"Only a true peace with neighboring peoples can
render possible a common development of this portion of the earth as a vanguard of the awakening of the Near East."

Martin Buber, Speech 1945




Why Brit Shalom?
March 17, 2001

Why, one may ask, is there any reason to propose a "Union" or "Federation" in Israel/Palestine? Why on earth is there any reason to believe that this solution will be successful? There is not even sufficient goodwill on either side to ensure a separation, why propose such an intimate approach between these two mutually repellent populations?

There are three main reasons why it is appropriate to take up and modify at this time, the ideas presented by the original group of people of Brit Shalom.

The first reason is that the Oslo process, after more than a decade of negotiations, has failed. Oslo, and its ideological carry-on baggage, was evidently suffering at Camp David in 2000 and was clearly dead already at Taba some months after. Oslo is dead, not because there is no willingness to concede, but because there is a fundamental inability of either side to partition the land of Palestine/Israel. The reasons underlying this stubborness are different for the two sides.

For the Israelis, partition clearly means the uprooting of over 100 settlements beyond the green line. It means adjusting to a rapid and irrevocable deterioration in geographical deterrent capabilities. In order to face the problems raised by this scenario, successive Israeli governments have proposed to keep Israeli settlements across the green line, and they have devised drafts that would ensure Israeli access to roads and military installations all over the West Bank.

These demands are, it now seems, wholly unacceptable to the Palestinians, who would then be left with administrating not so much a country, but a collection of pieces of land, disjointed and interrupted. So neither side really is able to accept a straight partition.

The second reason is that, no matter what happens there will have to be erected channels of cooperation anyway. Issues such as defence, resources, particularly water resources, economic and regional development, pollution, know no boundaries. No matter what happens, cooperation will need to be sought on these and other issues of pressing concern.

The question is only whether the discussions will take the form of dictates from the powerful to the powerless or whether they should be agreed upon through mutual cooperation. If the situation is one of unilateral dictates and selfish demands, as has been the case since 1967, a co-existence will simply not last. This is what we are precisely what we are experiencing now, with the Second Intifada.

The third reason is more emotional perhaps, a political factor that should not be underestimated. The emotional ties that each people have to the land are to the whole land. Neither Palestinians nor Jews harbour feelings of national pride to a half of Palestine. Both parties are equally adamant that their country is 'really' the whole of Israel/Palestine. The concession of partition is equally big in both minds.

The map that the Prime Minister of Israel, as well as most Israeli homes, have on their wall, is the map of Israel and the territories, and this is of course true for both Arafat and the Palestinian population as well. Slowly, it becomes clear for those who want to see it, that the other population is there to stay. By the year 2012 there will be demographic parity between the two nations in Palestine/Israel.

That is to say, that in a decade or so, there will be as many Palestians as there will be Jews West of the Jordan river. It will have become evident then, that a population of eight or nine millions cannot be denied basic human rights.

So a solution must be based on these three assumptions, whose strength have been tested over the course of the last 100 years: First, there cannot be an absolute physical separation because it would entail a compromise too large to bearfor the Israelis. Second, cooperation must be undertaken between two equal parties, it cannot take the form of dictates from the more powerful part as lack of empowerment breeds violence. Third, the emotional and national-mythological needs of either party need to be addressed.

Finally, it is necessary to point out the fact that, although the union solution clearly suffers from a plethora of practical difficulties, of which the drawing of borders and legislation land areas and populations are just two examples, that is not to say that there is a perfect solution out there somewhere waiting to be discovered. There is none. There is no easy, foolproof solution to the existential battle between the two rivalling national entities over the real estate of Palestine.

If it is clear now that there is no satisfactory way in which partition of Palestine/Israel can be effectuated while ensuring Israel's security needs as well as Palestinian national ambitions, then some other solution must be proposed. There is no good 'proposing' to perennially wage war one against the other. As the hawks would have it, because that does not constitute a solution but rather a breakdown of solutions.

Given the explosive demography of the two countries and the sharp geographical constraints which prevail, it will eventually become clear that either party is unable to delegitimise the other and cooperation will, at the end of the day, become inevitable. Eventually, the country will not bear partition, as Yehudah Amichai wrote once in his poems: "…the fields must have it." Any solution that does not respect the organic nature of the country, its indivisibility in the hearts and minds of its inhabitants will prove itself unworkable.

Daniel Reisel






© 2001-2002 Brit Shalom