The conflict between Palestinians and Israelis has now raged for the better part of a century. Israel was established as a state in 1948, but the origins of the conflict go back much further, at least to the first days of the Zionist movement. Some say the conflict was born more than 3,000 years ago, when Moses espied the green strip of Jericho from Mount Nebo, on the other side of the Jordan River; or earlier still, when Abraham first passed through the land of Canaan and rested in Shechem, close to today’s Nablus.
From the biblical period through the present day the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River has been the site of innumerable conflicts over territory and the identities that have taken shape within it. As we go to press, prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians remain bleak, primarily because a territorial division acceptable to both sides is not in sight. Israel continues to strengthen its presence across the West Bank while remaining in control over many aspects of life in Gaza. Among increasing numbers of both Palestinians and Israelis the view is gaining ground that time has run out for a traditional two-state solution—that is, a division of historic Palestine/Eretz Yisrael into two territorially distinct states.
If a two-state solution seems increasingly remote, a one-state solution remains unacceptable to the vast majority of Israelis for political and cultural as well as demographic reasons. A significant percentage of Palestinians is similarly not ready to give up the long-sought-after dream of a sovereign Palestinian state. Facts on the ground have led to loss of hope, and the belief is widespread that the two-state solution is dead.
Could a concept with two parallel state structures, both covering the whole territory, with one answering to Palestinians and one to Israelis regardless of where they live, be envisaged? Could such a concept contribute to unlocking positions on key issues and thus opening up a way forward?
In a Parallel States structure, one Israeli state and one Palestinian would both cover the whole area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. In such a scenario, military, political, and economic barriers would be lifted, and a joint security and defense policy, a common and equitable economic policy, and joint and harmonized legislation would replace existing divisions. Such a structure would allow both for an independent Palestinian state and for Israel to be both Jewish and democratic at the same time. It would bring an end to occupation and would permit free movement over the whole area for both peoples, as well as providing a vision for an end of conflict.
This vision of two states on the same land is, of course, only a vision. It may be that it is far too remote from present realities ever to be implemented or seriously contemplated as such. But considering the present lack of movement and of ways out of the present deadlock and even of ideas, more imaginative scenarios may have to be reflected upon. It cannot be excluded that such a discussion might reveal elements of solutions not previously considered and thus indicate other ways forward.
The international situation is constantly changing, not least in the Middle East, where the Arab uprisings have created a completely new situation across the region. Old truths are being questioned and new thoughts introduced, while long-stable balances of power, alignments of forces, and strategic principles and concepts have been challenged and even upended.
Today neither sovereignty nor the role of the nation-state is what it was even a generation ago. Despite the ongoing political and ideological salience of the nation-state, in practice national sovereignty is now divided and circumscribed in unprecedented ways, while control of territory has lost its power to determine the shape, path, and speed of development or the broader well-being of peoples.
Developments in international law; the growth and proliferation of international institutions; and economic, technological, and political globalization have all contributed to creating more porous borders between states, as well as limiting a state’s capacity to exercise indiscriminate power. The concept of power itself is gradually gaining both new content and new dimensions. The scope of military power is increasingly challenged and complemented by economic, technological, and political power, as well as the power of information. Economic and political power no longer flow mainly from control of land.
But the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is like few others, stubbornly focused on control of land. Developments on the ground have in many ways gone too far to permit a workable territorial division of Palestinians and Israelis into distinct political entities. Physical and political obstacles continue to grow. Politically, the Israeli electorate is increasingly skeptical, not to say hostile, to a deal with the Palestinians built upon the principle of dividing the land. The thirst of the Israeli right to settle more and more land remains unquenched. Physically, the web of Israeli roads and settlements on the West Bank is forming a geological sediment on top of the existing Palestinian society, and politically the Israeli “matrix of control” is slowly making substantial and sustainable development impossible for the Palestinians. In Gaza, economic and social conditions remain miserable, while the recently celebrated economic growth in the West Bank has been limited to a few cities and is not built on a stable political framework or an autonomous economic foundation. The Palestinian Authority’s attempt to build a state under occupation has all but failed. Palestinians and other non-Jewish citizens of Israel, despite their citizenship, continue to suffer discrimination in various ways.
