JERUSALEM (AP) – Israeli and Palestinian public figures have drawn up a new proposal for a two-state coalition, which they hope will offer a way forward after a decade-long stalemate in Middle East peace efforts.
The plan contains several controversial proposals, and it is unclear whether it has any support among leaders on both sides. But it could help shape the debate over the conflict and will be presented to a senior US official and UN Secretary-General this week.
The plan calls for an independent state of Palestine in most of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, areas Israel conquered in the Middle East War in 1967. Israel and Palestine would have separate governments but coordinate at a very high level on security, infrastructure and other issues, affecting both populations.
The plan would allow the nearly 500,000 Jewish settlers on the occupied West Bank to remain there, with large settlements near the border annexed to Israel in a one-on-one land exchange.
Settlers living deep in the West Bank will have the opportunity to relocate or become permanent residents of the state of Palestine. The same number of Palestinians – probably refugees from the 1948 war around the establishment of Israel – would be allowed to move to Israel as citizens of Palestine with permanent residence in Israel.
The initiative is largely based on the Geneva Convention, a detailed, comprehensive peace plan drawn up in 2003 by prominent Israelis and Palestinians, including former officials. The nearly 100-page Confederation Plan contains new, detailed recommendations on how to resolve core issues.
Yossi Beilin, a former senior Israeli official and peace negotiator who co-founded the Geneva initiative, said that by taking the mass evacuation of settlers off the table, the plan could be more receptive to them.
Israel’s political system is dominated by the settlers and their supporters, who regard the West Bank as the biblical and historical heartland of the Jewish people and an integral part of Israel.
The Palestinians see the settlements as the biggest obstacle to peace, and most of the international community considers them illegal. The settlers living deep in the West Bank – which would likely end up within the borders of a future Palestinian state – are among the most radical and tend to oppose any territorial division.
“We believe that if there is no threat of confrontations with the settlers, it would be much easier for those who want to have a two-state solution,” Beilin said. The idea has been discussed before, but he said a confederation would make it more “feasible.”
Several other issues remain, including security, freedom of movement and perhaps most critically after years of violence and failed negotiations, lack of confidence.
The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Palestinian Authority declined to comment.
The Palestinian protagonist behind the initiative is Hiba Husseini, a former legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team dating back to 1994, who comes from a prominent Jerusalem family.
She acknowledged that the proposal regarding the settlers was “very controversial”, but said the overall plan would meet the Palestinians’ core desire for a state of their own.
“It’s not going to be easy,” she added. “To achieve state and to achieve the desired right to self-determination that we have been working on – since 1948, really – we need to make some compromises.”
Thorny issues such as the conflicting demands on Jerusalem, the final borders and the fate of the Palestinian refugees could be easier to address by two states in the context of a confederation, rather than the traditional approach of trying to work out all the details prior to a final agreement .
“We are reversing the process and starting with recognition,” Husseini said.
It is almost three decades since Israeli and Palestinian leaders gathered on the White House lawn to sign the Oslo Accords, which launched the peace process.
Several rounds of talks over the years, marked by outbreaks of violence, failed to provide a final agreement, and there have been no serious or significant negotiations for more than a decade.
Israel’s current prime minister, Naftali Bennett, is a former settler leader who opposes a Palestinian state. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who is set to take over as prime minister in 2023 under a rotation agreement, supports a possible two-state solution.
But none of them are likely to be able to launch major initiatives because they are at the forefront of a narrow coalition spanning the political spectrum from hard-line nationalist factions to a small Arab party.
On the Palestinian side, President Mahmoud Abbas’ authority is limited to parts of the occupied West Bank, where the Islamic militant group Hamas – which does not accept Israel’s existence – rules in Gaza. Abbas’ presidency expired in 2009, and his popularity has declined in recent years, meaning he is unlikely to be able to make historic compromises.
The idea of the two-state solution was to give the Palestinians an independent state, while allowing Israel to exist as a democracy with a strong Jewish majority. However, Israel’s continued expansion of settlements, the absence of any peace process and repeated rounds of violence have greatly complicated the hope of dividing the country.
The international community still sees a two-state solution as the only realistic way to resolve the conflict.
But the situation is changing, especially among young Palestinians, who increasingly see the conflict as a struggle for equal rights under what they – and three prominent human rights groups – say is an apartheid regime.
Israel vehemently rejects these claims and regards them as an anti-Semitic attack on its right to exist. Lapid has suggested that reviving a political process with the Palestinians would help Israel resist any effort to stamp it as an apartheid state in the bodies of the world.
Next week, Beilin and Husseini will present their plan to US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Beilin says they have already shared drafts with Israeli and Palestinian officials.
Beilin said he sent it to people he knew would not reject it outright. “No one rejected it. That does not mean they embrace it.”
“I have not sent it to Hamas,” he added, joking. “I do not know their address.”