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Israel and the Middle East

What About Confederation?

Daniel J. Elazar

Hovering over and in part embodied within the agreements concluded between Israel and the PLO and Jordan is the idea of the confederation of the Palestinian entity to emerge in the territories with Jordan. This idea was given emphasis by the Palestinians in seeking support for Israeli concessions and Jordan has cautiously responded to it in a positive manner. The proposed federation or confederation, and it is mostly the latter, to which the Palestinians refer, would be entirely detached from any connection with the State of Israel. There has been much excitement, at least among Israeli journalists, about these proposals.

As one who has advocated a federal solution as the only realistic one to bring peace to the historic land of the twelve tribes, or British mandatory Palestine, now divided between Israel, Jordan and the territories in between where the Palestinians seeking statehood live, I believe it necessary to point out some pitfalls to the Palestinians' proposal before Israelis get too excited about it, and as we enter into a new round of negotiations based upon the agreements signed between Yitzhak Rabin and Yassir Arafat in Washington on September 13.

First, the bottom line of what the Palestinians are proposing is confederation between "Palestine" and Jordan. Both confederation and federation are federal solutions, but there is a great difference between the two. In the kind of confederation the Palestinians are proposing, the constituent units would be sovereign states who retain their sovereignty. The general government serving the confederation is one of very limited powers, almost entirely dependent upon its constituent states who have either the first word or the last word on all matters of governance. A confederation could easily lead to separation and the establishment of a separate Palestinian state west of the Jordan with no constitutional way to prevent that.

A federation, on the other hand, establishes a new state in which powers are constitutionally divided between the general government and its constituent units, but which cannot be altered by the constituent units acting unilaterally. Were the Palestinians proposing such a connection between "Palestine" and Jordan, that could be considered by Israel as possibly reducing the security threat which a separate Palestinian state would pose, but they are not.

Second, apparently there is no place in the Palestinian proposal for a permanent constitutional connection with Israel. This means that Israel would have to relinquish all of its rights to any territory turned over to the new Palestinian-Jordanian confederation. Were the Palestinians and Jordan to enter into a federation which would then be confederated with Israel so that the kind of limited general government that confederation provides would be used to secure the limited rights that Israel cares to retain in the territories - the protection of Israeli settlements within them and other Israeli security concerns - then Israel would have something to consider. The two Arab entities would be one, a new state in which the Palestinians would have a major share and which would be constitutionally required to stay together, while far more limited arrangements would link Israel with it for the protection of all parties.

There is much in the new agreement that offers the possibility for both kinds of linkage. It may be that the terminological emphasis of the Palestinians on confederation with Jordan and joint authorities with Israel is merely symbolic so as to avoid the limits of the term federation in describing the future relationship of Jordan and confederation to describe their future relationships with Israel. If so, it may remain at that level. But if the Palestinians really understand the difference, they are leading us down a path that most Israelis do not want to take.

Federation and confederation conbined is the kind of federal solution that Israelis should be considering and that the Israeli government should be advocating. That, indeed, is the kind of federal solution that the American government has hinted that it would support. Indeed, George Shultz in his memoirs claims that this was the policy of the Reagan administration. I have good reason to believe that he is stating the truth and that it was Israel that upset the applecart on that issue when Shimon Peres came out publicly for a different kind of solution based on the Jordanian option, as he presented it back in 1986, when he turned the premiership over to Yitzhak Shamir and immediately tried to get back in power by one means or another.

Both federation and confederation are good words, peaceful words, that speak of mutuality and cooperation as well as mutual protection. They may describe the best forms of government for the resolution of the heart of the conflict in this area, but if so, they must be used correctly and applied to all parties if they are applied at all.

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