Welcome to Abraham/Ibrahim

Window with a view – the hotel is located right next to the Israeli "barrier"
The "Walled Off Hotel" in Bethlehem in the West Bank is located near the Israeli separation barrier, a large wall designed to protect Israel from acts of terrorism. The British artist Banksy opened the hotel in March 2017 and has decorated it with numerous of his own artworks that address the Middle East conflict (image: picture alliance/AP Photo/M. Mohammed)

Who invented it? The Swiss. Why it might be worth looking to the Swiss Confederation in the search for a solution to the Middle East conflict

Essay by Aref Hajjaj

Many people associate the horrific attack by the radical Islamic organisation Hamas on 7 October and Israel's harsh retaliation in Gaza with the October War of 1973. The so-called surprise effect of the attacks both then and now would appear sufficient to warrant a comparison. 

For me, however, it makes more sense to relate the current escalation to the June War of 1967 – not because the antecedents of the two conflicts display parallels, and not because the events themselves are similar. But because of their consequences. Just as the 1967 war went down in the history books as a clear turning point, the current conflict as well will have the effect of altering the dynamics in the Middle East.

The Zionist ideology will have to change courses in terms of its claim to power over historical Palestine, but so will the Palestinian leadership. For Zionism has ultimately failed to push through its concept for a solution to the Palestinian question. 

The era of occupation, annexation and excessive settlement began with the June War of 1967. There can be no doubt on the part of any court, international organisation or politician that these three elements are in blatant contradiction to international law. Israel's adherence to these three elements only serves to document the de facto decline of the rule of international law. 

Historic handshake between Yitzhak Rabin (left) and Yasser Arafat (right), yet there is still no peace today
Historic handshake between Yitzhak Rabin (left) and Yasser Arafat (right): the peace process between the PLO and Israel that was initiated in Oslo in 1993 to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict almost ended before it could begin as a result of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish terrorist, writes Aref Hajjaj (image: picture-alliance/CPA Media)

Today, the around 700,000 Jewish settlers, a good share of whom are staunch religious nationalists, feel "at home" in the West Bank. And their numbers continue to swell with the help of the current extreme right-wing Israeli government. 

This makes a mockery not only of the international legal order but also of the continual repetition by the USA and Germany of their commitment to the two-state solution. Which these days is anyway nothing more than an illusion. 

The peace process between the PLO and Israel that was initiated in Oslo in 1993 to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict almost ended before it could begin as a result of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish terrorist. It was then finished off entirely by continued rampant settlement and by former PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat's lack of any coherent policy.

There is a solution to the question of statehood

And yet, might the current escalation, despite its record-breaking obsessiveness and brutality, finally offer a chance to resolve this eternal conflict comprehensively and fairly, at least in the medium term? The autistic interim forms of conflict management practiced thus far have only led to greater entrenchment, hatred and vindictiveness. 

For those in the Global North who have been staunch supporters of the various Israeli governments, particularly the USA and Germany, the frozen conflict before the current war was merely a tactical success. Although Israel's military always emerged victorious at the end of every new armed conflict, these were hollow victories because they never really brought peace and security to the country.

The dual Palestinian leadership in Ramallah and Gaza City has likewise failed in strategic terms. Both wings cling to their respective territorial power zones, nipping any serious attempt at unification in the bud and refusing to call democratic elections. 

Elections last took place in 2006. All the while, new elections would be a game-changer for overcoming the current division and settling the question of statehood.

The Givat Arnon settlement outpost near the Palestinian city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank
The Givat Arnon settlement outpost near the Palestinian city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank. Around 700,000 settlers there make a mockery of the mantra-like commitment of the USA and Germany to the two-state solution (image: JAAFAR ASHTIYEH/AFP)

The two-state solution is no longer viable

The question of statehood could in fact be solved – no matter how utopian this may seem today – if genuine political motivation existed on the Israeli side. There are three options to consider: The first is to resume the status quo before the war, a solution that is unacceptable given the cementing of occupation and the continued building of settlements as well as the massive violence perpetrated against the population by the ideologically fanatical settlers. Furthermore, this option entails subtle elements that some label with the emotional term apartheid.

The second option would be the so-called two-state solution. Is it still viable? Not really. Even former U.S. President Donald Trump, who is not exactly endowed with extraordinary conceptual gifts, rightly stated that this idea had long since become obsolete. 

