Press Release
Contact Information: Hussein Ibish
May 18, 2010 - 12:00am

Peace between Israel and the Palestinians will be difficult but is essential to achieve, Dr. Hussein Ibish, Senior Fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, and Dr. Edward Witten, world renowned theoretical physicist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and member of the National Advisory Boards of J Street and Americans for Peace Now, told an overflow audience of more than 120 people on Sunday, May 16. The Princeton, New Jersey event, entitled "Peace and Justice in Israel and Palestine," was hosted by the Princeton Community Democratic Organization.

Ibish described how the Israelis and the Palestinians wound up in new "proximity talks" and said that the United States saw them mainly as a way to get the parties into direct negotiations. "The standard for the new talks is that if they produce direct negotiations, the administration will regard them as a success," he told the group. He said, "Special Envoy Mitchell is to be congratulated on getting to this stage, but all parties are wondering what the American plan B will be if the talks fail or drag on for years without progress." Ibish said that trial balloons about a US-imposed plan or an internationalization of the process through a peace conference were ideas that were not solidified in the administration's thinking and remain prospects but not policies. "While the administration aims at having indirect talks lead to direct ones, the focus of both parties is not to be blamed for any perceived failure and to make sure the other side looks at fault," he told the audience.

Ibish said the Palestinian leadership is committed to a negotiated agreement but skeptical about the intentions of the present Israeli government and the ability of the Obama administration to move them sufficiently in the right direction. He noted that, at the same time, they were absolutely opposed to any return to violence, armed struggle or another intifada. He noted that this put the Palestinian leadership in a difficult position and that their answer has been to create a palette of new, peaceful strategies including state and institution building, nonviolent protests and economic measures aimed at settlements but not Israel itself. "This constitutes a paradigm shift for the Palestinians in terms of how they perceive the best means to achieve independence and an end to the occupation. Palestinians are committed to negotiations but they're not willing to simply rely on Israeli good faith or American engagement, but instead are developing alternative, parallel and complementary tactics that they can control and which advance the prospects for peace," Ibish said. "This is a grab at agency, at putting themselves in control of their own destiny," he told the audience.

Ibish noted that state and institution building calls the bluff of all parties, especially Israel, and that if it is to succeed, Israel will be compelled to cede ever greater aspects of sovereignty in ever larger areas of the occupied territories to the PA or deliberately kill the program and the prospects of Palestinian statehood. "This is not an agenda that can survive stasis, it either continues to expand, however gradually, or it dies," Ibish said. He noted that Israeli leaders will soon have to ask themselves if they want to allow the Palestinians to build their state or if they do not, what is their vision of the future.

Ibish said that while the Palestinian aims and strategy were quite clear, and consistent with the stated American vision for a final status agreement, what Israeli leaders want is clouded in shadow and fog since very few Israeli national leaders are willing to describe in any detail their vision for the future. Ibish said this includes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and many of his Cabinet colleagues, but he specifically said Defense Minister Ehud Barak was an exception. Ibish and Witten both said time is running short for a two-state agreement but that the alternatives were grim and to be avoided at all costs.


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