Board & Mission Statement
Why IAM?
About Us
Articles by IAM Associates
Ben-Gurion University
Hebrew University
University of Haifa
Tel Aviv University
Other Institutions
Boycott Calls Against Israel
Israelis in Non-Israeli Universities
Anti-Israel Petitions Supported by Israeli Academics
General Articles
Anti-Israel Conferences
Anti-Israel Academic Resolutions
Lectures Interrupted
Activists Profiles
Readers Forum
On the Brighter Side
How can I complain?
Contact Us / Subscribe
Ben-Gurion University
[BGU Geography] Oren Yiftachel's Progression: From Apartheid to Confederation

BGU Professor Oren Yiftachel

Email: yiftach@bgu.ac.il


Editorial Note: 

More than a decade ago, Oren Yiftachel (BGU) made a name among radical critics of Israel by suggesting that Israel is running a "creeping apartheid regime."  Even by the lax standards of critical political geography, Yiftachel is easily discredited; how long can one warn about "creeping apartheid" without providing evidence that Israel has indeed turned into the former South Africa? 

Yifachel apparently realized that "creeping apartheid" is old hat, a fact that compelled him to come with new idea.  As the dramatic titles “The Political Geography of Israel/Palestine: Apartheid or Confederation?” of a lecture on July 2, 2013 in Belgrade and the January 4, 2013 Singapore lecture "Colonial Deadlock or Confederation for Israel/Palestine?" demonstrate, he has become a convert to the currently fashionable concept of confederation. 

In the self-imposed detachment from reality which many radical scholars practice, the idea of a confederation is a modern equivalent of the binational state espoused by Judah Magnes and his Hebrew University professors of Brit Shalom.   Isolated in their Ivory Tower and cossetted in tax payer-supported tenured positions, Yiftachel and his fellow confederation aficionados such as Yehouda Shenhav (TAU), can dream tall dreams, even as the bloody reality of sectarian wars, civil unrest and military coups is unfolding all around the borders of Israel.


Keynote Lecture – “The politicalgeography of Israel/Palestine:
apartheid or confederation?”

JUNE 25, 2013 10:57 AM

TransConflict is pleased to announce the lecture, “The Political Geography of Israel/Palestine: Apartheid or Confederation?”, organised by the Centre for

Comparative Conflict Studies (CFCCS) on 2nd July

Suggested Reading

Conflict Background


Keynote Lecture: “The Political Geography of Israel/Palestine:

Apartheid or Confederation?”

Prof. Oren Yiftachel, Ben-Gurion University (Israel)


  • Organizers – 2013 Summer School in Comparative Conflict Studies, Centre for
       Comparative Conflict Studies (CFCCS)
  • When – Tuesday, July 2, 2013; 6:30pm
  • Where – Faculty of Media and Communications (FMK), Karadjordjeva 65, Belgrade


Prof. Oren Yiftachel of Ben-Gurion University in Beer-Sheva/Israel will discuss the Israeli-

Palestinian Conflict from his lenses as a political geographer. He will address the dilemma

among academics, scholars, politicians and policy makers about the possible future relations

between Israelis and Palestinians. Can the two states solution still be a viable one? Will the

Israeli occupation deepen and continue to resemble apartheid regimes?

Thinking about the Israeli-Palestinian ongoing conflict from a comparative perspective,

Prof. Yiftachel has written extensively on Ethnocratic Regimes in Israel, Sri Lanka,

Estonia and South Africa (Ethnocracy: Land and Identity Politics in Israel/Palestine).

Besides his academic work, Prof. Yiftachel is engaged and well known for his contribution

to Human Rights issues in Israel. For Prof. Yiftachel’s full biography, please click here.

For more information about the CFCCS 2013 Summer School in Comparative Conflict

Studies, please visit: cfccs.org

The Middle East Institute (MEI) is an autonomous research institute within the National
University of Singapore (NUS).

January 4, 2013

Colonial Deadlock or Confederation for Israel/Palestine?

By Oren Yiftachel

At the beginning of 2013 the Israeli-Palestinian scene is

once again confusing. On the one hand, Israeli leaders,

including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, have announced in

recent times their agreement to the principle of “two

states for two peoples.” Even the hard-line Hamas has

occasionally expressed support for the Arab Peace

Initiative, implying a two state future. The UN General Assembly’s overwhelming support in November 2012 of

the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders was another encouraging sign for peace

and the end of Israeli colonial rule of Palestine.

