November 7, 2005, 9:00 am - May 23, 2019, 6:58 am


1761 N Street NW
Washington, 20036 (Map)

The panel discussion "Arguments for Both One and Two State Solutions" took place at the 59th annual conference in November, 2005.


James Bennett, Amjad Atallah, Virginia Tilley, Aaron David Miller, Ehud Eiran


My name is James Bennet, I’m from the New York Times.

Welcome to this afternoon’s discussion on the one-state solution versus the two-state solution.

The one-state approach is one that’s been around for a very long time. It’s gained some new currency lately and new attention. There are several different groups who have come to advocate it for very different motives. In the first place, of course, are those who might be called the rejectionists on both sides — they’d probably favor idealists — who’ve always favored a single state between at least the Jordan and the sea. They have a very serious difference of opinion over who would be in charge.

Secondly, there’s a group, their political opposites, who also are rejectionists or maybe idealists who reject the idea of any state defined on ethnic or religious grounds and favor a democratically governed single state for that reason.

Then there’s another group who I came to think of as the tacticians, whose advocacy of a single state is largely instrumental. They see it as a way to compel or pressure the Israelis to move towards a more generous two-state solution of the conflict. One hears from this group the argument that if the Palestinians had only demanded rights as equal citizens in the State of Israel after the Six-Day War, the occupation would have ended a long time ago.

Lastly, and there are other groups as well but I’m talking about the major categories here, lastly is a group that would probably call itself the realists. These are people who look at the map, particularly the intricacy of the settlement grid on the West Bank, and say essentially, game over. It’s not possible anymore to achieve a two-state solution to the conflict. Therefore we need to move to a single state.

We’re going to hear from four very distinguished speakers. I’m not going to belabor the introductions, you have them in the printed sheet in front of you. I’d like to save as much time for the discussion as possible.

We’re going to begin with Amjad Atallah, who I got to know in Jerusalem four years ago. He was living in Ramallah as an advisor to the Palestinian negotiators, who didn’t have much to do at the time. He lived through some of the worst violence of that period while managing to retain a sense of humor.

First Panelist
Amjad Atallah
President, Strategic Assessments Initiative

Thanks. Actually, when I found out that you were going to be the moderator, it gave me the opening part of this presentation. I actually in a previous incarnation had spent a lot of time at the National Archives here in Washington looking over New York Times articles from the 1950s and 1960s following the Algerian revolution, and how it was covered in the United States through the New York Times. If you actually compare how the New York Times covered that conflict and how the Palestinian — except I didn’t come across the really insightful pieces that you do now with the New York Times — but if you compare them, you would have noticed that in both of them there was conventional wisdom that was accepted in every article. That’s because news as a general rule has to follow the immediacy of the event and not look at long-term trends. But conventional wisdom gets created that way.

You would have noticed in the New York Times coverage in the past that Algeria, up until it wasn’t, was really viewed as part of metropolitan France. Today of course it’s hard for us to imagine it that way. And you would note that if you read the newspapers today, you would accept as conventional wisdom not only that Israel has a right to exist, of course, but it has a right to exist as an exclusivist Jewish state. It has an exclusive right to an ethnocentric identity.

You would have also have noted both in the past and the present that the conflict would have been framed in the language of terrorism and security concerns and not necessarily in the framework of rights. And you would have noticed that the Algerians in their struggle for independence, as well as the Palestinians, were both actually arguing for partition from the colonial power after having unsuccessfully argued for integration with the colonial power. There was a point in the Algerian national movement of course where they were asking for equal rights, or at least a significant segment of the movement was asking for equal rights inside France. That was rejected. Even the French leftists couldn’t get themselves to accept that radical idea. But that led them to actually endorse — and a lot of the same people who led that movement switched and then led the separation or partition idea.

If we look thirty years ahead and we’re looking back at the conflict right now as it exists, I think we would say just like we did with Algeria that it was pretty inevitable that Algeria was going to be free because Algeria came at the tail end of a long series of decolonization. The European colonial powers were in retreat, they were moving out of the areas that they had colonized. There seemed to be an inexorable trend in that direction. The nationalisms that were being created and promoted at the time were those forged within a colonial context.

In our case study of Palestine right now, we’d note that it’s actually a historical anomaly at the moment because Palestine/Israel is following the trend of the decolonization movements in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s but not following the trend of globalization and integration and human rights that is now the standard discourse for most conflicts in the world. Look at the things that are happening at the same time that the Palestinians and Israelis are arguing for partition from each other. As the PLO in Israel agreed to the Oslo framework, the ANC and the apartheid regime in South Africa were negotiating an end to racial separation and for a dynamic form of democracy. The Bosnian government in Sarajevo was desperately fighting, without resorting to terrorism I might add, for a multiethnic and pluralistic unitary state.

