2013 Palestine Center Annual Conference – Panel I


Video and Edited Transcript
Dr. William B. Quandt and Mr. Ali Abu Nimah
Transcript No. 393 (15 November 2013)



15 November 2013
The Palestine Center
Washington, DC


Dr. William Quandt


Mr. Ali Abu Nimah

Moderated by Dr. Eid Mustafa, Treasure of the Board of the Jerusalem Fund

Dr. Eid Mustafa:  Good morning everybody. Thanks for the introduction. I’m very happy to see everybody here for this panel. I will be asking some questions. The panelists are encouraged to respond to each other.

The first question I would like to pose to our panelists is this: the peace process has not been very fruitful. It didn’t show many successes. Why in your opinion is that the case? And I would like Professor Quandt to start. 

Quandt: We have the whole day to answer this question right?  There is a bumper sticker answer that can put the blame of Israeli intransigence, Palestinian errors in the negotiating process, Arab disunity, American fecklessness, and all of those answers have some truth to them. I think that a serious answer has to try and put all of those pieces into focus. But if you want a way of thinking about what went wrong after Oslo, there were imperfections in the Oslo accords themselves. They left the destination of the so-called peace process unclear. I think that was a recognition of the impossibility of bridging the remaining difference at that point. So they accepted a formula that in and of itself made it extremely difficult to take any next steps because there was no shared destination.

And secondly, built into this conflict is an imbalance of power which makes it extraordinarily difficult for a normal negotiating model to work. Israel is in occupation, the Palestinians are under occupation. By any measure, except perhaps demography, the balance of power is in Israel’s favor. So unless you have some kind of negotiating process that can make this a more equally balanced situation, it is very hard to imagine normal negotiations working. Normal negotiations work when each side has things to trade, and each side has things to gain, and there is a certain underlying equity in the balance of power. Without that, one side, the powerful side, is tempted to dictate terms and the other side is bound to go into a defensive mode of saying “we have to protect our limited equities by not making concessions.” And that’s why this conflict hasn’t worked as a face-to-face negotiation. It’s very nice to say let’s get the parties together, and let them talk, and they ought to be able to settle their differences. But it doesn’t work that way.

It’s not just a matter of lack of good will. It is structural. So that is why I have always thought that if this was ever going to be solved with negotiations, and it might not, There has to be a very strong third party that has to be willing to do some of the heavy lifting of putting together the compromise proposal, and putting some of its own assets into the negotiations in terms of incentives. If you cooperate, this is the payoff, if you don’t cooperate, this is the risk. And in my view, there is only one party who has both the incentive and the power to do it.

And it wasn’t the Norwegians, that’s why Oslo turned out the way it did. Norwegians were full of good will and did what they could. But at the end of the day, they didn’t have any real power. So the United States does. The question is it doesn’t use it. I think that we know some of the reasons for that. But that is my initial answer to your question.

Abu Nimah: I’m happy to be back here and see everyone here again. It is always a pleasure to be at the Palestine Center.

I think I want to disagree with the premise of the question a little bit, very respectfully. I think that depending on whose perspective you look from, The peace process has been an incredible success, really one of the most successful endeavors in diplomatic history. We cast our minds back to 1991 when Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, or in that period, I forget the exact date, said, after he left power in 1992, for him the peace process was to talk and talk and talk and in the meantime Israel would continue to confiscate land and build settlements. He said for ten years, and that they would fill up the West Bank, actually it far exceeded his expectations, because in fact they have been able to do that for 20 years without interruption. So it has been very successful from the perspective of Israel and stealing land. And not just stealing land, But with subsidy and financing from the United States and the European Union. So not only did Israel get to continue its occupation and colonization, but through the so called peace process, it managed to secure open ended international financing for this project, so a great success.

