The peace process between Israelis and Palestinians has not made progress for a long time. In spite of Annapolis and new political leadership in both Israel and the United States, prospects for a breakthrough remain bleak. A solution acceptable to both sides remains distant. At the same time Israel continues year after year to strengthen its presence on the West Bank and construction continues unabated. Has the time run out for a traditional two state solution, with two states side by side sharing the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River?
- A one state solution is not acceptable to Israelis. A two state solution that could satisfy both sides is not in the cards. Are there any alternatives?
- Is there a way to create a new kind of two-state structure that could meet some of the basic demands and desires from both sides?
- Could a concept with two parallel state structures, both covering the whole territory be a way to open up the discussion?
These are the basic questions the Parallel States Project poses. Two parallel state structures, one Israeli and one Palestinian, could build on existing institutions and frameworks, the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and extend the jurisdiction of both to citizens living in the whole area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Barriers could be lifted and a joint security and defense policy, a common economic policy and a common labor market be introduced. Civil and family law could largely follow religion, as is already the case in many places.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict does in no way lend itself to a “quick fix”. But new thoughts have to be explored to seek ways out of the present deadlock. The primary objective of the Parallel States Project is to introduce new thoughts into the discussion, not to build a ready model.
The Parallel States Project is an attempt to study the questions and issues that would arise in a structure of two parallel states, “superimposed” upon each other, together with Israeli and Palestinian thinkers, academics and policy makers, as well as a number of international academic institutions and think tanks. The project will be conducted within the framework of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University, and is funded by the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
In the world of today, control of territory is rapidly loosing its importance as a factor creating economic progress and well-being for people. Globalization has created porous borders and the concept of power is given a new content and new dimensions – economic and political power no longer grows out of the power over the land.
The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is like few other conflicts 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. If present trends continue the web of Israeli roads and settlements will settle as a geological sediment over the traditional Palestinian society.
More and more people have lost their faith in the traditional two state solution, with two states side by side sharing the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Demographic developments will soon make the Palestinians a majority in the whole area. A situation pointing at a minority controlling 80 percent of the territory that suppresses a majority of the population, is not a sustainable solution.
Can one imagine a scenario with a two state solution, one Israeli state and one Palestinian state in parallel, each for the whole area and with civil rights to all, Israelis and Palestinians, built upon existing political, economic and physical structures? Such a scenario would mean a decoupling of the exclusive link between state and territory, and the notion of two state structures parallel with each other, or “superimposed” upon each other. Both state structures would cover the whole area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.
The people in the whole area would 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 would 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 on 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.
Thus two parallel state structures would 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, but they would compliment 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 would need to join in a defense union, a customs union, with one currency, one labor 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.
Two such parallel states would be an innovation in international politics, in international law and in basic constitutional matters. It would differ from both a federal and a bi-national model but have elements of both.
These thoughts to a large measure have their origin in extensive discussions during an extended period of time with a group of outstanding Israeli and Palestinian academics and thinkers, many with close ties to leaders on the respective sides.
The Parallel States Project has as its objective to stimulate discussion about new forms for coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. The study has a broad approach and cover areas of international law, constitutional aspects, central and local government functions and bodies, legal system, security structure and strategy, economic aspects, infrastructure and communications, social aspects, etc. The project is engaging special expertise to address each of these issues. The research project cooperates with other international academic institutions and think tanks addressing similar questions.
Starting in September 2008, the project was designed for a two-year period and was carried out in three phases. A small core group was set up to advise on the implementation of the project. At various stages of the work continuous workshops have been held to discuss findings among larger groups of people from the region.
The first and introductory phase focused on organizing the work, on identifying and formulating the questions to be addressed. It also conducted an overview of what has been done in this and related fields and by whom.
The second phase focused on research on the different topics and elements that together make up a state structure. Reports have been made on each topic, with a view to addressing the various substantive issues.
The third phase focused on presenting the results at the conference ”One Land – Two States? – An Alternative Scenario for Israeli-Palestinian Accommodation” in Lund, October 26-27, 2010.