Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Daniel Elazar Papers Index

Israel and the Middle East

The Permanent and the Transient in the Search for Israeli-Arab Peace

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

Daniel J. Elazar

Peoples and States

The most permanent elements in the Middle East are not the territorial states as they presently exist, but its peoples, those primordial ethno-religious communities that reflect a common kinship normally manifested through a common creed.1 In the long history of this region, the most ancient in the world, empires, states, provinces, and cities have come and gone, but the peoples have had an amazing persistence. The Jews have had a continuous recorded presence in the region for nearly 4000 years, and the Armenians, the Copts, the Arabs, the Kurds, the Maronites, and others have histories stretching back two thousand years or more. Even such relative latecomers as the Turks have been in the region for a millennium or more. These peoples have adjusted to different political structures, either as masters or as subjects, and have persisted, while states have come and gone. The Middle East is a mosaic of long-lived peoples who have used various political devices over time to achieve as much political self-determination as possible. The truly legitimate structures, whether states or religious bodies, are those created by these ancient peoples.

The emergence of a Palestinian public that claims peoplehood is significant in and of itself, and, as such, it deserves appropriate consideration. Precisely because of the ancient character of the peoples of the Middle East, the "instant peoplehood" claimed by the Palestinian Arabs has been suspect in Israeli eyes. The Palestinian Arabs have, indeed, come to constitute a "public," an intergenerational collectivity sharing certain common interests and affected by a common set of externalities within the Arab nation.2 This is principally a result of their opposition to Zionism and Israel, which shaped their collective identity over the past two generations; it is also a result of their perceived mistreatment at the hands of the Arab states.

There is a real distinction here. Peoples take form in the Middle East, however, over centuries, not in a decade or two. Now it seems that the Palestinians' sense of common identity will survive on a longer term basis, as it has for the Syrians, the Iraqis, or the Egyptians, to make them a "people" within the larger Arab nation.

Israelis are coming to perceive this and to include it in their calculus for peace. On the other hand, one of the aspects of the Arab position vis-a-vis Israel and Zionism that most rankles Israelis and other Jews and suggests to them that the Arabs are unwilling to establish a permanent peace that recognizes Israel as here to stay and an integral part of the region, is their frequent denial of the very existence of the Jewish people. Even in recent years when Arab voices from King Hassan of Morocco to President Anwar Sadat of Egypt to Yasser Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization have made statements fully or apparently recognizing the reality of Israel's existence and its right to exist as a state, Arabs at all levels have continued to deny the peoplehood of the Jews and therefore the fundamental legitimacy of Zionism and the Jewish people's right to self-determination. This stance actually denies the Jews the right to self-definition.

Jews continue to be seriously disturbed by the irony of the fact that they, one of the world's oldest surviving peoples if not the oldest, with a continuing historical existence, language and culture of nearly 4,000 years, have their peoplehood challenged again and again and have to constantly struggle to demonstrate what should be a self-evident truth. Since the beginning of the Israel-Arab conflict the Arabs have taken the lead in this denial of Jewish peoplehood. Hence any request of the Jews to recognize the new Palestinian Arab claim to peoplehood requires a prior clear recognition of Jewish peoplehood on the part of the Palestinians and other Arabs. On this there can be no compromise.

All the evidence points to the conclusion that modernization has not eliminated the primacy of primordial ethno-religious identity but has sharpened certain aspects of it. Those who thought that the imposition of new categories of statehood would undermine the old order have discovered their mistake, often through bloody civil war or massacre. Thus, in any agreement, the permanence of ancient peoples and the precedence of their rights must be considered, while claims of statehood on the basis of fifteen, thirty, or even fifty years of national self-identification must be demonstrated.

Impermanent Boundaries

Even more than states, boundaries in the Middle East have been highly impermanent, rarely lasting unchanged more than a generation or two under the best conditions. The Middle East essentially consists of oasis areas of varying sizes surrounded by deserts, and the struggle between the desert and the sown is one of its few constants. The continuous geographic identity that exists in the region rests upon those oasis heartlands while the territories in between have been regularly redivided among them.

There is not a single boundary in the Middle East today that is as much as a hundred years old. Israel's oldest boundary, for example, is the Sinai boundary, which was drawn in 1906. Israel's northern boundaries were established in the early 1920s, and its eastern boundaries have never been established except on an interim basis. The same is true of the boundaries of Syria and of Egypt, as well as of Jordan, an "artificial" state whose oldest boundaries date to the 1920s and which does not even have a historic heartland known by that name.

Nor is this phenomenon simply a result of modern nation-building in the region. It is a recurring pattern. Even during the days of imperial rule, the boundaries changed regularly as a result of external and internal wars, and the imperial powers were constantly redividing their territories. The Ottoman Turks redrew the provincial boundaries in what was known as Syria and Palestine on the average of twice every century.3 The whole purpose of boundaries in the Middle East has not been to encompass geographically fixed nations but to provide security for the peoples of the various heartlands or for the powers that could make their needs felt. To repeat, in this region peoples are constant, not boundaries.