From the perspective of the United States, it has been very successful in recent years as a tranquilizer for the region. Whenever you want to have a war in Iraq, or a war here or a war there, you raise the hopes of the Arabs and people, and you say we are going to have a peace process, just you wait and see, and we have seen this story repeated time and again. Now, the phase we are in is one where it is simply a game that everyone plays, but I don’t think that there is a serious person on the planet who thinks that there is going to be an agreement, a two-state solution, all of that, but everyone has to continue playing the game. John Kerry, Obama, Mahmoud Abbas, Netanyahu. And now the most enthusiastic supporters of the negotiations are the Israelis, because they went from land for peace, to land or peace, and now to land and peace. We just keep building and taking land, so a great success.

Dr. Mustafa: Success for one party. Professor Quandt, you mentioned that the U.S.  is the party that can make a difference. They are the ones running the negotiations or the main party. What other players could there be? Because what’s happening now is not working.

Quandt: Well, theoretically, let’s put this back in the hands of the UN security council of the United Nations, but of course the United Nations is just a body made up of states, and one of those states actually is the United States. I think that if you think of initiatives that have brought international support, the United Nations could play some kind of a role, but I don’t think that one should get too excited about the prospects. It’s odd that people talk about the return of Russia to a role in the Middle East, with its role in Syria and with Iran.

Interestingly, Netanyahu is going to Moscow in a week or so, and the Egyptians have just had him.

I’d be delighted to see the Russians make some type of serious contribution. I can’t imagine what it would really be.  I don’t really think there is another external party that can magically step in and make something happen in the situation that exists now. If there were a change of dynamics, and Israelis for whatever reason came to their senses and realized they needed an agreement with the Palestinians, instead of, as Ali described it, of seeing the process as a cover for continued occupation, confiscation of land and so forth. If they came to their senses and said, “We actually need an agreement”, then I think an agreement would find a lot of willing supporters in the international community: Europeans, people talked about the emerging role of China, well China does virtually nothing. They’ve got money, they could contribute to development funds, they could be investors. There are a lot of countries who could step in once the basic deal, whether it is Ali’s preferred one state outcome and there are a lot of people in the international community who could help make that work just by doing normal, decent things. Development aid, compensation for people’s lots property, investment, things like that. But the hard work of diplomacy to get the parties to reach an agreement, is either going to have to be done by the parties themselves, or with some external help largely from the United States.

Abu Nimah: I would say that I think that help from the United States is not going to come, and that we should stop waiting for it. And that the help that has been coming from the United States, keep it very basic, is helping Israel steal the land. And that dynamic is not going to change.

The United States cannot be both a participant and a combatant, and that’s what it is, its combating on the side of Israel to help Israel steal Palestinian land, and an honest broker for peace. We should have a proper understanding of the American role as a combatant, that arms and finances one side. Assures what the Americans say openly, the Israeli qualitative advantage and superiority over everyone in the region, and it is that superiority that allows Israel to steal the land with impunity. So the Americans are participants.

Some people have said well the Europeans, well you can wait for the Europeans for another 100 years.

The Europeans have been wringing their hands for decades, and finally they came up with these minor guidelines on financing projects in settlements, where they have said we won’t fund Israeli institutions that work in the settlements in the West Bank. And it was called a diplomatic earthquake, in fact it was a very minor step, and the Europeans are busy retreating from it and backtracking from it and trying to find a way to appease the Israelis So the Israelis can continue to steal land and continue to receive European financing. I think what has changed in the past few years, and what needs to continue to change is that we have to start to think outside the confines of a purely diplomatic paradigm in which we are waiting for men, and increasingly women in suits, to come and be our saviors and put pressure here and pressure there. What has grown in the past few years is the, I think the real peace process, for example the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. Which has become a real which has become a real factor. Let’s remember, in his last speech to AIPAC, last year, President Obama in his first opening moments denounced the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. When the president of the United States feels the need to denounce this movement and pledge to put all of his formidable political and diplomatic power to stop this movement, as he did in front of AIPAC, that should be a clue to us to us that that is actually a factor that can make a difference, and we should encourage and support it.

Dr. Mustafa: It has been 20 years in the peace process. Let’s assume that the world as a whole comes to the realization that the current peace process is not going anywhere. What alternatives are there? Ali might want to address that. What alternatives are there for the world community to resolve this issue and for the parties involved?