As a matter of fact, a Bosnian diplomat at the time told me that Izetbegovic had the misfortune of coming to visit Washington to ask for support for Bosnia’s demand to remain a unitary, multiethnic, pluralistic democracy and he happened to come just at the time that Rabin and Arafat announced that they were going to be signing the Oslo agreement and came to Washington. His trip was completely eclipsed by that. He was completely ignored. However he did manage to meet Mr. Arafat, who he admired as a leader of a national movement. He actually met him in Washington and he told him, The world wants to do to us what they did to Palestine. They want to divide it up across religious lines. They want to create these little cantons for the Bosnian Muslims and they want to put the Catholics over here and they want the Orthodox Christians to have this. They’ve got this map, this ridiculous, horrible Vance-Owen map. Arafat, according to the Bosnian diplomat — I never was able to confirm this with Mr. Arafat — Arafat said, But are they giving you any land? He said, Yes, they would be giving us some land. He said, Then you should take it.

At the same time, European states were creating a regulatory structure that would help keep flags but subsume the individual sovereignty of individual states in many ways to a larger entity. The Secretary General of the United Nations proposed a complex plan for the reunification of Cyprus — has not been accepted, but was actually put to a referendum for the Cypriots on both sides to support. Macedonia worked out an agreement with its Albanian minority to preserve itself as a single state. And the international community was working in Sri Lanka to make sure that Sri Lanka maintained itself as a single state and not divided between a Tamil ethnic state and Sri Lanka.

Even the exceptions of Kosovo and East Timor in effect proved the rule, if you look at the specific situations at the time.

We can speculate on why Palestine/Israel is still an anomaly, but I’ll focus on one important element in my opinion, particularly as a Palestinian, why this is the case. This is because Palestinians have accepted the idea of partition over integration, not as a preference, not because they think it’s more just, not because they think it’s the best solution, but because they believe it’s a historic compromise they need to make in order to come to a peace agreement with Israel. It’s a pragmatic choice, not an idealistic one. Every Palestinian negotiator that I’ve spoken with is firmly convinced and committed to the ideal of a two-state solution, but nobody thinks that it’s the best moral or idealistic solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

It would be impossible to imagine the universal support that exists today in diplomatic circles for the creation of an interim Palestinian state with provisional borders, so-called Phase II of the Roadmap, if it wasn’t for Palestinian endorsement of the partition paradigm. It’s in that Palestinian support that you’re beginning to see cracks appearing. But I don’t want to make it dramatic or overemphasize it. They’re just cracks. It’s not yet — there hasn’t been a paradigm shift and that’s not yet begun.

But I remember a Palestinian who lived in the West Bank, who was part of Fatah and who supported of course the PLO, said, We all supported the idea of a secular democratic state, even though maybe some of us thought it meant domination over the Israelis. But when Arafat and the PLO voted in 1988 to accept the two-state solution, we accepted that and said, Okay, basically what two states must mean — and this person lived in Nablus — two states must mean it’s basically that I won’t see Israeli soldiers in my life. But everything else will be the same. We presumed economic integration with Israel would remind the same. We assumed we’d still be able to work in Israel. We assumed Israelis would still come to Nablus. We assumed that on the weekend we could still go to the beaches in Tel Aviv. Our concept was that our status as individual human beings would rise as citizens of a Palestinian state but that our relationship with Israel would remain a close one.

That was the Oslo period and the Oslo framework provided that promise to Palestinians, that two states was actually an idealistic solution. The current situation on the ground is presenting Palestinians with the opposite. It’s not an idealistic version of what might be. Palestinians as a matter of fact are specifically being told not to hope. They’re being told not only by the Israelis but in general by the international community — you can actually see on the ground when you look outside your window what your state is going to look like. That is affecting how Palestinians perceive the two-state solution. Because when you look out your window, what you see is a truncated state, truncated to a humiliating degree. If the West Bank/Gaza map doesn’t have any emotional resonance for Palestinians, you can imagine that the map that’s being created now not only has no emotional resonance but is actually considered offensive.

Let me wrap it up. I won’t talk about all the other things you see outside your window.

The real question is, where do Palestinians go from here? It’s going to be ultimately, in my opinion, a Palestinian choice as to whether partition or integration is the direction that Palestinians and Israelis have to debate and discuss as they move forward.

James Bennet: Thank you very much. Our next speaker is Virginia Tilley. She’s a professor of political science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and she is the author of literally the book on this subject, The One-State Solution: A Breakthrough for Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Deadlock.

Second Panelist
Virginia Tilley
Author, The One State Solution

I think it’s indeed vital that we be looking at a map. I have no interest in you looking at me particularly so I think it’s far better to be looking at this map.

I think I fall into the category of the realists mentioned earlier. Looking at the map, I am not precisely calling for a one-state solution so much as observing that that’s where we are.

What I wanted to do today is very quickly summarize the argument. I sympathized with the RAND people very much on this problem of summarizing a fat piece of work in a few minutes and abusing every point down the way. I don’t want to sound too crass in saying that the book for sale, you can go buy it and read it. But I’ll try to summarize it as best I can.

I’ve been very interested in all the presentations at this conference because there have been several people standing up, including Mr. Brzezinski at the beginning, saying we are in a crisis. We are in a crisis with Iraq and we are in a crisis with the disinformation problem leading us to war. We are in a crisis in Israel/Palestine which is not really so well recognized.

