The Palestinians and the Israelis seem to agree on one thing: that the other is at fault. Both sides, either explicitly or implicitly, want recognition by the other that they are innocent victims, that the other side is wrong or has acted unfairly or unjustly; and demand that the other side relinquish crucial aspects of their identity.
Concentrating on a pragmatic approach that will benefit both peoples without impinging on the sovereignty of either the Jewish state or its Palestinian counterpart may lay the groundwork for peace by focusing on joint decision-making on non-politically charged issues. The Israeli-Palestinian Confederation (IPC) Committee believes that one possible solution involves electing a confederation government comprised of Israelis - both Jewish and Arab - and Palestinians.
The confederation government remains applicable irrespective of whether the Israelis and Palestinians live in one state or reach a two-state solution. Their respective governments are free to negotiate any political solution for the future. We believe that even if two states were to emerge, there will still need to be cooperation between those two states.

The Legislature

Approximately 10 million people currently live in the area, of whom 6 million are Israeli citizens and 4 million are Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Dividing the entire region into 300 districts apportioned by population should result in a legislature divided between Israelis and Palestinians by a ratio of approximately 60/40. If the relative birth rate of Palestinians to that of Israelis maintains its current trend, however, Palestinians will outnumber Israelis in the not-too-distant future.
The legislature would tackle issues that the Israeli and Palestinian governments - for internal political reasons - find difficult to address. It would also deal with the day-to-day quality-of-life issues where cooperation is required, including, but certainly not limited to, establishing public facilities such as water lines, highways, schools and hospitals.
The 300 representatives would only be able to pass legislation that is acceptable to both Israelis and Palestinians. In order to pass any legislation, the following requirements must be met: To encourage consensus and to prevent the majority from riding roughshod over the minority, any confederation legislation would require the approval of: 1) 55% of the Palestinian representatives; and 2) 55% of the Israeli representatives. The Palestinian government and the Israeli government must each have veto power.
The requirement for a majority vote in each group, coupled with veto power for both governments, should ensure that only legislation that is reasonable to both sides could pass. This system would foster cooperation, since any legislation promoting the national aspirations of one side at the expense of the other would easily be blocked. As a consequence, the representatives would concentrate instead on initiatives that improve their constituents' lives.
Such confederation legislation reached by consensus would discourage both governments from exercising their veto powers. If a legislation has wide popular support among the two peoples, it may be untenable for one government to veto the legislation without undermining its own legitimacy. In this sense, a confederation would serve as a bridge between the Palestinian and Israeli governments.
What possible legislation might be acceptable to both the Israeli and Palestinian governments? Implied in such a question is the underlying assumption that whatever is good for one side is not good for the other, but that is far from the truth.
A confederation legislature could provide considerable advantages to the region in two major categories: 1) the reduction of tension and violence; and 2) the cultivation of economic prosperity for the future. For example, the confederation could create a joint emergency task force to establish emergency procedures in the event of major public health problems and epidemics, earthquakes or other natural disasters, or a nuclear attack. It could create joint economic zones on the borders between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza (half in Israel and half in Palestine). The zones would be controlled by the IPC police force and would allow easy access to Palestinians and Israelis, as well as other citizens.


Given that neither the Israeli government nor the Palestinian Authority is likely to relinquish its monopoly on governance willingly, initially, the Israeli-Palestinian Confederation would have to hold a private election. This would also establish the independence of the legislative body, showing that it is neither a tool of the Israelis nor of the Palestinians.
Direct representation elections for Gaza, the West Bank and Israel are nothing new. Israel has been a functioning parliamentary democracy throughout its existence and the 2006 Palestinian elections have been recognized as honest, open and free.
The 300 representatives would not be targeted for attacks by extreme or violent groups, because members of such groups are motivated by antagonism against their own or the other government. These elements believe that they can derail the peace process by forcing their respective governments to act aggressively toward the other. A confederation legislature would not be considered a threat, and any attack on it would not lead to the desired reaction of causing the Israeli or Palestinian government to lash out.
Whereas there is currently no mechanism for the Palestinians and Israelis to solve day-to-day and long-term issues for the benefits of both sides, and there are no rules to resolve conflicts when they erupt, the confederation, once effective in demonstrating that Israelis and Palestinians can govern together, would become the de facto authority to establish rules to settle issues, solve problems and enhance working and living relations between and among the peoples of the region.