Abu Nimah: I mentioned already BDS, I think that that is a very good framework, I don’t want to say it’s the beginning and the end and the only option, but it’s a very good framework to begin with. BDS are civil society movements that are growing on campuses and churches, and as I said, becoming a real factor. The proof of that is the amount of resource the Israeli government is putting into combating Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. Just in June, Netanyahu placed responsibility for combating the BDS movement in the prime minister’s office and in the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, and they are allocating large sums of money to this. And that is one element. The next step of that is sanctions, which means state-level action to end Israeli impunity. And we have started to see, I think, the beginning of that.  Now I mentioned the European guidelines, even though they are very weak and very mild. At the time that they were announced in July, some European diplomats said in the media that in fact these guidelines were in part in response to public pressure within Europe. You have to remember that unlike in the United States, the public is largely supportive of Israel, that’s starting to change, but as are the political elites.

So the political elites and the public broadly speaking are aligned in the United States. In Europe, that’s not the case. The political elites are completely beholden to Israel, but the public is very supportive of Palestinian rights. In Europe. So that pressure is starting to filter up. And we see that in the EU guidelines, as weak as they are, and movements to label settlement goods. We should be aiming for a total ban on settlement goods of course. We are seeing other forms of state-level action, for example, in several countries, state pension funds or sovereign wealth funds divesting from companies that are involved in Israel’s occupation, profiteering industries and war crimes industries.

For example Norway’s state pension funds, New Zealand’s state pension funds. So these are the beginnings of a movement that should be encouraged and pressed. When you are dealing with such a huge power imbalance, and if we say well we want nonviolence and you are against violence, then you have to provide some form of balance, and that balance has to come in the form of additional pressure and sanctions. 

Quandt: I think what Abu Nimah is saying is that if these pressures were to work, and I think that there is some evidence that the Israelis do take seriously these movements to mobilize opinion against the occupation. It might have some effect on the internal balance of Israeli politics, and that’s where it might have some change. Israelis would say, we are saying a price for the continued occupation, and maybe we should have leaders that are more interested in finding a political solution. And that would take a long time, but it gets you back to the point of, in those circumstances could you imagine some kind of negotiated agreement, Or does it just mean that settlement activity stops, but the occupation continues. I think that the goal should be actually more ambitious that just slowly shifting public so that Israelis realize they are paying a price and the world is a steam for Israel as the occupation goes on, which would  be to end the occupation, and to end it as soon as possible, because year by year, it is becoming more and more difficult to imagine how to disentangle Israelis from the West Bank. So I still think that one should give up on the idea that a negotiated agreement is to end the occupation and to give Palestinians the chance to govern themselves is a worthy goal. And it doesn’t conflict with the kinds of civil society developments that Ali is talking about: BDS, pressures, appeals to public opinion and so forth.

The alternative to a diplomatic solution is just more of what we have seen for the past 20 years. The situation will continue to evolve as it has. Israel will continue to build more settlements. We will get to the point where everybody simply says, “It can’t be solved. It’s beyond resolution.” It’s either going to be eventually, not resolved, but settled as a result of sheer power or sheer demography. And it will be played out over a very long time. The Palestine/Israel conflict will be relegated to the category that looks like the Cyprus conflict, the Kashmir conflict. Everybody know these are problematic situations that have been with us for a long time. They don’t easily yield to diplomacy, but nobody thinks that they need a lot of urgent attention on any given day. I mean, that’s the risk.

The Palestinians, by contrast, to say the Kashmiris and the Cypriots, at least have the attention of many, many people in the world that think this is a flashpoint that ought to be somehow diffused. What I fear is that when this current effort fails, which it very likely will, people will say okay we tried, now that’s it. And now, this belongs in the category of We tried, too bad, It now just has to be managed rather than solved. A managed conflict with this kind of power imbalance means that Israel’s occupation goes on, and the depredations to Palestinian wellbeing in the West Bank goes on, and the Palestinians living in exile remain in exile. I think that it is a very grim prospect. That’s why I don’t give up on a political solution.

