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Beyond the Onion of Blame Parallel Sovereignty for Palestine/Israel

Parallel Sovereignty for Palestine/Israel?


If you are a decision-maker or opinion-molder in a position to act on the creative idea presented here, you are earnestly urged to read on. Nine million desperate Palestinians and Israelis will thank you for taking the time. The paper introduces a concept called “parallel sovereignty”–an innovative ultramodern paradigm for resolving the longstanding sociopolitical impasse in Israel/Palestine. Oslo advocates may find it attractive because it could be termed a “post- quantum-physics two-state solution,” and Oslo opponents may find it attractive because in this scenario, believe it or not, Greater Israel and Greater Palestine both emerge intact.

* * *

The conflict between Palestine and Israel, between Arab and Jew, goes back a very long way–over a hundred years in its present form (and a lot longer, if you go back to Sarah, Hagar and Abraham).

In our time, at least, all the usual approaches to resolving this conflict share one basic dynamic: Let us call it “peeling the onion of blame.” We take the conflict in its most current incarnation and peel away a layer, looking for who is to blame, and why and how–and as the first layer of the onion is peeled away, we are all weeping, because the facts are tragic, our situation is tragic, and the history of this conflict is a history of tragedy.

When that first layer has been peeled away, someone who doesn’t like the answer that has just emerged, and who feels that the finger of blame should be pointed elsewhere, goes ahead and peels away another layer, and someone else peels another, and so on. Some of the best minds on both sides of the aisle are engaged full-time in this dead-end endeavor. Meanwhile, more innocents have been killed and injured, more youngsters turned into killing machines, more lives and more families blighted, and there’s no resolution in sight. And we continue to weep.

Indeed the end of each such exercise is that, when all the layers are peeled away, and blame has been cast in every direction, and an ocean of tears has been wept, the conflict is still not resolved–but of the onion, and all our efforts, all that remains is compost.

Only an entirely new approach that embraces a new conceptual framework, a fundamentally different perspective, can possibly bring a long-term resolution. Conceptually, the new approach, if it is to be effective, cannot revolve around apportioning blame. If we want to get anywhere worthwhile, we have to let go of the onion of blame. Let us agree that we are all to blame, or that none of us is really to blame, and move on.


All rational Israelis and Palestinians and outside observers decry the present situation (October 2002) of mutual bloodshed, economic collapse, and the implosion of both societies. Leaders are sticking stubbornly with their present course because they don’t know of any better option (or, in the worst case, because the current brutal path suits their ultimate objectives in some way). The people have stuck with their present leaders only because they don’t know where to find any better ones. Nobody seems to have a clue how to get out of the impasse. Most analyses simply rehash, with greater or lesser eloquence and increasing desperation, the same tired old arguments that have not proven effective in the past and are unlikely to do so in the future. The familiar two-state (Oslo) solution has become like the proverbial water to which the thirsty horse can be led, but which he cannot be made to drink.

What’s needed right now

At a minimum, what’s needed immediately is either better leadership or a better plan (or both). A better plan is the more urgent, because if there’s a persuasive vision of a better path to follow, leadership will galvanize around its electoral value–whereas replacing the leadership will not automatically produce better options.

A profile of the dynamic of change required

Look to the essential unity among the sane, rational majority on both sides. The moderate rational public (both Palestinians and Israelis) are actually all on the same side in this game–i.e., in favor of a rational, reasonable solution and against winner-take-all, coercive non-solutions. Many people already realize this, though the media tend to ignore them; and the momentum will snowball, given the right catalyst.

Harness youthful energy. The process of revisioning our future requires participation by young people in as visible and massive a way as possible, because they can make or break the process and they are now very radicalized and confused and angry (on both sides). Let them help to fashion a more constructive future for themselves by providing an option that speaks in a language young people can embrace.

Provide a charismatic, marketable, intellectually solid alternative. It’s still not too late… if we can offer an interesting new alternative that gets the ball rolling again, an idea that stimulates discussion and gets people moving together in a creative new direction. This new alternative should be simple, vivid, and highly “marketable”; it should “re-brand” the idea of peace, so to speak, yet be based on respectable intellectual foundations.

