Saturday, February 17, 2007

Israeli Policy Makes a Two-State Solution Less Likely

Summary of CNI Foundation "Public Hearing" with Jeff Halper and Naim Ateek

By Carlton Cobb

February 16, 2007

Two Israeli peace activists told an audience in Washington, DC, this week that, as long as current Israeli policies continue, a real two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is increasingly unlikely and perhaps impossible. The speakers were the Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek, founder and director of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem, and Jeff Halper, founder and coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). Halper and Ateek spoke at the National Press Club on Monday, February 12th, 2007, at the CNI Foundation's 22nd "public hearing" to bring a much-needed debate about U.S. Middle East policy to Washington, DC.

A streaming video of the event can be seen online at the following website:

Halper stated that his background as an anthropologist taught him to see things "from the ground up" and to "go where the field takes him," even if it means he has to ocasionally admit that he is wrong. As a peace activist, Halper said he believes that while a "two-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an article of faith among Israelis, Palestinians, and virtually every other party involved or interested in the conflict, activists should admit that such an outcome is no longer possible because of Israel's policy of apartheid in the territories. He said that this position has made him a pariah among American groups, such as Americans for Peace Now and the Foundation for Middle East Peace, who refuse to host him for public talks.

In short, Halper said that the two-state solution is a "political program based on wishful thinking." He said he defines the word "apartheid" the same way as Jimmy Carter does in his book "Palestine Peace Not Apartheid": a separation of populations in which one people structurally and conceptually dominates the other permanently. One difference between Israeli apartheid and that of South Africa, Halper notes, is that Israel "feels like it can finesse a bantustan [for the Palestinians] in a way that South Africa could not."

As evidence he pointed to what he calls Israel's "matrix of control" in the occupied territories. The population of the Jewish-only settlements has more than doubled since Yasser Arafat's PLO recognized Israel, and thus endorsed the two-state solution, in 1988. The wall, the military checkpoints, and Israeli "bypass roads" criss-cross the West Bank and allow settlers easy travel, while carving up the territory and preventing Palestinian freedom of movement. Halper hinted at an alternative solution to the two-state model, which he calls a "two-stage" solution, based on an economic federation of Israel/Palestine and neighboring states.

Rev. Ateek cited scripture's command to "do justice and love mercy" as a reason why he once advocated for one state in Palestine, where, he said, "Jews, Muslims, and Christians can live together democratically." Later, he said he came to see that a one-state solution "may not be fair for a Jewish state," but that "a 'Jewish state' cannot be democratic." As a Palestinian Christian, he argued that, in the same way, an Islamic state in Palestine would not be democratic for the Christian minority. A one-state solution to the conflict would represent "justice without mercy."

As long as the final outcome is based on prior UN Security Council resolutions and international law, Ateek said that he would support a two-state solution. Specifically, he said that any solution must address the current disconnect between nationality and citizenship in the conflict. For example, he argued that Palestinians who live in Israel with Israeli citizenship, like himself, are not considered part of Israeli society, just as Israeli settlers living in the West Bank do not consider themselves Palestinian. He stated that he would tell the Israeli settlers, under any future agreement, "You are welcome to become Palestinians," but that until then, they are living illegally on Palestinian land. Any arrangement that takes justice and mercy as its basis must "protect the sovereignty of both states," which includes keeping "Palestinians secure from encroachment from their more powerful neighbor."

The event was sponsored by the Council for the National Interest Foundation and the Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace. The moderator was Dr. Mark Braverman, board member of the Washington Interfaith Alliance on Middle East Peace and board member of Partners for Peace.

Council for the National Interest Foundation
1250 4th Street SW, Suite WG-1
Washington, District of Columbia 20024

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