Press Release
Contact Information: Hussein Ibish
April 16, 2010 - 12:00am

ATFP Senior Fellow Hussein Ibish debated Prof. As'ad Ghanem of Haifa University on the two-state versus one-state agenda at the University of Maryland on April 14, 2010.

Ghanem began the conversation by categorically asserting that "time is out" for the two-state solution. He said that a single, democratic state for all Israelis and Palestinians would be easier to achieve than two states for two peoples, and asserted that "we already have one state." Ghanem said the agenda for two states was the revolutionary one, the really dramatic change, but that it was nonetheless impossible and insufficient. He asserted that the obstacles to peace are not the settlements, because settlements are "nothing new." He said all the problems began in 1948, not 1967 as is sometimes mistakenly alleged. In his view the main issue is not occupation, but the rights of refugees, and the crux of the entire conflict is the right of return. He also said while there is no chance whatsoever of a two state agreement, there is a very real possibility for the establishment of an Islamic state in Israel/Palestine, given the rise of Iran and the potential that Egypt may become an Islamist state as well. He said the two-state agreement was not only out of the question, it would be insufficient and would not provide Palestinians with self-determination. He said, however, a single state would in fact provide self-determination for Israelis who face greater dangers under the present circumstances and would at least be safe. He concluded that the main task for one-state advocates was to convince Palestinians to adopt this agenda as a national strategy, saying that once they did so they would be able to succeed in convincing the world and the Israelis that this is the only viable alternative.

Ibish began his remarks by strongly agreeing that there is presently a de facto single state, defined by the occupation, and he asked "here it is, do you like it?" He also agreed that the agenda for establishing two states is indeed revolutionary, and said that it alone promised to really change the situation in a meaningful way that was actually achievable. Ibish said a two-state agreement was possible because it is in Israel's interests, as well as the United States and the international community's, and that political will, not settler population and the infrastructure preoccupation was the real metric for judging the possibility of achieving a two state agreement. "When the majority of Israelis and Palestinians for a sustained period of time conclude that such an agreement is not desirable, that's when we will really have to start looking for another approach," he said. Ibish insisted that there was not a "smorgasbord of interesting options" facing Israel and the Palestinians, but rather "a stark binary between a peace agreement and continuing and increasingly violent and religious conflict." He particularly rejected the idea of the establishment of an Islamic state in Israel and Palestine as a most improbable and undesirable outcome. Ibish said that it might not be very difficult for Ghanem and others to convince many Palestinians that a single state was a good idea, because it would be better than the occupation and they would hope to exercise power through the ballot box, but that the real challenge would convincing Jewish Israelis to embrace the concept. Ibish said he couldn't conceptualize a convincing argument to convince Israelis to dissolve their state and create a single, democratic entity under the present circumstances.

Ibish and Ghanem also disagreed about Hamas' record of governance in Gaza. Ghanem insisted that Hamas had succeeded in creating more effective administrative and governance structures in Gaza than the PA has in the West Bank. Ibish strongly disagreed and said the records were clear and the consequences of the contrasting policies were on full display for all to see.

University of Maryland and Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development Shibley Telhami moderated the debate and concluded by noting that the two speakers shared in common a strong belief that the other's agenda was completely impossible. He said that in his view it would be difficult but not yet impossible to construct a two-state peace agreement and that it is imperative that progress is made during the present US administration. He said that as long as a two-state solution is a possibility, it should not be given up on because the consequences could be dire.


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