Potential problems (to be avoided)

Certain obvious pitfalls must be carefully avoided:

A religious veto: Avoid a program that religiously observant people cannot sign on for. Make sure the basic conception is religiously acceptable, and bring religious figures on board early.

Political brain death: Avoid a program that blames a specific political party, sector, or constituency for the current mess, or that deals them out of the solution. We are all responsible for having got to where we are now. As for the future, “peace” and “security” and “national honor” are no one’s exclusive property; they belong to everyone.

Moral collapse: The program must unequivocally put its foot down, once and for all: No more grabbing of what belongs to others; no excuses. No more killing and mayhem; no excuses. (Nearly everyone will agree to this if the process gets cooking well enough; the tiny minority of true fanatics on both sides will then be increasingly isolated.)


Human beings are patterning organisms. Cultures are collectively patterned entities. Hostilities like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are complex, evolved, dysfunctional patterns. Re-patterning on such a profound cultural level typically takes a very long time. Arguably, however, the process can be short-circuited; chaos theory, for example, supports this possibility.

Harnessing the dynamic for a sudden and rapid repatterning requires (a) a visionary new idea which, by definition, will be totally unfamiliar and which therefore, initially at least, may be hard to grasp and may appear unworkable, and (b) some way to help people plug the strange new idea into their existing conceptual grasp of reality so as to make it less fearsome and easier to get a grip on: one simple, persuasive analogy will do.

The visionary idea

The land of Israel/Palestine is actually two parallel kingdoms, so to speak, in one territory. Instead of repeatedly attempting to divide that territory in a way that satisfies no one, why not multiply the territory into two simultaneous parallel (virtual) sovereignties, both with precisely the same boundaries, neither entity to be more legitimate than the other? Let each side “win” what is dearest to its heart, but not at the expense of the other side.

Greater Israel and Greater Palestine will thus exist simultaneously, with identical boundaries, on the identical territory–in parallel.

How to plug the new idea into our present worldview

Take the Microsoft Windows TM environment as an analogy: With many programs open at once on the same personal computer, none of them is any more valid than any other, and the one in the forefront at any given time is determined by what the user desires to accomplish at that point. (The old transparent overlay maps that some of us used in school half a century ago were based on the same idea, with a simpler technology.)

Any psychologist will agree that quality of life–our subjective, experiential reality–is determined largely by a process of selective attention. Dr. Richard Merrill Haney, a Canadian psychologist, has gone farther, positing a holographic, multiple-realities conception of the human psyche as a spectrum (in contrast to the relatively rigid, dichotomous Freudian model of a conscious and an unconscious, period): While the old model of the psyche is more like a typewriter (on/off), Haney’s conception is more like Windows on a PC, or a multiplex theater. This same evolving impulse is animating new thinking in many disciplines, and the old “my way, or not at all” is giving ground before a much more flexible, postmodern approach. What the new paradigm proposed herein seeks to do is to take this evolving perspective and apply it in a field with unique challenges: geopolitics.

Who says it has to be the way it’s always been?

Nowhere is it written that there must necessarily be a 1:1 ratio between a given sovereign nation and a given land area. It’s a longstanding assumption, but it’s not a law of nature. If we so choose, we can dispense with “exclusive sovereignty” in favor of “non-exclusive sovereignty” or “parallel sovereignty.” Physicists have speculated for half a century about the existence of parallel universes (the first published reference to the idea in the literature of physics goes back to the 1950s); meanwhile, in terms of how people subjectively view the world, parallel universes clearly exist. (Ask any Israeli what this place is and be told: Israel; ask any Palestinian and be told: Palestine.) Rather than struggling to unify the two by force, or amputate various parts and expect the people concerned to like it, let us simply acknowledge the existence of the two realities. Let them exist in parallel, on a basis of absolute formal equality, creating massive new synergies.

