Fred Foldvary

Fred Foldvary's Editorial

Who shall own Jerusalem?

Israel Lebanon Jordan Syria Egypt
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor

Jerusalem, ancient capital of the Israelites, and would-be capital city of both the Israelis and the Palestinian Arabs, is at the center of the conflict, once again become violent, between the two peoples in Israel and Palestine. Both sides have maximal demands to exclusively own East Jerusalem and the Old City. As Isaiah 59:8 tells us, "The way of peace, they know not."

My first editorial in The Progress Report in September 1997 was on Solution to the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict. The solution involved a confederation of the two governments. I remain convinced that there is no other way to solve the conflict over Jerusalem.

The Palestinians want jurisdiction over eastern Jerusalem and also want control over the Muslim religious sites. The Israelis want to keep Jerusalem unified within Israel. The Palestinians have been offered a few sections at the edge of eastern Jerusalem, but they remain adamant in wanting all of eastern Jerusalem, which had been under Jordanian control prior to 1967.

There is no way to reconcile these maximal demands within the confines of only two governments, Israel and Palestine. We need to expand the whole paradigm to include a third entity which would have jurisdiction. Israel and Palestine must be equal nations in a Confederation of the Levant. The "Levant" is the French term for the eastern Mediterranean area, derived from the Latin word for rising, as in the rising of the sun in the East.

There can arise a new peace and a new era for the Middle East once the two peoples accept the other as equal human beings with equal rights to self-determination and equal rights to the land. The Confederation would have direct jurisdiction over all Jerusalem and over all the holy religious sites, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. The confederation would also have courts to resolve disputes between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as authority over common resources such as water.

The concept of confederation for Israel is an old idea. Martin Buber proposed a binational state, and Noam Chomsky in his book Peace in the Middle East? (1974) advocated principles for a settlement which include: no domination of one group by another, self-government for each nation, the ability of each individual to live where he chooses, and a state which is neither Jewish nor Arab but multinational. Chomsky suggested, as an alternative to the usual proposals, "parallel national institutions throughout the whole territory with a free option for each individual; and also the option of dissociation from national institutions with retention of full rights of citizenship for those who prefer."

A Confederation of the Levant, however it is named, would satisfy all these criteria. Israel and Palestine would have full and equal self-governance for their internal affairs, including their own schools, currencies, languages, criminal law, and economic policy. The confederation would have jurisdiction on common and disputed interests, such as Jerusalem. Both sides would thereby own the disputed areas, but neither would do so exclusively.

The philosopher Martin Buber proposed a just alliance with the Arab peoples with unhampered independent development for each in a binational state. He also favored (in a 1939 letter to Gandhi) the "communal ownership of land" (citing Leviticus 25:23) as well as "the independence of each individual". With "joint sovereignty," neither people need fear "domination by the other through numerical superiority," hence, he said, immigration need not be restricted. In a 1947 radio lecture in the Netherlands, Buber said, "The demands for an Arab state or a Jewish state in the entire Land of Israel fall into the category of political 'surplus,' of the desire to achieve more than what is truly needed." The two essential prerequisites for an agreement, said Buber, were "the precedence of economics over politics" and the "intra-national principle" (Martin Buber, A Land of Two Peoples, 1983).

The vision of Martin Buber and Noam Chomsky of bi-nationalism in a common land would be realized in a Confederation that ties the two peoples in one union with two states, just as the United States is a country with parallel sovereignty by the States and the federal union. With the violence in Israel and Palestine now threatening the progress made by the peace process, it's time for the idea of a binational confederation to be widely discussed and made a key ingredient in the negotiations.

-- Fred Foldvary      

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Copyright 2000 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.