In the world of today, control over territory is in many ways losing its weight as a factor creating economic progress and well-being for people. Globalization has created porous borders and the concept of power is given new content and new dimensions – economic and political power no longer grows out of the power over the land.
But the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is like few other conflicts stubbornly focusing on control of land, of territory. Developments have in many ways gone too far to permit a reasonable territorial division. Physical and political obstacles are growing. The web of Israeli roads and settlements on the West Bank is settling as a geological sediment on top of the existing Palestinian society and the Israeli ”matrix of control” is slowly making substantial and sustainable development impossible. In Gaza economic and social conditions remain miserable. Palestinians in Israel, although citizens, suffer discrimination in various ways.
Israel controls almost all the territory and has so far not been willing to part with what Palestinians regard as the minimum necessary to enable the creation of a territorially viable Palestinian state. Demographic developments will soon make Palestinians a majority in the whole area. A situation with a minority controlling 80 percent of the territory and suppressing the majority of the population is not a sustainable solution.
The present paradigm of dividing the land geographically has not worked in spite of thirty years of relentless efforts, numerous plans and endless talks, or talks about talks, involving the parties, the US, the EU and large parts of the international community. And there are solid reasons why it is not working – physically there is not much left to divide and politically the necessary political will has not been mobilized.
A two state solution seems no longer in the cards. A one state solution never was.
It is time for a re-think.
If the land cannot be shared by geographical division, can it be shared in some other way? Is there another vision that can provide hope?
Can one imagine a scenario with a new type of two state solution, one Israeli state and one Palestinian state, in parallel, each covering the whole area, with political and civil rights extended to all, Israelis and Palestinians, and developed from existing political, economic and physical structures? Such a scenario would mean a decoupling of the exclusive link between state and territory. Two state structures parallel with each other, or “superimposed” upon each other, would cover the whole area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.
The people in the whole area could be able to choose freely which state to belong to and at the same time have the right – at least in principle – to settle in the whole territory. Citizenship could be the result of the individual’s free choice and thus follow the citizen, not the territory.
Given a regional division in counties, a free individual choice could be combined with giving counties the right to choose which state to belong to, based on a majority vote in each county. At the same time a citizen should be free to choose and belong to another state than the one chosen by the county.
Such an arrangement would likely lead to a mainly Jewish/Israeli heartland, consisting of present-day Israel and a number of the larger Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas. But this area should also be open for Palestinians wishing to live there, initially maybe in limited numbers, until the structure has won general acceptance and confidence from both sides. Those counties that thus makes up a Jewish heartland would be under Israeli jurisdiction, but individuals living there would also be free to choose to belong to the Palestinian state, and thus to be under Palestinian jurisdiction.
In the same way one could imagine a Palestinian heartland consisting of the West Bank and Gaza, and maybe parts of the areas in Israel that are now dominated by Palestinians. This whole area would however in the same way be open for Jews/Israelis – and others – who wished to live there, maybe with corresponding numerical limitations initially. These Jews/Israelis would thus be under Israeli jurisdiction and belong to the Israeli state. Dual citizenship could be an option in some cases.
Thus two parallel state structures would both cover the whole area, with two separate heartlands but with soft and porous borders between them. Both Israelis and Palestinians could claim their own state with its own special character and identity, but they would complement each other and not be mutually exclusive.
In such a structure both states could keep their own national symbols, their own government and parliament, as well as their foreign policy and foreign representation. They could choose to join in a defence union, a customs union, with one currency, one labour market and a joint external border management. But a lot of this is to a large extent already the case today, even if strong forces pull in different directions.
Of course there would have to be joint, or in any case harmonized legislation in a number of areas, including communications, road traffic, police and taxation. In other areas such as civil law and family matters jurisdiction has in many parts of the world already followed religion rather than territory for hundreds of years, and would thus not necessarily present a major problem, although parallel legal systems of course contain complications.
Two such parallel states would be an innovation in international politics, in international law and in basic constitutional matters. The scenario would differ from both a federal and a bi-national system but have elements of both.
Such a structure would allow both for an independent Palestinian state and also for the Israeli state to be both Jewish and democratic at the same time. It would bring an end to occupation and open up for free movement over the whole area as well as providing a vision for end of conflict.
By MATHIAS MOSSBERGAmbassador Mossberg is conducting a research project being funded by the Swedish Foreign Ministry – the Parallel States Project (PSP). Before coming to Lund, Ambassador Mossberg was Adviser on dialogue with the Muslim world at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Stockholm. Prior to this he was on secondment to the EastWest Institute in New York and responsible for the Middle East Program of the Institute. Ambassador Mossberg was earlier Secretary-General for a major Government review of Swedish security policy during the Cold War, and served as Director of the Policy Planning Group at the Ministry from 1996-2000. He was Sweden’s Ambassador to Morocco in 1994-96 and Personal Representative of the Chairman in office, CSCE, for Nagorno-Karabach in 1992-94. He also served as Assistant Under-Secretary for Africa and the Middle East at the Ministry, and in diplomatic posts in London, Amman, New York, Moscow and Geneva.