“An Israeli-Palestinian confederation is not a denial of the two-state solution”

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In Béthléem, in December.


© Raneen Sawafta
In Béthléem, in December.

While a growing number of pacifist voices call for the abandonment of the paradigm of the two-state solution in favor of a binational and democratic state, the architect of the Oslo accords defends a middle idea, that of two nested states but independent.

Reduced to an element of diplomatic language emptied of meaning, the sacrosanct “two-state solution” no longer appears obvious. At the time of a Palestinian rout of which we dare not speak the name, many people are pushing for alternative models. Including the binational state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, where Jews and Palestinians share the same country. Utopia almost inevitable for some, existential threat for others. An old debate, once again hot, in which “Liberation” plunged for this file.

Architect of the Oslo and Geneva agreements, minister several times during the 1990s under Yitzhak Rabin, 72-year-old Yossi Beilin has dedicated his life to finding a solution to the conflict. If this great voice of the Israeli left still defends the concept of “two states”, it is now working on a model of confederation in which the Hebrew state and Palestine would coexist.

What remains of the Oslo accords? Are they still a basis for peace?

What remains is already too much. It was just a set of procedures, which we should have gotten rid of as quickly as possible to get to the final deal. It is now a Pandora’s box that has enabled extremists to continue to claim a state for themselves, in particular thanks to the very problematic division of the West Bank into zones [A, B et C, marquant différents degrés de contrôle israélien et d’autonomie palestinienne, ndlr] which seems permanent when it was only a late security measure.

The entrenchment of the occupation in Oslo sauce, coupled with the colonization of the last twenty years, has it made the creation of a viable state for the Palestinians unfeasible? This is the opinion of a growing number of observers of the conflict.

I am not the prophet of a Palestinian state. What I want is a border for my country, to make sure that Israel remains democratic and Jewish, without it having a negative impact on others. I do not want a Jewish minority to rule indefinitely over another people, and I wish that on the other side of the border, this people does not suffer. Even if Israel withdraws unilaterally [de la Cisjordanie], even if it is not my preference.

On the other hand, disembarking from America seventy years later [la création d’Israël] and launch, “You know what, this idea of ​​a Jewish state, it’s not terrible, let’s build a state with the Palestinians”, as does Peter Beinart, it makes no sense. Erase Israel and incorporate it into another country? I appreciate Beinart, there are few intellectuals of his caliber, but there he falls into a trap. Does he think that what our parents and grandparents have built is so fundamentally bad that it should be abandoned? Most of Israel’s more liberal and progressive Israelis are against him on this point. The Jewish state remains important: you know the history of the Jewish people. And imagine that the Israelis will read the New York Times and say to yourself: “Very convincing, let’s abandon our state.” Come on… It is permissible to dream of a utopian world without borders. But why would the Israelis be the first to abandon their state?

Don’t you think the rhetoric of the “Separation necessary”, the idea of ​​the two-state solution as a “Ever higher fence” has tarnished the speech of the peace camp?

It was a mistake to talk about “divorce” all the time. Some in our camp were also opposed to it. But we thought it was the most attractive way to sell our idea to the Israelis. At the time, the left advocated withdrawal from the Occupied Territories and compromise with the Palestinians. The right, she no longer wanted to hear from them. Separation was therefore the common denominator. It was cynical of us to use this argument as a vehicle for our project, because, if we are not careful, we quickly join hate rhetoric. In the end, it’s the same as what this psychopath about American president says [Donald Trump] about Mexico: let’s build a wall high enough and we won’t see them again! This is the reason for my journey to the idea of ​​confederation, which is not a denial of the two-state solution. On the contrary, it makes the existence of the two states easier.

Concretely ?

Today, there is no such confederation in existence in the world. The last comparable was Yugoslavia. In any case, there will not be a single leader, a single Parliament. It will probably not be the same political regimes. And the border will have to be gradually “lightened”. But there will be a lot to share in terms of economic exchange, infrastructure – and security, of course. We saw during the pandemic that Israel and the Territories were not really separate or watertight, and that there was already effective coordination between the two entities. Confederation would also allow settlers to stay [en Cisjordanie], as long as they agree to live under Palestinian sovereignty. On the other hand, Israel would accept an equivalent quota of Palestinian residents. It could be part of a larger solution for refugees.

Does this mean that the settlers – “ineradicable” according to Netanyahu and the Trump plan – have won?

Not if there are two states. Because the whole idea behind colonization is to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state. On the other hand, this is what Beinart tells them with his idea of ​​a binational state: “Look at the card and the numbers, you won.» But if Israel withdraws and settlers remain, they will be in the diaspora, outside their country. I doubt that many remain in these conditions. And if, for a minority, the land [de Judée-Samarie, comme les religieux l’appellent, ndlr] is more important than the state [israélien], be my guest. Or rather be their guest, since they will live in Palestine… But it will be their defeat: there will be a Palestinian state.

Israeli opinion seems far from ripe for such a project …

Since such a model does not exist today, it would be like asking someone to judge a piece of music that they have never heard. The more educated can possibly refer to Canada or Switzerland, conceptually. But even that is not really what it is. The majority, or rather, the plurality of Israelis remain in favor of some form of two-state solution. If we manage to tell them, this solution, it will only work in the form of confederation, I am convinced that we will move the lines. Also, do you think the Israelis were asked if it was OK to talk to the Palestine Liberation Organization before the Oslo accords?

Within the framework of a confederation, can you imagine “porous” borders between Israel and Palestine as in the European Union, with freedom of movement guaranteed?

The border as a wall is a medieval idea. There is obviously a natural proximity between our two economies. Hopefully in the future, the border will be more and more permeable, although not necessarily from the start, for obvious reasons. The issue of Palestinians’ dependence on the Israeli economy is also important. There is a dependency in the other direction on labor, but much less. Look at the numbers: Palestinians export very little to Israel, while Israel exports billions of dollars in goods to the Territories.

This is one of the challenges of the confederation: there is more economic inequality between Israel and Palestine than between the United States and Mexico. Israel will therefore have to help the development of Palestine. The Palestinians, moreover, know this. We can already feel it when we go to meetings. Not with officials, but with traders, young entrepreneurs. More and more Palestinians are drawn to the idea of ​​a “start-up nation”. They come to train in Israel and then return to Ramallah, and show a degree of appreciation towards Israel. There is creativity, cooperation. Much more, for example, than with the Egyptians and Jordanians, while we are at peace with them, but not with the Palestinians! This is also one of the arguments of the right: why seek peace if it is already happening like that? Quite simply because we cannot be at peace with someone who has no rights.

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