For far too long, the Israeli left has argued that Israel should not apply sovereignty to its historic heartland, on the grounds that granting citizenship to 2 million Arabs would spell the end of Jewish independence. Members of the left further claim that indefinitely holding these territories without granting citizenship to the Palestinian-Arab residents there damages Israel’s status as a democracy.
They conclude, therefore, that Israel ought to relinquish its claim to the land, abandon ancient Jewish sites and holy places and allow the establishment of an independent Palestinian-Arab state.
For nearly equally as long, the response of the Israeli right has been to concede that while the current reality is not ideal, legitimate security, national and religious concerns make it necessary to maintain the hold on Judea and Samaria. According to the view, if Israel must choose between being a Jewish state in the Jews’ ancient homeland and a full democracy, it should opt for the former.
This two-dimensional and simplistic framing of the choices available prevents Israel from finding new and creative solutions that protect the vital interests of the State of Israel and the Jewish people, while providing peace, stability and opportunity for people of all religions in the country. It’s tragic how little conversation there has been on the various models of autonomy and self-governance for the Palestinian Arabs that can be employed to achieve peace and prosperity.
The official website of the U.S. State Department lists about 50 special territories around the world that it calls, “Dependencies and Areas of Special Sovereignty.” The list is not limited to scattered islands and uninhabited territories; included in it are Puerto Rico, Gibraltar, Hong Kong and even Greenland.
Few people question the special arrangements that govern the autonomy of these places, or think of them as less democratic, even though matters of their defense and foreign policy are determined by the United States, the United Kingdom, China and Denmark.
The time has come to turn the page on the current two-state fallacy and apply full Israeli sovereignty to the territories, while granting meaningful autonomy and economic opportunity to those major Arab cities that wish to remain distinct from mainstream Jewish society. The potential of these autonomous cities to provide a high level of prosperity and opportunity for their residents should not be understated.
Hong Kong, notwithstanding the current stand-off with China, has provided the world with a model of what a highly successful non-sovereign city-state is capable of achieving. Andorra, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, San Marino and Vatican City are all examples of thriving microstates in Europe.
With a little goodwill, creativity and outside-the-box thinking, there is every reason to believe that major Arab cities like Hebron, Bethlehem, Ramallah and Jenin can enjoy similar self-reliance and prosperity that benefits all who live in the region.
This is the type of discussion that has been taboo for far too long, with devastating impacts on Israelis and Palestinians alike. More conversations and analysis on alternatives to the two-state solution are critical to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, peacefully.
IDF Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Amir Avivi is the founder and CEO of Habithonistim–Protectors of Israel.
Elie Kirshenbaum is an IDF sergeant in the reserves.