Open borders: the solution to conflict in the Middle East

Anne-Marie Slaughter, a respected US academic and former bureaucrat in the field of international studies, recently authored an interesting piece highlighting an unconventional 2-state solution for Israel and Palestine:

“Two-state condominialism” is as visionary as the name is clunky. The core idea is that Israelis and Palestinians would be citizens of two separate states and thus would identify with two separate political authorities. Palestine would be defined as a state of the Palestinian people, and Israel as a Jewish state. Under “condominialism,” however, both Palestinians and Jews “would be granted the right to settle anywhere within the territory of either of the two states, the two states thus forming a single, binational settlement community.”

…Palestinians “would have the right to settle anywhere within Israel just as Jews would have the right to settle anywhere within the territory of the Palestinian state. Regardless of which of the two states they lived in, all Palestinians would be citizens of the Palestinian state, all Jews citizens of Israel.” Each state would have the authority and the obligation to provide for the economic, cultural, religious, and welfare needs of its citizens living in the other state’s territory.

Condominialism recognizes the reality of the deep interconnectedness of Israeli settlers in the West Bank with the rest of Israel – through roads, water supplies, electricity grids, administrative structures, and economic relationships (just as Israeli and Palestinian parts of Jerusalem are interdependent). Instead of trying to separate and recreate all of these structures and relationships, it makes far more sense to build on them in ways that benefit both states’ peoples and economies. And, in a world in which many citizens spend an increasing proportion of their time in virtual space, de facto condominialism is already happening.

As ideas go, I’ve seen worse. I like this a lot. In fact, I like this enough to the point that I would like to know: what’s keeping the rest of the world from trying this out? In many parts of the world, the forms of “deep interconnectedness” Slaughter describes already exist in total defiance of arbitrary, human-defined borders. In fact, I am a bit surprised she almost seems to gloss over the human relationships and communities that constitute the most important interconnectedness here.

To take an example I’m familiar with, it matters little to a Malaysian living in East Malaysia on the island of Borneo where the technical border is. Not when he and his family have been living and moving across the land long before any international border sprung up separating Malaysia and Indonesia. Across the South China Sea in West Malaysia, Malaysians who live in the north are permitted to cross our border with Thailand without passports or visas, a governmental nod to our deep interconnectedness. Stories like these can be found across the world, including in the southern US, where people still recall how, before paranoia post-9/11 set in, communities divided by a border paid it no heed, their lives bonded together by social and economic ties that matter far more than arbitrary lines drawn on a map.

And to her credit, Slaughter closes by obliquely pointing to the relevance of open borders outside the Middle East:

In the 1950’s, after four decades of war across Europe, the idea of a European Union in which member states’ citizens could live and work freely across national borders while retaining their political allegiance and cultural identity seemed equally far-fetched. (Indeed, the name of the political process by which the EU was to be constructed, “neo-functionalism,” was every bit as abstract and cumbersome as “two-state condominialism.”) Yet French and German statesmen summoned the vision and the will to launch a bold experiment, one that has evolved into a single economy of 500 million people.

The EU has proven that on a fairly large scale, open borders work. (I am not too sure about the feasibility of a single currency, though.) To the extent that open borders in the EU have been detrimental, they have been addressable by keyhole solutions (such as transparent, clearly-defined temporary restrictions on immigrant flows to allow societal adjustment). And to the extent that they have been harmful in spite of keyhole solutions, it is absolutely clear that most, if not all, predictions of catastrophe have not come to pass.

Borders may be arbitrary, but we don’t need to abolish them to have open borders. Indeed, Slaughter says: “To make this work, the borders of each state would first have to be defined – presumably on the basis of the 1967 borders, with mutually agreed territorial swaps.” Borders define the area of a state’s sovereign jurisdiction. But they don’t define the human relationships that form the warp and weave of everyday life. Fundamental morality and economics agree: we need open borders.

John Lee is an administrator of the Open Borders website. Liberal immigration laws are a personal passion for him. See all blog posts by John.


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