Monday, November 19, 2012



By Biko Agozino

This is a proposal for a lasting peace in the Middle East based on the possible application of the principles of federalism that were first outlined by the founding fathers of the US in the famous Federalist Papers. I propose to sample a group of Jewish and Palestinian youth on the applicability of the Federalist Papers to what I choose to call Palesrael, a single state solution for both Jews and Palestinians united in a federal system of government which would respect the autonomy of local governments while guaranteeing the equal protection of all under the federalist constitution. I choose to sample the youth because they will be the future leaders of the country and also because the older population are sufficiently traumatized by the conflict not to be sensitive to any new ways of thinking about innovative solutions. The single capital city for the single state solution will therefore be Jerusalaam or Jerushalom, call it what you may in your own dialect for 'City of Peace'! Seriously.


In the year 2020, I would like to see a Just Jerusalem as the capital city of a federal republic of Palesrael. This proposal assumes that both Jews and Palestinians are Semites with more in common than is apparent from their sibling rivalry. The proposal is for Jerusalaam-Jerushalom to be recognized as the capital city of one state, the state of Palesrael. This is the best political scenario for a city like Jerusalem that is holy to many different faiths and is being claimed by rival faiths: the federal capital city status would enhance the sharing arrangements while federal presence would guarantee equal protection of all.

The conflict in the Middle East has been rightly described as the most intractable conflict of its kind that has bedeviled the world and any solution to that puzzle is likely to contribute to global peace for the benefit of humanity. The area occupied by Jews and Palestinians is arguably the holiest land on earth with Jews, Rastafarians, Christians and Muslims claiming every inch of the land as a special place for their faith. It is ironic that the Holy Land is also the most troubled and conflict-ridden although religious fanatics might see this as logical in the sense that the devil would be working overtime to ensure that the holiest of places is denied the peace that all religious faiths preach but often fail to practice adequately.

The conflict in the Middle East, like most cases of social conflict, is not a religious conflict between God and Satan but a conflict that is man-made and that is open to rational, empathic and creative resolution by human beings no matter what faith they profess or lack of it. The federalist solution as pioneered by Americans is effective because of the clear distanciation between religiosity and the state or attempts to keep religion as a private personal affair while leaving politics as the remit of elected officials and democratic citizens alike. It is true that even Americans continue to redefine the tensions between religion and the state as fundamentalist groups mobilize to threaten aspects of secularism but the US is exemplary in the ways that Native Americans, Christians, Africans, Jews and Muslims, not to mention other faiths, unite to build a strong and democratic federalist polity as a shining example to the rest of the world, the flaws of America especially in international relations and domestic race-class-gender politics not withstanding.

For those who are not familiar with the federalist papers, it is important to clarify that it is a collection of mostly newspaper articles written by some of the American founding fathers as part of the debate that continued after the Pennsylvania constitutional conference. There were some who believed that federalism was bad because the federal government could become imperialist and thereby sabotage the autonomy of local government. They argued for confederation to be maintained on the basis of a friendly association or imperfect union among the willing states as was the case prior to the attempt to engineer a ‘more perfect union’ through the federal constitution.

On the other hand, those who supported federalism argued that the imperfections of confederation were obvious in the fact that some states were using exclusionary measures to protect their own residents from free market competition against residents of other states. States like Delaware and Connecticut were almost about to go to war against the state of New York over such issues as the imposition of import duties on chicken and timber! Moreover, members of state militia were beginning to mobilize and take the laws into their hands to pressure the central government to pay them better remuneration but without a central government capable of defending the union with a collective force or moral leadership.

Those in support of federalism argued that a strong central government was essential for the defense of the polity against foreign invasion while leaving the matters of law and order largely to the local government authorities and to individuals who are granted the right to bear arms (more of a duty in the Middle East). The federalists won the argument and thirteen states initially ratified the new constitution and gave birth to the United States of America. More states later joined the union and the strength of that union was tested by confederates in the civil war when it was proven to be adequately strong especially with the support of hundreds of thousand formerly enslaved Africans who rallied to fight on the side of the union army.

As we watch the rain of missiles in the air and the harvest of the mangled corpses of children, women and men who would rather live in peace and prosperity; as we remember the pitiable image of Jews being dragged off their homes by Jewish soldiers in order to demolish those homes because they were built in occupied territories that had been ceded back to Palestinians or watch Israeli bulldozers demolish the homes of Palestinians or bomb them for one reason or the other and as Palestinians are forced into a ridiculous position of fighting and killing each other in factional battles over the control of crumbs, I wonder if the American founding fathers of God’s own country could lend a light to the Holy Lands by applying the principles of federalism to the conflict.

The two states solution appears to be the compromise being pursued after both sides recognized the right of each other to exist side by side by side but there is doubt about the viability of two states with one splintered and with the capital city still in contention by both sides that are intricately tied together in economic, legal, political and social relations. The idea of a single state solution has been raised occasionally by the Palestinians but the Israelis tend to see that as the worst case scenario for fear that they might lose what some call a Jewish state which Israel is not, being a secular state. I see the single state solution to be a win-win solution to the crisis.

