Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Daniel Elazar Papers Index

Israel and the Middle East

Self-Rule and Shared Rule

Two Peoples--One Land:
Federal Solutions for Israel, the Palestinians, and Jordan

Daniel J. Elazar

Three Parties -- Three Ambivalences

Since the dust of the Six-Day War settled in mid-June 1967, the inhabitants of that land on both sides of the Jordan from the Mediterranean to the eastern desert known to the Jews as Eretz Israel, to the Arabs, at least in recent times, as Falastin, and to the rest of the world as Palestine, have been at once torn apart and paralyzed by ambivalence as to how to deal with the land's future and theirs within it. Of the three principal players in the game, Israel and its Jews, the Palestinian Arabs, and Jordan and its Hashemite ruling family, each has its own set of ambivalences.

For Israeli Jews, all of Eretz Israel is equally promised. Hence they feel the same historic or religious right to be in Judea and Samaria as they do to be in Tel Aviv or Haifa. Yet they also know that even from the point of view of narrow Jewish self-interest, the addition of the Arab populations of Judea, Samaria and Gaza to the Jewish state will pose demographic and political threats to its Jewishness. Many Israeli Jews are also concerned with the principle of ruling another people that does not want to be part of a Jewish Israel.

The Palestinian Arabs have their ambivalences. As a group, they are as firm as ever in their belief in their historic right to all of Falastin, and that, except for the very small number of descendents of the old Jewish minority in the country, the Jews are interlopers in illegal possession of Palestinian Arab land. On the other hand they know they cannot defeat Israel in the foreseeable future and at most can hope to acquire a separate state of their own in the West Bank and Gaza. But they are not at all certain that they should settle for such a state and certainly have doubts as to whether they should settle for anything less. Many of them are also perturbed by the possibility of losing the benefits of over twenty years of Israeli rule which have helped them define a Palestinian identity as separate from that of Jordan and other Arabs and a level of freedom and prosperity unequaled anywhere in the Arab world outside of Lebanon in its good days.

The Kingdom of Jordan, with its Hashemite ruler, is equally ambivalent. In the years since the Six-Day War, Jordan east of the river has made considerable progress in nation and state-building under Hashemite leadership. Should it risk that progress by seeking to reclaim the West Bank with its hundreds of thousands of self-assertive Palestinians who may constitute a threat to the Kingdom of Jordan and its present Hashemite identity no less (and perhaps more) than they would to the State of Israel and its Jewish identity? On the other hand, can Jordan abandon that territory and any presence in Jerusalem which raises it from a small kingdom to the custodian of major Muslim holy places?

Each of these ambivalences has brought deep divisions within each community and years of political paralysis in their wake. Periodically, windows of opportunity for peace have opened; to date none have been sufficient.

Searching for a Solution

Renewed activity in the search for a solution to the problem of who should rule where in Eretz Israel/Palestine has given new impetus to the search for a solution to the conflict between Israel, the Palestinians, and Jordan. The resolution of the problem of who governs where and what in Eretz Israel/Palestine requires that the world recognize what all the parties to the conflict do, that the land which stretches from the Mediterranean to the eastern desert is one. It is presently shared by Israel, the Jewish state to the west, and Jordan, an Arab state to the east, with a strip of territory roughly in between whose future is unsettled. The territory in dispute is inhabited principally by Palestinian Arabs and increasingly by a Jewish minority.

Years ago, Moshe Dayan stated, "We must recognize the fact that we have two peoples living in the same land, each desirous of preserving its own national and cultural integrity."1 However the Land of Israel and the two peoples are defined, few thoughtful people disagree with such a statement. In essence, this is the problem whose solution is the key to peace in the area. How can two peoples who are fated to live in physical proximity create a life together that will enable them to preserve their respective national and cultural integrities? This question has taken on new significance as the pace of the peacemaking process in the Middle East increases.

