18 minute read

Can Israel and Palestine Establish a Bi-National Coalition Similar to the Political System in Northern Ireland?

   18 minute read

Can Israel and Palestine Establish a Bi-National Coalition Similar to the Political System in Northern Ireland?

The brutally evocative image of destruction, bombings, and children on the front line of the West Bank and Gaza borders have echoed through the media. The call for a “Two-State” solution to end this political turmoil is stronger than ever. However, is the further division and polarisation of the people the only way to move forward with the peace process or is it possible to establish a one-state bi-national coalition? The “One-State” solution based on plurality and equal rights has been depicted as a Utopian idealism. However, I argue against this belief. By providing a comparative analysis of the peace process in Northern Ireland, I shall determine the feasibility of implementing a bi-national coalition based on the D’Hondt system as a solution to the conflict. I hope to contradict the common misconceptions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian crisis and clarify the advantages of implementing a one-state bi-national coalition and highlight the drawbacks of the popular “Two State” solution.

The “One-State” solution based on plurality and equal rights has been depicted as a Utopian idealism. However, I argue against this belief. By providing a comparative analysis of the peace process in Northern Ireland, I shall determine the feasibility of implementing a bi-national coalition based on the D’Hondt system as a solution to the conflict. I hope to contradict the common misconceptions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian crisis and clarify the advantages of implementing a one-state bi-national coalition and highlight the drawbacks of the popular “Two State” solution.

The key misconception surrounding the conflict is that the escalation of violence has eradicated any hope of resolution and separation is the only possible way to move forward. To contradict this common belief, I shall provide a brief history of the conflict in Israel and Palestine and draw a comparison to the history of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland.

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been stymied by the failure of the Camp David summit in 2000, followed by the onset of the second intifada. However, the unresolved conflict stems much further back to 1948. As in Ireland, India and Cyprus, British colonial “divide and rule” tactics culminated in November 1947 in the partition of Palestine into two newly independent states — one Palestinian Arab and one Jewish. The Partition Resolution of Palestine, UN Resolution 181, assigned Jews, who were less than one-third of the population and owned only 8 percent of the land, 56% territory of Palestine. The refusal to submit the Palestine question to the International Court of Justice to determine whether the UN had any jurisdiction to recommend the partition of Palestine or any other country created mass discontent among the Palestinian people.

This original divide would imply that the conflict originated with deep rooted religious cleavages. This misconception has been consolidated by the political ideology of Zionism. Theodor Hertzel is recognized as the founder of the Zionist ideology when he published his book in 1896, “The Jewish where he declared that the cure for Antisemitism was the establishment of a Jewish state. As he saw it, the best place to establish this state was in Palestine.” Zionism is a form of Israeli nationalism, however similarly in Northern Ireland there has been an ignorance to distinguish between political ideologies and religious belief- Zionism is a political ideology, while Judaism is a religion and cultural practice. Not all Jews are Zionists, and not all Zionists are Jews.

In Northern Ireland, the same misconception arises, political identity is so closely linked to religion that from birth, a child’s political views are determined by society. Despite the first Irish nationalist group established by Theobald Wolfetone being Protestant, today Catholics are seen as Irish nationalists while Protestants are loyalists who hold on to their link with Britain.

In May 1948, the British evacuated Palestine, and Israel declared independence. Several adjacent Arab countries declared war against the new state to reclaim the land that was stripped from their possession by the UN Resolution. During the war, Israeli forces destroyed over 500 Palestinian villages and captured 78 percent of historic Palestine resulting in 70% of all Palestinians had been made refugees. In 1967, Israel gained possession of the remaining 22 percent of historic Palestine as they occupied the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights. Although Israel portrayed itself to be “benign occupier,” Palestinians demanded self-determination and statehood. To maintain its military rule, Israel resorted to grave human rights violations which eventually lead to the 1987 uprising, or Intifada, for self-determination in an independent Palestinian state. The Hamas or the Islamic Resistance Movement, was established in 1987 after the beginning of the first Intifada against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The organisation originally had a dual purpose of carrying out an armed struggle against Israel – led by its military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades – and delivering social welfare programs.

