Hiba Husseini is a Palestinian lawyer who has been a legal adviser to Palestinian delegations in peace negotiations with Israel for nearly 30 years. She is coauthor, with her Israeli counterpart Yossi Beilin, of a proposed pathway to a two-state solution — called “The Holy Land Confederation” — that has gained attention since the Hamas attack of Oct. 7.
The plan calls for the creation of a confederation in which a sovereign Palestinian state recognized by Israel would be created through land swaps. Palestinians who remain in Israel and Israelis who remain in Palestine would be permanent residents of their chosen nation, meaning they would have the right to work and travel but not vote. (Palestinian permanent residents in Israel could vote in Palestinian elections and Israeli permanent residents in Palestine could vote in Israeli elections.) There would also be a land bridge connecting Gaza to the West Bank, a route that currently has restricted movement. (The northern Gaza Strip is only about 31 miles away from the city of Hebron in the West Bank.)
In an interview with journalist Klara Vlahcevic Lisinski, Husseini described the Holy Land Confederation as a way “to share the land” similar to the Schengen agreement where border controls within the European Union have been virtually abolished. Elsewhere in the interview, Husseini spoke about Hamas, the Palestinian narrative, and her continuing work toward peace. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q. Was the attack a surprise to you?
A. Nobody anticipated the timing, the scale, nor that Hamas would be striking from Gaza. However, I am not totally surprised. Because we here in Palestine, whether it’s the West Bank, Gaza, or East Jerusalem, have been expecting a third intifada. … And we have been talking about a third intifada for the last few years because the situation on the ground has been very difficult.
Q. Are you in touch with people in Gaza? Do you know anyone who got hurt?
A. I do have family, I do have colleagues, I do have friends in Gaza, and I’ve been checking on them. There were a few who lost their lives. … It’s been very, very sad and very painful to see. I think I have been able to channel some of the pain and suffering that I felt by talking to media, by writing, and by trying to contribute to ending this war.
Q. How do you yourself perceive Hamas? Do you agree with the part of the world that says it is a terrorist organization?
A. It’s difficult to classify them as terrorists because Israel also classifies every Palestinian who resists the occupation as a terrorist. … Now I don’t agree with violence, and I don’t agree with armed resistance. But I don’t agree with Israeli violence against civilians either. And I don’t accept that the Israeli forces, security forces and defense forces, are attacking civilians in East Jerusalem who are unarmed and attacking the Palestinians in the refugee camps.
It would’ve been far better to have the end of occupation through political negotiations and through civil disobedience. But unfortunately, we didn’t get there.
Q. This current Israeli strategy is supposed to get rid of Hamas completely. Do you think that’s even a possibility?
A. You cannot get rid of Hamas that way. I mean, unless you kill everybody in Gaza. …You’re gonna be killing more and more children and women and elderly, and damaging hospitals and schools and everything.
Q. You say that the Oslo Accords and the Geneva Initiative have not really “lived up to your expectations.” What exactly do you mean, and what exactly do you attribute that failure to?
A. (The accords) only give the Palestinian Authority functional authority, not real authority. Everything else remained in the hands of the Israeli authorities. The West Bank was divided into areas A, B, and C. Area A is strictly Palestinian (the Palestinian Authority administers civil and security matters). Area B is Palestinian but with overriding Israeli security (the Palestinian Authority administers only civil matters). C is not in the hands of the Palestinians (Israel has full control). So we don’t have control over the natural resources.
We buy water from Israel. We buy electricity from Israel. We buy fuel from Israel. So we cannot generate electricity. Even solar energy, we cannot produce it. We have plenty of sun, and we cannot even get the space we need. Because to have the generation of solar energy, you need space. And it is all in Area C because Area A is all inhabited.
And all we can do is have menial labor working in Israel. It’s not real development or a real genuine trade relationship between equals. And, of course, we’ll never be equal in terms of the economic power. … All of this has not lent itself to developing into good governance, into statehood. And it has also created the opportunity for corruption.
Q. Could you summarize the concept of the Holy Land Confederation? What makes this idea different?
A. There has to be a recognition of the state of Palestine as a sovereign, independent state. Because people have the right to self-determination. That’s number one.
Number two, we say that we can enter into the confederation and exit the confederation.
Number three, what is very salient about it is that it gives the Israeli settlers the opportunity to stay in the state of Palestine. There will be a swap of land, of course. There will be large blocks that will go to the state of Israel. We will get equal land, so that our size will be pretty much the same.
However, for those areas that will become part of the sovereign state of Palestine, if a settler or a group of settlers don’t want to move, they can stay as permanent residents of the state of Palestine. Israelis citizens, but permanent residents of Palestine. And that’s novel. ... An equal number of Palestinians can take up permanent residency in Israel proper. So we have the reciprocity aspect.
Why are we suggesting a confederation? Because the confederation gives us both the opportunity to have more flexibility as to sharing the land. Israelis think this is entirely theirs. And we, the Palestinian, think this is entirely ours, the land.
Q. Is there a difference in mentality between Palestinians in Gaza and Palestinians in the West Bank toward this confederation idea?
A. (Palestinians in Gaza) have been cooped up for so long in a very small area, they’d like to breathe. … I think they would appreciate the idea of the confederation because the confederation would connect them to the rest of Palestine.
Q. Do you think there will be a functioning two-state solution of any kind? And will this generation see it? Will my generation see it?
A. I think there’s an in-depth realization in our psyche, both Israelis and Palestinians, that this cannot go on. And if it goes on, we will pay a very, very high price in the next generation or so. I think there’s a real cognitive understanding finally that this conflict must be genuinely resolved.
I don’t think there are many who believe that Israel does not have the right to exist. I think there’s a general acceptance that Israel has the right to exist. And those who don’t believe that are a minority. And they are spoilers. So the spoilers and the minority who espouse that view should not be allowed to impact the larger communities that accept the right of Israel to exist. Understand that they are here to stay.
But that also means Israel has to understand that we Palestinians are here to stay. And we have the same right to exist.
Klara Vlahcevic Lisinski is a freelance journalist from Croatia who specializes in reporting on conflict zones, human rights, and international relations.