Meron Benvenisti, former Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, former Woodrow Wilson Scholar, and author of Son of the Cypresses: Memories, Reflections, and Regrets from a Political Life. Benvenisti discussed the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and assessed the prospects for positive movement, and how best to achieve conflict resolution, stressing throughout his presentation, the necessity for the exercise of care and precision in the use of terms used to discuss this conflict.

Benvenisti opened his discussion by proclaiming that the idea of a two-state solution to the resolution to Arab-Israeli issue is obsolete. He described the present situation as one in which the idea of a two-state solution, in some form, is generally accepted, but the specifics of that solution are still in strong disagreement. Benvenisti asserted that the prospect for resolving these differences is very low because that which has been offered to the Palestinians is not a viable option for a Palestinian state, yet Israel cannot and will not offer more. Further complicating the issue, he pointed out that several different Palestinian subgroups exist, and that to assume that one voice, such as the Palestinian Authority, speaks for all Palestinians is erroneous. Moreover, he argued that, especially since the 1980's and as specifically evidenced by the large settlement blocs that exist in the West Bank, Israel has developed policies and strategies with a single state in mind, leading to, as he described, single state geography.

Relating to this idea of single state geography, Benvenisti declared that the Israeli-Palestinian situation is now in a "binational condition." Due to this reality, he argued, we must seek to explore new possibilities that exist along the spectrum between the two extremes of a two-state solution and a strict national unity government. Additionally, asserting his belief that a solution must be worked out within the confines of the borders of the British Mandate of Palestine, he stated that the territory simply could not accommodate two sovereign entities.

Benvenisti then provided his vision for the resolution of this conflict: the development of a concept of "nativeness", a collective identity that will encompass both Israeli and Palestinian nationalities. He advocated the rejection of nationality and perceptions of "otherness" in favor of an identity tied more to the land than to one's ethnicity, while admitting that this gradual process would likely take a generation or more to become effective. Within this unified state, there would still exist "soft" boundaries that would separate people but allow, for example, for free movement of peoples across these boundaries. This type of state, he argued, would also make it easier for the provision of equal rights, both for individuals and groups that exist within it.

While Benvenisti acknowledged that, for many observers, this idea would be viewed as a non-starter, he maintained that it is much more viable as a long term solution than a partition of the territory. He thus concluded that this vision of Israel-Palestine as a federated state should not automatically be discarded in favor of a two-state solution.

Drafted by Luke Schlichter,
Middle East Program