In this new paradigm, each of the parallel nations of Israel/Palestine will have its own flag, anthem, government, institutions, tax structure, membership in the United Nations, etc. Military questions are in a class by themselves, and will not be easy to resolve, but the first principle is that the armed forces must be clearly subordinate to civil authority. Decisions that affect foreign entities (treaty regimes, etc.) will be coordinated between the two nations.

Consider the advantages

One supreme advantage of the idea is that, having adopted it, reasonable and moderate people from each of the two warring nations can thereafter think of themselves as being on the same side, in the framework of this novel and creative solution. Another advantage is that the mirror-image symmetry in legitimacy puts Palestinians and Israelis on a truly equal footing for the first time: My stature is only as tall as yours and vice versa; the incentive to score at the other’s expense is dramatically reduced. A further advantage is that the claims of classical religious sources are not rudely contradicted, but rather courteously and respectfully outflanked: Who would dare imply that the prophets of old, had they been alive today and given the opportunity to learn what contemporary physics is learning about the world, would have failed to welcome the great goodness that the parallel universes concept bestows on all the people of this region?

All these advantages greatly simplify the task of addressing the admittedly thorny practical problems on the ground.

Use teamwork to address all practical issues on the agenda

Concrete issues on the ground will be resolved by multidisciplinary, mixed Jewish-Arab (perhaps multinational) teams of professionals. Who will live in such-and-such a house in Jaffa for which a Jewish family holds a registered deed while a Palestinian family still has the key to the old front door from 1948? How will refugee families be compensated? How will unequal access to resources between Jewish and Arab citizens of Palestine/Israel be redressed? How will manifestly illegal land grabs be rolled back, and how far? Who will determine what “manifestly illegal” is? How can a general amnesty be organized and declared, enabling people to put down their weapons once and for all, with the release of all political prisoners? Should there be a Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the South African model?

And finally, how will the new paradigm affect the people who don’t fit into the obvious major categories (e.g., the 1.1 million Palestinian- Arab citizens of the present State of Israel; other ethnic/linguistic/religious minority citizens and residents seeking secure and equal status; Israelis currently living in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza)? Some people may prefer dual citizenship. Meanwhile, how can the very substantial claims of the Palestinian Diaspora be addressed respectfully and comprehensively, so as to build new and more positive outcomes? How can the status of Jerusalem be addressed, not in terms of who owns it or controls it (for a change), but rather in terms of what’s best for the city, its residents, its pilgrims, and its many stakeholders around the world?

If you reread the foregoing paragraph, you will notice a complete absence of incendiary buzzwords (Zionist, right of return, racism, colonialism, terrorism, shaheed, etc.) that long ago lost all utility except the power to strike fear into the hearts of the listeners from the other camp. This should be sufficient to prove that it is indeed possible to pursue a constructive discussion about our future without reference to the lexicon of instant mutual alienation and mistrust.

Why not try it?

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians are searching desperately for a way out of the present bloody impasse. A parallel sovereignty model may offer one. Even just a lively public discussion of the merits of the idea can demonstrate that there is still an alternative to the terrible suffering the two sides have been inflicting on themselves and on one another for lack of a clear way out.

As an added bonus, the idea itself almost mandates a certain profile of the leaders who would be fit to implement it in practice. At a minimum, they should certainly be cyber-literate. Senior military figures should probably be disqualified, for many reasons. Those two criteria together would eliminate most of the present leadership on both sides, which would perhaps be no bad thing.

“If we want to solve a problem that we have never solved before,” wrote physicist and Nobel laureate Richard P. Feynman, “we must leave the door to the unknown ajar.” Indeed, we must leave it open wide enough for Palestinians and Israelis to walk through it together into a better future. If we get started right away, commentaries like this one that are written about us ten years hence will laud our courage and imagination, and will employ the word “tragedy” only in reference to the past.

Let whoever is brave enough to step over this threshold together, kindly stand and be counted… now.

DEB REICH is a creative thinker living in Israel/Palestine. Write to her at debmail@alum.barnard.edu.

Copyright Deborah Reich 2002. .