Kathryn Gregory
The Charleston Gazette
February 22, 2011 - 1:00am

A two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians is still possible, but the longer it takes the governing bodies to come to an agreement, the less the solution will satisfy everyone involved, a Palestinian leader told a Charleston audience Tuesday.

"Everyday that goes by without an agreement, we get further away from peace," said Ambassador Maen Rashid Areikat, chief Palestinian Liberation Organization representative to the United States. "[Chances for peace] will be better today than two years down the road."

Areikat was at the University of Charleston Tuesday night for the UC speaker series "Seeking Middle Ground in the Middle East." UC President Ed Welch moderated the discussion, which was sponsored by sponsored by the Dow Chemical Foundation.

The crux of the issue between the two peoples, Areikat said, are the Palestinian refugees, whom he said number in the hundreds of thousands. Palestinians believe that with a two-state solution, refugees who fled their homeland when Israel was formed should be allowed to return.

But Israelis do not agree, Areikat said. If refugees did return to Israel, they would outnumber Jewish residents in the region and undermine the existence of Israel, he said.

The outstanding issue of refugees is a sticking point for both sides, preventing an agreement -- something Areikat said must come sooner or later or the chance for peace may pass.

"The only way to achieve peace and stability in the region is the realization of two states," he said.

"Israel should be concerned about the prospect of not achieving a two-state solution," he said. If two states are not achieved, and one collective state is formed, the number of non-Jewish people in the region would severally outnumber the Jewish residents, negating the theory of a Jewish state.

"If Israel wants to maintain its special character it is in their best interest to reach a solution," he said.

Areikat also said Israel has not accepted the development of a Palestinian state.

"It's Israel's turn to accept" their independent state, something Areikat said the Palestinians did in 1988 when the PLO officially recognized the existence of Israel.

Attempts at land compromises, including when the PLO agreed to give Israel almost 54 percent of the land that was historically Palestinian, have fallen on deaf ears, he said. So far, no agreement that has been presented by either side has been satisfactory to either faction.

"Israel has made efforts that were more generous than previous ones, but that doesn't mean it was [good] enough," he said.

And despite all of the issues and the PLO rejecting Israel's solutions, Areikat said that Palestinians have the most cause to want to create two states.

"It's only logical for us to seek peace because we do not enjoy freedom and liberties in our land," he said.

Areikat was the third of four speakers in the series on the conflict in the Middle East. Previous speakers were William C. Harrop, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, and Daniel Kutner, Israel's consul general to the U.S. Mid-Atlantic Region.

Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt, will be the final speaker in the series. He will speak on March 29 at 6:30 p.m. in UC's Geary Auditorium.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017