The conventional responses to the question have been either unification of the land under the government of one of the parties to the dispute with the other becoming a permanent minority or partition into two or three separate states. Since 1967, there have been strong voices raised in Israel on behalf of unification through "absorption" of the territories occupied by Israel in response to Jordanian aggression. There have been other strong voices raised on behalf of repartition of the land west of the Jordan River, whether through a complete Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines, a withdrawal with "minor territorial adjustments," or a major redrawing of the boundaries along the lines of the Allon Plan. This conventional response has failed to bring peace. It must be replaced by a very different response involving sharing rather than separatism, federalism rather than partition. When all is said and done, federalism involves the combination of self-rule and shared rule, an arrangement where two or more peoples or polities find it necessary and desirable to live together within some kind of constitutional framework that will allow all the parties to preserve their respective integrities while securing peace and stability through power-sharing in those spheres where it is necessary.

Quite clearly, any suggestions for a solution to the problem of the territories must be predicated upon the resolution of certain larger political and socio-psychological problems. At the same time, the prevailing conditions regarding the possibilities for peace can be summarized as follows:

  • All parties agree that some kind of settlement is necessary and desirable in the wake of the intifada and the PLO peace initiatives.

  • The suspicions and mistrust between Israel and the Arabs will only begin to diminish significantly some time in the future even if a settlement is achieved now.

  • At the very least, the security situation will require that Israel retain military control over Judea, Samaria, and Gaza for an indefinite period while the political situation requires that the Palestinian Arabs acquire meaningful control over their own destiny as a collectivity.

  • Any realistic settlement will have to provide ever-widening options for the political normalization of the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.

Aside from any other considerations, these four conditions rule out simply returning the territories to Jordanian (or Egyptian) rule. They also seem to rule out any unilateral Israeli action to incorporate the territories into the Jewish State without providing some means of self-determination for their Arab inhabitants. Nor is an entirely separate Palestinian state west of the Jordan River a reasonable option. For Israel, it could not help but be a nest for continued terrorist activity.

One need only consider the situation in Ireland to understand why. The Irish Republic has no interest in encouraging trouble in Northern Ireland. On the contrary, the Irish government would like to avoid trouble. Even so, with all the goodwill in the world, it cannot prevent the IRA from using Eire as a staging ground for terrorist activities in Ulster, and a haven afterwards except, perhaps, through draconian measures that would be intolerable for its own citizens.

Even a responsibly led Palestinian state, if independent, could not be expected to have nearly the same desire for peace as Eire, and would be even less able to control its "crazies." Such a state would be small and poor in relation to its neighbors and would therefore be extremely vulnerable to extremist control.

A two-state arrangement confined to the western third of the original Land of Israel has its drawbacks for the Palestinians as well. Today, at least half of the Palestinians in the land live in Jordan, so such an arrangement would permanently divide the Palestinians rather than unite them.

The solution mooted in some quarters is the creation of a "Palestine" entity in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which would then be linked with Jordan in some kind of federal relationship (federation or confederation) in which Israel would have no integral role. This would do little to solve the fundamental problem of terrorism anymore than did full Jordanian control between 1948 and 1967.

Both King Hussein and President Ronald Reagan have proposed such a federal solution and Yasser Arafat has endorsed it as leader of the PLO. This plan was designed as an alternative between the PLO aim, as stated in its 1964 covenant, of an entirely independent Palestinian state in those territories as a beginning toward the establishment of Palestinian rule over the entire country, including both Israel and Jordan, and the position of the present Israeli government to remain in the territories in dispute so that all of the land west of the Jordan River will be linked to the Jewish state and all that east of the Jordan within an Arab state, whether under Hashemite rule or ruled by its Palestinian majority. Under such a plan Israel would have no formal status in the territories it transfers and will have to rely on treaties to protect its security. While any solution will require major concessions by both sides, the concessions demanded of Israel to date are so great that the likelihood of obtaining Israeli agreement is minimal. Moreover, it would place the West Bank Palestinians in jeopardy and hence would be unacceptable to them.

