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A Federation -- Why Not?

By       Message Uri Avnery     Permalink
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Source: Gush Shalom


AVRAHAM BURG (58) was a member of the Labor Party and for some time the Chairman of the Knesset. His late father was a long-time cabinet minister and a leader of the National-Religious Party, before it became a rabid messianic mob. The relations between Burg Sr. and me were quite friendly, largely because we were the only two German-born members of the Knesset.

Burg Jr., who still wears the kippah of an observant Jew, joined the Labor Party and was a member of the "eight doves," a moderate grouping in the party.

Last week Haaretz published an article in which Burg proposed linking the "two-state solution" with a two-state federation. He used the metaphor of a building, the first floor of which would consist of human rights, the second floor would host the two states, Israel and Palestine, and the third the federation.

This brought a lot of memories to my mind.

IN THE spring of 1949, immediately after the signing of the original armistice agreements between the new State of Israel and the Arab countries which had intervened in the war, a group was formed in Israel to advocate the setting up of a Palestinian state next to Israel, and the signing of a covenant between the two nations.

At the time, that idea was considered heretical, since the very existence of a Palestinian people was strenuously denied in Israel.

The group consisted of a Muslim Arab, a Druze Arab and me. After some time, when our attempts to form a new party failed to get off the ground, the group dispersed. (Curiously enough, all three of us later became members of the Knesset.)

We were of one mind concerning a salient point: the borders between the two states must be open for the free movement of people and goods. We did not use the word "federation," but something like that was on our minds.

After the 1956 Suez war, a new group took up the idea. It was founded by Nathan Yalin-Mor and me and attracted an impressive array of intellectuals, writers and artists. Yalin-Mor was the former leader of the Fighters for the Freedom of Israel, branded by the British as the most extreme Jewish terrorist organization and known to them as the "Stern Gang."

We called ourselves "Semitic Action" and published a document, "The Hebrew Manifesto," which I still think was and has remained unique: a complete, detailed blueprint for a different State of Israel. It contained among many other things the plan for the establishment of an Arab-Palestinian state alongside Israel, and a federation between Israel, Palestine and Jordan, to be called "the Jordan Union."

In the 1970s, Abba Eban floated the idea of a Benelux-type solution, a name derived from the federation-like arrangement between Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg. To my surprise, when I first met with Yasser Arafat during the siege of Beirut in 1982, he used the very same term: "A federation between Israel, Palestine and Jordan, and perhaps Lebanon too -- why not?" He repeated the same idea, in the same words, at our last meeting, just before his mysterious death.

In the course of time, I dropped the word "federation." I had come to the conclusion that it frightened both sides too much. Israelis feared that it meant diminishing the sovereignty of Israel, while Palestinians suspected that it was another Zionist ruse to keep up the occupation by other means. But it seems clear that in a small land like historical Palestine, two states cannot live side by side for any length of time without a close relationship between them.

It must be remembered that the original UN partition plan included a kind of federation, without using the word explicitly. According to the plan, the Arab and the Jewish states were to remain united in an economic union.

THE WORLD is full of federations and confederations, and no two are alike. Each one is a unique structure, formed by local circumstances and history. All are based on a covenant -- foedus in Latin, hence the term.

The terrible US civil war was fought out between a federation (the North) and a confederation (the South). The federation was conceived as a close union with a strong central government, the confederation as a loose cooperation between semi-independent states.

The list is long. Switzerland calls itself a confederation. Post-Soviet Russia is a federation. Germany is a "federal republic," and so on.

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Uri Avnery is a longtime Israeli peace activist. Since 1948 has advocated the setting up of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In 1974, Uri Avnery was the first Israeli to establish contact with PLO leadership. In 1982 he was the first Israeli ever to meet Yassir Arafat, after crossing the lines in besieged Beirut. He served three terms in the (more...)
 

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