest of us don’t but surveying Israel’s post-Gaza invasion political landscape, within, around and far from Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner circle, there is no Israeli appetite for such movement. By “movement,” I mean anything but symbolic steps in this direction. The symbolic steps would themselves represent a further delay and more Israeli facts on the ground. With the US presidential sweepstakes heating up, any such movement would become a major issue in the American political debate. These are major reasons, among many others, that confederation is a dead issue.

Today, it seems clear that no permanent agreement for complete separation is possible while profound disagreements over security and the presence of Israeli settlers in the West Bank remain unresolved. But confederation — however counterintuitive it may sound — seems to me a very relevant idea.

How so?

One of the greatest threats to Israeli-Palestinian trust is the argument that Israeli settlement expansion has become irreversible. On both sides, zealots argue that this makes a two-state solution no longer possible, leaving one unified state the only alternative. But Mr. Husseini’s vision of confederation belies that. It would let both peoples fulfill national aspirations while each benefited from the other’s energy and skills.

Here Beilin waxes nostalgic for his conversations with Faisal al-Husseini, the late and renowned Palestinian leader, before the Oslo Accords in 1993. Before Oslo their discussion of confederation intrigued Beilin but was unacceptable to his fellow Israeli peaceniks. In any case, Oslo emptied any such discussion of meaning. Other than nostalgia for a previously failed vision, Beilin argues that while “zealots” on both sides have pronounced the two-state solution dead on arrival, the national aspirations of Jews and Palestinians could be fulfilled in a confederation. How this would be accomplished is a question Beilin does not address. Beilin feels that each side would benefit from each other’s “energy and skills.” Cutting through the rhetoric and paying attention to the failed “equality” arguments from the Israeli side for decades, one assumes that, for Beilin, “skills” would come from Israelis and “energy” from Palestinians.

Wasn’t this the Oslo hope from the peace camp in Israel that dominated the brief post-Oslo joint partnerships for peace?

If drawn with care for political sensibilities, this vision could even mesh with some assumptions of what a two-state peace must look like. Law-abiding Jewish settlers could be allowed to stay in Palestinian territory — so long as comparable numbers of Palestinian citizens who are now outside Israel could live within Israel’s borders. The borders could closely replicate the 1967 lines — if the settlement blocs came under Palestinian jurisdiction. Jerusalem could include a Palestinian capital in the east, the Israeli capital in the west — and a special area for joint institutions. Security in Palestine could be guaranteed by a multinational force, jointly supervised by the confederation.

Beilin is way too obvious here. Though it seems like a vision of equality, with hundreds of thousands Israelis allowed to live on the Palestinian side and a “comparable” number of Palestinians outside Israel’s borders living within Israel, what settlements, comparable in size and density, would be built for Palestinians inside Israel and where? Perhaps these Palestinian settlements could be built surrounding Jerusalem to counterbalance Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem and settlements in Israel’s ever-expanding definition of Jerusalem.

Note also that Palestinian security would be guaranteed by a multinational force, “jointly supervised” by the confederation. Meaning that Israel would continue its military in full and independent force while the Palestinians would remain more or less demilitarized. This is drawn from yet other failed visions of the future where Israel is armed to the teeth and Palestine is occupied by military forces that are not their own. Why not one military controlled by the confederation?

Much more would have to be negotiated. But what alternative is better? Too many Israelis fear that a one-state marriage would destroy either our identity as a Jewish state or our claim to democracy. And a two-state divorce is unlikely to produce a prosperous and stable Palestine. Difficult though it may be to achieve, confederation seems to me the most realistic and practical option, as it did to a wise Palestinian 22 years ago.

Beilin’s concluding paragraph is as weak as his truncated vision of both people’s fulfilling their national aspirations within a confederation, aspirations that Beilin does not enumerate. Cited here is Israel’s fear of the one-state solution coupled with Palestinian statehood “unlikely” to produce a “prosperous and stable Palestine.” Coming back to Beilin’s earlier comment about joining skills and energy, is the reason it is unlikely that Palestinian statehood would produce good results because Palestinians are unable to organize, manage and sustain their own affairs without Jewish Israelis to assist? Or to dominate. Which is the central issue Beilin never addresses.

Beilin may be correct that the other proposed alternatives are off the table for now. They, too, are from the failed past. What is needed is a new generation of political leaders to propose a future that has a fighting chance of bequeathing a joint future of equality for Jews and Palestinians. As we see now, however, the younger generation may be worse than those of Beilin’s generation.

