Thursday, August 31, 2017

Could a Middle Eastern Union Cool the Isreali-Palestinian Conflict?

I contend that thinking outside the box can go a long way in getting past the stalemate on Israeli-Palestinian relations.  The key, I believe, lies in relativizing the conflict by shifting the paradigm by looking outward, at the region as a whole. If the autocracies in the Middle East are indeed on the way out--to be replaced by true republcs not in name only--then, at least according to federal theory, they could form a federal union somewhere on a spectrum with the AU, EU, and US. For example, one would not expect it to be as consolidated as the EU. Even so, Israel might just feel more comfortable with there bieng other democracies in the region, such that it might agree to join a union as long as there are strong minority rights (yet without too many areas subject to vetos, which tend to render a union impotent).  

 As in the case of the EU and US wherein avoiding conflict between the respective states is part of the rationale, the creation of a Middle Eastern Union (MEU) could mitigate conflict between Israel and its neighboring states.  Such a union would of course have its own particularities. The EU and US have theirs too.  Whereas giving each state a veto, such as in a senate or council, would eviscerate the MEU, machinery giving Israel a limited veto would be legitimate and warranted as it could fear being ganged up on by the other states. Such a limited veto concerning Israel’s security could be removed by unanimous consent once greater integration and mutual security is achieved.  The assumption that there would be one major division in the union is rather simplistic, however, as there are other divisions in the region that don’t involve Israel.  For instance, the Turks and Arabs have had their mutual distrust.  So the factions in a MEU would perhaps allow for Madison’s argument that the multiplicity of factions in a large union protects, in effect, a minority from an oppressive majority.  As an aside, a MEU with Turkey as a state would also resolve the problems around whether Turkey should become a state in the EU.

I propose a federal union of semi-sovereign states with governmental machinery including a court, legislature and president(s).  The EU has more than one president (e.g., president of the EU Commission and president of the European Council).  The MEU could arrange that each state has representation in each branch.  Furthermore, a qualified majority voting scheme could add to the protection of minority positions without hamstringing the union. In terms of the balance of power in the federal system, the MEU would doubtless not be as consolidated as is the US.  Relative to the US (nearly consolidated), the EU (the states have more power than the union) and the AU (the states are effectively sovereign in the confederation), the MEU should be between the US and EU. The MEU government would have to have enough power to resist the forces pushing the union apart, yet not so much power that an unhappy state leaves for lack of any influence.  Given the conflict, both the state governments and that of the MEU would have to have power.  In effect, this would create a system of checks and balances that would allow the contentious issues to be worked out with due regards to the interests of the region and to the rights of each state and citizen. To help maintain a viable system of such checks, the federal system would be designed such that both the state governments and that of the union would have the wherewithal to resist encroachments from the other.  Ironically, both Syria and Israel, for example, might find themselves working together in the same coalition in the senate or council (representing the state governments) in resisting a power-grab from the MEU’s executive branch.  Conflicts which seem insurmountable now may be trumped by others wherein the coalitions for and against are constantly changing.

Jerusalem would be akin to the District of Columbia in the US.  That is, it would be a federal district, with the states of Israel and Palestine being like Virginia and Maryland. I submit that this plank would be the most valuable plank in this proposal, at least immediately.  Jersualem would be a united city—the jewel of the union. In the course of time, the enhanced economic and political integration would mollify the current disagreements and prejudices as contact between now-different peoples increases.

To be sure, thinking outside the box occasions inevitable inside-the-box nay-sayers.  “It would never work.”  “Pipe-dream.”  “They would never agree to do it.”  Und so weiter …   However, true statesmen and stateswomen can rise to the occasion and look beyond their immediate interests to the greater good. Even if in incremental steps such as has been the case for the EU, Middle Eastern integration can gain a momentum of its own.  However, given the historical tendency of acts of violence in the Middle East to arrest peace-talks, I think an approach closer to that of the US would be better.  That is to say, delegates from all of the Middle Eastern states (or those interested in such a proposal) could meet in a summit (or convention) to formulate the structure of a MEU.  Theoretically, it would then have to be ratified in the states, though it is possible for a government to cede some of its governmental sovereignty (the process of amendments in the US and EU have involved both).  Given the utility here of statesmanship, determination by referendum is not necessarily advisable in this case.  The democracy purists could ponder the alternative of continued violence. Where a state’s officials are elected, the absence of a referendum is more palitable.

In summary, the principle I am invoking in this proposal to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is essentially that where countries are states in a union, it becomes less important which state one is in because all the states share some commonalities (such as some basic rights).  Whether one lived in New York or Connecticut became less important, for example, once both were part of the United Colonies (and then the United States). So too, the differences between Israel and Palestine can be contained in a common union and mitigated by establishing channels of conflict-resolution.  To be sure, no one state would always get its way.  Also, each state would be taking a risk.  However, such is the ground of statesmanship.  It is possible to rise above even one’s immediate interests and achieve an enlightened self-interest. Lest problems be seen at this level, one has only to entertain more of the status quo, ad infinitum.