Jews can reside in any state of the federation and Palestinians can reside in any state they choose. To some extent, this is already true in the sense that there are Palestinians living in Israel just as there are Jews in ‘occupied’ territories. Most countries in the world today are multicultural and citizens are free to settle wherever they choose. A federal structure is best suited to do that especially by building settlements and distributing them equitably to those who cannot afford to choose in the free market but without creating urban concentration of poverty ‘projects’.

The federalist solution appears even more feasible given that Jews and Palestinians are one Semitic people whereas America is one of the most multicultural countries in the whole world. If a country as diverse as America could unite under a federalist constitution, there is no reason why a people as homogenous as Semites could not unite under a federalist arrangement that would respect the rights of all citizens to live wherever they could afford to live and practice whatever faith they subscribe to while respecting the rights of their brothers and sisters or else they would attract the might of the federal government which should be equipped to guarantee the equal protection of all.

Since the adult populations of the region have tried and woefully failed to engineer a solution to this conflict despite expensive militarization, terrorization, victimization, assassination, iron domes securitization, nuclearization, and hideous walls of separation, I am inviting young people who are not yet old enough to vote, to apply the legendary ingenuity and originality of young minds to the solution of the problem by borrowing from the mistakes and successes of the American founding fathers but without the prejudice of their oversocialization into exclusionary boundary enforcement and ideological intolerance.

I hypothesize that there are lessons in the Federalist Papers for the resolution of the Middle East crisis between Palestinians and Israelis. I propose to test this hypothesis by randomly sampling one hundred and seventy young people under the age of 18, half being Palestinians and half being Israelis, half male and half female, and assigning one of the Federalist Papers to each to argue for or against the application of the views in each Paper to the Middle East crisis. If Federalist paper number one is randomly assigned to a Palestinian youth to argue for, then the same paper should be randomly assigned to an Israeli youth to argue against and vice versa.

The 85 Palestinian youth and the 85 Israeli youth will then meet at a constitutional conference to draft a youth constitution for the Federal Republic of Palesrael in which Jews and Palestinians will live side by side and happily ever after. The draft constitution could be put to a referendum among young people for a possible youth election and youth model government for Palesrael. In 10 to 20 years, these young people would be the leaders of the new republic and will get the opportunity to implement their peace plan if current leaders of the beloved territory leave it until then. The resulting constitutions for Palesrael and the constitutent states and local governments could include the principles of structural equality by ensuring that half the senators will be Jews and half Arabs, half will be male and half will be female, if necessary.

It is being assumed here that the young people would come to an agreement that there are lessons and support for Palesrael within the Federalist Papers. What if the youth reject the idea and opt to retain the boundaries as they exist or continue expansionist fantasies due to the entrenchment of the socialization of mutual hatred in their upbringing? Then the experiment would end there.

However, because the experiment is designed to solicit views for and against, it is reasonable to hope that the federalist option would appear competitive if not more attractive in the end. Lack of funding for the project is another limitation but a fraction of the funding dedicated to sustaining the current violence would fund this project or we will rely on volunteer youths and NGOs to pull it off.

With a Washington DC model for a Just Jerusalaam-Jerushalom, there will be peace, justice and economic sustainability for all the citizens of the federal republic of Palesrael even if all ills are not cured as is the case with DC today. All the money being wasted currently waging a war without end against brothers and sisters would be poured into human development instead. Everybody wins 200% by gaining the state they cherish plus much more in the whole federation as is the case in America. Only the people could decide how many states to create as members of the new federation. Whereas federalism would not cure all the ills of society, it offers more comprehensive and comprehensible solution that will be sustainable and just.

There is nowhere else the Federalist papers have been debated and adapted for the drafting of the constitution of a new republic that I know of. The American constitution has been remarkably successful in attracting the attention of other nations that try to base their constitutions on that model. Yet, none has based such a decision on a replication of the debates that gave rise to the federal constitution in America. If successful, the project could be a model for the training of youth in political leadership around the world and the model could also be applied to other conflict-ridden regions of the world for global justice, peace and sustainable development.

Dr. Agozino is a Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies, Virginia Tech.


Nigel Guishard said...

This article needs to be widely distributed to the public so that some of the ignorance circling around this issue can be cured. You are correct, the Israel vs Palestine debate is over land/property not religion.
But in terms of making Jerusalem the capital of this unified state, I disagree and predict future problems if that happens. I propose making Jerusalem a territory not owned by either state/country.

Nigel Guishard said...

I would prefer that Jerusalem be it's own religious territory not owned by any state/country since it's one of the Holiest places on earth.

Odozi Obodo said...

Thanks Nigel for your thoughts. Feel free to forward the post to anyone interested in the discussion. Your suggestion of Jerushalom-Jerusalaam as a no-man's-land is interesting and feasible if that is what the people want. Democracy demands that the people debate all the options and choose what they want. Even after the initial choice has been made, it may be necessary to include the principle of the self-determination of oppressed national minorities in the constitution by allowing for secession if the people of a state vote for it. Of course, there is no cure-all solution for all problems that might arise but the best thing about democracy is that problems with democracy are best solved with more rather than with less democracy. I salute you.