Daniel Hollander is a former Foreign Service officer who served at the U.S. Agency for International Development in the West Bank and Gaza from 2010 to 2013.
As White House advisers Jared Kushner and Jason D. Greenblatt prepare the finishing touches to President Trump’s vision for Middle East peace, the rest of the world prepares its anticipated response: a collective sigh and a shrug. That’s because all signs indicate that the president’s plan will offer no policies offering any realistic solution to the challenge of creating a viable state for the Palestinian people.
But the president and his advisers are no different than most parties and experts involved in the peace process industry: Few , if any, are willing to think beyond the two-state solution. There is another option: a federalist, multistate solution.
As it stands today, the two-state solution is largely untenable. Merely defining borders seems a nonstarter at this point. There are wildly differing views about where to draw a new “green line” separating Israel and the West Bank — and how that might differ from the location of the physical barrier built by the Israeli government. Meanwhile, more than half a million Israelis — often referred to as “settlers” — live across the line in the West Bank. Israel has plans to continue developing East Jerusalem, including even the most contentious areas, such as the “E1” area.
Some experts, recognizing that the two-state solution is largely infeasible, have argued in recent years that a one-state solution is the only viable option, placing everyone under a single government. But this runs into another, insurmountable obstacle: the importance of cultural identity to both Israelis and Palestinians.
Simply put, it is naive to think that Israelis would accept a state that was no longer the expressed home of the Jewish people, or that Palestinians would live in a state that was not their own. And yet, the Middle East is not a place for those who give up hope. The question remains: How do we solve the problem of unclear state borders, while allowing Israelis and Palestinians to maintain and build governments around their strong cultural identities?
A federalist approach could provide an answer by allowing borders to be drawn more flexibly. It could also make it unnecessary for Israel to completely disengage from the West Bank, which Israel views as politically untenable.
Consider a framework that creates six separate, federalist states, each with its own state authority. This might include multiple states within Israel proper, such as one encompassing central and northern Israel and another for the Negev region in the south. There would also be states for the more contentious regions, including Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza.
Such a setup would allow for unique state authorities that respect the cultural norms and identities of different populations while providing an overarching government that guarantees the democratic and basic human rights of all people. For example, the West Bank could be a state largely governed by a Palestinian government, where some Israelis might remain so long as they abide by their state government. And Jerusalem, which would include some of the most contentious areas, could be governed by a joint Israeli-Palestinian government.
Many will balk at such a radical idea, or call it naive or idealistic. But while it is true that we are a long way away from a tenable federalist agreement in the Middle East, the most naive and unhelpful way of thinking is to continue to believe that the two-state solution is the only path to pursue. It is time that we think more creatively about resolving the conflict and protecting the security, rights and identity of Israelis and Palestinians.