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The solution for Israelis and Palestinians: a parallel state structure

A parallel state structure for Israelis and Palestinians, not a two-state or one-state approach, has the best chance to bring lasting peace.

By Mathias Mossberg and Mark LeVine / April 8, 2010

Lund, Sweden; and Chicago

Growing US-Israeli tension over continued East Jerusalem settlement construction – which the White House appears unable to stop – underscores a deeper reality: The two-state solution is no longer possible.

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The occupied territories are politically, economically, and geographically so deeply integrated into Israel that there is no practical way to transfer them to Palestinian sovereignty within the framework of a two-state solution.

Israeli scholars have been warning of this to anyone who would listen for over two decades.

While they cannot say so publicly, given the events that have transpired since Vice President Biden’s visit to Jerusalem in March, President Obama, Mr. Biden, Secretary of State Clinton and the rest of the Washington foreign-policy establishment may be slowly waking up to the reality that it is simply not possible to establish a viable Palestinian state in the occupied territories.

The question is: Does the US government have a “Plan B” for bringing peace to the Holy Land outside the moribund Oslo Framework?

With almost two decades invested in the Oslo process, the thought of its demise, and with it that of the two-state solution as currently envisioned, is disheartening and frightening. Yet Oslo was always an impossible peace, doomed to fail precisely because it was premised not merely on the notion of two antagonistic, exclusivist nationalist movements peacefully dividing a pint-sized territory, but on doing so while the balance of power – and thus the conflict’s resolution – remained severely skewed toward the stronger side.

As long as the US won’t force Israel to chose between the settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem and unquestioning American support, Israel has no reason to make painful concessions to an ever-weaker Palestinian side.

The situation has come to a deadlock. It is time for a rethink.

As the two-state solution seems increasingly implausible, voices for a one-state or binational solution become stronger. But a one-state solution is equally unrealistic – the whole raison d’être for the state of Israel is to provide a Jewish state for the Jews. And there are no signs or prospects of change in this basic Israeli position as long as it holds most of the cards.

What are the alternatives?

For the past few years, we have been participating in numerous meetings with high-level Israeli and Palestinian policymakers, scholars, and commentators, discussing alternative scenarios, including one that we describe as a “parallel states” structure.

Essentially, the idea suggests the creation of two-state structures on the same land, both covering the whole territory, both providing the freedom for their citizens – Israelis and Palestinians – to live between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

The most important innovation of a parallel state structure is that state sovereignty would be linked primarily with the individual citizen, and only in a secondary way with territory. Separating the territorial and citizenship/identity dimensions of sovereignty would allow Israelis and Palestinians to retain their national symbols, have political and legislative bodies that are responsible to their own electorate, and retain a high degree of political independence.