Israel continues to control almost all the territory of what was once the Mandate for Palestine and has so far not been willing to part with what Palestinians regard as the minimum necessary to enable the creation of a territorially viable Palestinian state. Demographic developments are making Palestinians a majority in the whole area of pre-1948 Palestine. A situation with a minority controlling more than 80 percent of the territory and suppressing the majority of the population is not sustainable.
The so-called peace process has brought neither peace nor process. That is, not only has it failed to provide peace, but its continued existence is also owed to the necessity of maintaining the “process” at the expense of a peace whose contours and implications none of the interested parties would likely accept. The failed Palestinian attempt in 2011 to gain recognition at the United Nations has been characterized as the final burial. The new U.N. vote in 2012 to grant Palestine nonmember state status was an important Palestinian psychological and political victory, but it changes little in reality.
The present paradigm of dividing the land geographically has not worked, in spite of 30 years of continual efforts, numerous plans, and endless talks—or talks about talks—involving the two parties, the United States, the European Union, and large parts of the international community. And there are solid reasons why it is not working: Physically there is not much left to divide, and politically the necessary political will has not been mobilized.
Put simply, a two-state solution seems no longer in the cards. A one-state solution most likely never was. If the land cannot be shared by geographical division, and if a one-state solution remains unacceptable, can the land be shared in some other way? Is it possible to imagine another way that can provide an opening out of the present deadlock?
It is into this situation that we introduce the concept of parallel states. Can one design a scenario with a new type of two-state solution: one Israeli state structure and one Palestinian state structure, in parallel, each covering the whole area, and with equal but separate political and civil rights for all? Such a scenario would mean decoupling the exclusive link between state and territory, and replacing it with a link between the state and the individual, regardless of where he or she lives. Two state structures, parallel to or “superimposed” upon each other, would thus cover the whole area of Mandatory Palestine.
The question of who should belong to which state could be addressed either by nationality or by choice or by some combination of both. Thus people in the whole area could be able to choose freely to which state they would belong, and at the same time have the right—at least in principle—to settle where they liked within the whole territory. Citizenship could then be the result of an individual’s free choice or nationality, and would follow the citizen throughout the territory.
Such an arrangement would likely lead, on the one hand, to a mainly Jewish-Israeli area consisting of the bulk of present-day Israel and a number of the larger Jewish settlements in the West Bank. But this area should also be open for Palestinians wishing to live there, initially perhaps in limited numbers, until the structure won general acceptance and confidence from both sides. Israelis living in this area would be under Israeli jurisdiction, but individuals living there could also be free to choose to belong to the Palestinian state, and thus to be under Palestinian jurisdiction.
In the same way, one could imagine a Palestinian area consisting of the West Bank and Gaza, and maybe parts of the areas in Israel where Palestinians now predominate. Such an area would, however, in the same way be open for Jews-Israelis—and others—who wished to live there, perhaps with corresponding numerical limitations initially. These Jews-Israelis would be under Israeli jurisdiction and belong to the Israeli state, despite living in Palestinian-predominant areas. Dual citizenship could be an option in some cases, while differing levels of political rights could be elaborated, allowing Palestinians or Jews to participate in local or regional governance while maintaining national ties to their own state.
The application of such a structure to present geographic and demographic realities might have to be complemented with the notion of separate “heartlands”: areas where present separation patterns remain and continue to be legally protected. These should be more limited areas around the major economic and security concentrations, such as Tel Aviv and Ramallah.
Thus, two parallel state structures could cover the whole area, with separate heartlands but with soft and porous borders between them. Israelis and Palestinians could each claim their own state with its own special character and identity, but they would complement each other and not be mutually exclusive.
In such a structure, both states would keep their own national symbols and their own government and parliament, as well as maintaining distinct foreign policy and foreign representation. They could choose to join in a defense union, an economic union, or a customs union, or any combination of these, with one currency, one labor market, and joint external border management. Elements of this can, to some extent and in practical terms, be said to be in place today, even if one-sidedly and with strong forces pulling in different directions.
Of course, there would have to be joint, integrated, or in any case harmonized legislation in a number of areas, including areas like communications, road traffic, police, and taxation. In other areas, such as civil law and family matters, jurisdiction in many parts of the world has already followed religion rather than territory for hundreds of years, and such areas would thus not necessarily present a major problem, although admittedly parallel legal systems by definition involve complications.