The presence of 700,000 settlers in the West Bank alone speaks against it. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock may be calling for a "settlement freeze", but that is by no means sufficient. Only an evacuation of the settlements would enable a solution for the purposes of this option – but that is scarcely possible given the unyielding ideological fronts in Israel.

Palestinians protest against the Israeli occupation in Ramallah
Palestinians protest against the Israeli occupation in Ramallah on the West Bank: the 1967 June War marked the beginning of the era of occupation, annexation and excessive colonisation of the West Bank (image: Max Zander/DW)

Despite everything, peaceful coexistence works

The third and only remaining option is the naive-sounding yet feasible long-term vision of a common state, which could be called "Abraham/Ibrahim". After regularly spending time in Israel and Palestine until the outbreak of the COVID pandemic, I can report a modest but nonetheless constructive coexistence between the Jewish majority society in Israel and the "Palestinian Israelis". 

In my hometown of Jaffa, and even more so in Haifa, Acre and Nazareth, living side by side works relatively well. In general, however, negative stereotypes abound. In the eyes of Palestinians, Israeli Jews are nothing but "repressive soldiers and occupiers", while Israelis often view Palestinians as "terrorists". 

I know from my experiences in Switzerland that such images persist about neighbours one is forced to live alongside and with. However, after living in Germany and then being socialised and exposed to the Swiss culture through my wife, I believe in the possibility of peaceful coexistence – and using the Swiss government model as an approach to contain the Israel-Palestine conflict could be one way to achieve this. 

A lack of communication

Those living in Switzerland's four distinct cultural regions are not exactly known for their strong empathy for one another. Terms such as the "Roesti divide" (between German- and French-speaking Switzerland) and the "polenta divide" (between German- and Italian-speaking Switzerland) are evidence that this is not just about folkloristic differences. Nevertheless, coexistence works better there than elsewhere. Of course, the infernal tensions between Israelis and Palestinians cannot be compared to the situation in the Swiss Confederation, for which wars have only ever taken place abroad. 

Unlike in the "Holy Land", people in Switzerland know and trust each other quite well, whereas Palestinians and Israelis hardly know each other, let alone trust one another. This circumstance presents a psychological barrier to the common state that is difficult to overcome. Without the promotion of communication between the two groups – particularly at the grassroots level, for example through citizens' initiatives – the idea of a common state will therefore remain illusory. 

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Switzerland: four cultures and four languages

If one day mutual trust has grown, however, the Swiss model could certainly be a starting point for the formation of a common state. The size of the population and land area are comparable, as is the immense cultural diversity: In both cases, there are multi-layered multicultural, multilingual and multi-confessional elements. 

The small nation of Switzerland is home to four cultures and four languages. In the Abraham/Ibrahim state, there would be two languages (Hebrew and Arabic), with English as the lingua franca. 

In both cases, there is for the most part a territorial separation between the different linguistic and cultural areas, which could be advantageous for reducing conflict in everyday life. Apart from a few exceptions (Fribourg, Bern, Vallis), this is in fact the rule in Switzerland. There is a comparable territorial separation between population groups in the core area of Israel, with the exception of Haifa, Jaffa, Acre, Nazareth and the undoubtedly most volatile case of Jerusalem. Only Palestinians live in the so-called "Muthallath" (Triangle) in Galilee, while most of the regions such as Nahariya, Safed and Netania are inhabited almost exclusively by Israeli Jews. 

Abraham/Ibrahim, the community to be established, would not to be a classic "nation state" like Switzerland, but a nation forged by the will of the people. This approach sounds utopian at the moment – in view of the atrocities committed by Hamas on 7 October and Israel's ongoing brutal crackdown on the civilian population of Gaza

But in the long term, the Abraham/Ibrahim state appears to me to be conceivable and feasible, provided that it is based neither on Zionist supremacy nor on a jihadist state ideology. Many of the successful constitutional elements of the Swiss model, such as the cantonal legal system, federalism in general and finally direct democracy, could be transferred to the common democratic state. And there is something else that speaks for this idea – and this is practically the most important argument in its favour: There really is no other solution.

Aref Hajjaj

© Qantara.de 2024

Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor

Aref Hajjaj was born in Jaffa/Palestine in February 1943. After the Palestinian expulsion in 1948, he grew up in Beirut and Kuwait and studied political science, history and international law in Heidelberg. His most recent publication is "Heimatlos mit drei Heimaten. Prosatexte über das Andersein" (Kiener-Verlag).