If there is an advance in the current discussions over previous American plans, it has to do with the formal affirmation of the need for federal linkage at least between Jordan and the Palestinians. When he was Israel's prime minister, Menachem Begin suggested a confederation between Israel west of the Jordan and Jordan to the east with autonomy for the Palestinians, a proposal that apparently has Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's support as well. Shimon Peres has long preferred a federal solution although he often speaks of repartition. King Hussein's federal proposals preceded the Reagan federal option by a decade and PLO leader Yasser Arafat has acquiesced to a confederal arrangement with Jordan, however reluctantly. Thus all parties to the dispute have come to recognize that a federal solution of one kind or another is necessary to break out of the impasse.

Each of the federal solutions put on the table to date by each of the parties involved, lacks appropriate recognition of one of the three publics within the land. Thus Reagan and Hussein would have excluded Israel from an integral relationship to their proposed federation while Begin excluded the Palestinians except to the extent that they would have autonomy within Israel. At least until recently, the PLO excluded both Israel and Jordan in its long-term projection, intending to absorb both in its proposed Palestinian state. Any successful plan must include all three; thus the existing plans are all inadequate as proposed.

The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, through its Institute for Federal Studies, has long since recognized this fundamental truth, and has been advocating exploration of federal arrangements involving some combination of self-rule and shared rule to link all three parties, since its founding in 1976.2 Early in 1977, we identified eleven possible options for a federal solution and from time to time we have put forth one of those options or some combination of options for public consideration. While they attracted attention among influential circles, the time was not viewed as ripe for moving past limited goals such as autonomy. Today we believe that the time is right. Certainly, Israeli thinking about possible solutions to the problem has been stimulated in new directions because of Israel's dilemma with regard to the future of the territories.

On one hand, few Israelis wish to be colonial rulers over a large mass of Arabs even if that were possible on more than an interim basis. Moreover, most Israelis recognize the seriousness of the demographic problem involved in simply absorbing those Arabs into an expanded Israel. On the other hand, the self-same Israelis are deeply concerned about the security problems inherent in any reduction of the Israeli presence in the territories, not to speak of the widespread Jewish sense of historical ties to a region which was the classic heartland of ancient Israel, one in which the name of almost every town evokes biblical allusions. Looming over the Israelis' dilemma is the intransigence of all of the Arabs, Palestinian or others, to concede any future role to Israel in the territories beyond a limited interim period, a position clearly unacceptable to all but the tiniest percentage of Israeli Jews.

Looking Toward Federalism

A solution based on federal principles is one that combines self-rule (or self-government) and shared rule (or federal government) over the territories in dispute between the Jewish and Arab states and in connection with those people, the Palestinians, who represent the nub of the problem. However difficult this is of achievement, it is the only possible outcome which has a chance of success. A move in this direction, we would suggest, requires a recognition by all parties of the failure of the exclusive sovereignty model to provide the basis for an acceptable solution to the problem of Judea, Samaria and Gaza.

The use of the term "federal" in this context brings us back to its ancient origins, first in the biblical term brit, then the Latin foedus (both literally "covenant"), from which the modern "federal" is derived. The original use of the term deals with contractual linkages that involve power sharing -- among individuals, among groups, among states.3 The usage is more appropriate than the definition of modern federation, which represents only one aspect of the federal idea and one application of the federal principle.