The Parallel States framework would be an innovation in international politics, in international law, and in basic constitutional matters. The scenario would differ from both a federal and a binational system but would have elements of both.
Before outlining in more detail how such a scenario could be imagined, we need to take a look at some basic elements of the conflict and also at recent developments in the understanding of sovereignty and what they mean in the present-day world.
Back to basics
The contemporary conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is generally regarded as territorial at its core, with the key issues said to include land and borders, Jerusalem, settlements, and refugees. Yet defining the conflict in these terms has not yielded meaningful progress toward a peaceful resolution. A longer and deeper perspective is inevitable. The search for an end to the conflict must go back to its beginning.
Basic fears, concerns, and aspirations of the two sides have to be addressed. Exploring these is likely to highlight different perspectives and concerns from Israelis and Palestinians but also to reveal some fundamental elements common to both.
For Israelis, security is a sine qua non, and an existential issue. The quest for security was the basis for the establishment of the state of Israel, and the Jewish state satisfies the fundamental Jewish-Israeli need for Jews to be in charge of their own destiny, to have a place on earth secure from persecution, and to protect their own identity. Closely linked to the Jewish identity is the Jewish people’s specific attachment to the Holy Land.
For Palestinians, the defining issue is not security as such but the loss of land—in itself a key security issue—linked to existential fears of an ultimate loss of identity. Palestinians feel a physical threat wherever they are, be it in Israel, the Occupied Territory, in camps, in neighboring states, or in the diaspora. Palestinians also have a need for dignity, equality, and justice—focused in particular on the issue of return and on a full recognition of the right to return.
In contrast to Israelis, many Palestinians early on did not in the same way consider statehood a primary objective, even if this appeared to be the case for several decades, particularly for the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Palestinian nationalism and the drive for a nation-state found institutional expression in the PLO in the late 1960s. As the peace process has waned, the notion of statehood has been receding for many Palestinians. They wish to get rid of Israeli occupation, but not necessarily to divide the land. Ending the occupation and implementing justice remain central, along with an abiding attachment to the land.
For both sides, basic issues are thus security, identity, and access to the land. Most other issues can be subsumed under these basic categories. To have a chance to succeed, the quest for peace must begin by imagining ways to ensure mutually satisfactory solutions to the following issues:
• Is it possible to end the occupation and fulfill Palestinian needs of return in ways that can be harmonized with Israeli security needs?
• Can a Palestinian state be set up, and a Jewish state preserved, while at the same time both peoples have access to the whole land?
• Is there a way to think in terms of a new kind of two-state structure that could meet the most important demands of the two sides?
These are questions that need to be addressed in the search for ways forward, in place of the tired focus on geographical division of the territory. Instead of dividing ownership of the land horizontally into two different sovereignties, ownership could be divided vertically into different functions, and the hitherto-exclusive link between statehood and territory loosened. Thus an alternative scenario is imagined, based on the principle of shared sovereignty and political authority. But let us first take a quick look at how the concept of sovereignty has come under debate, in academic circles and elsewhere, in the past few decades.
In the world outside the Middle East, control of territory has ceased to carry the same meaning it once did, and also in the Middle East changes are taking place. Economic and political power no longer grow only out of power over the land. Access to markets, technology, information, and the rule of law are equal—and often more important—elements creating economic and political power. Power has new contents, borders are becoming porous, and states are no longer the only important actors. Many argue that sovereignty as we used to understand it is largely becoming a thing of the past.
The concept of sovereignty has eroded under the pressure of globalization. The impact of universal principles and universal structures suggests new dimensions in how states relate to one another and to their citizens. The role of borders is changing. People and goods can still largely be kept out—or in—but borders no longer protect against ideas, modern communications systems, or modern weapons systems. Recent developments in various parts of the Middle East serve to underscore this point.
International law and principles have been perforating national boundaries, and various transnational structures limit both the legislative and the executive space of national political bodies. External influence is increasing at all levels. Political leaders are now not only deemed responsible to their own people, but are also increasingly held accountable to international bodies for their deeds. National economic sovereignty is being undermined, and is in some cases little more than a formality, and even large countries can find their scope of action limited by international institutions. A growing body of international legislation and international administrative law is regulating ever-larger fields of national life.