The Mixtures of Populations

Not only are peoples more persistent than political structures and boundaries, but the peoples are so situated that homogeneous states have rarely if ever been attained in the region. Homogeneous areas, except for Egypt, are the size of relatively small provinces or medium-size American counties. In urban areas, the groups have usually been substantially intermixed or separated into neighborhood groupings at most. In rural areas, the division has often been on a village by village basis, which greatly complicates drawing boundaries on a more than local plane. History has demonstrated that any successful political arrangement in the region must satisfy the majority people within its compass while maintaining the communal rights of the minorities within the jurisdiction. Thus every polity in the region is, in some respects, a compound one, with no possibility of becoming an ethnically unitary nation-state -- the desideratum of European theories of nationalism -- without resorting to expulsion or genocide.4

Peace and Sovereignty

As a consequence of the factors mentioned in the foregoing discussion, peace has existed in the Middle East only under conditions when now-conventional notions of sovereignty have been drastically limited and principles of shared power have operated in their place. The empires that have brought peace to the region, particularly the ancient Persian Empire and the more recent Ottoman Empire, were built on principles of local autonomy, in some cases ethno-religious and in others a combination of ethnic and territorial. Each of the peoples within the imperial system was granted or guaranteed some significant measure of cultural, religious, and even political self-determination or home rule within the imperial framework. The rulers of these empires recognized the constants, or "facts of life," in the Middle East for what they were. Unfortunately, the historical record shows that only when there have been dominant empires have peaceful relations obtained, albeit at some cost. When the region has broken up into separate states or small imperial domains, interstate warfare has constantly disrupted the stability of the populations as well as the boundaries.

Today, we are once again in a period in which the region is divided among many states, with the resultant strife. Not only is there the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors. During the post-World War II generation -- the first of independent statehood for most of the states in the region -- there were civil wars in Afghanistan, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Sudan, and Yemen; revolutions based on ethno-religious differences in Lebanon and Syria; interstate conflicts or border clashes between Egypt and Libya, Iraq and Iran (a particularly long and brutal affair), Ethiopia and Somalia (not to mention Eritrea), Syria and Turkey, Syria and Jordan; and such foreign interventions as the Egyptian war in Yemen of the mid-1960s (which added a new twist to the general pattern of regional conflict through the use of poison gas) and the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.

None of the peoples in the region would wish for a return of imperialism, even in the name of peace. Nor would any of the states in the area wish to sacrifice their independence for peace. However, the record has once again demonstrated that a system of fully sovereign states as developed in eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe is not appropriate to the Middle East. Thus innovations are necessary to achieve peace within the framework of modern nationalism and, one hopes, democracy. Such innovations must be in keeping with the spirit of the region, not foreign transplants likely to be rejected by the region's bodies politic. In the development of these innovations, it is even possible to learn from old imperial solutions, even if these cannot be applied as they were in imperial times.

Extraterritorial Arrangements

Two arrangements stand out as having had success in imperial systems that kept the peace in the past. One is the principle of ethnic autonomy, or home rule, what in the Ottoman period was known as the millet system, and the other is the principle of extraterritoriality, whereby particular groups are protected by external powers with which they have an affinity, known in Ottoman times as capitulations.

Both the millet and capitulation systems have been roundly rejected by the newly sovereign states, jealous of their sovereign prerogatives. Remnants of the millet system persist, however, in every one of those states, and the outside intervention of brethren or of great powers has been tacitly reaffirmed. Even the most extreme among them have discovered that, unless they are willing to exterminate minority populations or to drive them out -- the pattern followed by the first new states in the region early in the twentieth century -- some accommodation must be made with them. All but the most extreme rulers have found that it costs less to do so by giving formal or informal cultural and religious autonomy in some spheres, and even legal powers in matters of personal status (marriage, divorce, and inheritance are the most common of these), rather than to try to forbid ways of life that date from antiquity.

With a few exceptions, these accommodations have not been constitutionalized in writing because of the reluctance of the new states to set formal limits on their sovereignty, but, for all intents and purposes, they cannot be changed without civil war or great upheaval. Although not every group can have a state in the complex pattern of the Middle East, each can secure the wherewithal to preserve its own integrity through such accommodations as they become constitutionalized over time.

The Interests of the Concerned Parties

Although it is impossible to meet all the interests and demands of the parties directly involved in the conflict, any compromise must be based on satisfying at least their minimal interests, reflecting their relative power positions. We distinguish between three sets of parties:

  1. The parties directly involved in any settlement -- Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Arabs;

  2. The great powers -- particularly the United States;
  3. Egypt and the other Arab states.

1. The Parties Directly Involved -- Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Arabs.

The following specific needs of the three parties must be guaranteed.


  • Peace secured by formal treaty;

  • Security arrangements on its eastern border providing strategic depth, early warning against any possible enemy attack, protected airspace, control of vital roads for defense purposes, and minimum exposure to terrorist infiltration from the east;

  • Maintaining governance over a united Jerusalem as its capital;

  • The right of Jews to reside in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza District.


  • Recognition of their national identity, and practical expression of that identity;

  • Continuation of the special links with Jordan and the Arab world;

  • Continuation of economic links with Israel.