Federal arrangements embody legal and structural elements, but they do so in order to achieve power sharing, and to maintain and enhance pluralism in some sense. they are not designed for the sake of these elements. The legal and structural arrangements are part of a governmental technology meant to achieve certain political goals; they are not ends in themselves.4

West Asia, the original home of the federal principle dating back to the tribal federations of Israelite times, as part of the Middle East, so far has proved rather inhospitable to modern federalism. Almost every attempt at federation in the Middle East has failed. The only one currently extant is the United Arab Emirates, the federation of the oil sheikhdoms in the Persian Gulf. It works because it is a confederation (not a federation) of emirs rather than of peoples. This inhospitality to federation does not mean that all forms of federalism would be equally unacceptable in the region. What is required is a consideration of the other possibilities inherent in the federal idea.5

Federalism is far more than modern federation or confederation. There is a range and variety of federal principles and arrangements available for our consideration. At one extreme there are unions such as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland which utilize federative principles to grant a measure of local autonomy to Scotland, Wales, and Ulster while giving them a real share in the union government. There are consociational arrangements as in the Netherlands which, when given a contractual base, involve federal principles. There are associated state arrangements such as those between India and Bhutan, in which bothparties retain their political sovereignty and federacies such as the United States and Puerto Rico where sovereignty is shared. There are special functional links that involve federative arrangements, as in the case of the Benelux countries, although they do not lead to federation or confederation. Even leagues such as NATO, if they are sufficiently binding, involve applications of the federal principle and, in a very different way, so do condominiums as in the case of Spain, France, and Andorra.

All of the foregoing are principally political expressions of the federal principle. All have their parallel in the economic realm. A parallel of federation can be seen in the European Economic Community. Common markets can be seen as parallels to confederations, and customs unions resemble associated state arrangements. Free trade areas are forms of leagues. Joint enterprises represent the equivalent of special functional links. The guild system is an economic version of consociationalism and joint stock companies are, in effect, condominiums.

So we have options, not only in the political but also in the economic realm. Sometimes they are merged and linked. The United States is both an economic community and a political federation. In some cases, they are quite separable, and the economic link is not paralleled by a political link. If we were to look, we would find parallels in religious organizations and in other forms of social organization as well.

There are also varieties of arrangements and ways in which federal systems of one kind or another are structured. For example, there are federal systems that are simple matrices -- the United States, Canada and Switzerland -- composed of constitutionally equal constituent units with an over-arching government in which inequalities are so dispersed that the matrix remains whole. There are heartland-borderland federal arrangements such as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics -- to the extent that its federal system is meaningful; the borderlands are the ethnic republics, and the heartland is the Russian Federated Soviet Socialist Republic.

There are two-unit federations, a difficult form, but one that exists in a limited way in Czechoslovakia. There are associated state relationships, such as Denmark and the Faroe Islands, in which the links are asymmetrical. There are condominiums such as Andorra. The variety of arrangements is such that the combination of self-rule and shared rule, the basic elements in any federal arrangement, can be achieved in a number of different ways.

Even the precedents offer us great range. Of the 160 plus "sovereign" states in the world today only ten or eleven are ethnically homogeneous, according to Ivo Duchacek, the primary student of the subject.6 The over 150 that are ethnically heterogeneous must reach some kind of intergroup accommodation within them. For some, the "accommodation" is simply to exterminate the ethnic minorities. For others it is to forcibly assimilate them. Still others encourage and foster multi-ethnic societies. Some kind of accommodation, however, some way of coping with this situation, is a requisite on the world scene today. The homogeneous nation-state embracing a population of individual citizens undivided by permanent group ties, which was the goal of the sovereignty movement as it grew out of the European context, has simply not been achieved, nor is it likely to be in the foreseeable future.

Fifty-eight of those states are involved in some sixty different arrangements involving federal principles in some way to accommodate this heterogeneity. Seventeen are federations. Aside from those federal arrangements conventionally understood, examples include the U.S.-Puerto Rican model (a federacy or associated state arrangement), the model of Scotland within the United Kingdom, with its legal-religious-administrative constitutional home rule; what has emerged once again in Catalonia and the Basque region in Spain -- namely autonomous regional government; the kind of arrangement that prevails between Finland and the Aaland Islands -- a constitutionally independent county within its framework; the tri-partite linguistic regions into which Belgium is divided; and the autonomous provinces within the republics of Yugoslavia.7

