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Contact Information: Hussein Ibish
November 27, 2009 - 1:00am

ATFP Senior Fellow Hussein Ibish participated in a panel discussion on "Palestinian Perspectives: Looking Forward" on Oct. 27, 2009, at the first annual conference of the pro-Israel, pro-peace group J Street in Washington, DC. The panel was moderated by Amjad Atallah, Co-Director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation, and also included Nadia Bilbassy of the Middle East Broadcasting Center and Bassim Khoury, a former Minister of National Economy for the Palestinian Authority.

Atallah asked the panel to describe what a Palestinian state would look like one year following a peace agreement. Ibish said that the first and most dramatic change would involve the end of the repressive character of the occupation, with freedom of movement and many other basic rights restored. He said that Palestinians would, for the first time in their modern history first class citizens of their own, independent state, as opposed to being members of a minority in Israel, living under foreign military occupation, or as refugees and exiles. He said that the creation of Palestinian state would also involve the reunification of, and safe passage between, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Ibish said that under the conditions that produced a peace agreement, Hamas would either adapt its policies or find itself largely sidelined since most Palestinians want such an agreement. He added that all political parties would have to be disarmed, and that ATFP is on record as supporting a Palestinian state that would be democratic, pluralistic, non-militarized and neutral in armed conflicts.

Ibish said that the Palestinian capital would undoubtedly be in East Jerusalem, but this would not necessarily involve the physical re-division of the city with barb wire, checkpoints and walls separating Israeli and Palestinian areas, and he anticipated a creative solution regarding access to and control of the old city and holy places. Ibish said that while a mass return of refugees to Israel was unlikely, refugees, such as those currently living in Lebanon, would be able to return to a Palestinian state, that the state would act as an advocate at the international level for the refugees, and that compensation and an at least partial admission of responsibility by Israel would probably also be involved in any peace agreement.

Ibish said the peace agreement between Israel and a State of Palestine was likely to be stable in spite of Palestinian fears of Israeli domination and Israeli fears of Palestinian ambitions beyond the terms of the agreement, because "both parties would have a stake in making this work." He stressed that the Israeli-Palestinian relationship would be transformed into one of diplomatic relations between states rather than ethnic rivalry and conflict.

Ibish argued that the Program of the 13th Palestinian government put forward recently by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was crucial to building the institutional, infrastructural and administrative framework that would ensure that a Palestinian state would be functional upon its creation, and that all parties interested in peace had a powerful motivation in making sure that it succeeds in the near term. He stressed that this development program was not a substitute for diplomacy, since "the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a political one that requires a political solution," but he said that diplomacy and state-building efforts could be mutually reinforcing, and were not in the least contradictory.

Ibish praised J Street for holding its first annual conference, and said that it was vital for Jewish and Arab American proponents of Middle East peace to form a powerful working coalition to support US government efforts to vigorously pursue this goal, a suggestion that was particularly well received by the audience.


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