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The deep, structural reason that Oslo hasn’t worked is not that intransigent forces haven’t allowed it to, it’s that it was predicated on tearing apart a country that refuses to come apart. Yes, it’s a country in which one people unjustly rules another. It has no shared set of institutions. It doesn’t have international recognition. It doesn’t even have a name that anyone can agree on. But it exists.
Does recognizing this mean calling for a so-called “one-state solution”? God forbid. A single state with a single government for all Israelis and Palestinians would be a disaster from the first moment. It would sooner or later — and most likely sooner — unravel in a vicious civil war. We have seen such ethno-religious conflicts in recent years. In Bosnia. In Sri Lanka. In Iraq. We don’t need another and worse one.
What is called for is a two-state solution — but two states in one country. Two governments for two peoples, a part of each living under the jurisdiction of (although not necessarily with the citizenship of) the other; a set of mutual contractual obligations that ensure close and permanent collaboration; a common security policy; free trade; open borders; open travel; no more roadblocks and checkpoints; an end to walls and fences. In short: an Israeli-Palestinian federation.
It can’t be done? But there are precedents, some of which have worked better than others. One that has worked particularly well, despite all its difficulties, is the European Union. Who would have believed in 1945 that France and Germany would one day be living together in a federated Europe without policed frontiers, without customs posts, without enmity?
Israelis and Palestinians are not French and Germans, just as they are not French and Algerians. They have their own specific problems that are unlike anyone else’s. But they won’t solve these by attempting to go back to a time when it was perhaps still possible to draw a strict line of separation. That’s what John Kerry is the 1,000th diplomat to try doing, and he’ll be the 1,000th to fail. When you can’t go backward, you have to go forward, even if it’s to a place you find hard to imagine. But first we need to change cars.
Hillel Halkin is an author and translator who has written widely on Israeli politics and culture and was the Forward’s Israel correspondent from 1993 to 1996.