At IPC's symposium on February 26, 2006, held at the University of California, Los Angeles, Prof. Alan Dershowitz surprised many guests by expressing his general approval of a "loose confederation, based on the kind that now exists in parts of Europe with economic and other forms of cooperation involving natural resources and water." He stated that "the confederation idea is worthy of consideration, as long as it does not mean a one-state solution." He went on to say, "Any kind of a confederation would require that Israel retain its sovereignty, its ability to defend itself, its ability to reflect Jewish culture and history."
Former President Bill Clinton, in a personal letter, was very encouraging of our pursuing the idea of a confederation - perhaps reflecting on his own experience with former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the late President Yasser Arafat.
Moreover, the idea of a confederation is widely accepted around the world. It is designed to achieve a mechanism of cooperation while preserving the identity and special needs of its states.
The European Union is a multi-national union of independent states. It is an inter-governmental union of 27 states, each maintaining its own government and identity. Ever since its establishment in 1992, the EU holds an election every five years for the common European Parliament. The EU manages to maintain a common government for all of the 27 states, yet each one of them has its own separate national government.
Switzerland has two chambers in its legislature: the National Council, representing the people; and the Council of States, representing the cantons. The National Council has 200 seats, with each canton contributing representatives in proportion to its size. The Council of States has two members for each canton and one member for each half-canton. The Swiss system is meant to create a balance in which the small cantons are protected from the large.
The United States and Canada have a similar formula, combining a federal government overlapping with separate state governments. At the same time, each state sends two senators and a proportionate number of House representatives to a common Congress.
An Israeli-Palestinian Confederation would pass legislation on many issues that are unlikely to be enacted by each government independently. For example, a confederation government could pass legislation to borrow $10 billion from Arab and other countries to construct utility and transportation grids extending from Haifa to the West Bank to Jerusalem and Gaza. Such a project could substantially stimulate the economies of both the Israelis and the Palestinians. It is unlikely that the Israeli or Palestinian government would veto such legislation, given the potential benefits to their people.
Enacting such common legislation could enhance the area's natural resources, tourism and security. A confederation government would act as a mediator between the Palestinian and Israeli governments.

Not a One-State Solution

Would a confederation pose a threat to the existence of the future Jewish state? What would happen if the Palestinian population were to gain the majority?
The confederation is not a one-state solution. The Israeli and Palestinian governments would remain sovereign and independent of each other. The division of land between the Israeli and Palestinian states would remain subject to negotiations between the two governments.
The confederation is not tied to the ultimate outcome of such negotiations. Such an arrangement would be necessary whether the Israelis and Palestinians agree on the division of land or not. A confederation is a third government designed to enhance the lives of the Palestinians and the Israelis, in the same way that the EU is designed to enhance the lives of the Germans and the French, for example.
It is assumed that the Muslim population will outnumber the Jewish population in the region some time in the future, with or without a confederation. And if in 50 years the Israelis were to become a minority, they would be protected under the confederation suggested in this article. Any confederation legislation would require 55% of both the Israeli and the Palestinian representatives to vote in favor of the legislation, and the Israeli government would maintain its veto power.  
At the same time, as long as the Israelis retain the majority, they must give the same veto power to the Palestinians. Otherwise, it is unlikely that the Palestinians would reciprocate with the same recognition of veto power when the Israelis become the minority.

Focusing on People, Not on the Division of Land

Up until now, the conflict has been viewed strictly in terms of land. All peace negotiations so far have focused primarily on the division of land between the Palestinians and the Israelis. This approach has ultimately failed, mainly because the governments have been too weak and the land is too small. The combination of shared holy places and natural resources in this tiny area has made a resolution almost impossible.
A confederation government would utilize a second dimension of the conflict, which has been clearly neglected. It would approach the issues on the basis of people, not strictly on the division of land. It would manage the daily and economic lives of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples and would create a mechanism to deal with each other's lives. Each representative to the confederation would focus primarily on benefiting his constituents from his own district and not the national aspirations of his country.
This new mechanism of passing legislation is likely to encourage cooperation between representatives based on the interest of their constituents. Israeli and Palestinian representatives would find themselves on the same side of an issue. The Palestinian and Israeli governments, which would possess veto power, would watch over the national interests of their people. They would be justified in exercising their veto power if significant national interests were threatened, whereas they would face national and international pressure if they attempted to veto reasonable legislation. Once the process begins, more areas of common interest will be discovered, and the benefits to both sides will be obvious.

Mbuthina Abu Milhem (Desert Generation)