Israeli, Palestinian figures propose 2-state confederation

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli and Palestinian public figures have drafted a new proposal for a two-state confederation that they hope will provide a way forward after a decade-long stalemate in Middle East peace efforts.

The plan includes several controversial proposals, and it’s unclear if it has any support from leaders on both sides. But it could help shape the debate on the conflict and will be presented this week to a senior US official and the UN Secretary General.

The plan calls for an independent state of Palestine in most of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, areas that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War. 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 in the occupied West Bank to remain there, with large settlements near the border being annexed to Israel in a one-to-one land swap.

Settlers living deep in the West Bank would be given the option to relocate or live permanently in the state of Palestine. The same number of Palestinians — likely refugees from the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s founding — would be allowed to move to Israel as citizens of Palestine with permanent residence in Israel.

The initiative is largely based on the Geneva Accord, a detailed, comprehensive peace plan drawn up in 2003 by leading Israelis and Palestinians, including former officials. The nearly 100-page Confederation Plan includes new, detailed recommendations for addressing core issues.

Yossi Beilin, a former senior Israeli official and peace negotiator who co-founded the Geneva Initiative, said taking the mass evacuation of settlers off the table could make the plan more receptive to them.

Israel’s political system is dominated by the settlers and their supporters, who see the West Bank as the biblical and historical heart of the Jewish people and an integral part of Israel.

The Palestinians view the settlements as the main obstacle to peace, and most of the international community considers them illegal. The settlers living deep in the West Bank — who 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 confrontation with the settlers, it would be much easier for those who want a two-state solution,” Beilin said. The idea has been discussed before, but he said a confederation would make it “more feasible”.

Numerous other sticking points remain, including security, freedom of movement and perhaps most critically after years of violence and failed negotiations, lack of trust.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Palestinian Authority declined to comment.

The key Palestinian figure behind the initiative is Hiba Husseini, a former legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team dating back to 1994 and who comes from a prominent Jerusalem family.

She acknowledged that the proposal is “highly controversial” regarding the settlers, but said the overall plan would fulfill Palestinians’ core aspirations for statehood.

“It won’t be easy,” she added. “In order to become a state and achieve the desired self-determination that we have been working towards – actually since 1948 – we have to make some compromises.”

Tricky issues such as the conflicting claims to Jerusalem, definitive borders and the fate of Palestinian refugees could be more easily tackled by two states in the context of a confederation, rather than the traditional approach of working out all the details before a final agreement.

“We’re reversing the process and starting with recognition,” Husseini said.

It has been nearly three decades since Israeli and Palestinian leaders gathered on the White House lawn to sign the Oslo Accords, launching the peace process.

Several rounds of talks over the years, interrupted by outbreaks of violence, have failed to reach a final agreement, and there have been no serious or substantive negotiations in more than a decade.

Israel’s current Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, is a former anti-Palestinian settler leader. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who will become prime minister in 2023 under a rotation agreement, supports a possible two-state solution.

But neither is likely to be able to launch major initiatives, as they head a narrow coalition that spans the political spectrum, from hard-line nationalist factions to a small Arab party.

On the Palestinian side, President Mahmoud Abbas’s authority is limited to parts of the occupied West Bank, while the Islamist militant group Hamas — which does not accept Israel’s existence — rules Gaza. Abbas’s presidential term ended in 2009 and its popularity has plummeted in recent years, meaning he probably won’t be able to make any 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 settlement expansion, the absence of any peace process and repeated rounds of violence have greatly hampered hopes for a partition of the country.

The international community still sees a two-state solution as the only realistic way to resolve the conflict.

But ground is shifting, especially among young Palestinians, who increasingly see the conflict as a struggle for equal rights among what they — and three prominent human rights groups — saying is an apartheid regime.

Israel vehemently reject those accusations and sees them as an anti-Semitic attack on its raison d’être. Lapid has suggested that reviving a political process with the Palestinians would help Israel resist any attempt to brand it an apartheid state in world bodies.

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 concepts with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

Beilin said he sent it to people he knew wouldn’t just turn it down. “No one has turned it down. It doesn’t mean they embrace it.”

“I didn’t send it to Hamas,” he added jokingly. “I don’t know their address.”

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