All three panelists at the first-ever Bronfman Debate on the Future of Israel, held Jan. 28 at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, agreed that it’s not too late for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but leaders have shown little willingness to bring it about.
Entitled “Beyond the Two State Solution,” the event was the first of four debates in a series on Israel’s future hosted by U of T’s Andrew and Charles Bronfman Chair in Israeli Studies.
It featured Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli justice minister and initiator of the Oslo peace process and the 2001 Geneva Initiative; Ha’aretz columnist Peter Beinart, associate professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York; and Mira Sucharov, associate professor of political science at Carleton University and a columnist at Ha’aretz and The CJN.
The focus was the speakers’ responses to the question – posed by moderator Emanuel Adler, the Andrew and Charles Bronfman Chair in Israeli Studies – about whether they agree with the oft-stated assertion on the Zionist left that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has reached such a dire point that it’s now, or will soon be, “too late” for a two-state solution.
Each stressed that two states remains achievable and is preferable to a one-state solution, and that the status quo of occupying the West Bank continues to threaten Israel’s democratic character.
Beilin diverged somewhat, however, in that he said his ideal scenario for the region is a variation on – though not, he stressed, “mutually exclusive to” – a two-state solution: an Israeli-Palestinian confederation.
He said this would mean having separate Israeli and Palestinian states, as well as the establishment of an independent third government that jointly represents both peoples.
He held up the European Union, in which “sovereign states decide together which authorities to hand over to a joint authority,” as an optimal model.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s better to speak about a confederation now than at a [later] stage… because then we won’t have to evacuate settlements all. Some of them will be under Israeli sovereignty once we decide upon a new border, which we’ll negotiate on the basis of the 1967 borders, with symmetrical land swaps,” Beilin said
“Rather than evacuate the settlers, we’ll tell them, ‘We’re leaving the territories, if you want to stay there…you’ll remain an Israeli citizen, but a resident of Palestine. If you want to go back to Israel, you’ll be compensated. And Palestinian citizens who want to live in Israel as residents can remain in Israel if they wish,” he added.
In the next several years, demographic trends will leave a minority of Jews dominating a majority of Palestinians and that “the world, or rather, America, won’t accept it,” Beilin said.
“When [this becomes a headline] in the New York Times… then whoever the Israeli prime minister is will do what [former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon did [in Gaza] and unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank.”
Sucharov said Israel’s status quo is tenable, but unacceptable.
While it’s currently less difficult and more plausible to reach a two-state solution, she said a one-state solution should, “in its democratic form, remain as an alternative if the two-state solution doesn’t come to fruition. That’s something everyone’s going to have to decide in their own hearts, because we don’t know when it’s ‘too late’ [for two-states].”
Beinart argued that a two-state solution, while harder to achieve than before because of West Bank settlement growth, isn’t impossible, but said, “I see no evidence that this Israeli government is interested in moving toward a two-state solution or encouraging signs in Israeli culture that things would move in that direction.”
While he prefers two states to one, he said there must be serious pressure on Israel for it to move toward the former.
“I wrestle with to what degree could the idea of a one-state solution be useful as a threat even if it’s not the outcome I want.”