Although the group is deemed as a terrorist organisation, since 2005, it has also engaged in the Palestinian political process, becoming the first Islamist group in the Arab world to gain power democratically. Not only is the struggle to reclaim territory and independence a conflict of political ideologies, but the strategic importance of the area is also immense.

The Troubles of Northern Ireland, a Nation Divided

A city destroyed by bomb catastrophes, brutalities and teenagers rioting in the streets is an image all too familiar to many citizens of Northern Ireland who experienced “The Troubles”. Described as, “One of the most contentious and defining conflicts of the twentieth century and one whose impact is still felt today”, huge similarities can be drawn from the current situation in Israel and Palestine. The origins of problems in the region stretch even further back than Israel and Palestine, to the Anglo-Norman intervention of Ireland in 1167, when England first laid roots in the area. From the 12th to the 16th century there was a huge influx of English and Scottish Protestants to the Catholic Ulster region. During the reign of King James I an estimated half a million acres (2,000 km²) was confiscated from Gaelic chiefs and given to the English and Scottish settlers- this was referred to as The Ulster Plantation.

By the late seventeenth century, against a backdrop of battles and disputes, the position of Catholics was incredibly compromised. The passage of ‘penal laws’ limited Catholic property ownership even further, alongside restricting their right to education and to bear arms, and driving out the clergy, ultimate control of the land lay in the hands of Westminster. In 1798 a rebellion broke out in Ireland, organised by the United Irishmen, a revolutionary republican group, who had been inspired by the revolutions in France and America. The rebellion failed and in January 1801, the Act of Union was passed, which made Ireland and England one state. The United Kingdom was created, and the Irish parliament was abolished.

The beginning of the twentieth century as tensions mounted, private armies of 100,000 plus men arose to represent the interests of both sides. Rebellions and uprisings plagued Ireland as the Catholic nationalists fought to regain control of their land. The call for “Home Rule” and an independent Irish State grew stronger than ever and in 1916, the “Easter Rising” took place in Dublin. The Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Irish Citizen Army and the founding members of the future Irish Republican Army joined to take advantage of Britain being preoccupied with WWI seeing “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity.” The rising was crushed but the brutality of how the Irish martyrs were killed without trial evoked nationalist spirit throughout Ireland.

The escalation of violence made an Irish solution urgent. In May 1921 the Government of Ireland Act was passed, the partition of Ireland into two. Six predominantly Protestant counties in Ulster become known as the ‘North’ and the remaining 26 counties formed part of the ‘South.’ The South was granted full independence in 1937 when a new constitution proclaimed EIRE (Gaelic for Ireland) as an independent, sovereign state. Trouble instantly erupted in the North; Catholics initiated their struggle for civil rights, protesting against discriminatory housing allocations, unfair employment conditions, voting restrictions and electoral gerrymandering. The formation of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) in 1967 gave this movement organisation and leadership.

On the other side of the line, Unionists interpreted the civil rights movement as a threat to their heritage, privileged position and political dominance. The first significant violence of the Troubles erupted in Bogside, Derry in 1969. In August rioting in Derry exploded into a fully fledged street war – the ‘Battle of the Bogside’ – between Nationalists, Loyalists and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). This fighting left eight dead and almost 800 injured. Violence continued across Northern Ireland for the next two years, leading to the rise of paramilitary groups and the deployment of British soldiers. On January 30th, 1972 British paratroopers opened fire on civilian protesters in Derry, killing 14 civilians. Bloody Sunday, as it became known, caused outrage across Ireland and indeed the world.

With Northern Ireland descending into anarchy, London dissolved the government in Belfast and introduced Direct Rule. Meanwhile the IRA, now split into two, continued to grow, equip and mobilise. Loyalists too formed paramilitary groups to protect their communities and suppress Catholic and Nationalist discontent. In 1971, the secretive and well drilled Provisional IRA declared war on British soldiers and RUC officers, doing its best to drive out the British and make Northern Ireland ungovernable. In the mid-1970s, the IRA exported its fight against the British to Britain itself, where volunteers bombed military facilities, infrastructure, financial areas and even shopping districts. While radicals wanted to shape Ireland’s future at the point of a gun, others strive to find resolution and peace, an infinitely more difficult battle.