The nation-state as we know it is no longer the undisputed final product of the international system. History did not end, as some have suggested, but the Westphalian era—characterized by the primacy of the nation-state—may be coming to an end, and the nation-state may in the future be regarded as a historical parenthesis stretching from the mid-seventeenth century until the twenty-first.
The erosion of sovereign political authority has affected both external and internal aspects of sovereignty. In both cases, sovereign space has been ceded to other actors than the nation-state as such: international institutions, transnational companies, major cities and organizations, and even private citizens and other nonstate actors.
As a consequence, the indivisibility of sovereignty has come to be increasingly questioned. The “classical” view of Westphalian sovereignty—that sovereignty lies exclusively in the hands of states, is inherently indivisible and inherently territorial—is now much disputed. Scholars from a number of fields claim that this classical, traditional view of undivided sovereignty is in need of being critically rethought. It is pointed out that the norm of indivisibility has throughout history served as a veil, hiding actual power relations. In reality, sovereignty has always been divisible, and the exercise of political authority has often been derived from several sources, both external and internal. Thus it is argued that Westphalian sovereignty has constantly been violated, and that “it is the myth of Westphalia, rather than Westphalia itself, on which today’s understanding of the principle of sovereignty rests.” In the Westphalian era the idea of divisible sovereignty was manifested in several respects, in particular during the colonial period with, for example, the Protectorate and Dominions system or the Mandate system of the League of Nations. The federal system of government found in many states is also heir to this politico-epistemological tradition. While a federation is characterized by vertically shared sovereignty, with different levels exercising different functions, a condominium represents horizontally shared sovereignty, with two states sharing power over a certain territory, normally in borderlands between them. This model has applied to land areas such as Andorra and the Sudan, and to lakes and seas such as Lake Constance and the Caspian Sea, as well as to rivers such as the Mosel.
With sovereignty eroded and divisible, the exclusive and previously sacrosanct link between sovereignty and territory has begun to fade. In other words, sovereignty’s function as political authority may be divided into, on the one hand, the authority over citizens, and on the other, authority over the territory. Until now these two have been exclusively linked. The questions then arise: Is it possible to cut this previously exclusive, if now in many cases fading, link between sovereignty and territory? And is it possible to imagine political authority over a particular territory exercised in common by two actors, while at the same time those two exercise exclusive authority over their respective citizens? In such a case, the mutual links of loyalty between state and citizen would be retained, and thus the legitimacy of the state in relation to its citizens. The territory itself, on the other hand, would become objectified and able to be given over to common administration.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights refers in Article 21 to the will of the people as the basis for the authority of government. In other words, state sovereignty should not derive its legitimacy from the control of a specific territory per se; the will of the people it claims to have under its control must also be respected and must be the source of the state’s authority. As expressed in the International Covenants on Human Rights, the core of the international human rights law, “All peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”
Self-determination is a principle that sets the framework for the people’s political rights. In exercising their right to self-determination, a people can “freely determine” their status and thus decide which status and form of government suit them best. There is consequently no contradiction between the right of self-determination and the choice of a different form of sovereignty, such as parallel sovereignty, and of a state structure other than the classical, traditional, territorially determined state.
The notion of parallel sovereignty is, in the context of other forms of organization of political power, a novelty in degree rather than in kind. The difference from a condominium arrangement is that parallel sovereignty denotes shared power not just over a specific territory between two states, but over the whole area covered by the two states. This can be regarded as revolutionary compared to the traditional notion of condominium, wherein common or joint sovereignty normally is exercised as an additional feature on the periphery, while exclusive sovereignty still reigns at home. But parallel sovereignty, or parallel political authority, can also in principle be regarded as yet another form of shared power, even if its application implies a specific set of institutional arrangements.
To a certain extent, it can be argued that a Parallel States structure is reminiscent of the European Union’s architecture, wherein the member states have voluntarily ceded layers of sovereignty to a common supranational level of government, while retaining other layers on an exclusively national level. A Parallel States structure could however be seen as an inverted EU model, wherein the two states retain separate superstructures on the top level and create a body of common elements thereunder.
The closest comparison from all the various peace proposals that have been made in the Israeli-Palestinian context is probably the Clinton parameters, and more specifically the ideas about Jerusalem. In these parameters, certain areas would be subject to Palestinian and others to Israeli sovereignty, divided along ethnic lines, while certain areas would have shared sovereignty.