And that is that Israeli settlements do seem to have carved up the West Bank to the point where a viable Palestinian state is not possible. I would draw your attention now to the map. Notice that the green is the Palestinian areas and the blue are the intersecting settlement blocs. It is assumed in all the two-state solution proposals that the settlements will be withdrawn or that there will be minor land swaps along the border or something like that. It is not at all evident that that can happen.

This debate has boiled down a lot to Gaza first or Gaza last. I’m definitely one of the Gaza last people. I think people who are looking closely at the situation are all tending to clump into the Gaza last group. This is partly because the Israeli government has declared its firm intentions to keep the settlements in place, which is no small thing. But there are also several reasons why we shouldn’t anticipate that the settlements can be withdrawn. If they can’t be, we’re looking at a West Bank divided into roughly four large areas, bisected at the level of Jerusalem by Maale Adumim and the massive land annexations around that settlement. And about halfway up from Jerusalem to the top of the West Bank there’s another major incursion of settlement blocs anchored by the very large settlement of Ariel.

It’s important to stress here, for those of you unfamiliar with the landscape, that we are not talking about settlements on the scale of the Gaza settlements. Ariel is somewhere between 26,000 and 30,000 people. It has a university. It has an industrial zone. Maale Adumim is roughly the same size. These are, in other words, very sizable, full-fledged cities.

This feeds into the reason why we should not assume that they can be withdrawn. And if they can’t be, we do not have a contiguous territory necessary for a Palestinian state.

A bit playing off the last panel, I’d like to point out an excellent article by Ghazi-Walid Falah in The Third World Quarterly that’s just coming out, which makes a very clear argument that there is in fact no state viable in the world that is divided into cantons of this kind that are intersected by another state’s sovereign territory. The model here is Bantustan. The word is being used with increasing frequency, not least by Leila Farsakh in the spring issue of The Middle East Journal. We know why that doesn’t work from the South Africa experience.

Very quickly, abusing the argument throughout, there are several reasons why we shouldn’t anticipate that these massive settlements can be withdrawn.

The first one is economic. We have at a minimum a problem of compensation to the settlers if they were withdrawn. The Gaza withdrawal set a precedent for this. The average was $400,000 per person, or per family, I believe. That was for between 7,500 and 8,000 people in Gaza. If you multiply that by the 230,000 settlers that are presently in the West Bank, you come up with between $10 billion and $15 billion just for civilian compensation costs. That does not include massive private investment in these settlements. These settlements are very large. There’s been a great deal of private investment both in industry and in civilian infrastructure and facilities, businesses, shopping malls, recreation centers. Of course there’s massive public spending. The government spends somewhere around a half billion dollars a year or more. Every ministry is involved in funding these things. There is an enormous financial investment that is really, I would call it, economically immovable at this point.

There’s also the compelling human quality. There has never been anything so compelling as a settlers population. That’s why countries do it. That’s why they put their civilian populations in place. It’s very difficult to pull people out once they’ve invested their hopes and dreams into their homes. Two hundred and thirty thousand people is a lot of people.

There’s a political weight to this which also makes it immovable, which is that the West Bank is ideologically a far more important region than Gaza. It’s the biblical heartland of the Israeli national narrative. It’s where the kingdoms of Solomon and David were located. It is therefore I think politically impossible for any Israeli government to pull out, especially given the way the Knesset politics work.

That argument, by the way, I realize that’s sensitive. It might seem that political will could pull it together. But I think when you put all of these things together, you are faced with a pretty grim immobility to the settlement grid.

The only thing that I think could change the political equation on this is compelling outside pressure by the United States or by the international community, and we are not seeing that pressure. I think there are very sound reasons not to anticipate it. The kind of political will that the United States would have to muster to challenge Israel on such a sensitive, politically sensitive and massive problem as the West Bank settlements simply is not going to be manifest in the foreseeable future.

So if the settlements remain in place, we don’t have the kind of conditions that the RAND report was referring to as a viable Palestinian state. We have instead some disarticulated cantons in which no Palestinian government could foreseeably manage the very challenging demands of infrastructure, water, land management, social cohesion, political cohesion. It would in fact be a formula for disintegration, fragmentation, political extremism, immiseration and trouble. Trouble for Palestine, trouble for Israel, and very grim problems for us as the international community since this problem is spinning directly into transnational terrorist groups and the ideological fervor that they are feeding off of, and the damage to US hegemony in the region through this stark contrast between ideals and practice.

I’m going to jump over the Jordan option, Egypt option stuff because I don’t think it’s going to work. It’s in my book.

I’ll just jump quickly to the obvious conclusion. This conclusion that I have just said to you is all over the place. It’s all over the Internet. Many important reports have come out. The Special Rapporteur on Palestine for the United Nations just — everybody is saying this. Very few people are continuing to pretend that the settlements can be withdrawn.

What people are not doing is taking the next step. If there is no two-state solution, we have a one-state solution. The question is not whether we have one but what kind of state that is going to be. Is it going to be a Jewish ethnocratic state on the model of Israel, with a major disenfranchised population? That would be an apartheid model. Nobody wants that, including Israelis. Would it be an Islamic state taken over by angry Arab Muslim fanatics? That’s a big conversation. I don’t think it’s on the horizon. However, dealing with the one-state solution more creatively is important to containing that kind of impulse by people who see no other way out.

