Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Israel and Palestine: How About A Zero-State Solution?

Sometimes we need to change the entire way we think about a problem if we want to solve it. When talented people, strongly motivated by personal interest, noble ideals, or both, cannot figure out what to do, either the problem is unsolvable or we need to think about it in a new way.  The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians may be an example of such a problem.

For many years the United States has promoted a two-state solution: one state for Israelis,  one for Palestinians.  Although Israeli and Palestinian leaders favor it,  for many reasons the idea has never gotten anywhere. Getting to yes on this approach may be politically impossible both for Israel and for the Palestinians. 

The apparent alternative would be a single-state in which Israelis and Palestinians would live peacefully under the same government.  This would avoid the sticky issue of who gets Jerusalem.  It would recognize there is no place where a geographical line can neatly be drawn between the two populations.  But a single-state solution scares Israelis,  who fear that the faster growth of the Palestinian population would allow a future Jewish minority to be repressed by a Palestinian majority.  So a single-state solution may also be impossible.

If both two-states and one-state are impossible,  does this mean there is no possible solution?  Maybe not.   It might just be possible to get Israelis and Palestinians to agree to join,  jointly,  the United States as its 51st state.  This would be a zero-state solution,  if the ambiguous term “state” is taken to mean an independent country. Israel-Palestine (or Palestine-Israel?—perhaps this could be determined by a coin flip) would be a state, but in a different sense:   a constituent element of a federal union, like Oregon or Michigan
Residents of the new state would be protected by the Constitution’s  equal protection and due process clauses.  Free exercise of religion by Muslims, Jews and Christians would be guaranteed by the First Amendment.  The huge resources devoted by Israelis and Palestinians to military preparedness could be redirected. Their economy would benefit by being  an integral part of the larger American economy.  

Adding Palestine-Israel as a state might be a hard sell here. Cultural,  linguistic and religious differences,  the fear of importing problems from a troubled area, opening the present United States to free immigration from the new state, and the radical nature of the idea will give many Americans pause.  But considering how central the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to many other problems facing us in the Middle East and the amount of foreign aid now going to that area,  it might not be impossible to get congressional approval.
Much would depend on the details.  To avoid looking like empire-building we should add the new state only if substantial majorities of Israelis and of  Palestinians, in separate referendums,  approved.  We must make it clear to other countries in the area that we seek good relations and are not interested in taking over more local real estate.  
Before the end of the South African apartheid regime,  I once shocked a panel discussion by proposing that South Africa become our 51st state.  Fears by the minority white population that it would be abused if the black majority was enfranchised would be eliminated by the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by American courts.  Fortunately South Africa was able to reform itself without going to this extreme thanks to wise leadership by F.W. deKlerk  and Nelson Mandela. 

Does anyone see a deKlerk or a Mandela in the current  Middle East?  Maybe this time we really need to add that 51st state.  

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