  • Protection against possible extremist Palestinian factions: in other words, the protection of the Hashemite regime (with reference to the fear of internal conflict that could occur in Jordan after the creation of a Palestinian Arab state);

  • Formal and practical expression of the bonds between the inhabitants of Judea and Samaria and those of the Hashemite kingdom;

  • Official duties and responsibilities regarding the holy sites of the three religions.

    2. The Great Powers

    The United States and the USSR have long-term interests in the Middle East. The USSR has a direct security interest in the region which abuts its southern border -- an interest which will persist no matter what kind of regime exists in Russia. In addition, there is a longstanding Russian interest in gaining or maintaining access to the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf. Beyond that there is the Soviet interest in gaining hegemony in the region to deprive the West of its major supply of oil. Failing the attainment of hegemony, there is a Soviet interest in preventing American hegemony; its involvement in the Arab-Israeli conflict is to a great extent related to the latter effort.

    The United States also has long-term interests in the region related to the fact that most of its imported oil supply and the bulk of the oil used in Western Europe and Japan comes from the Middle East. Beyond that, it has its own strategic interests vis-a-vis the Soviet Union and desire to maintain a certain hegemony over the area to protect those interests. Its immediate interest is to maintain stability in the Middle East and its relationship to Israel is related to its assessment of the respective roles of Israel and particular Arab states contributing to that stability.

    Given the foregoing, the Soviet Union is not overly interested in a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict and supports the rejectionist states so as to prevent such a settlement. It is only likely to accept such a settlement if it were to be involved in some way or if the cost of opposing the settlement would be too great. The United States, on the other hand, is particularly interested in settling the Arab-Israeli conflict in its search for stability, providing that such a settlement would affirm Israel's right to exist while not interfering with traditional U.S.-Arab ties.

    3. Egypt and the Arab States

    The Arab states fall into three groups: (1) Egypt, which has signed a peace treaty with Israel and which is obligated under the terms of that treaty to take the lead in negotiating a political solution for the Palestinian Arabs; (2) the rejectionist states; (3) the other Arab states.

    Egypt's interest has effectively been reduced to supporting Jordan and some appropriate Palestinian Arab leadership in a solution that will be acceptable to them. Hence its role in any future negotiations would be less that of a direct party than an involved party in the manner of the United States. The rejectionist Arab states will continue to reject any settlement that recognizes Israel as a legitimate state. They will maintain this stance in cooperation with the Soviet Union, their patron. The other Arab states operate on two principles: (1) like Egypt, a willingness to endorse a solution agreeable to Jordan and acceptable to the representatives of the Palestinian Arabs; and (2) a deep commitment not to formally surrender sovereignty over any "Arab lands." If judicious efforts are made, they can be brought to accept a resolution of the conflict which formally maintains those two principles.

    While a distinction must be made between the great powers and the Arab states, the existence of common interests between participants in both camps creates temporary alliances among the two groups. The common interests of the Soviet Union, the rejectionist Arab states, and the PLO in the past have constituted a negative factor in the effort to advance stability in the Middle East. Despite the presence of differing views between Israel, Egypt and other pro-Western Arab states, it can be hoped that the United States and the non-rejectionist Arab states who support stability and the achievement of a comprehensive political settlement will accept whatever political settlement is negotiated between Israel, the Palestinians, and Jordan.

    It is therefore a necessary condition that initially the three direct parties reach an agreement among themselves. Once such an agreement is adopted it will find support within the non-rejectionist Arab camp. This support should be sufficient to neutralize the negative influence of the rejectionist Arab states and the Soviet Union.

    Four Possible Solutions

    There are four approaches to resolving the conflict over the territories:

    1. Israel's withdrawal to its pre-1967 borders, either fully or with the most minor territorial modifications;

    2. The extension of Israeli sovereignty over (annexation of) Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza District;

    3. Repartition of the territories to accommodate Israel's security needs (e.g., the Allon Plan);

    4. Some form of shared rule over the territories by Israel and an Arab partner.

    The first two approaches contain grave threats to the various parties involved and therefore there is no chance of their being accepted. Either total withdrawal or total absorption is contrary to the basic non-negotiable interests of one or another of the concerned parties. Option three, the repartition of Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza District on terms more favorable to Israel, may be more feasible although, while it is acceptable to many Israelis, to date it has been firmly rejected by the Arabs. This leaves shared rule as the only potentially workable alternative.

    The following six goals must be achieved by any workable plan:

    1. Sufficient Israeli military presence in the territories, at least for an interim period, to guarantee Israel's security;

    2. Self-rule for the Palestinian Arabs;

    3. The right of Jews to reside in the territories;

    4. Free movement of Israelis, Jordanians, and Palestinian Arabs into and out of the territories, to be agreed upon by the concerned parties;

    5. The right of all residents of the territories to freely choose their citizenship among the options agreed upon and to live within a communal and political framework that gives that citizenship meaningful expression;

    6. Substantial economic integration of Israel, the territories, and Jordan.

    1. Withdrawal as a Solution

    There is a virtual consensus in Israel that a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders is totally unacceptable. Israel's need for defensible borders remains paramount among its security needs. The definition of defensible borders are borders that, if breached, still allow for the adequate defense of the country and its population centers.

