Webcast Recap

On On September 10, 2009, the Middle East Program of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars hosted a panel discussion with Robert Malley, Director of the Middle East program, International Crisis Group and a former Special Advisor for Arab-Israeli affairs to President Clinton; Hossein Ibish, author of the recently published book What's Wrong with the One-State Agenda? and Senior Fellow, American Task Force on Palestine; and Aaron David Miller, Public Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center, who also chaired the meeting.

In his introductory remarks, Miller laid down the basic players and factors involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The fundamental question, for Miller, is whether there is a common space where Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians can operate. Still, Miller believes a one-state scenario is, at best, an outcome, not a solution, of this process. The real challenge, according to Miller, is to identify the political space between this “fantastical” outcome and the growing concern about whether a two-state solution is still possible. A two-state solution is worth pursuing because it is the only rational course to take that addresses the demographic and political problems that drive the conflict.

Ibish started by explaining that the one-state/two-state debate emerged as an outcome of the Second Intifada (September 2000) and the collapse of the Camp David Accords which had the effect of “hardening” both sides of the discussion. Both sides shifted towards a more radical, unbending stance with Israeli’s election of conservative President Arial Sharon and the rise of Islamism among Palestinians. According to Ibish, the two-state debate is a symptom of despair and disillusionment – 15 years of failure and disappointment starting with the Oslo Accords. He believes that the “burden of proof” is on the one-state advocates. According to Ibish, pursuing a one-state solution will only further intensify the conflict on both sides. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s vision of de facto statehood is a “brilliant” plan, Ibish says, but he has his doubts about how it will be carried out. Both international diplomacy and de facto statehood must lead to a conflict-ending two-state solution. In the end, both Arabs and Israelis face a stark choice between war and peace. Ibish is not as optimistic as many other analysts. He believes, ultimately, that the only constructive course is to try to make a two-state solution work.

Malley stated that the core question for any proposed solution is whether is satisfies the basic needs of both sides: security for Israelis and statehood for Palestinians. He addresses two issues. One, he questions whether some potentially fundamental actors have been left out of the peace process such as Hamas and the settlers. Second, he asks whether, at a substantive level, core issues have missed the main point. As Malley sees it, the conflict started in 1948 with the creation of an independent Jewish Israeli state, not with 1967 occupation. Palestinians need acknowledgement that something wrong was done to them, he said. Similarly, Israelis want recognition as a legitimate Jewish state and want to work within the framework of 1967. One must re-think the approach – the actors and central issues at play. Malley agreed with Miller and Ibish that, ultimately, the one-state solution is a fantasy, saying, “We must deal with the politics as they are; the conditions will never be perfect.”

Drafted by Nader Mehran on behalf of the Middle East Program