The obvious model which has been urged by some people as early as the Zionists — some Zionists were urging this as early as the 1920s and 1930s — is a secular democratic state, the old secular democratic state model. The problem with this is that it immediately raises problems of the Jewish state and Zionism, which engages immense emotions on lots of levels, from the Shoah to biblical narratives. It requires sensitivity, it requires respect. It’s my analysis that no secular democratic state could be formed in this land on, say, a South Africa model because it would not adequately take that into account.

There is an old model from the Balfour Declaration, that this land can be authorized to hold a Jewish national home. There is obviously a Jewish national home there now. Whether we agree or disagree with that project, it is definitely there. Any stable solution will have to embrace the idea of a Jewish national home just as it embraces a Palestinian national home. It also has to manage the others — non-Jews, non-Muslims, non-Christians, secular folks, ethnic others — in some larger system. My book actually calls not for such a solution but for us urgently to open debate on it, because time is very pressing and facts on the ground are advancing very quickly. The conditions for consensus on such a thing are getting worse, not better.

There’s a fat footnote in my book on public opinion in the mid-1990s on this. Most people believe this to be entirely unfeasible and impossible but there was a survey done of Jewish Israeli opinion in the mid-1990s which found that 25 percent of Jewish Israelis believed that if the Jewishness and the democratic character of Israel ever came into conflict, which would they prefer? They said they would prefer a democratic secular state. Another 25 percent said they believed they would but couldn’t be sure. That’s some half the population at least sympathetic to the idea. I just had to throw that in.

James Bennet: Our next speaker is probably known to everybody in this room. It’s Aaron David Miller. You all know his illustrious career as a diplomat in pursuit of the two-state solution that Professor Tilley has just explained has become beyond our grasp. I’d like to add to his biography the fact that beginning in January, Mr. Miller will be at the Woodrow Wilson Center here, writing a book with the felicitous title, America and the Much-Too-Promised Land: The Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace.

Third Panelist
Aaron David Miller
President, Seeds of Peace

Speaking before the House of Commons in November of 1947, Winston Churchill himself, a recent casualty of the democratic process, asserted his famous statement: “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms tried from time to time.” I feel much the same way about a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is indeed the worst outcome, until you contemplate most if not all of the other alternatives. In my judgment, speaking personally of course, one of the worst alternatives by far would be the hope and illusion that a one-state solution in any conceivable form could end the conflict and address the claims of Israelis and Palestinians.

Quite simply, a one-state solution is not possible, not practical, not desirable and not imaginable in any relevant period of time. For a practitioner like me, and I’m guilty, there’s no in-box. There’s no how-to. For me, watching what’s happening, that’s very, very painful and difficult to accept. As such, in my judgment, the one-state solution is a non-solution, because it cannot meet in any real time the basic needs and requirements of each side.

The real question it seems to me we should be debating in the real world is how to deal with the two new parameters that have been established since 2000: on the one hand the idea that Greater Israel is dying or dead, and on the other hand, the other more depressing parameter that there is not for the foreseeable future a conflict-ending solution that would address borders, refugees, Jerusalem and security.

Let me be very clear, and I would echo some of what Professor Tilley has said, I don’t think we can underestimate just how grim the situation is. For the first time since there was a “peace process,” there’s no trust, no confidence, no negotiations, no framework governing the behavior of the parties. The Roadmap is not a framework. The Roadmap is conceivably implemented but it won’t implement itself. There’s no external mediator, no serious external mediator.

I’ve argued elsewhere that we may well be in the midst of a paradigm shift. The old game, the one that I will continue to defend, the search for a two-state solution, it’s not healthy. It is, it seems to me, time-sensitive. That has given way to the interim game and there are many: Gaza withdrawal, a Palestinian state with original borders, further withdrawals on the West Bank. This is a management strategy.

All of this opens up the way for what I call the new game. The new game, of which the one-state solution is a part, is a very dangerous game. It’s a game in which we all lose control and a capacity to shape events on the ground. But this, in my humble judgment, is by no means a guaranteed outcome. I would remind all of us, as I have to remind myself — I was absolutely persuaded in the 1990s that this conflict could be resolved. There was too much happy talk then and there’s too much talk of catastrophe now. What is so difficult for me to accept, particularly for someone who’s been an activist for a long time and who has faith in the power of human beings, individuals and diplomacy to actually change things for the better, is that there’s no real strategy to make this work. There is no realistic strategy to make it work.

As grim as the situation is today, we’ve got to find a way to create an approach which navigates between these two new and for now sustainable parameters. The one-state solution cannot work because it doesn’t deal with the two basic issues. Number one, it does not address the proximity problem, which is at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and always will be. Mark Twain, Ben Franklin, one of them said that proximity breeds children but it also breeds contempt. This problem will not be resolved according to the happy one family approach.