On the other hand, concrete and political factors have been working precisely in the opposite direction. Israel has

continued its suffocating siege of Hamas’ Gaza, and in response to Palestinian shelling of Israel’s southern

regions, Israel recently (again) caused widespread destruction during Operation “Column of Defense.”  This was

answered with renewed hardening of Hamas statements, with leader Khaled Mash’al during his December 2012

visit to Gaza calling again to destroy the state of Israel and “liberate the entire Palestine, from River to Sea.” In

parallel, and after a short lull during 2010, Israel has continued to settle Jews in large numbers in the occupied

Palestinian West Bank and has built dozens of new “outpost” settlements, further slicing the already fragmented

Palestinian Territory. Following the UN decision, Israel announced it will build more than a thousand housing units

east of Jerusalem, permanently dividing the West Bank into two parts so as to prevent the establishment of a

continuous state.

These seemingly conflicting trends illustrate the colonial deadlock that has typified Israel/Palestine since the

1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister who attempted to make a breakthrough

reconciliation with the Palestinians. Since his assassination, Israel has accompanied its putative pursuit of

peace, with the creation of obstacles to that very “peace.” Under the empty slogan of “two states for two peoples,”

Israeli actions have rendered the establishment of a viable independent Palestinian state virtually impossible.

This is mainly due to Israel’s deepening and illegal colonial rule that has had major spatial, demographic, and

economic consequences and to the associated phenomenon of Palestinian fragmentation, radicalization, and

terror against Israeli civilians.

Against these circumstances, a strong, evenhanded international intervention is needed to enforce international

law, with Europe, the Arab states, and possibly Asia as key players joining or even replacing a lackluster United

States, which has shown reluctance to face its aggressive Jewish lobby working against Middle Eastern peace.

The recent transformations in the Arab world are likely to increase pressure on Israel once the new regimes

reach internal stability. Europe too is likely to add weight to its efforts, given its close proximity to the Middle East

and its historical responsibility for the welfare of the region. But will the new environment be sufficient to end Israeli

colonial rule over Palestine and bring peace?

I argue that international political will is no longer enough. Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts need a new paradigm

to replace the failed two-state solution while not falling into the trap of pursuing the risky one-state solution, which

has resurfaced in recent years. I argue that new interventions and peace programs need to adopt a new

“confederational” framework. Given the history and political geography of Israel/Palestine, such a framework is the

only viable path to turn the current condition of “creeping apartheid”—in which the political status quo of deepening

Israeli colonization and Palestinian resistance is creating an undeclared, yet profound, process of institutionalizing

“separate and unequal” rights for Jews and Palestinians living under the same regime.

Continuing Jewish oppression and forced separation, even if accompanied by the establishment of a weak

Palestinian state, is likely to continue the instability in the region. A sieged and divided Palestinian state—the one

offered in the past by Israel—would most likely be hostile and greatly influenced by Hamas or other radical

elements. The typical dialectics of ethnic conflict would likely produce evermore hardline Israeli governments,

which would deepen the deadlock. A two-state solution would also leave a small and fragmented Palestinian

state dependent on Israel, unable to properly absorb Palestinian refugees and forced to manage frustration

regarding the lack of substantive progress on several core issues, most prominently genuine sovereignty, mobility,

and the right of return.

Yet the “one-state solution” is also problematic and risky. This option was the main Palestinian demand until the

recognition of UN decisions in 1988. It may appear logical, given the status of Palestine/Land of Israel as a natural

geographical unit between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, the small size of the territory in question,

and the status of this land as the cherished homeland of both Jews and Palestinians. But the one-state solution

also implies the dissolution of Israel into a new entity. This runs against international law and the basic rights of

Israelis for self-determination, and is hence virtually a non-starter for most Israeli Jews, who would present stiff

and legally legitimate resistance to the de facto disappearance of their state. The one-state solution also runs

counter to the aspirations and rights of many Palestinians for the establishment of a nation-state for which they

have struggled for nearly a century. Thus, both the two- and one-state “solutions” currently on the table are highly


Political geography of protracted conflict

Recent Israeli unilateral policy initiatives—backed by the United States—have continued the post-Oslo trend of

Jewish territorial consolidation and Palestinian fragmentation. Such policies have included the Gaza

disengagement in 2005 and the imposition of a siege over the area since Hamas took control of it in 2007; the

construction of the illegal separation barrier within the West Bank that began in 2003 and is still continuing; and

the rapid expansion of Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank. This phase is causing radicalization among

the Palestinians, marked by the popular election of Hamas to lead the Palestinian authority in 2006 and the

ongoing popularity of Hamas and its allied jihadist organizations since.