What, then, could a Parallel States structure look like in practical terms?
Parallel states—a provocation against conventional wisdom
In a Parallel States structure, sovereignty or political authority over the territory could be shared between the two states in layers, with a number of state functions being exercised separately and a number of functions performed in common. State sovereignty could be primarily linked directly with the individual, and only in a secondary way with territory. Citizens of both states could be free to move and settle in the whole area, and internal physical barriers could be lifted.
Obviously it is conceptually demanding to imagine such a structure in practice, with two states existing in parallel on the same piece of land. To think in these terms is a provocation against both conventional wisdom and international law. There is no direct precedence in history, although parallel power structures and legislations were not uncommon in medieval Europe, as well as in the Ottoman Empire. The closest historically proven model is the condominium. Two states covering the whole of the same piece of land is something else—the states’ structure, though similar in architecture, would, in important respects, have to be of a different character from the modern state as we know it.
The basic question is how two parallel sets of political agency could exist side by side and cooperate on the same territory. Such a structure would require a clear horizontal division of powers between the two states, as well as a vertical division between different state functions—with some functions exercised separately and some held in common—combined with some form of permanent bilateral negotiation mechanism to resolve issues as they arise.
The states could retain their national symbols, have separate political bodies, be responsible to their own separate electorates, and retain a high degree of independence both in internal and in international matters. But this independence would obviously have to be curbed by mutual regard for the other in a reciprocal manner. There could be two heads of state, two governments, two Parliaments, and two administrations. Foreign policy is an area where one could imagine two separate policies and each state having its own international representation; but naturally a certain degree of coordination would have to take place in matters of common interest. There would have to be clear limitations on the authority that either state could exercise over the territory. Many state institutions could retain a “normal” character, but the scope of their power would have to be modified and take into account the power of the other, parallel, state structure.
A number of the questions that would have to be addressed are not unique for a Parallel States structure—they are relevant both in a one-state solution and—for some of them—in a two-state solution of the more traditional character. In this volume, focus has been directed particularly toward security, economic, and legal aspects, all of which present unique challenges.
Security a key issue
Security and defense would be of paramount importance in a Parallel States structure, as well as in a more conventional two-state structure. This poses particularly vital questions, in that security is a basic need for each side in existential and concrete ways. To craft a common Israeli-Palestinian security strategy, outlining how Israelis and Palestinians could cooperate and ultimately join forces in a common security system, covering external borders as well as internal order, is a challenge that should not be underestimated.
A joint external security envelope, with a high degree of cooperation on external security and with joint or coordinated external border control, has to be envisaged. It is worth noting, though, that already today there are elements of an internal security structure that contains separate institutions and security forces, but also a high degree of coordination.
Regional structure and ‘heartlands’
A Parallel States structure can be designed in different ways, but in principle the basic building block is the individual and the cement is the loyalty of the individual to the state. In its pure form, two state structures would extend in parallel over the whole territory, with only the individual at the base. But of course in reality, there are a number of substructures between the state and the individual—regions, counties, cities, villages—each with its own administration.
A Parallel States structure could thus on the one hand be said to be a top-bottom creation, where the political architecture is constructed from the top. On the other hand it could also be seen as a bottom-up structure, where the building blocks are the local communities and the division at the top a logical consequence of their different composition.
The basic principle for deciding who should belong to which state is—like the rest of a Parallel States structure—something that has to be negotiated between the two parties. The division could be based on nationality or individual choice or some other mutually agreed-upon mechanism. The option of dual nationality must also be taken into account, and would most likely play a substantial role—not least regarding Palestinians who are currently Israeli citizens.
One possible architecture involves substructures being given the right to choose which state to belong to, on a regional level. This would most likely yield a rather broad patchwork of different allegiances. Another possibility is to have local communities given the choice, which would provide a more fine-tuned patchwork. In both cases, the result would most likely follow rather closely existing population concentrations.
The question then arises, Would this not be the same as a classic territorial division, but on a different basis? Well, no, because these different regions or local communities would have no state borders between them, only their populations’ different allegiances. The two states’ powers would extend over the whole territory, to their respective citizens in the whole area, with the economy eventually integrated, and legislation and jurisdiction either unified, harmonized, or in many cases based on criteria other than nationality. Local communities would, for example, have powers over certain matters of regional import, whereas matters such as communications, roads, traffic rules, and the like would have to be unified or at least harmonized.