    Strictly speaking, there are no pre-1967 borders. The demarcation lines establishing the armistice between Israel and Jordan in 1949 left an Arab state bordering on the most populous areas and the industrial heartland of Israel. The distance from Israel's pre-1967 eastern border to the sea varied from a mere 7 miles at Netanya, to 12 miles at Tel Aviv, toa little over 23 miles at Haifa. The armistice agreement between Israel and Egypt left the Egyptians within approximately 50 miles of Tel Aviv. Thus whoever controls Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza District threatens the whole coastal area with artillery and even hand rockets, from Haifa in the north and Ashkelon (Israel's oil port) in the south, including the entire Tel Aviv metropolitan region, Ashdod (Israel's largest port) and most of the country's industry, not to speak of Jerusalem and the country's international airport at Lod, both of which are either right on or within 2 miles of the old line. If we add to this the unique topography of the Judean and Samarian mountains, which puts the coastal areas in plain view from virtually the entire central mountain ridge, and the threat of terrorist activity, it is easy to understand Israel's position regarding those territories.

    Given modern-day military capabilities, the strategic depth which the territories afford Israel serve to underscore the imperativeness of defensible borders. An attack of the 1973 war magnitude on the pre-1967 borders would have resulted in the overrunning of major Israeli population centers. Now, nearly ten years later, the suggestion of a full Israeli withdrawal is under no circumstances a realistic option.

    Furthermore, a full Israeli withdrawal would not be advantageous to the Palestinian Arabs. At this writing, Israel will not accept a Palestinian state. Even partial withdrawal for that purpose is unacceptable to the Israeli government and a majority of Israelis. What remains, then, as a possibility lunder such circumstances is a Palestinian-Jordanian federation that would leave the Palestinians at the mercy of Jordan's Hashemite regime and its army, which have crushed them in the past and dominated them for nineteen years. The only way that a Palestinian link with Jordan would ensure protection for the Palestinian Arabs would be if it also included an Israeli presence.

    2. Israeli Absorption as a Solution

    While the present Israeli government undoubtedly would prefer the extension of Israeli sovereignty of Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza District, it understands that this is impossible since it is not only totally unacceptable to the Arabs but would be equally unacceptable to the international community, including the United States. Moreover, the existence of a substantial Arab population with nationalistic aspirations rules out any unilateral Israeli action to simply incorporate the territories into the Jewish state without providing some means of self-rule for their Arab inhabitants. Indeed, there are many who argue that annexation would present a serious domestic threat to Israeli society and its political institutions by absorbing more than a million Arabs into its polity.

    3. Partition as a Solution

    The conventional response to the problem of the Arab-Israeli conflict has been to support a repartition of the land west of the Jordan River, whether through a complete Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines (the Arab position); a withdrawal with "minor territorial adjustments" (the American position); or a major redrawing of the boundaries along the lines of the Allon Plan (the position of the Israeli Labor party). This response also has proved to be inadequate -- a "non-starter" in one way or another. To date, the Arabs have refused to concede to the Israelis the serious border adjustments that constitute israel's minimum demands.

    The truth is that the west and east banks of the Jordan, from the Mediterranean Sea to the eastern desert, constitute one land and must be treated as such, even if it is to be divided between two states Since the Churchill-Abdullah accord of 1922 which detached Transjordan from the Jewish national home in Palestine provided by the League of Nations Mandate, the whole thrust of efforts to achieve accommodation between Jews and Arabs has been based upon partition of the land between them. The Peel Commission report of 1937 carried the idea a step further with a plan to divide western Palestine as well. While it was never implemented, the idea was revived in the 1947 UN partition plan which was adopted as the basis for establishing Jewish and Arab states in western Palestine.

    In fact, the Transjordanian invasion of western Palestine in 1948 restored the connection between parts of western and eastern Palestine (Transjordan). The armistice agreements signed between Israel and Jordan in 1949 ratified a partition status quo between the two. The Jordanian aggression in the Six-Day War destroyed that status quo.

    Partition of that share of the land west of the Jordan River, once a reasonable and even an effective solution to the intercommunal conflict, is no longer adequate. The following factors militate against partition:

    a) Strategic threats to Israel:

    A partition "solution" along the lines now apparently so ardently desired by Egypt and the Western world which existed between 1949 and 1967 did not lead to a peace treaty -- the "borders" themselves remained merely armistice lines which did not even provide Israel with security. Their vulnerability led to a continuing state of guerrilla warfare, innumerable border incidents, and finally a major war.

    b) Jerusalem:

    By now it should be clear to all that Israel will never agree to repartition of its capital, while Jordan and the rest of the Arab world would never agree to Israeli sovereignty over their holy places.,

    c) Shared physical resources:

    Another major obstacle concerns the common resources shared by Jordan, Israel and the territories in between. All three share common water resources, both ground water and the Jordan River basin. A larger portion of Israel's water resources, which are extremely limited to begin with, could be destroyed by imprudent -- or deliberate -- action by the other side. This could amount to a threat to Israel's survival that would not be controlled by disarmament agreements or demilitarized zones. Likewise, Israel and Jordan and the territories in between share major sources of energy, such as the Dead Sea per se or the difference in static head between sea level and the Dead Sea which could produce an alternative energy source.

    d) Economic interdependence:

    The economic interdependence between the various parts of Eretz Israel/Palestine has also become a barrier to repartition. In earlier years, the basically agricultural economies of both sides involved relatively little interdependence. A modern sophisticated economy, on the other hand, is by its very nature based on an interlocking effort of all its parts. This is what has developed in all the land west of the Jordan since 1967. Not that it cannot be divided -- politics can triumph over economics in such matters, as we have seen elsewhere -- but at a very real price, especially for the Arabs.

    e) Jordan, the Palestinian Arabs, and the PLO:6

    In addition, we have to take into account the relationship between the Palestinian community and the Jordanian regime. While the relationship between Jordan, the Palestinians, and the PLO has been an ambivalent one, to say the least, it is a permanent one which cannot be severed, given certain geohistorical and political realities. Some 70 percent of the population of present Jordan (the east bank) is Palestinian by the most narrow definition of the term, namely, people who emigrated from the West Bank in 1948 or after and their children. In fact, since we are talking about one land, all Jordanians are Palestinians except the Hashemite ruling family and the handful of people who came with them to Transjordan in 1921-22.

    The group which has clear roots in the territories west of the Jordan River is now permanently settled on the east bank. It constitutes the largest single concentration of Palestinian Arabs in the world, over a third of the total. Thus, willy-nilly, Jordan will have a relationship with the Palestinian Arabs everywhere by virtue of its demography, not to speak of its geohistorical location. At the same time, Jordan as a British-Hashemite family creation has sought to forge a separate Jordanian identity in part through repression of the Palestinian Arabs and their identity.

    Jordan's rule over Judea and Samaria in the period between 1948 and 1967 could be best classified as a quasi-military control system by a minority over a Palestinian Arab majority. Between 1967 and 1970, Jordan more or less represented the Palestinian Arabs in Judea and Samaria vis-a-vis the Israeli authorities and the world, working with the PLO, which emerged as a force in those years, until the latter came to be seen as too great a threat to the Hashemite regime. This led to the Jordanian assault on the PLO in September 1970 and the massacre of PLO-oriented Palestinian Arabs in late 1970 and early 1971. Dissension between the two communities grew and the proclamation of the Palestine Liberation Organization as the principal spokesman for the Palestinian Arabs at the Rabat Conference in 1974 formally denied Jordan's previous status as spokesman for those Palestinian Arabs.

    Jordan did not fade from the scene, however, because realities would not allow it, continuing to provide services as well as financial assistance to the inhabitants of Judea and Samaria. By 1979, Jordan and the PLO reestablished their alliance and undertook joint efforts in the territories, succeeding to the point where the pro-PLO mayors elected in the 1976 municipal elections in Judea and Samaria, in opposition to the candidates endorsed by Jordan, became allies of this new PLO-Jordanian axis. By late 1982, Jordan had reassumed a major role vis-a-vis the Palestinian Arabs, and King Hussein was seeking ways to bring Yasser Arafat and the PLO to accept his role as dominant partner in the negotiations with Israel called for in the Reagan Plan, and in a future Jordan-Palestinian confederation.

    For the next four years various efforts were made by the United States, Egypt, and King Hussein to bring Arafat and the PLO to recognize Israel's right to exist, renounce terrorism, and thus become acceptable to the Americans as a partner in peace negotiations. Arafat maneuvered his way around any formal statement until in March 1986 it became apparent that the PLO was not ready for such a step. Hussein and Arafat broke off their alliance and Hussein, in cooperation with the Israelis, determined to return unilaterally to the West Bank and begin to develop ties with Gaza as well.

    By the end of the summer of 1986, Hussein and the Israeli government had agreed to introduce a de facto Israeli-Jordanian condominium in the West Bank and Gaza to test out the possibilities of establishing a permanent or at least an indefinitely institutionalized shared rule arrangement. Israel agreed to cooperate with Jordan to reestablish the Jordanian government's power position west of the river and indeed did so in September and October of 1986.

    Then, after the rotation in Israel's national unity government, when Shimon Peres relinquished the prime ministership to Yitzhak Shamir and took over the foreign ministry, Peres unilaterally initiated a call for an international conference to negotiate peace, against Shamir's wishes. Peres' initiative ended forward progress toward condominium as the Palestinians, who had been moving hesitantly toward cooperation with Jordan, stopped to see what the initiative would bring. By April 1987 it was apparent that Peres' initiative would not bring about a peace conference. In the meantime, Peres and Hussein reached a secret agreement in London that effectively stopped the movement toward long term shared rule as well, with Peres promising Hussein exclusive control of some of the West Bank through a repartition.

