Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Government Reform and One State Solution

Yesterday, I volunteered at JNF (Jewish National Fund) - stuffing envelopes and stamping them to be sent out to donors. There, I met another volunteer, an elderly fellow named Steve. We talked about Israeli politics, Jewish and family history.

He proposed a drastic government/electoral reform and a one state solution. I am against a one state solution because I think it would just lead to civil war, but I'll paraphrase Steve's proposal anyway because there is some merit in it.

Steve's one state solution - he proposes that if Gaza is returned to Egypt, the demographic numbers of Jews and Arabs in Israel proper and the West Bank eases the concern that Israel won't remain a Jewish and democratic state. Also, many Arabs in the West Bank have family in Jordan so if the eastern part of the West Bank is given to Jordan, it will ease greater demographic fears in Israel. According to the Israeli Census, due to the Westernization of Arab fertility rates in Israel, Arab families are more in size with Jewish families.

There are several issues with this version of the one state solution. First, one has to convince Egypt to take Gaza back and Jordan to take parts of the West Bank back. This is a difficult task because the opposition of Egypt's current regime is the Muslim Brotherhood and their Palestinian branch is Hamas which stronghold is Gaza. And Jordan is controlled by a Hashemite king which might not want politically emboldened Palestinians incorporated into his country. The only way to overcome this first hurdle is to use America's leverage of foreign aid to Egypt and Jordan to make them agree to this plan.

A second issue with this plan is that the Palestinian Authority (PA) would have its position and power reduced greatly in this new one state because its constituency would be broken off to Egypt and Jordan. And I don't think the PA cherishes their people's democratic aspirations. How it would be incorporated into the Israeli political scene? - I don't know. In order for this plan to work, one would have to negotiate with Egypt and Jordan behind the PA's back.

A third issue is what to do with the Palestinians who are in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, and other Arab countries. Political positions of people do change but allowing a mass immigration of Palestinians into Israel, the "Right of Return", is one position which I think Israel would never change. So what would the status of Palestinian refugees outside the Palestinian territories be? For them, this solution is not a solution. In order to solve this problem, the US and Europe must get the Palestinian refugees' "host" countries to permanently settle them there.

Even assuming that there is Israeli political backing for this, I think this plan has very little chance because there won't be Arab political backing for this. It would take great efforts on part of the US and Europe to facilitate the negotiations for this. The Israeli Right would say, "We are ready for this, it is they which need to change." The Israeli Left would say, "If we change, they will change."

Now to Steve's government reform proposal. The current electoral system of "ultra-democracy" and coalition building has brought down numerous government downs and disabled the government from making a decision on the one important issue of the last 41 years - what to do with the Palestinian territories. We have seen the same old faces responsible for failed policies run for election and get a large amount of Knesset seats many times.

Steve states that because the voters are voting for a party, party members are only beholden to the party, and not the people or any part of Israel. He proposes that you connect each Knesset seat to a district, like in the US. That way, that Knesset member would be beholden to his district and not to his party chairman (or chairwoman). I think this would eliminate the small and one issue parties from the Knesset.

I support this measure of reform but who knows if the current Knesset would because it is filled with numerous small parties. In the mean time, let's hope that the upcoming government can deal with the upcoming crises.

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