May 12, 2021

By Patricia Sohn

A brief perusal of France 24 News shows various degrees and forms of social mobilization, protest, and rebellion in Niger, Cote d’Ivoire, Algeria, India, Tartarstan, Afghanistan, Minneapolis, Myanmar, and of course Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

What explains our international Spring of Rebellion?  Is it the boiler plate of the Covid restrictions with all of the economic, material, and personal-physical-spatial constraints that have come with this period?  Is it a boiling up of willing resistance to autocratic rule, or smaller issues, in various forms from local to national to regional around the world?  My guess (the formal word for it is, hypothesis) is that the Covid restrictions acted as a trigger to make it feel worthwhile to (or even impossible not to) mount various forms of resistance to sometimes longer-standing structural or institutional injustice in society and political organization.  These came, in my view, in the context of the background factor of democracy rhetoric going back at least to the establishment of the United Nations in 1945.  We can argue about what constitutes injustice; however, the fact of these social mobilizations (and some outright armed rebellions) is just that.  That is, someone views these local, national, and regional issues as injustices sufficient to rise against them, putting self, bodies, families, and communities at risk in the doing.  Our own views of “injustice” are not always what matters to the empirics of why people mobilize politically in a serious or concerted way.

It is beyond my purview to address solutions to the attempted coup in Niger; the social movement to force rotation of power out of the hands of entrenched elites in Algeria; the farmer crisis in India; the Côte d’Ivoire’s extensive anti-terrorism activities at the local and national levels; a school attack in Tartarstan; bombings in Afghanistan; extensive protests against Covid restrictions in France; the mass demonstrations in Minneapolis; and the coup in Myanmar.  I am comforted that our national authorities have the best information about all of these issues. 

I will limit my comments to the Arab-Israeli Conflict regarding which I do have a few thoughts to contribute to the mix.

What is today’s warfare about?  The society of Israeli citizens – including Palestinian-Israelis, or “Arab-Israelis” – have advanced extraordinarily the cause of civil rights within the borders of the state since Palestinians formally became citizens after the 1967 War.  It is a glass-is-half-full or glass-is-half-empty sort of condition in my view; it is not perfect, but the strides made by Palestinian-Israeli citizens have been remarkable.  Those have included Palestinian-Israeli civil society organizations joined by a wide range of Israeli-Jewish lawyers and human rights activists in support of these developments.  Peaceably shared public spaces and work spaces, jointly used on a day-to-day basis, have increased by decade.  Some socially mobilized lawyers and activists have worked together with organizations such as the United Nations and have been able to make a positive impact on social mobilization in other conflict contexts.  Given the degree of cross-border conflict, the extent of coexistence, civil society and civil rights within the borders and across Jewish and Arab lines is very strong.

Indeed, even the human rights of non-citizen Palestinians in the Palestinian territories improved markedly beginning with landmark litigation allowing them to bring cases to the Israeli High Court of Justice in the early 1970s.  Nonetheless, the battles, skirmishes, escalations and de-escalations of armed conflict across the “Green Line” – the borders between Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza – is a well-known story.  And it has emerged again in recent days in a form far more extensive than it has been in some years.

At some point, in my view, the options will become mutual destruction, or peace.  I hope that mutual destruction will appear to most NOT a good solution.  Peace-loving, law-abiding Palestinians and Israelis, both, however, live in a wider context of some dangerous sorts who do not have an interest in a peaceable Middle East and North Africa (MENA).  Indeed, there is reason to believe that some of those forces are involved in fueling the conflict rather than its peaceful resolution.  In that sense, the conflict between Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and Israel, is a cross-border conflict and also very much an international conflict.  Its solution must involve local actors, then, as well as regional stakeholders. 

How can all sides make peace and save face?  France and Germany managed it.  The U.S. and the Soviet Union managed it.  Even Northern and Southern Ireland managed it.  Some of those relations have warmed more than others.  Peoples who have warred for centuries at a time have managed it.   Establishing and maintaining a durable peace characterized by warm relations takes time.  One should not expect a goal that may take centuries to arrive to do so in the immediate term.  Nonetheless, peace is possible.

The Arab-Israeli Conflict, in my view, dates to the duplicitous, by some accounts, or ill-conceived triumvirate of the Husayn-McMahon Correspondence/Sykes-Picot Agreement/Balfour Declaration.  These are the three moments in which Western powers and allies that will remain unnamed, in an unfortunate historically colonial hour that we need not repeat but from which we can and should all learn, first (1) promised an Arab state (assumed to include Palestine) to Sharif Hussein of Mecca in exchange for mounting the Arab Revolt of 1916 against the Ottoman Empire, a revolt made famous by the film, Lawrence of Arabia.  Then (2) before the Arab Revolt could even be conducted, two Western powers met and began a secret agreement as to how they would split MENA into spheres of influence among them, suggesting limited real intention of Jewish or Arab autonomy.  And, finally (3) one of the same powers promised the Zionist movement a Jewish homeland in Palestine, the language of which became the subject of detailed, legalistic debate (e.g, in or of Palestine, and state or homeland?).  The British did initially establish states in Syria, Iraq, and Jordan, each of which were ruled by Sharif Hussein’s sons, Faisal (Syria, then Iraq) and Abdullah (Jordan).  And, Israel was established in 1948, after the 1947 British withdrawal from the Palestinian Mandate.  Not being an era of wide circulation of The New York Times in the region, to say nothing of quick access to information as we have today on the internet, misinformation and mistrust spread like the wind.  When some constituencies claimed an Arab state had been promised, others claimed a Jewish state had been promised; none had reason to trust the other.  A brief moment of “rising above” emerged in the Faisal-Weizmann Accord, whereby these two visionary leaders who helped to found the 20th century MENA asserted their ability and willingness to work on their own issues together; and, moreover, to engage in mutual support of their respective national aspirations.  Faisal and Weizmann, each foundational figures in the creation of post-Ottoman states in MENA, were not able to convince their Peoples to follow a path of coexistence.  The rest is history – by varying interpretations.

