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Michael Mertes, head of KAS Israel, opened the discussion by welcoming attendants and emphasizing that KAS has always been supportive of a two-state solution, commenting that “It’s not about being left or right it’s about being reasonable.” He continued his greetings by reading a message from Ambassador (ret.) Avi Primor, the president of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, who was unable to attend. Ambassador Primor took the opportunity to applaud the signal contribution that editors Joel Peter and David Newman made in providing in a single volume a comprehensive reference work that will be of use to policymakers, journalists, scholars and students alike, for many years to come. The chair of the Centre for the Study of European Politics and Society at BGU, Dr. Sharon Pardo, also emphasized that such a handbook outlines the complexity of the issues and the plurality of the actors involved in the conflict.
The panel began with Professor Shlomo Avineri from the Department of Political Science at Hebrew University, assessing what transpired in the Arab world in regards to the Arab Spring. Avineri explained that the Arab Spring was extraordinary and unique in that for the first time, dictatorships in the Arab world were brought down by civil society. Avineri further explained that these regimes fell because of the fact that they had lost their legitimacy in people’s eyes. He pointed out that despite the short-term success of the Arab Spring in countries like Tunisia and Egypt, most Arab governments did not fall during this historic time – and for those that did, it is hard to know if the new regimes are going to develop into stable democracies.
Avineri conveyed the difficulties of the civil society model in the Middle East as new regimes in the region may not be willing to foster a democratic grass-root culture. He stressed that in spite of the momentous changes, peace may not come for another ten to twenty years. Avineri outlined the issues that challenge the two state solution when the goal is to create a Jewish state where Jews feel secure and a state where Palestinians feel secure. In order to do so, he added that “We must challenge the status quo”, but that it was more realistic to focus on conflict management instead of lofty visions.
Professor Naomi Chazan, also from Hebrew University’s Dept. of Political Science, took to the microphone to add a different perspective of the peace movements and began the discussion by commenting: “I usually agree with my mentor and colleague Avineri, however not now. I want to present a different view and approach to the problem. I want to start off immediately by saying is what we just heard” – the so-called realistic approach – “is very consensual in Israel.” Chazan continued to explain what she feels is a contradiction in terms: “The current situation is unacceptable, the status quo is unacceptable, on the other hand there is nothing much we can do about it. In a nutshell, this has become the mainstream consensus.”
Professor Chazan explained that the vision of a two state solution from the peace movement is a belief that it is not only possible, but absolutely essential in order for Israel to survive as a Jewish and democratic state. She commented on her observances that indeed, a two state solution contains dangers and opportunities but that citizens must make suggestions and be proactive in the peace process. Chazan stressed that Israelis must understand that Palestinians are their partners in the peace process and that the failure so far to come to an agreement lies on the shoulders of both sides. Chazan reiterated: “There will not be any peace in the area if there is not a resolution to live normal lives”. She commented that a society without hope, always on the defensive, always having to justify, is a sad society.
Professor Arie Arnon from the Department of Economics of BGU brought a different perspective by explaining how economics played a role in the peace process, and what its limits were. Conventional wisdom was that improving economics will decrease Palestinian resistance, but he thinks that “too much success” could also inspire resistance. He reiterated that the core problem is a political not an economic one. He explained that the old argument of “buying the other side” is not suitable to achieve peace. citing that in the past, eased restrictions allowed Palestinians to prosper but peace was not achieved. Professor Arnon asked: If economics is not a strategy for peace then what is? He followed his question by stating that we must not use our failures in peace negotiations as proof that peace does not work and instead, learn from our failures.
Professor David Newman, the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences from BGU and one of the editors of the Routledge Handbook, explained that the idea of the handbook was to create something short yet comprehensive and diverse on the conflict to make it more accessible for the student population.
He commented on the conflict explaining that 50% of settlements had been created since the Oslo Accords in 1993, showing that time is of the essence in regards to coming to a peace agreement. He explained that as citizens, we must decide what compromise means to us. It is hard to compromise because people have certain preconception of what belongs to “us”, not to “them”. So the only way to reach solutions was to understand, at the end of the day, that the best solution is the one which everyone will be equally dissatisfied with.
Professor Newman closed the discussion by saying that the idea of a two state solution had been considered radical and leftist in the past. Since then, the Peace Movement has succeeded in winning broad acceptance for the idea of two state solution but has yet to offer tangible solutions.
Susi Doring Preston