Nonetheless, it is time for the passing of the guard. Or should we wash our hands with the sense that the old and new politics of Israel-Palestine is destined to fail?

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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10 Responses

  1. a blah chick
    a blah chick
    May 15, 2015, 11:50 am

    “Precisely because of its vulnerability — in Israeli politics, and in the opinions of the wider world — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government may feel pressured to show a commitment to peace. ”

    Mr Beilin is obviously confusing this world for the alternative universe he regularly visits.

    “Law-abiding Jewish settlers…” Now there’s an oxymoron for ya.

    • ziusudra
      ziusudra
      May 16, 2015, 12:38 am

      Greetings blah chick,
      Say Dear,
      there’s nothing ‘blah’ about you.
      much tks,
      ziusudra

    • May 16, 2015, 4:18 am

      The word peace is meaningless in this arena. Israel simply needs to give back what it has stolen in the West Bank and elsewhere and stop its policy of occupation, punishment and land theft.

  2. Bornajoo
    Bornajoo
    May 15, 2015, 2:29 pm

    Thanks for the analysis

    “As we see now, however, the younger generation may be worse than those of Beilin’s generation.”

    In my opinion you can swap the” may be ” in that sentence to” are”.

    There is no chance of any Israeli leaders doing the right thing. Israeli society is too far gone for that. It has to be imposed on them.

    • a blah chick
      a blah chick
      May 15, 2015, 2:35 pm

      They need to be pressured and the best way to do that is to force them to pay for their occupation. Right now too many are subsidizing them. Hit them in the pocket book, that’ll get their attention.

      • Bornajoo
        Bornajoo
        May 15, 2015, 2:43 pm

        “They need to be pressured and the best way to do that is to force them to pay for their occupation. Right now too many are subsidizing them. Hit them in the pocket book, that’ll get their attention.”

        Fully agree with that!

        Abbas needs to hand back the keys and then go away.

  3. just
    just
    May 15, 2015, 2:57 pm

    You’re both right. Gideon Levy said it best, I think:

    “We have to face reality, and reality is that there is no chance for a change from within the Israeli society. No way… The only hope is for an international intervention, and the only hope is from this place, from Washington, from the United States, from the EU. Only from there.

    Because Israeli society is today by far too brainwashed. Life in Israel is by far too good. Israel is, let’s face, it a society which lives in denial, totally disconnected from reality. Would it be a private person, I would recommend either medication or hospitalization. Because people who lose connection to reality might be very dangerous either to themselves or to society. And the Israeli society lost connection with reality, it lost connection with the reality in its backyard, it totally lost connection with the international environment.”

    – See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2015/04/sacrificed-sovereignty-washington#sthash.xluo6UoV.dpuf

    BDS and more!

  4. Ael
    Ael
    May 15, 2015, 4:04 pm

    One person, one vote,
    For all between river and sea.

  5. Keith
    Keith
    May 15, 2015, 7:01 pm

    MARC- Beilin quote: “…Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government may feel pressured to show a commitment to peace.”

    Beilin’s proposal is for Israel to, in effect, camouflage it’s intransigence with a new/old distraction from the facts on the ground while going about its version of business as usual. Yet another excuse to preclude substantive action with the appearance of negotiations. One-state, two-state, bi-national state, what is the difference when Israel is committed to no-state? Talking about a one-state versus a two-state is a total waste of time. The focus needs to be on the here and now. End the siege of Gaza and other human rights violations, then talk. Hell, Israel wont even abide by the terms of the latest Gaza cease fire agreement. Just like the last one and the one before that. Israel is, once again, provoking the Gazans in the hope of inciting an ineffectual rocket attack which will provide a pretext for Israel’s next round of “mowing the lawn” in Gaza. Mass murder as national support. That, and claiming victimhood.

  6. sehsane
    sehsane
    May 16, 2015, 12:40 pm

    Mr. Beilin seems to have turned into a naive dreamer who has completely lost touch with the reality of Israeli politics. Does he seriously think that an Israeli unity government between the ultra rightists and the center right opposition could possibly contemplate permitting hundreds of thousands of Palesinians to return to their ancestral homes in present day Israel? Could such a coalition even consider giving up east Jerusalem, or could it abdicate the Zionist dream of sovereignty over “Eretz Israel”. Ridiculous.
    The proposal for a Palestinian Israeli confederation would, however, serve as a bait for negotiations that would go on for a decade or two while Israel completes its land grab of the West Bank. After almost a quarter of a century of fruitless negotiations, only fools among Palestinians would travel the same route for another quarter century.

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