If a village were to opt out of belonging to a particular state—a choice that could be made by referendum or could be based on nationality—there must remain a possibility for individuals living in that village to choose to belong to the other state. One could imagine a system not unlike that in present-day Europe, where individuals living in a city or village can carry different passports, and thus have one national identity and another local or regional identity.
Regardless of the approach chosen, two distinct “heartlands,” each corresponding to population concentrations, would most likely be formed, building on present realities. One can picture a scenario with a Jewish heartland around the coastal plains, and particularly the area around greater Tel Aviv. Likewise, one can see a Palestinian heartland in areas around Ramallah and other cities in the West Bank, as well as in Gaza. Jerusalem is a special case that would require its own approach Such heartlands could be given special characteristics and be of different sizes and shapes.
Thus there is a continuum of different scenarios that could be envisaged, depending on how the question of administrative division was addressed. At one end there would be a total spread of two separate but parallel state structures over the whole territory, and at the other one could imagine two separate heartlands covering most of the territory, each with extraterritorial jurisdiction over its citizens in border areas and possible enclaves. The latter scenario would not be very far from some of the models discussed in certain previous negotiations and peace initiatives. To a certain extent it can be said to take its point of departure from the thinking behind the so-called Beilin–Abu Mazen Plan of 1996 but extending the notion of extraterritorial jurisdiction to cover larger areas on both sides of a border, areas that would be subject to parallel jurisdiction. Such a construct could possibly be labeled “overlapping states.”
The situation of Gaza in a Parallel States scenario, as in any scenario, would require special attention. In comparison to a territorial division with two Palestinian entities, which would have to be physically connected one way or another, a Parallel States concept would by definition open up borders and make such a connection unnecessary, at least in the longer run. In a transition period, present borders and crossings might have to be retained temporarily, and could be lifted gradually.
Gaza occupies a limited but territorially contiguous area, and has a demographically homogeneous population of purely Palestinian origin. This makes Gaza a natural candidate to become a core area in a future Palestinian state, as well as in a Parallel States scenario.
Special attention to the specific problems of Gaza would be necessary, particularly in the economic arena. The Gaza economy would on the one hand have to be rapidly strengthened, and on the other especially protected in order to have a chance to grow from its present level and not become a bottomless pit of poverty in an otherwise wealth-producing economy. To the extent that the political and religious climate of Gaza is different from other Palestinian areas and Palestinians in Israel today, special attention would also have to be devoted to these issues.
In spite of all their differences, the Israeli economy and the Palestinian economy can be said to constitute one macroeconomy. There are both institutional and real links among the various nodes of this system. The whole creates very unequal dynamics, largely characterized by a center-periphery relationship. The integration that many imagined would occur in time has not taken place; nevertheless, elements of an economic union are present. There is an external customs envelope, a common currency, and the remains of a joint labor market, albeit with great obstacles, as there are also to the flow of goods.
One of the most important lessons of Oslo is that no sustainable economic development is possible without a stable political environment and a resolution of basic political issues. This lesson has, to a certain extent, been repeated in the past few years. Odds are that concepts such as Netanyahu’s “economic peace” will suffer a similar fate.
A Parallel States structure could build upon the remaining elements of economic cooperation, but also upon the basic principle of the free flow of goods and people between the different parts of the macroeconomy. The aim would be real integration between the Israeli and Palestinian economies, building upon their complementarities while avoiding the continued Israeli structural dominance that was written into the economic component of the Oslo Accords. Indeed, avoiding the risk of cementing present inequalities would be a crucial goal and component of any Parallel States structure. Palestinian development needs would have to be addressed in a realistic and comprehensive way.
Only if Israel’s economic supremacy (owing to its advanced state of development in all areas) is balanced with massive international support directed toward Palestinian development can there be long-term prospects for a viable and sustainable joint Israeli-Palestinian economy. Should this be realized, prospects for long-term economic development in a joint economy under a Parallel States structure could be more promising than under division in a traditional two-state structure.