.Map outlining the boarders of Northern Ireland

The Key to the Peace Process- Benefits of a Bi-National Coalition

Despite the Troubles, being one of the longest and most entangled confrontations in recent history, Northern Ireland has truly embarked upon the peace process, proving peaceful resolution after years of violence is possible. However, the key to successful resolution lies within the establishment of a democratic, inclusive political framework. One of the few alternatives to the “Two State” endgame is a bi-national state, offering power-sharing to two separate peoples with distinct collective identities within one polity. The bi-national model encompasses federal, confederal and consociational variants which are premised on collective entitlements, as developed in the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland.

After a number of unsuccessful attempts to restore peace and devolved government to the province were made between the outbreak of ‘The Troubles’ in 1969 and the Irish Republican Army’s (IRA’s) declaration of a ceasefire in August 1994. The Belfast agreement (also known as the Good Friday Agreement) was signed on April 10th 1998 and was approved by the people of Northern Ireland in a referendum on May 22nd, 1998.This agreement provided for a devolved Parliamentary system, a democratically elected mandatory coalition Assembly in Northern Ireland which is inclusive in its membership, capable of exercising executive and legislative authority, and subject to safeguards to protect the rights and interests of all sides of the community. (Strand 1, Article 1, The Good Friday Agreement, 1998).

The D’Hondt system is a system for electoral selection which was devised by a Belgian lawyer, Victor D’Hondt in the nineteenth century. The D’Hondt System (also known as ‘highest average method’) is based on the principle that seats are won singly and successively by the highest average. The method requires that the number of seats each party gained in the Assembly be divided initially by one and thereafter by its number of Executive Committee seats plus one. It is through the electoral system that democratic principles are embedded in politics in NI. Seats on the NI Executive are allocated by a party’s share of the vote, using a system of electoral allocation known as D’Hondt. The positions of Chair and Deputy Chair of the Assembly Committees are also allocated using this system. The primary benefit of implementing a bi-national coalition under the D’Hondt system is that it will ensure inclusiveness of both Israeli and Palestinian parties. To achieve societal growth and economic prosperity under this framework, it is necessary for both sides to work in tandem.

In the Northern Ireland example, the consociational principles enshrined in the GFA were designed to ensure that the composition and voting procedures would make the new Assembly more inclusive and balanced than the parliaments of earlier generations. The electoral system used for Assembly elections is Single Transferable Vote (STV), which is a form of proportional representation. This type of electoral system aims to combine constituency representation with proportionality. Under this electoral system, the parties with the largest number of votes and consequently seats in the Assembly claim the positions of First Minister and Deputy First Minister respectively.

In the Israeli-Palestinian context, this system would ensure that members from both sides of the conflict would gain the position of First and Deputy First Minister, removing any possibility of marginalization of any one side. Under a bi-national coalition, each individual will have the right to choose and express their national identity, which is one of the principle concerns of the Palestinian people. In Northern Ireland, Article I, part ii, of the Good Friday Agreement states,

“It is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment, to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish, accepting that this right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland.”

This recognises the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose, and accordingly confirm that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both Governments and would not be affected by any future change in the status of Northern Ireland.

Self-determination plays a primordial role in any peace process. National identity is a sense of belonging, but it is not focusing on culture but wider criteria including descent, language, culture and religion. Nationalist political radicalism stems from a feeling of suppressed National identity, therefore, to pursue peaceful resolution, it is necessary to respect the need to express national identity through freedom of language, religion, and culture in Israel and Palestine. The one-state solution makes it possible to move towards a just and reasonable solution for Palestinian refugees based on their right to return to their homes and places of origin. It also allows us to address the needs of Israelis to live on this land by equality, as normal citizens, and to address the problematic relationship between Israel and the surrounding Arab states. Within this context, the nature of the state would be defined as democratic and for all its citizens. Also, the One-State solution allows for the elimination of accumulated hatred, bloodshed, and injustice and puts the Middle East in a new historical era of peace, freedom and development, away from policies of control and domination.