Most of the foregoing are relatively well established examples of the combination of self-rule and shared rule arrangements. More recently there have emerged some new expressions of the federal principle. I have already mentioned the European Community, originally an economic league, now a political-economic confederation. There is also the example of Chandigar in India, a Union Territory (federal district) which serves simultaneously as the capital of two states, Punjab and Haryana. Its buildings are literally divided in half, so that on each floor one wing houses a particular function serving Punjab, and the other wing the parallel functions serving Haryana. There is the relationship between the German Federal Republic and West Berlin, in which West Berlin is nominally an occupied area but, in fact, functions as an associated state of the German Federal Republic. The West Berlin legislature automatically adopts the legislation of the Federal Republic that relates to it, so as to function as part of the larger whole. There are also the consociational arrangements of the Netherlands, or even such phenomena as the situation in Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion, whereby the state serves as the governmental authority on one plane, and the tribal authorities function on another -- a de facto, unwritten arrangement that has acquired constitutional status and can only be changed in any way by convening a shura, a kind of tribal constituent assembly.

If there are over 160 states in the world, there are over 3,000 different ethnic and tribal groups that have a clear group identity and consciousness.8 As Duchacek suggests, quite correctly, few of them will have politically "sovereign" states of their own, even if the tendency towards micro-states and mini-states continues. The ratio is simply too great. Those that will survive modernization (and some of them will not) will no doubt seek some form of accommodation. They almost inevitably will turn to federal arrangements if they possibly can.

The general problem of democracy versus nationalism in this region complicates any exploration of federal options. By and large, federal options have been viable where nationalism has been democratic in its basic orientation. Where democracy is not an integral part of nationalism, other problems are posed, because one of the major contributions that federalist options worthy of the name have to offer -- namely, the democratic element -- is not considered a value by those who emphasize the national element above all. This fact is well illustrated by the reaction of the Arab world to almost all suggestions for federation or autonomy that have been made. Others have made the point that it is not surprising that the suggestion of democratic self-rule to one segment of the Arab world, where the other segments do not even seek it, falls on deaf ears. Certainly, the fact that Israel and the Arab states surrounding it do not share compatible regimes in that sense has strong implications for the kinds of federal solutions that bear serious examination.

The Problem of Sovereignty

In general, the Middle East is suffering from a devastating problem of overemphasis on political sovereignty. The Middle East is, by its nature or its history, a mosaic of populations. It is not an area easily divided into nation-states -- certainly not ethno-religiously homogeneous ones, as assumed by the original European model of nationalism.

Earlier attempts to govern the region have taken two forms. There have been periods in which the Middle East has been broken up into small national states. These have been eras of conflict. There have also been eras in which the Middle East has been under imperial rule. A great empire has been able to impose its will, and if that empire wisely used such techniques as providing for cultural autonomy within it, there was peace -- but peace, of course, on an imperial basis; certainly not peace on a democratic or republican basis.

At other times, imperial peace was organized around ethno-religious communities -- millets -- granted internal autonomy by the imperial authorities on a communal and non-geographic basis, and capitulations whereby one power would be granted extra-territorial rights in relation to its subjects within the territory of another.

In the particular situation of Israel, the Palestinians, and Jordan it should be apparent that there is an utter necessity for inventing new devices that meet contemporary democratic and nationalist standards, that reinforce the kinds of flexible arrangements which the millet and capitulation systems once provided. Today it is not a question of outsiders having special status in the region, but rather of the peoples of the region being able to work out special status arrangements for each other across national boundaries, without eliminating either the boundaries or the peoples.

This is the task of political invention that lies before us. We can do no more than learn from the precedents; we cannot transplant them to western Asia. This region is unique, and will have to develop its own unique political inventions, just as Europe and the Western Hemisphere had to develop theirs. While recently we have seen signs of daring leadership, it is open to question as to whether that daring leadership is also creative leadership -- in the sense of being politically inventive. That is not to fault the specific people involved. There have been very few moments in history when political leadership has been able to achieve great political inventions.