One area where the developmental cost of taking a benign view of the realities of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory has been particularly evident is that of water resources. The uneven distribution of scarce resources is all too apparent, and the gaps appear to be growing. Sharing authority over common resources is a central pillar of a Parallel States structure, which makes such a structure particularly suited to deal with scarce natural resources such as water. Shared sovereignty over water resources is likely to lead not only to more equitable distribution of resources, but also to more efficient ways of using them.
Legal integration and harmonization
Legal pluralism is nothing new. Two or more legal systems have existed side by side in several countries and regions throughout history. Medieval Europe is one example, with the Catholic church, princes and fiefdoms, the guild system, and other entities each exercising jurisdiction over their subjects regardless of location. The Ottoman Millet system had Muslim, Christian (both Armenian and Orthodox), and Jewish jurisdictions existing side by side, with the legal system following the individual regardless of location within the empire. In the Middle East as well, civil legislation has often followed religion, and parallel jurisdiction is a fact of life, including in Israel.
In a Parallel States structure, each state would have jurisdiction over its own citizens. This would probably be rather uncontroversial in areas of Jewish or Palestinian concentration, such as in the “heartlands” that would be likely to develop. In other regions—such as border areas between the two communities, in mixed neighborhoods, as well as in Jerusalem—a certain element of extraterritorial jurisdiction could be envisaged. A large part of the jurisdiction in these areas would have to be joint or at least harmonized. Each side could keep its court system, but a system of mixed courts might have to be developed to take care of clashes of jurisdiction and other conflicts likely to arise. All of this is complicated, but hardly impossible to solve, considering historical precedents and similar situations in other parts of the world.
A Parallel States structure is not inherently designed to promote social, human rights, or gender issues. Obviously, by addressing the conflict as such the PSP aims to improve the human rights situation for those who are oppressed, be it by the other side or by their own. As to gender issues, by suggesting changes in the legal system on both sides, the PSP offers an opportunity to introduce legislation that can promote change.
Jerusalem is a special case—in a Parallel States scenario as well as in any other scenario. Jerusalem as a political and religious symbol requires a carefully crafted system of government that takes into account the interests of the two sides, of the three religions, and of all other elements that together make up the city’s unique character. A system of parallel jurisdiction seems particularly suited to satisfying the needs of both Palestinians and Jews, and perhaps Jerusalem might be seen as a microcosm that could serve as a laboratory for a Parallel States structure writ large.
Neither a renewed division of Jerusalem nor the continued domination of one side over the other can be a recipe for a sustainable long-term solution. The two communities will in all likelihood have to be given a more equal say in the running of their city, and more equal spaces to live and work there. A Parallel States scenario could provide the institutional structure for living together and organizing the limited space in the interests of both communities and of other stakeholders.
There is nothing in a Parallel States structure preventing both states from having Jerusalem as their capital. The Israeli side already has its main political institutions in Jerusalem, and many previous proposals for a two-state solution have contained provisions for Jerusalem to be the Palestinian capital.
It would seem that an initial implementation of parallel sovereignty could be applied to Jerusalem. In fact, many of the various proposed solutions to the complex issue of Jerusalem have contained elements that are in some cases close to the Parallel States framework, and some kind of joint administration is part of almost all proposed solutions, apart from those that involve one side’s total domination of the other. This applies in varying degrees to proposals such as the Beilin–Abu Mazen Plan, the Geneva initiative, the Clinton parameters, and more lately the Jerusalem Old City initiative, an academic exercise initiated by the University of Windsor in Canada. The Clinton parameters, with their mix of shared sovereignty both horizontally and vertically when it comes to the Old City and East Jerusalem, offer perhaps the closest comparison. A Parallel States scenario would, however, go much further than any of these proposals in creating a structure that would guarantee both access for all and the right to live in the city, as well as a long-term basis for security and the preservation of identity for both peoples and all three religions.
Religion—from obstacle to peace to force for reconciliation?
A Parallel States vision allows citizens of all three faiths to live anywhere they choose in the whole area, which means precisely that Jews have permanent access to the biblical heartland of the West Bank and Jerusalem, which is today the heart of Palestine. The covenantal promise can then be kept, but without disenfranchising and even dispossessing Palestinians, while the imagination of the territory of Palestine as a waqf (an inalienable charitable endowment under Islamic religious law)
acquires a level of political viability it did not previously enjoy.