Second, with all due respect to my friend Frank Fukuyama, the end of history is not yet come. Nationalism, ethnic identity, the search in an existential conflict to preserve group identity, is still the most relevant force in the international system today. As I look around for precedent, where do we accommodate ethnic, even tribal nationalism in one polity? Is it Iraq? Is it Cyprus? Is it Bosnia? Where is it? We can’t be prisoners of the past, prisoners of history. But we also have to be realistic.

So in the end, in my judgment, the challenge for people who are truly serious — and I mean no disrespect to those who honestly and genuinely promote such a solution — but the real challenge is finding a way to reconcile these two new realities. I have a number of observations I would offer on this subject — not at this moment — but this is the project that we should be directing our attention to and this is the challenge that we — Israelis, Palestinians and the Administration or Administration to come — must confront. We should not be waiting around for an idea whose time has not come and an idea whose time may not come, may never come. What do we do now and in the two or three years ahead of us? That is the critical challenge we face. James Bennett: Thank you very much. Our last speaker, with the opportunity to rebut everything that’s come before if he so chooses, or go off in an entirely new direction of his own, is Ehud Eiran, who was a foreign policy advisor during the administration of Ehud Barak, now a research fellow at the John F. Kennedy School at Harvard.

Fourth Panelist
Ehud Eiran
Research Fellow, Harvard University

Thank you, James. As James noted at the beginning of his words, this is a whole debate, the two-state versus the one-state. Over 80 years ago, some Zionist intellectuals like Buber and Magnus supported the one-state solution. But 80 years later and eight wars later, if you count the two intifadas — three out of those eight against Palestinians — it seems to me that in the Israeli collective memory the idea of a one-state solution remains as a faraway option, supported only by a small number of intellectuals. That would be one opening comment.

The second observation is that a lot of this debate, if we are self-reflective about it, has to do with our notions about history and how we think about the future. Do you think history is deterministic, as one of my colleagues here has said. Do we think the fence is permanent? Do you think the past necessarily creates a path dependency in which what we saw in the past will continue to the future? So as we go into this debate, I think we should be self-aware of how we think about the future. So these are just two preliminary comments.

As to the question on the table, one-state versus two-state, it boils down in my mind to two core issues. One is the logic of a separation into two political entities, which was the preferred option by moderates on both sides in the last 20 years and probably more — does it still apply? By logic I mean both the normative dimension of the right of self-determination of Israeli Jews and of Palestinians and the utilitarian component — is that the best way to stop the violence and guarantee security in the interim and perhaps in the long term? So one question would be, is the logic still there?

The second one would be the feasibility question. Professor Tilley made a very strong case that the settlements make this unfeasible.

My own opinion is that both questions are answered as follows: the logic is still there and two separate political entities are still feasible. Let me elaborate just a bit.

First of all for the logic. At least at this point in human history, the notion of self-determination of ethnic groups within nation-states is the leading principle of how we as human beings organize ourselves. Moreover, I would argue from an Israeli perspective that Israel has a special role for the Jewish people at large. It’s the only country in the world in which the public sphere is Jewish and it’s of course in an ongoing discussion of how to balance minority rights.

Similarly, the Palestinians. It’s unclear for me why they should be the only group within the Arab nation that would jump from not having a state to this post-postmodern phrase of a non-nation-state.

Then the second dimension of that is the utility. I disagree with the first speaker in the sense that human history takes us to a moment of unification. If I look at recent history, my feeling is that the way of solving ethnic conflict, in the last decade at least, was in fact separation. Yugoslavia did break down to different ethnic entities. East Timor, Ethiopia and Eritrea. Even Europe, which everyone holds as the example of the future superstate, has a lot of centrifugal forces. Czechoslovakia broke into two states. Belgium went through a change in which the two ethnic groups there have more institutional self-determination. Even the United Kingdom through devolution awards much more rights to the Scots and the Welsh.

So I’m not sure where history is going. I wouldn’t be so deterministic.

Then the second question which was raised was feasibility. Did the settlement project make the two-state solution impossible? Here again I beg to differ. The settlers are only 3 percent of Israel’s population. That’s about 250,000 people. According to World Bank data about 10 million people a year are being relocated from their houses for various, mostly development projects. It’s a very difficult project to relocate the settlements but it’s not impossible.

Let me point to some counter-factors that show why that might be feasible.

First of all, although the area carries ideological significance, most of the settlers are not ideological. Over 50 percent of them are middle-class, lower-middle-class, secular people. In some places like Ariel there’s a big chunk of Russian immigrants that are not even Jewish. The fastest growing group of settlers is ultra-Orthodox, non-Zionist people who came for economic reasons. Only about a quarter of the settlers belong to a more hardcore ideological group and even within this group, and that’s something I have a sense from a firsthand account, some of them are not sure that their enterprise in the identity debate in Israel should be a territorial project. Many second and third generation settlers now prefer to go back to territorial Israel, to underdeveloped towns, because they feel the national religious message should not only be a real estate operation.

So at least the political weight and the ideological significance are not as clear-cut as sometimes they are depicted.