Dr. Mustafa: How much of the failure of the peace process and this managed conflict, how much will that influence the stability of the Middle East and the world as a whole? I assume that the Palestinians are not going to lay dead and say it’s a managed conflict, let’s live with it.

Quandt: There are plenty of sources of instability in the Middle East today, and we know that, but this has always been one. I think that the Palestine issue has played an outsized role in Arab and Muslim political imaginations as a particular grievance. It is not the only one. It’s not as if this issue were to go away, the Middle East would become an oasis of stability and peace, but this has a role. I mean, you see in almost every Arab public, particularly those who are in the immediate vicinity a susceptibility to the appeal to conscious that the Palestinians can make. They have a particular grievance that the Arab world should be sensitive too, should have supported, and so forth. I was in Cairo shortly after the so-called Arab Spring uprisings and there were moments when the Palestine issue was out in the streets again. People were demonstrating in favor of the Palestinians. And that was not because the new government in Egypt was mobilizing people, it was because people were finding their voice. It’s there, it’s in Egypt, it’s in Jordan, it’s in Palestine, it’s in many parts of the Arab world. And it does provide the kind of issue around which more radical, political movements can mobilize. And of course we all know about outbidding and who is the most ardent supporter and so forth. So yes, it is an issue, it’s not going to go away. When Abu Mazen and his crowd fail, people are going to say, look, we tried moderation, we tried the most moderate Palestinian approach to this conflict that has ever been pursued, and they failed. What do we think is going to come next? Even more moderate? Probably not. So that’s what at stake at this moment. Which direction are Arab politics, Palestinian politics going to go over the next several years. I think we are in a situation where the odds are very much against the more moderate voices who say let’s try to find a diplomatic negotiated solution. I think it probably is the case that this is going to fair, but I don’t think we should be complacent about what comes next.

Dr. Mustafa: Ali, do you care to say anything?

Abu Nimah: Well, I’m glad that Bill mentioned the regional context. That may be a bigger issue than we can discuss in the current session.

It is very hard to see things moving toward a better outcome in the current regional context. In fact, of course in the beginning of the Egyptian uprising, there was popular mobilization for Palestine. There was always strong solidarity, and is, among Egyptians for Palestine. But what is also unmistakable, and this isn’t always in Egypt is the anti-Palestinian trend of the elites, I mean in Egypt in particular. It’s crucial of course now. This isn’t just a theoretical thing. In Gaza, children are walking to school knee deep in sewage right now. This is happening now as we speak, because the Egyptian-Israeli siege is tighter than ever and the few for the electricity plant, there are only a few hours of electricity per day, The sewage pumps have stopped working, and many neighborhoods in Gaza are flooded in sewage, and children are walking to school in sewage. This is the consequence of the sewer-like politics of the region right now, where the Egyptians and the Israelis with the support from other regimes are tightening the siege of Gaza. And this is in a broad context of actually incitement against Palestinians. Blaming the Palestinians for all the problems in Egypt. The propagation of lies that Hamas is sending thousands of fighters and grand missiles to the Muslim Brotherhood. All of this has been in the Egyptian regime media, both the private and the state media that is subservient to the regime. This is a pattern that we saw also in Iraq following the U.S. invasion, when Palestinians were scapegoated, and it’s happening to an extent in Syria as well, where Palestinians who are helpless and powerless are being demanded to take sides in a brutal conflict in which there will be no outcome except their destruction. So the regional context is very troubling. I think it’s very important in the rest of the day, I’ll simply put that out there now, to come back to those issues as well.

Dr. Mustafa: Professor Quandt, let’s say the peace process fails, and it looks like it will. And the U.S. has invested some energy and resources in getting a solution. The balance of power isn’t going to change anytime in the near future, even with BDS and all of that. Is there a chance that the United States would come up with a proposal of its own and try to impose it? If so, how would you imagine such a proposal to look like?