    The Jordanians then increased their efforts to reestablish their presence in the territories but it was too late. Pressure building up within them led to the outbreak of the intifada on December 9, 1987, in essence the Palestinians' own initiative. At the end of July 1988, King Hussein formally severed all of Jordan's connections with the territories, ending 21 years of Jordanian support for West Bank programs and personnel, eliminating West Bank representation in the Jordanian government and parliament, and stopping the payment of salaries to former Jordanian officials in the territories.

    This was not the end of the story, however. Subsequently, Hussein, Arafat, and President Mubarak of Egypt met in Aqaba (October 1988) to discuss new ways of cooperation. Relations between the Hashemite kingdom and the PLO have continued to fluctuate.

    The periodic rapprochements between Hussein and Arafat reflect both sides' recognition of the inevitable interdependence between the Palestinians and Jordan. The wariness of their rapprochements is equally indicative of the degree to which each has severe reservations about the other and, indeed, a certain natural hostility. It is no secret that the Palestinian national movement seeks to establish its state on both sides of the Jordan, to replace Hussein on the east bank as much as to eliminate Israel on the west. Since Hussein knows this, he is committed to keeping the Palestinian Arabs under tight control to protect his regime. In fact, Israel's role as a balance between them can serve in the interests of both, whereas left alone the conflicts between Hashemite Jordan and the Palestinian Arabs are likely to be unending.

    The proposed plans for repartition of the territories not only call for the return of most of Judea and Samaria to Jordan, but the transfer of the Gaza District with its 400,000 Palestinian Arabs to Jordanian rule. They would only add to the problems of the Jordanian regime. A likely response of the Hashemite regime to this would be to divert such nationalist feelings against the Jewish state and try to mobilize Palestinian Arab support by presenting itself as the champion of the Palestinian cause -- or, as they define it, the "liberation" of the rest of "Palestine."

    f) The threat to stability by the creation of a PLO state:

    The creation of a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River cannot be considered a reasonable option for Israel. First of all, the creation of a second Arab state within the historic Land of Israel/Palestine ignores the Palestinian character of Jordan so that such a plan would actually permanently divide the Palestinians rather than unite them. Even disregarding Israel's own need for secure borders, such a state would be very small and poor relative to its neighbors, hence it would be extraordinarily vulnerable to extremist control. Under the best circumstances, it could not help but be a nest for continued terrorist activity.

    The federal option is the only realistic proposal for achieving a comprehensive settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Despite the difficulties surrounding any federal arrangement, such a solution becomes feasible when it is offered within a broad framework encompassing one or another of various flexible models.

    From Partition to Sharing

    The framework of peace signed by President Carter, Prime Minister Begin, and President Sadat in the final dramatic moment of the Camp David summit marked a turning point in Israel-Arab accommodation. It not only put both parties on the road to a peace settlement, but also changed the basis for making peace by necessitating some combination of self-rule and shared rule for Jews and Arabs (or for Israel, the Palestinian Arabs, and Jordan) within the land.

    The Six-Day War did not solve the problems of peace in the land because the Arabs settled in the territories formerly occupied by Egypt and Jordan were not prepared to be annexed by Israel. Rather, the war stimulated a sense of Palestinian identity, which had been relatively dormant. Had the Palestinian Arabs been willing to acquiesce to citizenship in an enlarged Israel, the partition solution of 1922 would have been restored. This, indeed, became the goal of certain substantial elements on the Israeli political scene, including Menachem Begin's Likud, which was to gain power in the May 1977 elections.

    On the other hand, the Labor party, which was in power during the Six-Day War, never fully crystallized its position but leaned to a repartition of the territory west of the Jordan, on terms more advantageous to Israel's security. This position was embodied in the Allon Plan, which was based on the premise that the heavily populated hill country - the oasis heartland of the West Bank -- with its large concentration of Arabs, would be returned to Jordan in some way, while Israel would annex a wider band of sparsely populated territory along the western foothills, plus the virtually uninhabited Jordan valley. The proponents of this plan had no more success than those who espoused the Likud position in persuading the Arabs, or, for that matter, Israel's own friends, to accept it. The Arabs insisted on a return to the pre-Six-Day War borders, and, for all intents and purposes, the Americans supported that demand. Stalemate ensued.

    The events of 1977 to 1979 broke that stalemate. A major element in breaking it is the shift away from partition as the basis for a settlement and a search for other alternatives. Simply put, partition has reached a dead end. None of the three partition schemes on the table is acceptable to more than one of the parties involved. In current diplomatic slang, they have become "nonstarters."

    The first formal break in partitionist thinking came with Begin's announcement of his autonomy plan in December 1977. That plan, although purposely limited, for the first time formally suggested that the solution to the problem lies not in partition but in some combination of self-rule and shared rule. Rejected at first by the Arabs, it was accepted by the Americans as a possible basis for an interim arrangement. With some significant modifications, it became the basis for the interim arrangement agreed upon for a five-year period at Camp David. Each of the two parties to the conflict accepted this new framework for its own reasons, reasons that are virtually contradictory in their expectations. That was why the subsequent negotiations between Israel and Egypt to implement autonomy for the Palestinians failed. Nevertheless, the change in direction was not reversed.