Secondly, big parts or most of the settlers reside very closely to the Green Line, with the exception of Ariel. Here I agree with Professor Tilley. It is possible to make minor border adjustments, perhaps on a one-to-one basis, in which big numbers of the settlers will remain in territorial Israel and therefore will not entail the huge compensation mentioned.

The compensation also, which was her strongest point or her first point, if you follow closely the process of compensation through the Knesset, as the process moved along and Prime Minister Sharon had to make political payoff, the amount of compensation went up. That’s in a unilateral disengagement. Imagine what it will be if it is in the context of a peace agreement or settlers will actually see the benefits of such relocation. So the amount of compensation as sort of political payoff is a unique reality which we face now.

Finally, the amount of investment which went into the settlements. Israel unfortunately doesn’t always plan very well on the long term. Israel made huge investments in Sinai — air force bases, two towns — which we left in 1982. Israel poured billions or at least hundreds of millions of dollars into southern Lebanon from 1985 to 2000. All abandoned within a few weeks following the long debate in Israel. So unfortunately we have already examples of massive investments due to unsuccessful long-term planning being abandoned. At least part of the settlements, in my view, will probably go this way. Thank you.

James Bennet: I thank all four of you very much. We’ll start in with questions now.

Question & Answer:

Just as there are Israeli Arabs, why can’t there be Palestinian Jews? I guess I’d like to start with Mr. Miller on this one and maybe ask him to fold it into a response to the point raised by Amjad at the beginning. You talked about how history has not ended and these sort of national conflicts, national aspirations are common all over the world. What do you say to the argument that there’s something exceptional about the way it’s being resolved in the Palestinian-Israeli context?

Aaron Miller: I’m not a political scientist and I don’t do comparative analyses of conflicts. I’m sure there is a lot to be gained in comparing South Africa, Europe, Northern Ireland, to the Arab-Israeli issue. I argue, and I suspect that most Israeli and Palestinian decision-makers would argue, that this is idiosyncratic. I don’t find much value or utility — I find it very theoretical. There’s a problem on the ground, it has to be dealt with. It doesn’t mean you have to eliminate theoretical constructs. We ought to try to borrow all kinds of ideas from conflict resolution and other areas. But this conflict is driven by unique and idiosyncratic set of requirements on each side. It is a conflict that is real and it is ongoing. So it’s an interesting way to phrase the question but I’m not sure frankly it’s terribly relevant to the situation that exists at the moment.

There is the issue, and no one has talked about it, of Palestinian citizens of Israel — Israeli Arabs, Arab Israelis. That, which nobody wants to talk about but which is a critically important issue within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and for Israel, is something that needs to be factored into the situation and done so by the government of Israel in a much more sensitive and assertive manner. If 20 percent of the population of the State of Israel does not share, cannot share the public square with the vast majority of Israeli citizens, then Israel has a conflict within a conflict that is going to have to be resolved.

Question: Would anyone else care to weigh in on this question? Do you think a new Palestinian state would welcome settlers as citizens?

Amjad Atallah: There is actually an official position on it, which is that the PLO’s original position was that Jews who had lived before the conflict or before the colonization had started were welcome to be part of the original secular democratic state they were talking about. But then when we shifted to partition as opposed to integration, the argument was that the Palestinian state — there was a big debate as to whether the Palestinian state had to be an ethnic Arab state to mirror the ethnic Jewish quality of Israel. The weight of opinion was towards a citizen state in Palestine in which Jews could be citizens, as long as they gave their loyalty to the flag and to the Palestinian state.

Question: A question for Professor Tilley, which I think will give you an opportunity to elaborate on your point at the end of your remarks. You claim your approach is realistic and pragmatic. Israel’s raison d’etre is to be a Jewish state. How can it be claimed that a one-state solution is pragmatic/realistic if it is rejected by Israelis?

Virginia Tilley: This question of unfeasibility is of course the first thing that comes to mind with the one-state solution. People reel back and throw their hands in the air and say you’re utopian, you’re mad. I’m not actually calling for a one-state solution on the basis of principle, although some people do. I’m calling for realism about the impossibility of a viable two-state solution. I think the course of action here is toward instability and greater violence for the region, and since that’s intolerable we have to start thinking differently. We have to start figuring it out.

The issue on the table is in fact Jewish statehood. What is a Jewish state? There’s always been a contradiction for Israelis in the famous formula Jewish and democratic state. It’s like saying an Anglo and democratic state or an Afrikaner and democratic state. There’s an inherent contradiction in an ethnic state that is also attempting to be democratic and Israel has never been able to resolve this problem. There are rich debates within Israel on this problem. It’s a very well recognized problem.

The question of norms here plays directly into the earlier point. What about Czechoslovakia? What about Yugoslavia? Didn’t we all authorize titular ethnic states? It touches again on this question of Israeli Arabs. The difference here is that in all of those cases the international community was committed to facilitating the creation of a state that would provide within its borders equal rights for all citizens. Israel presently does not do that. It has a two-tier system of citizenship which privileges the Jewish nation. Israeli is in fact not the state of the Israeli people, it’s the state of the Jewish people. It is what Oren Yiftachel has called an ethnocracy. It’s set up to serve one ethnic group.