This oppressive setting is delaying the necessary dialogue between Jews and Palestinians about core issues

(recognition, refugees, Jerusalem, the status of Arabs in Israel, borders, and settlements) without which

reconciliation is impossible. These conditions are also a sure recipe for continuing cycles of mutual violence and

terror that could endanger the entire region and beyond. The creeping apartheid dynamic is also eroding the

belief of most Palestinians in the viability of a legitimate independent state in the Occupied Territories, redirecting

their struggle to alternative routes, including the mobilization of an Islamic revolution or a civil struggle for a

one-state solution.

Yet comparative research gives some hope. It shows that settler-colonial states have generally preferred to shrink

rather than give up their regime and state power. The most famous counterexample, which has some similarities,

is South Africa—but here we saw the democratization of an existing state rather than the ending of colonial

occupation outside state boundaries, as is the case in Israel/Palestine. Shrinkage occurred when Britain gave up

control over Ireland; when France left Algiers; when Serbia left Bosnia and Kosovo; when Jordan left the West

Bank; or even when Russia gave up control over the Soviet Union. Essentially, the core national state would

generally prefer to shrink rather than be dissolved. The lessons for Palestine are clear, although its historical,

political, and geographical conditions are more complex and thus require fresh thinking.

However, present structural and political factors militate against the creation of a viable, legitimate Palestinian

state. Structural factors include the land, settlement, demographic, security, and economic systems supporting

Israeli colonialism. Other factors include undemocratic group relations within the Israeli polity, especially vis-à-vis

its Palestinian citizens, whose voice is nearly totally absent from Israeli decision making forums. In contrast, the

settler Jewish population that resides outside the state’s borders receives full political rights and is the most

overrepresented Israeli group in the Israeli parliament and government.

In addition, the timing of public support for peace among Israelis and Palestinians appears to be persistently at

odds. During the mid-1990s, the vast majority of Palestinians supported a two-state solution, while most Israelis

rejected such a scenario. In the 2006 elections, for the first time in history Israel elected a parliament with a

majority supporting the establishment of a Palestinian state (69 of 120). In the same year the rejectionist Hamas

won the Palestinian elections, thereby continuing the deadlock. More recently, in 2009 the Israelis voted in the

hard-line and colonialist Likud government and the Palestinian Authority has declared its commitment to a

two-state solution and its opposition to armed struggle.

Beyond political settings reality “on the ground” has fundamentally changed the West Bank. Over 500,000 Jews

have now settled there (including occupied East Jerusalem), and Israel may well be unable to transform this

political geography even if it wished to do so. At the same time, 1.4 million marginalized Palestinians reside

inside Israel, opposing in the main the state’s ethnocratic Jewish culture and its colonial control over the West

Bank and Gaza. Clearly, the deadlock in Israel/Palestine is deep and complex. Its surface expression reveals two

national movements struggling for control, but deeper currents of history, refugeeness, religion, economy, and

colonial rule make the lines of conflict more profound and protracted.

Moving ahead

So, what can be done? The deadlock is indeed deep and complex, but it can be broken with determined, benign,

and evenhanded international intervention in addition to the more creative approach of a Palestinian-Israeli

confederation. This approach would first and foremost enforce international law and assist the two nations

financially, given the huge expense associated with the resettlement of Palestinian refugees, possible evacuation

of (some if not all) Jewish settlements, and the much needed reconstruction of the Palestinian space and

economy. But equally important, an evenhanded international intervention would guarantee the right of both

nations for peaceful fulfillment of their national goals. As noted, Europe and Asia should be key players due to

their growing trade and cultural connections to the two sides and their status as neutral interlocutors.

But even within the known parameters of international law, a fresh approach is needed. The confederation of the

two states would accompany the democratization of Palestine and Israel and establish a “layer” of joint Israel-

Palestinian governance and management of key issues. The confederation framework would be based on the

following core principles:

  • Establishing a joint body (possibly called “the Palestine-Israel Union”) based on parity to which the two
states would allocate policy and legal responsibilities to manage joint issues, such as natural resources,
economic arrangements, defense, and immigration
  • Granting Israelis and Palestinians full membership in “the Union” beyond full citizenship in their respective
  • Establishing a united “capital region” in Jerusalem/al-Quds as an autonomous region managed by equal
representation of Palestinian, Israel, and international elements
  • Maintaining an open border between the two entities for trade, employment, and tourism (but not for
  • Offering Jewish settlers the option of remaining under Palestinian sovereignty while holding Israeli
  • Opening the possibility of Palestinian refugees to resettle in Israel as Palestinian citizens, possibly in
numbers proportional to the numbers of Jewish settlers in Palestine
  • Ensuring the Palestinian citizens in Israel proportional share of the state resources and fair representation
in its public institutions
  • Compensating the owners of all property confiscated as part of the conflict