    The Revival of the Federal Option

    The shift from the pursuit of partition to the pursuit of federal arrangements sounds a theme that has been played in a minor key throughout the history of the Israel-Arab conflict, raising it to new importance. Between 1917 and 1977, over sixty proposals for federal solutions were advanced, all following conventional models of federation and confederation.7 None of these succeeded because they were all based upon unrealistic expectations of Jewish-Arab cooperation. Between 1948 and 1967, proponents of federal solutions were muted, though they did not entirely disappear. A few remained to build paper castles in the sky.

    After the Six-Day War, the search for such solutions received a new impetus. The idealists reemerged with beautiful plans that continued to ignore stubborn realities, but even more cautious realists began to suggest that the federal option was the only one that offered any promise at all. Moshe Dayan suggested a functional solution for the administered territories involving shared rule by Israel and Jordan.8 Shimon Peres endorsed the pursuit of federal options in a vague way within two years after the war, later elaborating a plan for a redivision of the entire Cis-Jordanian area into several Jewish and Arab cantons.9 Even Yigal Allon at one point suggested that West Bank areas be linked to Jordan in a federation, and that the whole be confederated with Israel.10

    Unfortunately, none of these plans, nor those put forward by others outside of political life (such as this writer), found any response in the Arab camp. Now for the first time there is a slim but real possibility that federal solutions will find support on that side as well.

    A detailed look at the text of the framework for peace in the Middle East, with all its ambiguities and opportunities for interpretation in one direction or another, indicates why this is so. On one hand, the framework provides for "a self-governing authority...freely elected by the inhabitants" of the West Bank and Gaza on a transitional basis under the supervision of Israel, Jordan, and Egypt. What is suggested here and for the future final settlement is a Palestinian entity that will not be a sovereign state, and hence will have to be linked with some state. The question of which state is left open. The provision for Jordan's entry into joint arrangements with Israel leaves open the possibility for a link to Jordan, Israel, or both.

    In view of Israel's position against full evacuation of the territories and the Arabs' position against full relinquishment of any part of them, only one option remains, namely some kind of shared arrangement. This option is strengthened by the Camp David requirement that Jordan, Egypt, and Israel be involved in any decision affecting the Palestinians' future, along with the representatives of the Palestinian inhabitants of the territories. The provision for joint committees and security forces was a first step toward some kind of shared rule, though they were to be established only for a five-year interim basis.

    All told, the Camp David agreement was a major step toward some combination of self-rule and shared rule, which is characteristic of all federal arrangements. Even if the parties to the agreement move beyond it in their renewed efforts to resolve the conflict, they must continue to recognize the possibilities inherent in such arrangements and the severe limitations if not impossibility of any other approach.

    Symmetries and A-Symmetries

    What we have confronting us is an effort to come to grips with a situation in which two energetic peoples with certain fundamental interests that are diametrically opposed, are fated to share the same land. Somehow, they must find sufficient common grounds upon which to build a basis for settlement. To say that this may seem well nigh impossible is not enough. More than two generations of conflict have shown the improvidence of continuing on a collision course. In human history, peoples often continue to be improvident but it is not necessary for them to be.

    In the language of contemporary international relations, there are both symmetrical and asymmetrical elements in the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians. Increasingly, the Palestinians are becoming the "Jews" of the Arab world. Their diaspora is spread throughout that world and increasingly plays that kind of role within each of the Arab states that the Jewish diaspora communities traditionally have played in the Christian and Muslim worlds. In both cases, the peoples, wherever they live, look to their original homeland as a focal point in their lives, even if they do not intend to live there, and are willing to supply it with resources and to exert political and other forms of influence as necessary to protect or secure what they perceive to be their homelands' interest.

    These symmetries are becoming widely recognized. At the same time, they should not obscure the asymmetrical aspects of the relationship. The Palestinian Arabs remain Arabs, that is to say, their relationship to the Arab world is one of kinship, even if it is a kinship that sometimes is less recognized in practical policy matters than the Palestinians would like. Whatever their difficulties outside of Palestine, they have a score of other Arab states which share the same language, religion and culture. They even have a state -- Jordan -- which has always been considered a part of their claimed homeland and in which they form a demographic majority.

    The Jews, on the other hand, may have a more widespread diaspora which feels at home in other parts of the world, but as Jews they have only one possibility for a homeland in which their own language and religion, culture and ways form the basis of its society and polity. Moreover, no one has tried to exterminate the Palestinians. The Jews have not only undergone centuries of persecution, at times bordering on extermination, but came close to being exterminated in our own time and have been subject to further extermination efforts on the part of their immediate neighbors.

    Finally, the Palestinian Arabs may indeed be on the way to becoming a separate people as well as a separate public within the Arab world. The Jews, on the other hand, are the most ancient of peoples, a nation whose history stretches back to the early days of civilization and which has tenaciously preserved its peoplehood and its national identity under the most adverse conditions for thousands of years.