This places it as exceptional. The international community has implicitly authorized this by calling for a two-state solution. In that case, it’s the only time that the international community has done that. Even if you divide Serbia and Bosnia, the idea is that everyone inside Serbia has equal rights. That’s not the case in Israel.

There is a glaring example on the table of a state that did sort out these differences through democratization and that’s South Africa. There are a lot of cheap allusions to the comparison and I would fully endorse the importance of recognizing the differences between these two cases. But it is still suggestively very important because the big thing that happened in South Africa was to overcome white fears of annihilation, impoverishment, the rape of their daughters by savage black people, or being thrown into the sea. They managed it. Can it be done without a Nelson Mandela? I don’t know. But it was a massive amount of fear that was eventually negotiated away far more quickly than anyone anticipated it could be. I think it is a source of ideas, at least.

Question: A question directed to you, Ehud. You said you think Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank is possible, but leaving Gaza made many Israelis fear civil war. Do you think leaving Gaza made leaving the West Bank more or less possible?

Ehud Eiran: If you compare the fears that Israelis faced in the early part of the summer of 2005 and at the end of the summer, the relocation looks like an unbelievable success, almost in any parameter. There were fears to political stability. There was more security, for example, on the prime minister for fear of assassination. We haven’t seen any attempt in this direction. There was fear of massive disobedience within the armed forces. Some of you may know, some of Israel’s elite infantry units are largely composed of national religious officer corps and settlers. My own original brigade, the Golani Brigade, four out of five of battalion commanders are national religious. Yet there was a tiny, minute number of people that refused, 62 cases in fact, when 40,000 soldiers were used.

I think also the settler leaders showed a lot of restraint. Ultimately when they had to choose between the settlement project as a vehicle to participate in the Zionist ethos, which is one of the drivers of the settler movement, and the territorial component of their project, they chose the state, the sovereignty of the secular state.

Finally, Israel is a society so highly politicized, perhaps a bit like Washington, DC, that power is measured at all times. The settlers were feared — and by the way, intentionally do it since the mid-1970s, threatening civil war if they’re ever to be relocated. I think they lost a lot in the power component in the sense that it was shown to be possible — in a matter of a week, these settlements could be moved.

However, one cautionary comment. We should compare that to what happened in Sinai in 1982. Again, there was a relocation that was made possible of roughly the same number of people. But then the settler movement went through some rethinking of how it can get stronger. The number of settlers jumped dramatically during the 1980s.

Question: The next question is directed to Aaron Miller. The questioner is interested in the possibility of a settlement freeze now in the West Bank. He notes the long sorry history of American efforts to restrain settlement activity and asks, Doesn’t the US and domestic pressure groups bear great responsibility for the unviable situation we now face? I’d ask you to go beyond that to look ahead and assess the chances now for progress on this question.

Aaron Miller: I think the chances of a settlement freeze are zero, because it’s a subset of a broader problem. It’s simply this, that governing, at least as far as my understanding of it — and I worked for five administrations — is about choosing. That’s what it is. Governing in a democracy is trying to set priorities and make judgments about what is important and what isn’t.

The current administration has three priorities in the Middle East. First is trying to deal with Iraq, which will be its legacy one way or the other. Second is to promote — I won’t call it democratization; call it political and economic reform — and be very vocal about it, which is something they have a right to be proud of. Administrations that I worked for ran away from this issue. And three, prevent another attack against the continental United States, which is the existential issue.

These are their three priorities. What Meron Benvenisti probably accurately called “the shepherds war” between Israelis and Palestinians is not a priority. That is the question. Yes, a settlements freeze, certainly during a period of negotiation. Yes, an effort to make possible the Palestinian Authority’s reassertion of the monopoly over the forces of violence within Palestinian society — which is the other great problem that has to be addressed if in fact anything is going to have to change on the ground. A US vision of what constitutes the endgame — not a 100-page agreement but parameters. An effort to create an Arab Roadmap in which the Arab states or core Arab states would lay out in a detailed way what Arab states were prepared to do for Israelis and Palestinians if in fact these parameters serve to be the basis of the negotiation. Harnessing the international community, doing better in Gaza economically — we can certainly do better. And making this a national priority. All of these things are not beyond the realm of human imagination. They’re not beyond the realm of the capacity of even this Administration to begin to assert, or the next one. But that is what it’s going to take. It’s going to take leadership and will and the capacity to make this a priority. It’s not a metaphysical issue. It’s not a magical issue. It’s not a mystical issue. This problem can be resolved over time with Israeli, Palestinian and American leadership. That in the end, in the essence, is what is missing. Until you have it, there won’t be a settlements freeze, and frankly there’s not going to be much else of utility.

Question: Could Israel and Palestine ever model itself on the EU in terms of economic integration and free market economy while retaining political independence? Some sort of a federative model.

Amjad Atallah: That’s actually short of a federative model. But the original negotiations — and Aaron, you know better — but the Palestinians were presuming, when I joined the negotiating team after Camp David but before Taba, everything looked like the Palestinians were expecting something in that direction. Strong economic interaction between Israel and Palestine, shared access in many ways to many elements of sovereignty, shared Israeli-Palestinian control over many elements on the Palestinian side that normally would be considered elements that should be exclusively sovereign on the Palestinian side. Looking at Europe was in fact one of the ways that a lot of the talking points or the papers that were being prepared on the Palestinian side were looking towards for negotiations.