Indeed, a Parallel States arrangement can help members of all three faiths transcend the most xenophobic and chauvinistic tendencies of their identities without challenging their core ties to the land. When sovereignty is no longer equated with exclusive possession of the land, the core, religious-derived bond between the individual and territory becomes easier to see. Competition over the land need no longer be a dominant factor in sociocultural identity. By changing the nature of citizenship, a Parallel States framework could encourage the creation of a public culture that would bring Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians, toward visions of a common good.
The creation of two new state structures would encourage and even necessitate the creation of a new legal environment based on core international human-rights norms, principles, and laws. Such a grounding could be much more supportive of the fundamental rights of marginalized and even oppressed groups, such as women, Druze, Bedouins, and others than the present state and attendant legal systems are. At the same time, however desirable this might be from a normative liberal political position, imposing a much more “European” or “Western” set of constitutional principles or laws on Jews and Muslims who are quite hostile to such regimes would threaten the broader Parallel States enterprise. Thus, this arena would be one of constant negotiation.
Opportunities and challenges
A Parallel States structure could meet both Palestinian and Israeli aspirations to live and work in the whole area that was once the Mandate for Palestine. Moreover, it could allow for an independent Palestinian state, and for the Israeli state to be both Jewish and democratic at the same time (an increasingly difficult proposition under present circumstances). Such a structure could bring an end to Israeli military occupation and open up the whole area for free movement of people, thus addressing as a matter of principle both the Palestinian right of return and the issue of settlements, two of the most intractable elements of the conflict.
Most important, the Parallel States vision could provide a way to end the conflict, and thus alleviate past and current grievances, as well as reduce the potential for future friction and violence. Incentives on both sides to resort to violence would be significantly reduced, and a new regional political situation and new strategic geopolitical reality would likely emerge, most probably of a less confrontational character.
Of course, a Parallel States structure would also entail a number of problems and challenges, not least in the security sphere. Among these are how to balance the joint and separate security forces, and how to organize internal security, immigration, and border controls. An international involvement would most likely be called for.
It is clear that a Parallel States structure requires a lot of confidence between the two sides—maybe more than other scenarios. The two peoples would have to live close together with different systems to regulate their lives and protect them. But any other scenario also implies living close together, thus still requiring a lot of mutual confidence. It is equally clear that at present there is an almost total lack of confidence between the sides. Some kind of long-term interim agreement, armistice or otherwise, might be required to provide the time and space for developing both confidence and more specific ideas about how to organize the future. But a vision going beyond short- and medium-term arrangements will certainly have to be developed to provide the necessary political energy to proceed.
Parallel States as an alternative or complement to a territorially based two-state solution
The basic impetus behind the PSP is the lack of progress in the current peace process, or—maybe more accurately—the peace process that was. This does not mean, however, that the project necessarily has to be seen as challenging this process (to the extent that it still exists). Even if it is difficult to imagine, let us suppose that there might be progress toward a territorial solution, with two states next to each other. Would this make alternative thinking redundant?
The argument that a separation needs to precede any form of subsequent integration is a strong one, and cannot be dismissed lightly. Many Palestinians feel that they need to have their total independence first before starting to discuss other forms of living together with their neighbors. And it may be that separation is a necessary first step in any process that can move forward. But separation in itself does not solve all problems and leaves a number of the main issues unresolved, foremost that of refugees. There is also the matter of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and the uncertain future their inhabitants would face under many existing peace plans. Add to these the question of Gaza, and the links between the different parts of the Palestinian community, and the picture becomes even more bleak—not to mention when we include the situation of the Palestinians inside Israel. Thus the prospect that a separation as such, regardless of the specific proposal, will lead to the end of the conflict must be regarded as unlikely. It is difficult indeed to see that a territorial division can contain a fundamental vision for all these components that offers a better future.
And this is where the vision of parallel states comes in as one that could provide hope, even as a complement to other alternatives, since it is built upon the inevitable need to find a way for the two peoples to live together—something that many on both sides know they will have to do someday, perhaps sooner rather than later.
Mathias Mossberg is a retired ambassador and Senior Fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University, Sweden. Mark LeVine, a professor of history at the University of California, Irvine, is a contributing editor for Tikkun, and a senior columnist for Al Jazeera. He is the author of Overthrowing Geography and the coeditor of Struggle and Survival in Palestine/Israel.