Quandt: I can’t imagine that Secretary Kerry has invested as much time and energy as he has unless he has in the back of his mind that at some point in the near future the United States will put forward some type of bridging proposals. If he doesn’t have that in the back of his mind, I don’t know what he is dong. Because he must know that the parties on their own will just keep doing what they have been doing, or that the negotiations will just come to an end. I think the next logical step for the United States, if it is at all serious, will be to at least go on the record, saying, “We’ve been struggling with this issue for a long time. We’ve come to the conclusion that if there is going to be a negotiated agreement, it’s going to have to be within the following guidelines, which we would be willing to support enthusiastically, and if the parties are not willing to do that, then we are simply not able to come up with any other ideas, and let somebody else try. 

What would those proposals look like? I would say Clinton parameters plus. The Clinton parameters weren’t great, they were awkwardly formulated, and presented late in the day. But on certain substantive issues, you could work to improve each of them in ways that I think would give you an outline, we probably disagree on whether a two state solution is a reasonable think to till be worth talking about, but if you do think it’s still worth talking about, the Clinton proposals plus would describe what that two state option would look like, basically its borders, where Jerusalem fits in, refugee rights, security, the four or five crucial issues. And you would spell that out in a more convincing way than Clinton did, and say that’s what we could support, and we think our European allies will support. And that is quite compatible with the Arab Peace Initiative that was put forward in 2002-2003. So there is a kind of international consensus on these broad principles, and they are going to use whatever influence we have to get the parties to respond constructively to this proposal.

Now you used another term, would we try and impose it? I don’t think we can literally impose. On the other hand, we are not without influence in the world if we choose to use it. Most of the time, a big complaint about the so-called peace process – which incidentally is a term I dislike, despite the fact that I used it in the title of my book – it’s never been put to a serious test. Could negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians based on a two-state principal be brought to a point where each side has to contemplate the hard decisions that would be necessary to make the two-state solution work. We came maybe a little bit close in 1994 and 1995, just before Rabin’s assassination, Yossi Beilin and Abu Mazen were sketching an outline of what a two-state solution would look like, which doesn’t look too bad, although it’s pretty thin but it was there. And then briefly at the end of the Clinton administration there was another flurry of activity, and that has pretty much been it. So I would say we never really put the proposition to the test. Is this doable? We know it would be difficult, we know it’s going to have to deal with issues like borders, like settlements , like Jerusalem, like refugee rights, nothing new in all of that, people have been talking about it endlessly. There is a document that if anybody is interested in it shows what Israelis and Palestinians who weren’t in official positions could make out of it, the so-called Geneva initiative. Which I think as a non-Palestinian, non-Israeli reading through it, if the parties could agree to that, people in the world should absolutely support it. It’s not as if this is unknown territory. There are plenty of bench marks that you can point to.

Now some people don’t like it because they don’t think that it gives justice to one side or the other, or that it is too painful to make these compromises, but the two-state model is not all that difficult to describe if it’s going to be the model that is worked on. The other thing that I would like to say, is if at the end of the day, if the Israelis of Palestinians don’t like it, they have the right to reject it. I think the negotiators ought to be in the frame of mind said we are going to give this our best shot, this is the last chance we have and then turn to their publics and say this is what we could produce through diplomacy. If you like it, give us a yes. And if you don’t, say no, and we will go back, we’ll quit, and let somebody else try. I think that’s the only fair way to succeed. That give Palestinians the right to say yes, or no, on a concrete proposition that offers the chance in ending the occupation in most of the West Bank, and giving them some partial justice. Not perfect justice, but some partial justice. If they reject it, I think they have the right to reject it. But I think it ought to be put concretely to both parties and say this is the last chance that you will have with our support to have a negotiated solution.

Abu Nimah: I think it’s really far beyond any of that. The basic problem is that, everything that you said, Bill, is very reasonable. I think the issue is that it contains an assumption, that “both sides,” and I don’t like the term “both sides” because it implies an equality that is totally nonexistent, so that’s why I don’t like to use the term myself even though I am.