So here we have the problematics of a federal solution. Israel is substantially attuned to some such solution at this moment, but everybody says -- properly -- "first you need a partner." And the problem of finding a partner is the problem of resolving the contradictions between democratic expectations and modern nationalism in its classic Third World manifestations.

There are also certain additional difficulties. Both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs have diasporas to which they are strongly linked and to whom they wish to remain linked. Moreover, both Jews and Arabs are world peoples. The Arab Nation in its various manifestations is a world people, linked additionally to the Moslem world. The Jewish People, small though it is, is also a world people. Even if we confine our efforts to the historic land of the twelve tribes from the Mediterranean to the eastern desert, we are not limiting matters entirely to the people within pre-1967 Israel plus the West Bank, Gaza and Jordan. We must consider their relationships to the two world peoples, whose concerns stretch beyond the immediate country or even the region under consideration. Hence, there are clear limits at this point to the possible levels of linkage.

Moreover, within the Arab world, loose linkages that allow for respective national and political aspirations in general have done better than efforts to create tight linkages. For different reasons, the same has been true within the Jewish people. Thus, there are some curiously symmetrical as well as asymmetrical elements in our situation.

Another factor of great importance is that we are confronted with different political cultures, one of which seems to be quite open to power sharing, even quite committed to it, and the other quite resistant. In sum, the peoples involved are in some respects too similar and in some respects too different for easy linkage.

All of the foregoing possibilities and questions are explored in the following pages. This book is written from an unabashedly Israeli position. My first concern is the security of Israel. At the same time I understand that Israel's security rests upon achieving a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians that will provide them with a sufficiently just outcome, one that they can live with in the freedom and happiness that comes with self-government.

In biblical times, Israel gave the world the federal principle and was the first recorded experiment in federal polity. The scene of the federalist revolution in the world has once again shifted back to western Asia, and the larger Middle Eastern region of which it is a part. The fate of this land is but one of the major issues requiring federalist responses in the region. The necessity for action is now clear to one and all. The tools for action are available, and now the ingredients to initiate action are here as well. For the first time in two generations, the possibilities are here for us to achieve the historic task that is set before us.


1. Moshe Dayan stated this frequently in speeches and other oral communications. For the most comprehensive statement of his position, see Moshe Dayan, Shall the Sword Devour Forever (Jerusalem: Edanim, 1981) (Hebrew); Nathan Yanai, ed., Moshe Dayan on Peace and Israel's Future (Jerusalem: Mininstry of Defense and Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 1988) (Hebrew).

2. A list of the JCPA publications in the field can be found in the Bibliography.

3. For an overview of this theme, see Daniel J. Elazar and John Kincaid, Workshop in Covenant and Politics Prospectus (Philadelphia: Center for the Study of Federalism, 1979).

4. Daniel J. Elazar, Exploring Federalism (University, Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1987), pp. 80-114.

5. On the United Arab Emirates and federal experiences in the Middle East, see Ali Mohammed Kalifa, The United Arab Emirates: Unity in Fragmentation (London: Croom Helm; Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1979); Gabriel Ben-Dor, Federalism in the Arab World (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Institute for Federal Studies, 1978); John Hearty, "Federalism in the United Arab Emirates: A Case Study of Regional Integration" (Washington, D.C.: George Washington University); "Federalism-Arab" in Yaakov Shimoni and Eviator Levin, ed., Political Lexicon of the Middle East in the Twentieth Century, Rev. ed. (Tel Aviv, 1974) (Hebrew) p. 291.

6. Ivo Duchacek, ed., Federalism and Ethnicity, a special issue of Publius 7:4 (1977).

7. Daniel J. Elazar, et al. A Handbook of Federal and Autonomy Arrangements (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, forthcoming).

8. Ivo Duchacek, op. cit.

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