The idea of a walled-off state — and people have to understand this — the idea of a walled-off state where Palestinians are just in their prison, living in their squalor but away from Israel, that’s never even been contemplated on the Palestinian side. It’s not — there may be ways of airlifting food in or dropping in commodities in order to make this somehow viable for some period of years, but it’s never been something that is intellectually or emotionally acceptable to Palestinians. The conceptualization of two states is fundamentally different from the two-state solution that’s being created right now.

Aaron Miller: It was separation through negotiations with reciprocity and a high degree of integration as we moved toward a truly permanent conflict ending, all claims resolved solution.

Question: Can you envision a viable two-state solution with a high degree of separation, economic separation?

Aaron Miller: Hard to imagine given issues like labor flow and water. And the need for cooperation, not only economic but security. It’s hard to imagine.

Question: A final question about process. To work toward a comprehensive peace, would you suggest a process similar to Oslo? If so, should the US assume the same role as in the Oslo process?

Virginia Tilley: I think the summit-based peace process has more than demonstrated its poverty. For one thing, it’s elitist. It is not going to be addressing the — by the way, I’m premising this on the empirical evidence that a two-state solution, a Palestinian state on the West Bank is not physically there. It’s already not there, it’s not going to be there. So we’re dealing with a Bantustan kind of shape to this thing. That is not viable.

Should there begin to be the essential creative conversations that I think need to happen, that model of an elite-driven, Camp David-style talk will be entirely inadequate. There’s a very interesting precedent here with the South African transition, which again no one believed they could do. They did it very quickly. That was that there were talks on all levels. There were secret talks in Oslo and Geneva by different members of and different portions of the ANC. There were labor negotiations, there was labor union activity — which is different than the Palestinian case, because they don’t have that kind of thing. There were church groups, church forums. There were intellectual groups. There were grassroots efforts. There were conversations at all levels of society to bring about a massive change of perspective in which blacks were brought to believe that they could actually live with whites and not live the rest of their lives in misery and whites began to believe they could live with blacks in a creative new nation. There were all kinds of swaps and deals made, some of them under the table, about the electoral process and the constitution. But what I’m impressed by now is you can go to any gas station attendant in South Africa, where I’m presently doing research, and talk about some local injustice and he’ll pound the table and say, “But it’s not in the constitution! It violates the constitution!” This constitution was brought about in a polar opposite from the way the Iraqi constitution is being pursued. It was a long, complicated, consultative process that engaged scenario-building and all kinds of efforts.

Even a successful federative model, which isn’t off the table, would require that kind of work. So I think it’s precisely those kind of forums that we need to open on all levels in order to get a more organic shift of public opinion where fears can gradually be dismantled and a new idea can come forward.

Aaron Miller: On the issue of process, Oslo’s lasting legacy, in my judgment, was mutual recognition and the beginning of a debate. Unfortunately it came about through two violent confrontations, one still arguably ongoing, within each society about their strengths and limitations. If you look back in a hopeful way, that is the lasting legacy of the Oslo process.

What needs to be done now is to correct the deficiencies of Oslo in two fundamental regards. Number one, you need an endgame. You need to lay it out now in broad-brush fashion, on two pieces of paper, but make it stick, arguably even as an American set of parameters.

Number two, you have to address the asymmetry of power which exists on the ground now between Israelis and Palestinians and makes the current situation so intolerable. Israelis wield the power of the strong. They unilaterally impose settlements, housing demolitions, checkpoints. Palestinians wield the power of the weak, which is the capacity to acquiesce — sometimes because they can’t, sometimes because they won’t — in a loss of the monopoly over the forces of violence within their society. Any future “process” that is going to work is going to have to address the back end and the front end on the ground.

That, frankly, if we’re here in terms of American admissions, that was the problem with summitry. That was the problem. On the eve of Camp David, it was conceivably the worst moment for an Israeli and a Palestinian leader and an American president to be meeting to try to hammer out solutions to the four core issues that drove the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for half a century, in large part because the logic of Oslo — no trust, no confidence, realities on the ground which made a mockery of the agreements themselves — had to be reversed.

Next time around, if it’s going to work, let’s learn from what didn’t.

James Bennet: Thank you very much. We’ve had the beginning of a debate here as well, I think. Thank you to the speakers for their contributions.

David Mack: May I apprise you of a fast-breaking piece of news from the Middle East? Within the past hour, three hotels were bombed in Amman, Jordan: the Grand Hyatt Hotel, the Radisson SAS Hotel, the Days Inn Hotel. The initial report of about an hour ago says that at least twelve people were killed.

About this Transcript:

"Arguments for Both the One and Two State Solutions" was the second panel at MEI's 59th Annual Conference, which was held on November 7-9, 2005. Attributions: Jennifer Mitchell, who is currently studying at Kings College in London transcribed this document. Laurie Kassman and Michael Jackson edited it.