It contains an assumption that both sides are looking for such an outcome. And the Abbas authority, which has no legitimacy whatsoever politically, or morally, or legally, would accept far less than the 2000 Camp David proposal if they were offered it. They would eagerly grab at a few shreds of the West Bank and call it a state, if the Israelis would offer it to them.

The irony is not that Palestinians are in a position, whereas Netanyahu says, I’m going to adopt Netanyahu’s phrase with regard to Iran, “no deal is better than a bad deal.” And I say for the Palestinians, no deal with Israel is better than a bad deal.  Because a bad deal will irrevocably cancel Palestinian rights. And now the only thing protecting Palestinians from a bad deal is Israel’s intransigence. Israel’s refusal to accept, Abbas is going every day offering Palestinian rights on a plate, and Netanyahu is saying “that’s not enough.” This is a strange irony. But, the important point in this sense is that the Israelis are not looking for a deal along the 1967 lines, or anything close to the 1967 lines.

Remember when Obama dared to squeak the words 1967 a year or two ago. The uproar! “How dare you say 1967 lines,” and he had to withdraw it. Who can imagine that this timid and cowardly administration would ever challenge Israel and say you have to do this that or the other. And of course now, the Clinton parameters and all of that are so far from the reality, the political reality, the geo-political reality and the reality on the ground.

Israel isn’t interested in borders. Israel is interested in expansion, And interested in erasing borders, and interested making the life of Palestinians so difficult that they will leave. This is what Naftali Bennet, the rising star of Israeli politics who is in Washington now, is aiming for.

I want to mention another factor, because I see a trend where people are noticing, correctly, tensions between the United States and Israeli over the subject of Iran. Those tensions are real. There is between the U.S. political-military establishment on the one hand and Israel on the other, a real clash over Iran.
But, we should not make the mistake of thinking that this will rebound the benefit of Palestinians. On the contrary, it’s very dangerous for Palestinians. The dynamics I see taking place are that the United States is telling Israel, basically, the question of Iran is for us, it’s for the big boys. And you don’t mess around, and you don’t tell us what to do, and there is some push back. The compensation for Israel, and for its fanatical lobby in the United States is that you can do whatever you like in the West Bank. We are not going to, you know. Basically the U.S. is compensating Israel over Iran by being even more lenient as Israel continues to steal Palestinian land.

This dynamic means that the Israelis are interested in expansion. The way Israel is politically, I think one of the best descriptions of present day Israel is Max Blumenthal’s book Goliath, which just came out. And when you read that book, you see that this is not an Israel that is interested in borders and a two state solution. It is a fanatically, ultra-nationalist settler-colonial mentality, that sees Palestinians not as potential neighbors, not as potential peace partners, but as an obstacle to the fulfillment of this Zionist vision. And it is only if we have that understanding, that diagnoses, and I use that term, a diagnosis, that we can then proceed to discuss what might work as a treatment.

Dr. Mustafa: So you gentlemen very eloquently described many real reasons why this peace process doesn’t have a very good chance of creating new states. Many people are calling for a different solution, which is one state for both people. How do you envision an idea like that would be managed diplomatically and in real life? What would the area look like if the Palestinians changed direction and say, “we want to live on an equal basis, we don’t care about borders. We are human beings and we want to be treated equally with people in this part of the world.” How would that work out? How would that be received? Does it have a chance of success?

Quandt: Ali has written a book about it so I think he ought to start.

Abu Nimah: I’ll take this second to plug that I have a book coming out in a few months, hopefully, that addresses some of these questions directly. Since the discussion about a single state and some people say we should talk about one-state or two-state and there is some merit, the question should be discussed in its proper context. In the long run, this is going to be a question that keeps coming back.

What does an ultimate political outcome look like? I think the framework we have to see it in, is one of stripping Israel of its settler-colonial nature. And the term that has been used, de-colonizing and indigenizing all of the people in the country who wish to live there as equals. And we know, that the issue was never the presence of Jews in Palestine. This is one of the falsehoods that I think is propagated, is that there is some inherent problem with Jewish people being in Palestine. This was never the case historically, the issue was an ultra-nationalist Zionist movement that sought to displace the indigenous people. So if we understand that, it’s possible to imagine a future in which the people there live within a different political framework and coexist. I think you have to see it in a broader regional context as well. The possibility.  One of the questions I try to answer in the new book, people say, “Well, you can dream of this, and its pie in the sky. With all the hatred, with all the history, is it possible?” I believe that it still is possible. I believe we can look forward to such a future, and that’s a challenge that I try to tackle head on in the next book.