It is a fact that Palestinian citizens of Israel have better living conditions than most Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza (with the obvious exception of the wealthy).  It is also true that they enjoy better civil rights than their Palestinian cousins in the Palestinian Authority.  In general, they experience greater economic opportunity.  They have greater freedom of movement in the international sphere (e.g., flights, documents, and crossing borders). 

I have suggested a Likud-Joint List alliance in the past as a realistic way of achieving a government majority for the purposes of establishing a governing coalition in Israel.  That did not happen, of course.  So the following suggestion may sound implausible.  Nonetheless, as John F. Kennedy once said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

The Palestinians rebelling will ultimately lose.  They will not have access to better resources, food stuffs, jobs, industry, education, or freedom of movement by engaging in warfare.  And Israel has no reasonable interest that I can see in crushing them, certainly not in international reputation.

The best solution in my view is the following: 

  • Establish the West Bank and Gaza as quasi-independent regions within a newly named “Republic of Israel,” made up of the “State of Israel” and “The Palestinian Register.”  The Peoples of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza are, after all, Children of Abraham and People of the Book.  They share a common ancestor.  They share common cultural and political heritage in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Abyssinia, and Persia.  Their religions have common roots and, as a matter of heritage, they share some ancient religious leaders.  At least for MENA and some South Asian populations, they share some late-modern cultural, social, and political experiences as well.
  • Rather than calling them states, provinces, or districts (e.g., Mahoz), I would use the words, HaMirsham (Hebrew), and Al-Sijil (Arabic); that is, The Palestinian Register.  While “lists” have negative historical connotations for both – and especially for Jewish communities in the context of the Holocaust and some earlier eras in Europe – Al-Sijil has the connotation of a “scroll,” “record,” or “register” – keeping the record or name or heritage.  I think it would be experienced as positively-connotated in the Palestinian context, although it is possible that another word could be found.
  • Quasi-independent regions with some degree of self-governance are a standard part of MENA history from the Ottoman Empire and going as far back as Cyrus the Great.  The relationship could be modeled upon the relationship between Egypt and the Ottoman Empire (before Napoleon arrived to inspire separatist nationalist movements in Egypt).     
  • Political and social rights would be the same for the entire Republic; Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza would gain the political rights that Palestinian citizens of Israel have.  The economies would be closely related and synergistic.  All would be citizens with freedom of movement within and across borders, as well as the responsibility to remain within the constraints of the Rule of Law of the Republic.  The law would constrain freedom of movement for those who break more serious parts of it.
  • In terms of elections, the Palestinian Register would maintain elections akin to state elections in the U.S., following Republic law and institutions; electing one governor for the West Bank and one for Gaza; local mayors and district commissions; and a Palestinian Register President to oversee the joint functioning of the West Bank and Gaza.  The State of Israel elections would run as they do now with the adding of delegates from the Palestinian Register to the Parliament of the Republic.  Those delegates would include the President of the Palestinian Register, as well as some agreed upon number of directly elected delegates. 
  • Palestinians in the State of Israel would maintain their current status and rights, voting within the State of Israel unless they chose to change residence to the Palestinian Register.  Freedom to move official residency between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Register would be maintained through some official and standardized process. The core area that is currently Israel would remain predominantly Jewish; the core areas that are now the West Bank and Gaza would remain predominantly Palestinian (Muslim, Christian, Druze, Baha’i, etc.).  The State of Israel would, thus, continue to satisfy the need for a Jewish state in the international arena to ensure the lives, bodies, families, and fundamental human rights of individuals and communities of Jewish peoples around the world.  The Palestinian Register would serve the same function for Palestinians.  It is a reality (unfortunate or fortunate) that, in order to maintain the “national” needs of the Jewish and Palestinian communities, both, the rules for establishing official residence would need to maintain a Jewish real majority in the State of Israel, and a Palestinian real majority in the Palestinian Register.  This balance and parity would allow for an avoidance of the problems that states such as Lebanon have experienced, historically, as population numbers changed within consociational groups; it would give incentives to both sides to respect and maintain that balance; and it would give incentives to both sides to respect and uphold the civil and human rights of the other’s national citizens within its federated borders.

It is a puzzle.  But it is not un-solvable.  A Federated Consociational democratic Republic is a viable solution, and it may well be the best solution for some decades or centuries.  The notion of consociationalism as part of the story of Palestinians and Israelis is not new.  It has long been part of thinking regarding these issues.

Why go to this effort?  Because the conflict does not show signs of stopping.  It has been actively in place for just over 100 years now.  There is no feasible option for either side to win in entirety.  Palestinians will benefit from citizenship, rights, economic opportunity and more.  Israel will benefit from normalized local relations, regional relations, and the absence of chronic battles and/or wars of attrition.

This type of institutional relationship has worked in MENA in the past.  It could work for Israel and the Palestinian Authority now. 

Dr. Patricia Sohn, Ph.D. is an associate professor. She specializes in Middle East (MENA) and Israel/Palestine politics, and particularly the intersection of religion and politics, courts and politics, and gender politics. She has interests in historical institutional, political sociological, micro-level, and grassroots analysis of state and society. A prime example of the American melting pot, she has heritage from Prussia, the Philippines, Spain, Ireland, and Holland.

Note: The views herein represent only myself, not my employer. –PJS

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