Clearly, these principles must be refined and examined carefully, but I suggest that they should be part of any

peace agreement from the outset. That is, the urgent need to reach “point B” (an independent Palestinian state)

would be assisted by the creation of “point C” (a confederation agreement) on the near horizon. Political

experience from various regions of the world, most notably Europe, also suggests that confederations tend to

“thicken” their cooperation over time and allocate more powers and responsibilities to the joint governing and

judicial bodies. This dynamic is likely to make the possibility of conflict more remote over time.

Importantly, this proposal has the potential to win both Jewish and Palestinian support. It may also defuse the

opposition of key actors among both Jewish and Palestinian publics. Among the Jews, the possibility of avoiding

the injuring process of forcefully evacuating West Bank settlements and the continuing unity of Jerusalem could

form a major breakthrough in winning the support of many who currently oppose progress toward peace. Among

the Palestinians, the establishment of a sovereign state with its capital city in al-Quds, the return of some refugees,

and freedom of movement throughout historical Palestine are likely to mobilize most Palestinians, including many

Hamas supporters, to support such a confederation.

In many ways, the current confederation outline resembles the parameters of UN Resolution 181 from 1947

(adjusted to the Green Line). It should be remembered that that decision gave international legitimacy to the

creation of Israel (and Palestine). Hence, the very decision that created Israel also created Palestine. Yet

Resolution 181 was not a simple partition but stipulated that the two states would have an economic union,

freedom of movement, and extensive minority rights on both sides. Jerusalem was to become a “corpus

separatum,” managed internationally, while its Jewish and Palestinian populations would become citizens of

either of the two states.

Critically, while rejecting this resolution in 1947 and fighting for decades against it, the Palestinians made a major

change in 1988 and accepted it. Hence, and despite the violent opposition of Hamas, UN Resolution 181 remains

the only major international resolution accepted by both sides. I propose returning to the agreed and still valid

parameters (adjusted to the Green Line) as a legal, historical, and moral foundation for creating an Israeli-

Palestinian confederation.

Moreover, the confederation proposal could overcome the inherent problem of territorial fragmentation by allowing

Palestinian movement for labor, business, and tourism purposes throughout the small country under conditions

acceptable to Israel. It would also ease Jewish fears about the intentions of Palestinians by granting their

legitimacy for the collective and political existence of Jews in the Middle East. It would allow the development of

Palestine and the gradual integration of the two economies in order to guarantee a level of coexistence necessary

for sustainable peace. Under this scenario, the gradual building of joint life and mutual trust will occur after the

Palestinians are liberated, thereby avoiding the pitfalls of the Oslo agreement, which wrongly demanded that the

Palestinians build “trust” with the state that continued to colonize their lands.

Finally, as noted in the suggested principles, a stable resolution requires changes within Israel, particularly in

regard to the deprived status of the state’s large Palestinian Arab minority, now totaling 1.4 million. Here the

democratization of majority-minority arrangements is needed to prevent the eruption of internal conflict that has

torn apart states the world over. Such arrangements would have to allocate Palestinian citizens acceptable

collective rights of autonomous communal management, as well as proportional share of the state power and

resources. The recent examples of Macedonia, Slovakia, Northern Ireland, and Spain can act as a useful guide for

various possible models for stabilizing majority-minority relations.

Clearly, the scenario sketched above is only preliminary. It also presents a tall order, as it places incredible

pressure on Israel and the Palestinians to reform their deeply entrenched ethnocratic and militarist orientations

and begin a process of democratization. But the knowledge gained by extensive comparative and local research

tells us clearly that it is the best way to advance toward peace and stability, thereby putting an end to one of the

world’s most protracted—and most dangerous— ethnic conflicts.

Oren Yiftachel teaches political geography and public policy at Ben-Gurion University, Beer Sheva. His

recent book,Ethnocracy: Land and Identity Politics in Israel/Palestine, was published by the University of

Pennsylvania Press.Professor Yiftachel is a board member  of B’Tselem—the Israeli Information Center for 

Human Rights in the Occupied  Territories.

Back to "Ben-Gurion University"Send Response
Top Page
    Developed by Sitebank & Powered by Blueweb Internet Services
    Visitors: 255462273Send to FriendAdd To FavoritesMake It HomepagePrint version