Quandt: I don’t have any problem with the vision, as a secular person myself who doesn’t like states who are designed around narrow definitions of ethnicity or sectarian identity. I think it would be great if Israeli s and Palestinians to live equally in a single state. I just don’t see it happening. I just don’t see it happening in any obvious way. I think if you could get the next generation to conceive of themselves quite differently, you could also get them to accept a two-state solution as a weigh station to a more cooperative, and eventually federated and eventually confederated relationship between the two peoples in Palestine. But how you begin to get that enormous ideological change that it would take for Isrealis to give up the idea of a predominantly Jewish state, which is what Zionism is all about. I don’t see it happening. There is a miniscule percentage of Israelis today who would agree with Ali. There are probably more Palestinians, but at least as far I can see, by anything like contemporary public opinion polling, if it means anything. There are many more people who would say separation and two states is a more realistic, near-term solution than a one state solution, Even if a one-state solution appeals to some people on idealistic grounds. So all I can say is that if you imagine getting to Ali’s outcome, you can also imagine a two-state solution.

Abu Nimah: Short answer. I tackle that question absolutely head on. Because it is the most reasonable and most obvious response to what I am saying. “But nobody or almost no Israelis support this, so how could you think about this?” I have the answer, but I’m going to keep you in suspense. The thing I want to say is that the difference between this idea of a weigh station of two states is that the ultimate outcome of decolonization, of equality, of restitution, of a single polity, is that is really doesn’t require anyone to give up any legitimate rights.

The two-state solution, even in the most generous form that anyone could ever imagine, does irrevocable violence to Palestinian rights. So that’s the difference. When you talk about de-colonization and indigenizing the settler population, and making everyone whole who has lost, that ultimately is a more ethical outcome as well. And that’s why I think if we are dealing with two equally difficult possibilities, there is a moral imperative to choose the one that is most ethical. And that’s why I think that the debate has shifted, and it will continue to move in that direction. I’m not suggesting, and I want to be clear, that I’m not saying that those who have advocated for two-states did so because they are unethical, or because they are immoral, or because they weren’t sincere, I think that it came from a very sincere place of “This is the best,” and “This is the way we can bring the least harm,” I absolutely accept that. But I feel that because that has failed, and because there is no possibility of it, we have to also adjust to the reality that exists now on the ground. 



William Quandt is the Edward R. Stettinius chair in the Department of Politics at the University of Virginia. Prior to this appointment, he was a Senior Fellow in the Foreign Policy Studies Program at the Brookings Institution, where he conducted research on the Middle East, American policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict, and energy policy. Dr. Quandt served as a staff member on the National Security Council (1972-1974, 1977-1979) and was actively involved in the negotiations that led to the Camp David Accords and the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty. His selective bibliography includes: Peace Process: American Diplomacy and the Arab-Israeli Conflict since 1967, (Brookings, 2005, third edition), Between Ballots and Bullets: Algeria’s Transition from Authoritarianism, (Brookings, 1998); and The United States and Egypt: An Essay on Policy for the 1990s, (Brookings, 1990) among many others. 

Ali Abu Nimah is author of One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. He is also a policy advisor with Al-Shabaka and contributes regularly to such publications as the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times. He has served as the Vice-President on the Board of Directors of the Arab American Action Network, was a fellow at the Palestine Center, and has appeared on many television discussion programs on CNN, MSNBC, PBS, and other networks, and in a number of documentaries about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including Collecting Stories from Exile: Chicago Palestinians Remember 1948 (1999).bio.

This transcript may be used without permission but with proper attribution to The Palestine Center. The speaker’s views do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jerusalem Fund.