The Disadvantages of a Two-State Solution

The Two State solution aims to resolve the conflict by separating the people, the land and the resources of Israel and Palestine. Under the Two State solution, Israel will remain a Jewish, democratic state alongside an independent Palestinian state. Borders will be based on pre-1967 lines with agreed land swaps allowing for each state to incorporate large population centers on the other side. There will be robust security arrangements, an agreed resolution for Palestinian refugees, and compromises over Jerusalem, and mutual access to all holy sites. The most prominent Palestinian figure of the past two years, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, is one of the few who not only say that they want to establish a state but are working energetically to make it happen.

However, these aren’t new ideas. In 1937, the Peel Commission first proposed splitting Mandatory Palestine into two separate political entities – one for Jews and the other for Arabs. The United Nations proposed a similar Partition Plan in 1948. Since the Six Day War, every U.S. presidential administration has supported the two-state solution as official American policy. In 2002, the Arab League drafted the Arab Peace Initiative, formally backing the two-state solution. According to polls conducted by Search for Common Ground, a majority of Israelis and Palestinians support the two-state plan. Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas publicly support it, however, is this a feasible and just solution?

The first issue with the Two State solution is that it will result in the success of the Israeli desire for a Zionist state. Zionism is a political ideology that calls for the establishment of an all Jewish State as a means of fighting Antisemitism. I question, is combating Antisemitism with another form of racism the answer, or is it just nothing short of hypocrisy? In fact, one could argue that Zionism ideology resembles the ideology of apartheid in South Africa or even Nazism in Germany. The United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379, adopted on November 10, 1975, by a vote of 72 to 35 (with 32 abstentions), “determined that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination”. Establishing a “Two State” political system in Israel essentially means attempting to form a democratic framework built on the foundations of racism and discrimination.

The second issue with the “Two State” solution is that it will lead to the polarization of the people, resulting in an “us against them” mentality which will inevitably lead to more violence. Looking at the example of Ireland, when the land was partitioned into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland civil war broke out in 1922. The partition of the land polarized the people for those who wanted a whole Ireland and those who believed that splitting the country was the best policy to end the violence. A country separated by culture, language, religion and borders that remain in such proximity will only lead to further conflict and wider social and religious cleavages.

The most important reasons for the challenge to the two-state solution relate to developments on the ground, especially continued settlement expansion and the construction of the “separation fence.” According to Amira Hass, the pace of settlement expansion in the Occupied Territories since 1993 has created the “geography of a single state.” The former head of the army’s central command, Yitzhak Eitan, fears that dismantling settlements will trigger a civil war, making the evacuation near impossible. The assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995 serves as a striking reminder that many Israelis deny the right of a democratic government to surrender land promised by God. The Likud Central Committee’s vote against the creation of a Palestinian state in May 2002, and the rank and file’s vote against withdrawal from Gaza in May 2004 are more evidence of Israel’s possible inability to deliver the two-state deal. With the added issue of American intervention, it is questionable whether a just settlement of land can be reached between the Israeli
and Palestinian people.

Although various solutions have been proposed, one consensus has been reached by all, the violent conflict between Israel and Palestine needs to stop. Despite the growing support for the “Two State” solution and the disregarding of a bi-national state, I urge the reader to consider the possibility of the “One State” solution. I argue this is a solution not merely a Utopian idealism, but an achievable approach based on the fundamental principles of equality and peace. The common misconception that a bi-national state is beyond reach due to the escalation of violence has been disproved by the situation in Northern Ireland. We must move forward on the road to peace by learning from the past.

The polarisation of the people through the “Two Sate” solution will only exacerbate the chaotic violence that currently exists. Separating people, resolving conflict through Zionistic measures and insisting democracy can be built on the foundations of racist ideology is not the answer.

“If we desire a society of peace, then we cannot achieve such a society through violence. If we desire a society without discrimination, then we must not discriminate against anyone in the process of building this society. If we desire a society that is democratic, then democracy must become a means as well as an end.”

Bayard Rustin

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