An Israeli-Palestinian Federation Is Still the Way

The old dream of a Semitic union still has a chance - a political and economic union similar to the EU.

Uri Avnery
Uri Avnery
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Uri Avnery
Uri Avnery

In the spring of 1949, just after the armistice agreements at the end of the War of Independence, a small group met to promote the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside the new State of Israel, with an alliance formed between the two peoples. The group consisted of Rostam Bastuni, a Muslim Arab; Jabr Moade, a Druze Arab; and myself. (All three of us were ultimately elected to the Knesset.) We didn't talk explicitly about a federation, but we agreed that the border between the two countries should be open to people and goods. (When it became obvious that we couldn’t form a political party, we disbanded.)

In 1956, after the Sinai Campaign, a new group got together that included Natan Yellin-Mor, a leader of the pre-state Lehi underground, writers Boaz Evron and Amos Kenan, and myself. About a year later, the group, Semitic Action, published its "Hebrew Manifesto," which presented an entirely different model for the State of Israel. It proposed a Palestinian state alongside Israel and a confederation of Israel, Palestine and Jordan. We referred to the federation as Ugdat Hayarden (the Jordan Corps), before the Israel Defense Forces adopted the Hebrew word ugda to mean a military division.

Immediately after the Six-Day War, many of the same people formed a group called the Israel-Palestine Federation. In the 1970s, Abba Eban promoted an approach similar to the Benelux federation. To my surprise, Yasser Arafat mentioned this idea when I met him in July 1982 in Beirut, which was under Israeli siege at the beginning of the first Lebanon war. He asked, why not a federation of Israel, Palestine, Jordan and maybe also Lebanon? He brought up the idea again during our last conversation, just before he died mysteriously in 2004.

I stopped using the term federation when I realized it was scaring both sides. The Israelis saw a federation as infringing on Israel's independence, and the Palestinians were afraid that this was a Zionist tactic to continue the occupation by other means. Still, it’s clear that in a small country like ours, two states cannot exist side by side over time without a strong link between them. Even the 1947 UN partition plan included a federation, though it didn’t explicitly use the term. The plan provided for an economic union between the Jewish state and the Arab state.

There are dozens of federations and confederations around the world and no two are alike. The U.S. Civil War was between a northern federation and a southern confederacy. Switzerland defines itself as a confederation of cantons. Russia is a federation and Germany is a federal republic.

A federation between Israel and Palestine, with or without Jordan, would have to adapt to our situation with its own unique form. The important thing is the timing. Writing in Haaretz a few days ago, Avraham Burg compared his plan for a federation to a building with human rights on the ground floor, two states, Israel and Palestine, on the middle level, and a federation on the top floor.

The existence of the Israeli nation-state and the Palestinian nation-state, one alongside the other, would precede the establishment of a federation. As long as a state of Palestine is not established next to the State of Israel in a final peace treaty, it will be hard to get the Palestinians excited about the federation idea.

I am convinced that by the end of this century there will be a world government in one form or another. It is already impossible to solve humanity's existential problems without a binding international authority with powers to make decisions and execute them. Tasks such as saving the earth, organizing a global economy, preventing wars and civil conflicts, protecting human rights, assuring the equality of women and minorities, and eradicating famine and disease all require a new global arrangement.

An arrangement that is both efficient and democratic will involve some kind of federation. My guess is that nation-states will continue to exist, just as European nation-states continue to exist as part of the European Union. But the character of nation-states will change, as will the ties between them. World government will be a fourth floor, or perhaps a fifth, if my old dream of a Semitic union comes into existence - a political and economic union similar to the European Union.

It's already worth thinking about these possibilities, even if they currently appear optimistic. They’re a vision for the future, just as the Zionist vision was in Theodor Herzl's time. But the urgent, fateful task is achieving peace between the two states - the State of Israel and the State of Palestine.

Yitzhak Rabin, right, and Shimon Peres, center, shared the 1994 Nobel Prize for Peace with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, left.

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