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Panelists discuss two-state solution

By Jonathan Epstein
On April 7, 2012

The Crown Center for Middle East Studies hosted a panel discussion titled, "The Two-State Solution: Is it Still Relevant? Debating Israel and Palestine" on Tuesday, April 3 in the Hassenfeld Conference Center. The three panelists agreed that the two-state solution remains the most viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but they differed on the best means of forging a lasting peace - de facto or de jure -- after decades of stalemate.

Ahmad Khalid, a senior associate member of St. Antony's College, Oxford and a Palestinian negotiator during previous rounds of peace talks, spoke on the panel, as did Robert Malley, an advisor to President Bill Clinton on Arab-Israeli affairs, and Asher Susser, a professor of Middle East Studies at Tel Aviv University and a past associate of the Crown Center.

The panel was held to mark the publication of Susser's book, "Israel, Jordan, and Palestine: The Two-State Imperative" by Brandeis University Press and the Crown Center.

Panel moderator Prof. Shai Feldman (POL) began the event by asking whether the two-state solution is still relevant in light of recent events in the region.

Susser said that the two-state solution was still the only viable idea, and pointed to polling showing that two-thirds of both Israelis and Palestinians oppose a one-state solution. A one-state solution would only foment more violence, Susser stated. "I know of no serious ethnic conflict that has been resolved by putting both parts of the conflict into a boiling pot," he said, citing the failed effort at creating a unified country in Yugoslavia.

Malley agreed that a two-state solution remained the best solution, on the grounds that all of the problems inherent in a two-state solution are present in a one-state solution.

Khalid was more skeptical of current efforts toward a two-state solution because of the many impediments to a negotiated settlement and called for the development of a 'Plan B' toward achieving two separate states. The first step is "to decouple the end of occupation from the notion of end of conflict," and "the second step is to decouple Palestinian statehood from [the] end of occupation," he said. Khalid explained, "The problem is that the Palestinians have been put in a position where they're being asked to build their state while under occupation as a precondition for ending the occupation." This process is not normal, he said: "In most cases, an occupier withdraws and then you have a state. In our case, we're supposed to build our state under occupation, and if we don't, then the Israelis won't withdraw, and I think this is a trap."

Susser presented a different means of creating a de facto two-state solution, which he termed "coordinated unilateralism." He explained that the Palestinians are currently building the institutions necessary for a viable state and gaining international recognition, and that Israel should simply not interfere in this process. He called on Israel to unilaterally eliminate settlements and withdraw troops from the West Bank. The key to this process would be coordination between the two sides; no written agreement would be made so that "the parties do not have to concede their historical narratives" or historical rights. Susser expounded, "narratives are to be discussed in the classroom," but cannot be negotiated because "peoples don't negotiate their narratives, and asking them to do so is wasting one's time." Susser added that under this method an agreement could be negotiated from a preexisting reality of two viable states, instead of the current efforts at negotiating an agreement first and then creating a viable Palestinian state.

Malley stated that the best chance for a settlement lies in a "Nixon in China moment," meaning that a more hard-line Israeli politician, like current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would have greater domestic credibility in an agreement to give up Israeli land than a centrist or leftist Prime Minister.

Susser stated that, assuming Netanyahu's Likud Party wins the next election, his desire to make a deal with the Palestinians will likely be evident in how he chooses to compose his governing coalition. If he forms a coalition similar to what he now has, he wants to keep the status quo, Susser predicted, while if Netanyahu chooses more centrist and secular parties to form his coalition, then he is ready to make concessions in a deal to bring about a two-state solution.

Blame for the recent stalemate in talks was also placed on President Barack Obama. Malley, the former assistant to President Clinton, criticized Obama's attempts to place pressure on the two sides. "It skewed the balance of power by giving the Palestinians the notion that they were in fact much stronger than they were because they had the Americans with them," and caused the U.S. to lose its credibility and authority with both sides, he said.

Malley summarized the panel's rough consensus on the two-state solution by paraphrasing Winston Churchill: "A negotiated two-state solution is possibly the worst ... solution-except for all the others."


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