    Moreover, despite the substantial concentration of Palestinian Arabs in the administered territories, the center of Palestinian political and military power is with the PLO outside of the claimed Palestinian homeland. The center of Jewish political and military power, on the other hand, is unquestionably in Israel. this leads to a real difference in both the amount of power each is capable of mobilizing and an equally real difference in the character of the demands of each. Palestinians are coming to recognize the implications of this:

    1. that despite the PLO diplomatic victories in the UN and various capitals, it has come no closer to dislodging Israel from the territories or making real political gains toward its final goal, and cannot as long as Israel maintains its power on the spot, and

    2. the originally stated goal of the PLO, namely destruction of Israel and Jordan and the establishment of a Palestinian state in all of historic Eretz Israel/Palestine, stands in the way of the interests of the Palestinian Arabs residing in Judea, Samaria and Gaza who would be satisfied with the exercise of more modest claims but who cannot negotiate such claims as long as they are dominated -- through terror as well as other means -- by an external center.

    Both the symmetries and the asymmetries must be taken into consideration as a relationship is developed and the peace process advanced. This process is not a matter of one round of negotiations or one final decision at this point, but it can be initiated.


    1. On the history of the Middle East, see Bernard Lewis, The Arabs in History 5th ed. (London: Hutchinson University Library, 1975) and Politics and War in Islam (Princeton N.J., Princeton University, 1975); Howard M. Sachar, The Emergence of the Middle East 1914-1924 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1969); James William Parkes, Israel and Other Palestinians in the Perspective of History (Southhampton: Southhampton University, Parkes Library, 1973); Morton Halperin, The Politics of Social Change in the Middle East and North Africa (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1963). See also, Myron Weiner, "Matching Peoples, Territories and States," in Daniel J. Elazar, ed., Governing Peoples and Territories (Philadelphia: ISHI Publications, 1982); S.N. Fisher, The Middle East: A History, 2nd ed. (New York: 1968) and (ed.), Social Forces in the Middle East (Ithaca: 1955).

    2. On this usage of the term "public," see John Dewey, The Public and its Problems (Chicago: Gateway Books, 1946); Vincent Ostrom, "Dewey and Federalism: So Near and Yet So Far," Publius 9:4 (Fall 1979).

    3. On the Ottoman Empire in Syria and Palestine, see Moshe Maoz, Ottoman Reform in Syria and Palestine, 1840-1861; The Impact of the Tanzimat on Politics and Society (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968) and (ed.), Studies on Palestine During the Ottoman Period (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1975).

    4. On European theories of nationalism and the Middle East, see Benjamin Akzin, State and Nations (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Anchor Books, 1966).

    5. On the economic links between Israel, Judea, Samaria and Gaza, see Arye Bregman, The Economy of the Administered Territories 1974 and 1975 (Jerusalem: Bank of Israel Research Department, 1976) and "The Economic Development of the Administered Areas," in Daniel J. Elazar, ed., Self/Shared Rule (Ramat Gan: Turtledove, 1979); Brian Van Arkadie, Benefits and Burdens: A Report on the West Bank and Gaza Strip Economies since 1967 (New York: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1977); Meron Benvenisti, Demographic, Economic, Legal and Political Developments in the West Bank (Jerusalem: West Bank Data Project, 1986); Uri Litwin, The Economy of the Administered Territories 1976-1977 (Jerusalem: Bank of Israel Research Department, 1980).

    6. On Jordan, the West Bank, and the Palestinians, see Anne Sinai and Allen Pollack, eds., The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the West Bank (New York: American Academic Association for Peace in the Middle East, 1977); Amnon Cohen, Political Parties in the West Bank Under the Hashemite Regime (Jerusalem: Magnes Press and the Hebrew University, 1980) (Hebrew); Avi Barel, "The Jordanian Establishment and the West Bank," Jerusalem Letter No. 58 (March 13, 1983); Clinton Bailey, "The Participation of Palestinians in the Politics of Jordan," Ph.D. diss. (Columbia University, 1966) and (ed.), "Changing Attitudes toward Jordan in the West Bank," Middle East Journal 32:8 (1978): 155-166; Ya'acov Lifshitz, Structured Changes and Economic Growth in the Administered Territories 1922-1972, Research Report No. 6 (Tel Aviv: David Horowitz Institute for the Research of Developing Countries, 1974).

    7. Daniel J. Elazar, Shared Rule: A Prerequisite for Peace Under the Camp David Framework (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Institute for Federal Studies, December 1979); Daniel J. Elazar and Shmuel Sandler, A Plan for Joint Rule of the Territories (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Institute for Federal Studies, July 1978); Marcel Korn, From Autonomy to Commonwealth: A Proposal for the Future Political Status of Judea, Samaria and Gaza (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Institute for Federal Studies, March 1982).

    8. For Moshe Dayan's views on a settlement, see Moshe Dayan, "Israel's Border and Security Problems," Foreign Affairs (January 1955).

    9. Shimon Peres, "Discussion: The Federal Solution," in Daniel J. Elazar, ed., Self-Rule/Shared Rule, and Tomorrow is Now (Middle Village, N.Y.: Penquill Press, 1977).

    10. Yigal Allon, "Anatomy of Autonomy," Jerusalem Post (May 31, 1979) and "An Israeli Dialogue on Peace," Middle East Review 11:1 (Fall 1978): 42-50.

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