Alternative Path To Middle East Peace? Israel Should Join EU
It is high time to provide a new perspective for Israel and offer the country a membership in the European Union. A uniquely German point of view on Middle East peace.
BERLIN — The two-state-solution is not, as most of us would think, a new idea. It is 80 years old, to be precise. It is based on the idea of a British commission and was conceived in 1937 before it was taken up, once more, by the United Nations in 1947. The version of 1947 stated that the area of the British-mandated territory of "Palestine," situated between the river Jordan and the Mediterranean, should be divided into two separate states, an Israeli state and an Arab state.
Israel has been a sovereign state, with all the trimmings, since 1948, including a government, an army, a seat in the UN and membership in the World Health Organization (WHO) and World Trade Organization (WTO), as well as many other international bodies. By now, 135 of the 193 member states of the UN have recognized "Palestine" as a sovereign state, plus the Holy See, which is not a full member state of the UN.
If all of these facts are taken into account, you would be forgiven for thinking that nothing could possibly stand in the way of the two-state-solution. But there are a few small matters that ought to be addressed before Jerusalem and Ramallah are to take up any diplomatic relationships. These are, namely, the issues of borders, the Jewish settlement in the West Bank, the "return policy," which is non-negotiable for Palestinians, as well as the recognition of Israel as a "Jewish state," a condition that Israel is not willing to forego.
And all of this is without mentioning the most important question of all: who will speak for the Palestinians? The local elections in the West Bank and Gaza, set for Oct. 8, 2016, had to be cancelled due to the fact that leaders of Fatah and Hamas could not reach an agreement.
The rules are basically the same: the first to move, loses.
And there is nothing to indicate that anything will change in the foreseeable future. The Israelis are aware of this, as are the Palestinians. The status quo may be wrought with difficulty but it is, nonetheless, a more comfortable situation than the one that may take its place.
Such competing alternatives as the one-state solution, the two-state solution, the "cantonisation" of Israel and its annexed regions according to the Swiss example, a loose federation of Israel, Jordan and Palestine and two social systems within a unified country, as well as all the other "solutions' have been invented and discussed for several decades by now. The status quo allows the Palestinians to "play state" without having to worry about how to finance the project nor take care of its citizens' welfare seeing as other states and NGOs handle that. Israel also profits from this same status quo seeing as it does not have to decide between being a "Jewish state" or a "democracy." In the meantime everyone is engaged in a stand-off and the rules are basically the same: the first to move, loses.
If the international community were seriously interested in finding a solution to the Middle East conflict, it would have to come up with an idea that goes beyond conferences, resolutions and quick pit stops to the region by foreign diplomats. But what kind of idea is needed?
Back in early 1989, without knowing what was going to happen elsewhere that momentous year, I devised a little scenario in which I found a solution for the Middle East. Instead of continuously stressing the "special historical relationship" between Germany and Israel and the "special duty" that Germany has towards Israel's security, Germany simply would declare Israel what then would have been its 12th Federal State. Germany would finally be able to leave history behind and Israel could place its foreign affairs into German hands and concentrate on what it is particularly good at: archeology, high tech, agriculture and literature. No state on the planet would dare attack Israel because it would, simultaneously, attack Germany. Mandatory draft to the German army was still enshrined in law in 1989.
Interestingly enough, people mistook my idea of the 12th Federal State as political satire. My work itself received an award but it did not spark a watershed in re-thinking the situation, as I had hoped. The idea became obsolete when the Wall came down and the DDR (East Germany) and the Federal Republic (West Germany) were unified, as Germany had just gained five Federal States that needed financial rehabilitation as well as political integration.
Street art in Tel Aviv — Photo: Ziamimi
Only many years later, in 2014, did something come to pass that reactivated my political fantasy. The Israeli embassy in Berlin announced that Germany and Israel had come to the agreement that the Federal Republic of Germany was to "take over all consulate representation for Israelis in all states in which the Jewish state does not maintain any embassies." To me, it sounded as if the German state announced that it was going to take care of Bavarians should they ever be stranded on Mallorca for some reason. The historically troubled relationship between Germany and Israel had reached a peak of normality that was unprecedented but which continued to normalize even further since then. It seems impossible these days to find an Israeli who is not enamored with Germany. He has either already visited Germany or is planning on going soon.
Apparently, none of the reports on the AfD, re-emerging right wing populism, have harmed Germany's reputation in Israel. Tel Aviv is the most German city south of Heidelberg, an ode to the classic modern period, as envisaged by Bauhaus architects in Weimar and Dessau.
So would this not be the right moment to, once again, think about a German-Israeli joint venture? For Israel to maybe become the 17th Federal State? Actually, no. Israel has already overtaken Germany. Its economy is extremely stable, the export sector is booming, its unemployment rate is, at 4.8%, at its lowest point in over 30 years, inflation is so moderate that no one even mentions it, the shekel is a solid currency, which, compared to the euro, gained 20% in value within the last three years.
Israel is ready to join Europe. And if the EU truly wants to have an influence on the situation in the Middle East, it should offer Israel a full membership. Such as is the case with the European partnership with Bosnia and Herzegovina, enabling a step-by-step introduction into the EU. But seeing as only states with internationally recognized borders are allowed to join (the exception being Cyprus), Israel would have to decide whether it would prefer becoming a member of the EU or rather control parts of the West Bank. In other words, Israel would have the chance to change the status quo.
But there are a lot of unknown factors within this equation. Not every Palestinian has come to terms with Israel's existence, nor with the borders before and after 1967. To them it is not only Hebron and Bethlehem but Haifa and Be'er Sheva as well that need to be rescued from Zionistic occupation. If the Palestinians now talk of the "end of the peace process' after the end of the two-state-solution, it is nothing more than pure hypocrisy, feigned grief at the passing of a hated relative.
Eighty years after the inception of the two-state solution, and 50 years after the Six-Day War, only Israel's founding father David Ben-Gurion can provide the necessary words of comfort: "In order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles."