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Anti-Israel Conferences
Israel academics to play prominent role in York University conference considering one-state or two-state "solution"

Israel academics to play prominent role in York University conference considering one-state or two-state "solution". 22-24 June 2009

    The conference, to take place next week as part of Toronto-based York University's celebration of its 50th anniversary (co-sponsored with Queens University), is titled: Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace
    The purpose of the event, as stated in an official announcement, is to "explore which state models offer promising paths to resolving the Israeli-Palestine conflict...."
The announcement asserts that "despite the diplomatic focus on the two-state model, the continued failure to achieve peace...highlights the necessity of rigorously examining whether the two-state approach is indeed the only way...." There is a "need to explore alternative political futures in the region."
    A number of Israeli academics, most identified with the far Left of the political spectrum, are among the scheduled speakers.
    Notwithstanding the high-minded tone of the announcement, which promises a sober scholarly consideration of measures that might contribute to the advancement of peace between Israel and its Palestinian Arab neighbors and the Arab world, the conference is likely to be anything but that. For example, it takes as one of its starting points the "continued failure" of a proposed two-state approach, but does not venture into the reasons that such a "solution" has little chance of success: unremitting Arab hostility even before the establishment of Israel; demonization of the Jews and their religion; distortion of their history; denial of the legitimacy of a "Jewish" state; insistence on the "right" of return, etc., etc.
    One has but to look at the list of planned speakers to get an idea of the likely direction of the conference. In the spirit of Humphrey Bogart's famous formulation in the film Casablanca, the organizers have brought together the usual "suspects"--a melange of academics from the radical anti-Israel Left. A sampler: Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, advocating a "secular democratic state"; Meron Benvenisti, former deputy Jerusalem mayor under Teddy Kollek, a long-time champion of a bi-national state; Bashir Bashir, research fellow at the Gilo Center for democracy at the Hebrew University, similarly advocating a "single and common state for the Palestinians...and the Israeli Jews"; Smadar Lavie, Israeli born and educated anthropologist, visiting professor and chair of international studies at Macalaster College, propounding the curious argument that a two-state solution that rejects the "right" of return is "calculated to preserve Israel's Ashkenazi-Zionist hegemony."
    One would have hoped that York University would have found a way to mark its Golden Jubilee by treating this important topic in a manner more consistent with the traditions and obligations of objective academic inquiry.


Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace



The purpose of this conference is to explore which state models offer promising paths to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, respecting the rights to self-determination of both Israelis/Jews and Palestinians. Mindful of the fraught context in which debates relating to Israel/Palestine unfold, the conference aims to open up measured and thoughtful conversations on the range of possible paths out of the current impasse.

Despite the current diplomatic focus on the two-state model, the continued failure to achieve peace in the region highlights the necessity of rigorously examining whether the two-state approach is indeed the only way, or the best way, beyond the impasse. The horrific toll division and violence takes on Jews and Palestinians adds moral urgency to the need to explore alternative political futures in the region.

The conference seeks to systematically measure models based on two states or a single binational state, federal and con-federal approaches, and other models in between and beyond. The framework of the conference invites robust academic critique of the deficiencies, promise, and perils of the range of prospective models of statehood.

The conference will focus a scholarly lens on a wide range of issues pertaining to state models and prospects for just and peaceful coexistence.

An assessment of the capacity of a range of state models to protect the security and human rights of all peoples of the region is a central topic. Other topics include democracy and constitutional design, comparative and problem based approaches to conflict resolution, refugee return policies, resource allocation, gender and nationalism, and the role of religion.

The scholarly goals of the conference are premised on the intrinsic value of civil dialogue and debate. Our commitment to ensuring that neither anti-Semitism nor any other form of racism has any place in this forum informs both the conference and all aspects of its planning process.

While their political future can be decided only by the peoples of Israel/Palestine in future negotiations, we believe that pursuing this visionary exercise is an important part of the ongoing search for justice and peace in the Middle East.

Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace is co-sponsored by Queen's University and York University, and is an official U50 initiative, part of York University's 50th Anniversary celebrations.




Ariel Babinsky

MA Candidate, Columbia University |Bio>>

Collective Memory and the Two State Solution

My desire to participate in this conference comes from the complicated reality in the region where I used to live, Israel, before I moved to the United States to pursue a Master’s degree at Columbia University.

I believe that to advance in life, one must become familiar with the past. Therefore, I assumed that studying the history of the region would serve as excellent preparation for analyzing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I chose to concentrate on the study and research of diplomatic relations, economic and military collaborations, and conflicts between national movements. But a shift occurred in my field of research. I realized that focusing only on political history could not provide a comprehensive understanding of this conflict. And thus, seeking to fully understand core developments in the region, and at least try to map a model of statehood, I delved into the social and cultural issues related to the heritage, religions and languages of Israel’s/Palestine’s inhabitants.

The roots of the conflict, and therefore those of the problem of mapping a solution, are in the concept of memory and its problematic tie to history. The collective memory of each of the two national communities, as well the collective history it shaped, is formed. For the one-state solution to work we would have to do the impossible - change a memory that created an identity around a narration used by ideology to justify, say, proprietary rights on a land. Any notion of a possible solution is somewhat too hopeful and naive, but the one that offers one state as a future resolution is utopian and unattainable in reality. I will explore, therefore, the only solution that, in my view, has the slight possibility of paving the way to peace and promising security to both the Israeli and the Palestinian communities. This is the two-state option, being the most realistic and least unfeasible solution to the problem and, if implemented appropriately, can end this protracted conflict.


Omar Barghouti

Independent Palestinian Researcher |Bio>>

A Secular Democratic State in Historic Palestine: Reconciling the inalienable rights of the indigenous with the acquired rights of the settlers

A secular, democratic unitary state in British Mandate Palestine is the most just and morally coherent solution to the century-old colonial conflict, primarily because it offers the best hope for reconciling the ostensibly irreconcilable -- the inalienable rights of the indigenous Palestinians, particularly the right to self-determination, and the acquired rights of the colonial settlers to live in peace and security, individually and collectively.

Specifically, the secular democratic state model is the only one among the most discussed alternatives that promises ethical coexistence between the natives and the settlers while laying out a mechanism for ending the three-tiered injustice that Palestinians have suffered from since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 on the ruins of Palestinian society: the occupation and colonization of the Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967; the system of institutionalized racial discrimination to which the indigenous Palestinian citizens of Israel are subjected to on account of being “non-Jews;” and the persistent denial of the UN-sanctioned rights of the Palestine refugees, especially their right to return to their homes of origin and to reparations. A two state solution theoretically and practically cannot address the second injustice or the third, the core of the question of Palestine. A bi-national solution, also, cannot accommodate the right of return as stipulated in UNGA resolution 194, and it infringes, by definition, the inalienable rights of the indigenous Palestinians on part of their own homeland.

Accepting the settlers as equal citizens and full partners in building and developing a new shared society, as called for in a secular democratic state model, is the most magnanimous offer any indigenous population, oppressed for decades, can present to its oppressors. For such a reality to be attained and sustained, however, the settlers must shed their colonial privileges and character, accepting justice and unmitigated equality. The indigenous, on the other hand, must be ready, after justice has been reached, to forgive and to accept the settlers as equal co-citizens, enjoying normal lives -- neither masters nor slaves.

By addressing the basic requirements of justice, the secular democratic state model has the best chance to ethically de-dichotomize and decolonize, or de-zionize, Palestine, thereby leading to a just and lasting peace that is anchored in international law and universal human rights and is conducive to ethical coexistence. Such a process of non-violent transformation requires a revitalized, democratized Palestinian civil resistance movement with a clear vision for a shared, just society and international support for Palestinian rights and for ending all forms of Zionist apartheid and colonial rule, mainly through boycott, divestment and sanctions, BDS, campaigns.

By emphasizing equal humanity as its most fundamental principle, the secular democratic state promises to transcend national and ethnic dichotomies that now make it nearly impossible to envision reaching any just solution to the most intricate dimensions of the question of Palestine.


Bashir Bashir

Research Fellow in the Gilo Centre for Democracy, Citizenship and Civic Education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute| Bio>>

Politics of Reconciliation and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

This proposed paper seeks to explore the relevance of the politics of reconciliation as an approach to conflict resolution in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Unlike other mechanisms of conflict resolution, likely to be based on asymmetries and inequalities, reconciliation is not about managing conflicts in terms of restoring order and preserving the existing status quo. Instead, it represents a force that has the potential to generate social and political change based on cooperation, collaboration, and common concern for the society. The proposed paper aspires to identify the particular potential forms and orders that the politics of reconciliation may take in the case of the Palestinian Israeli conflict.

Thus far, the most discussed and celebrated solution for settling this conflict has been the - two states' solution. This solution enjoys considerable support among politicians, scholars and international players and institutions. The principles of reconciliation - which insist on coming to terms with the past through acknowledging historical injustices, offering apology and reparations for causing these injustices, and moving from a politics of hostility and blame to one of friendship and cooperation, coupled with the particular, local irreversible facts on the ground that the Israeli settlements in the West Bank have created - cast serious doubt on the viability of the two states solution. Accordingly, the proposed paper seeks to explore which solution to the broader Israeli Palestinian conflict is more consistent with the politics of reconciliation and its notion of restorative justice. More specifically, the paper aspires to examine whether the politics of reconciliation necessarily require a single and common state for the Palestinians (citizens of Israel and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip) and the Israeli Jews. If so - which form of the one state solution- bi-national state, liberal secular democracy, and multicultural democracy- is most compatible with the politics of reconciliation?


Meron Benvenisti
Bio >>

The Durable Status Quo

The debate over binationalism versus a partition into two states always resurfaces when frustration with the peace process intensifies, never manages to turn into a political discussion and instead remains a provocative academic topic. This is not only because the binational option is viewed by most Israelis as spelling the destruction of their state, and by most Palestinians as the end of their national liberation movement. Mainly, it is because the debate over the two alternatives is a moot argument, the sole value of which is in its very existence, and whose purpose is to obscure the robust and durable nature of the status quo.

A status quo is preserved as long as the forces wishing to preserve it are stronger than those wishing to undermine it and that is the situation today in Israel/Palestine. After more than 40 years, the Israeli governance system known as "the occupation," ensures the Jewish community's total domination without sophisticated planning, but in response to the genetic code of settler society. This status quo, which appears to be chaotic, is much sturdier than the conventional description of the situation as a temporary "military occupation" would indicate. The tensions that prevail in the area under Israeli control are so acute - and the power gap between the Jewish and the Arab communities so decisive - that there is no way to deal with these tensions except by means of military might.

Usually the emphasis is on the political and civil inequality and the denial of collective rights that the model of partition - or, alternatively a binational regime- is supposed to solve. But the greater, and more menacing, inequality is the economic kind that is characteristic of the current situation and will not be remedied by either alternative: the gigantic gap in gross domestic product per capita between Palestinians and Israelis, which is 1:20 in the West Bank and double in the Gaza Strip, as well as the enormous inequality in the use of natural resources (land, water). This gap cannot exist without the force of arms provided so effectively by the Israeli military apparatus, and even most of the Israelis who oppose the "occupation" are unwilling to let go of it, since that would impinge on their accumulated political and material privileges.

This seemingly unstable status quo survives due to the combination of several factors: fragmentation of the Palestinian community and incitement of the fragments against each other; mobilization of the Jewish community into support for the occupation regime, perceived as protecting its very existence; funding the status quo by the "donor nations," which cause corruption among the Palestinian leadership; persuasion of the neighboring states to give priority to bilateral and global interests over Arab ethnic solidarity; success of the propaganda campaign known as "negotiations with the Palestinians," which convinces many that the status quo is temporary and thus they can continue to amuse themselves with theoretical alternatives to "the final-status arrangement"; the silencing of all criticism as an expression of hatred and anti-Semitism; and psychological aversion toward the conclusion that the status quo is durable and will not be easily changed. Instead of continuing with the now quite routine discussion on binationalism versus partition, the long term repercussions (legal, political, economic etc.) of a durable-- rather than a temporary -- status quo should be studied.


Prof. Efrat Ben-Ze'ev

Lecturer, Dept. of Behavioral Science, The Ruppin Academic Center, Fellow, Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace, Hebrew University |Bio>>

Mental Maps of a Contested Territory: Spatial Perceptions of Citizens of Israel—Palestinian Arabs and Jews

Theoretical Background: Our understanding of any given conflict is closely associated with our subjective perceptions of the landscape; the way we imagine its size, its boundaries, its load capacity or its inhabitants. Our perceptions indicate our inclinations and fabrications. Henri Lefebvre described it in the Production of Space as follows: “How many maps, in the descriptive or geographical sense, might be needed to deal exhaustively with a given space, to code and decode all its meanings and contents? It is doubtful whether a finite number can ever be given in answer to this sort of question" ([1974] 1991:85).  Yet we can assume that people who belong to the same social group will produce similar maps, which will reflect their common upbringing. These can be defined as collective mental maps. Mental maps consist of a shared spatial perception established by social institutions such as the school curricula, media coverage, state ceremonies or knowledge acquired through family storytelling. While it is difficult to trace the effect of each of these bodies, the product of their educational processes, namely the mental maps that people carry, are more accessible.

Methodology: This study examines the mental maps of a group of Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian/Arab-Israeli students.  While previous inquiries into mental maps (in the context of the Palestine-Israel conflict) have been few and were often based on quantitative data, this study is anthropological in nature. We begin by collecting map-drawings from roughly 200 students to trace the characteristic partialities. We then choose a sample of students for interviews and focus groups, thus discussing the meaning of the maps that were drawn. 

Main questions and anticipated results: The study will focus on the ways interviewees grasp Israel's boundaries, its neighboring countries, "the Green Line" and the features of "the Occupied Territories," as well as the population in terms of numbers and origin. This study also queries visions of a future state, and specifically a one state or two state solution to the conflict, in light of geographical perceptions.

Our assumption is of an inherent contradiction in the common Israeli stance towards this question, especially among members of the generations born into the post-1967 reality: On the one hand, these Israelis tend to prefer the two state solution (and are quick to overrule the one state option) and, on the other hand, their spatial imagination is of a single geographical entity that stretches between Jordan and the sea. Such a perception, which is an outcome of Israel's educational policies and practices, deems much of the Palestinian population and landscape "white patches" (to use Meron Benvenisti's term). White patches are neither noticeable nor considered as significant. One aim of this study is to understand how these mechanisms of mental obliteration operate.  A pilot study had shown that Palestinian Arabs in Israel know its geography much better and fewer are their "white patches." However, despite the awareness of the Jewish neighbors, they describe a strong sense of alienation. We plan to discuss the relationship between knowledge and alienation, as manifested through geographical interactions.   

This study also questions how these groups envision a one state or two state solutions. We will ask about the population composition of a new entity, of its sensible boundaries, its capital, etc. The answers to these questions can reveal both the extent to which those examined have considered the practicalities of a future settlement and bring forth the visions of these populations.



Uri Davis

Professor, Institute of Area Studies, Israel Studies Programme, Al-Quds University; Honorary Research Fellow, Middle Eastern& Islamic Studies, University of Durham; Arab & Islamic Studies, University of Exeter |Bio>>

Land, Zionist National Institutions, and the Right of Return of the Palestinian Refugees

The Zionist movement was established at the First Zionist Congress convened in the Swiss city of Basle in 1897.

Assuming as first normative point of departure that in the early debate between the "Spiritual Zionist" school of the Zionist movement led by Ahad ha-Am (Asher Ginsberg) and the "Political Zionist" school of the Zionist movement led by Theodor Herzl, Ahad ha-Am was correct and Herzl was wrong, the Paper aim to consider one aspect underpinning the initial success of "Political Zionism", namely, the historical role of the Zionist "national institutions", notably the World Zionist Organization (WZO), the Jewish Agency for the Land of Israel (JA) and the Jewish National Fund (JNF), in establishing in the country of Palestine some fifty years later the apartheid State of Israel and effectively controlling 93 per cent of its territory.

Assuming as second normative point of departure that the body of all UN resolutions relevant to the question of Palestine taken as a whole represent an important defence of Palestinian rights, and, subject to the values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the standards of international law, constitute the best available frame of reference for a just and lasting solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Paper submits that the paradigm of a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is compatible with the above, offering the better prospects for a for a solution to the said conflict that is relatively more compatible with universal values.

In the context of the above, informed by the lifetime work of Salman Abu Sitta and encouraged by the precedent of the anti-apartheid BDS assisted transformation of the apartheid Republic of South Africa into a Republic governed by a democratic constitution, the Paper aims to consider what might happen in a one state model with regards to the land effectively controlled and/or registered in the name of the said Zionist “national institutions”, and further submits that given the variety of models relevant to the implementation of the right of all 1948 Palestine refugees and their descendants to return and to the titles of their vast properties inside the State of Israel, notably their inheritance rights, the implementation of these rights need not result in a single family currently registered as "Jewish" citizens of the apartheid State of Israel being arbitrarily evicted from their homes.


Chaim Gans

Professor, Faculty of Law, Tel-Aviv University |Bio>>

Ethno-cultural Nationalism, Sub-statist Self-determination, and a Two-State Model for Israel/Palestine

The view that I argued for in my book The Limits of Nationalism is that the right to national self-determination of ethno-cultural nations such as the Jews, the Palestinians, the Serbs, or the Slovaks should in principle be sub-statist rather than statist. Prima facie, this view implies that the solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be one state in which both groups enjoy sub-statist self-government. However, in A Just Zionism: On the Morality of the Jewish State, I argued for a two-state solution, one in which the Jews are the dominant group, and another state in which the Palestinian group is dominant. Nevertheless, I believe that each one of the two groups ought to interpret their right to self-government in the state in which it is the majority group as a sub-statist right. Accepting this position would be of practical significance mainly (but not only) with regard to the Jewish state, in which a significant percentage of Palestinians will continue to reside. In my paper, I will argue for these theses and elaborate on them. I will first explain why, from a moral and constitutional point of view, ethno-cultural nations must interpret their right to self-government as sub-statist. I will then argue for the claim that in the case of the Jews and the Palestinians, this should be implemented in two separate states. Finally, I will briefly explain the practical implications of these positions with regard to the territorial, demographic and institutional realms.



David Kretzmer
Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Law, Hebrew University | Bio>>

Hybrid Models as Alternatives to the Two-State Solution: The Human Rights Implications

There are cogent reasons for doubting whether a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict is achievable or viable. However, most Israeli Jews and many Palestinians are skeptical about the viability of the much-discussed one-state solution. Israeli Jews fear that they will lose the right to self-determination, which was the foundation for establishment of a state of the Jews, that they will become a vulnerable minority in the "one-state", and that their collective and individual security will be under constant threat. Palestinians fear loss of their right to self-determination too; they also fear domination by the Israeli Jews who will retain their economic and military power.

It is the fundamental premise of the authors that any solution to the conflict must be based on protection of the universally recognized rights of all persons and both peoples in Israel/Palestine. The question to be explored in this paper is whether a hybrid model could provide adequate protection of these rights and allay the concerns of Arabs and Jews.


Tsvi Kahana
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, Queen's University | Bio >>

A Constitutional Transition to Bi-Nationalism - Practice and Theory

Supposing that the State of Israel decides to follow the idea of bi-national state, what type of constitutional changes will it then have to make? While impossible to answer in full, this paper will explore themes arising from this question, in terms of constitutional theory, constitutional design, and sociology of law.

In terms of constitutional theory, the paper will ask what we should understand the constitution of Israel to be composed of. Much like Canada, Israel does not have one document entitled "the constitution" but, rather, several statutes entitled "Basic Laws" and several other statutes of constitutional importance. The constitutional status of these various laws is not fully clear. However, in order to explore the extent and nature of the required constitutional change, it is first necessary to understand what the constitution is composed of. The paper will introduce the general contours of Israeli constitutional legislation and explore necessary constitutional changes.

In terms of constitutional design, the article will draw on literature on and case studies of transitional justice and constitutional transformation (such as South Africa), examine their applicability to the case of Israel, and point at the necessary pre-conditions for a peaceful constitutional transition into a fully bi-national state.

Finally, in terms of sociology of law, the article will look at the relationship between constitutional change and political change. It is generally accepted that constitutional change (or constitutional crisis) reflects and follows political change (or political crisis) and not the other way around. However, it is also the case that constitutional crisis could lead to political crisis. Having in mind this complex, multi-directional cause and effect relationship, the article will look at the many failed previous attempts to create a constitution for the state of Israel and ask: if Israelis were never able to arrive at a consensus to pass a constitution that would not make any radical changes to the status quo, is it likely that they would ever agree to make constitutional changes as radical as changing the nature of the state?


Orit Kamir
Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Hebrew University | Bio >>

Can Two Honor-Based Cultures Unite Under "Human Dignity" or "Equality"?

One aspect of both Israeli and Palestinian societies that is frequently overlooked is that they are both deeply invested in their respective honor norms. The two honor codes differ on some important points (such as the construction of gender roles), while complementing each other in others (most importantly: the feud mentality). Contemporary Israel, defining itself as a Jewish-Democratic state with a large Palestinian minority, has been attempting to modify its honor-based culture by constitutionalizing Human Dignity as its central value. The Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty has been the Bill of Rights since 1992, and is believed by many to have signalled significant transformation, not merely legal, but also social and cultural.

Dignity seems to be an appropriate value for honor-bound societies attempting to restrain their honor mentalities. Post World War II (Western) Germany adopted Dignity as its fundamental value, as did post-apartheid South Africa. Dignity seems to be an appropriate and useful "antidote" for the honor traditions that prevailed in both these countries.

But (Western) Germany is a Nation State, and not a state attempting to unify two distinct ethnic groups, each cherishing its own unique honor codes. In South Africa, the black majority is not an honor-bound culture, and the main honor culture that requires restraining is that of the white minority.

Can a dignity-based constitution work for a state attempting to bring together two ethnic groups, each entrenched in its own honor mentality? Would an equality-based constitution better serve such a goal? Would both groups benefit from a "cooling off" period as independent nation states, in which they would struggle to modify their respective honor cultures?

These are the questions that I would like to examine in the context of the discussion of Israel/Palestine, one state or two. Having researched and analyzed Israel's Jewish honor culture for a decade now, I would like to try to think whether a Jewish-Palestinian state could assist in advancing the "Dignity revolution" that the state of Israel is attempting, thus enabling the joint project, or whether the still predominant Israeli Jewish honor culture would preclude, or at least hamper significantly, the possibility of a two-nation democratic state.


Smadar Lavie

Visiting Professorship Chair, International Studies, Macalester College| Bio>>

Two States or One? Mizrahi Feminism, the "Peace Process," and the Struggle for Palestine

A two-state solution, combined with the flat denial of the Palestinians' right of return, is calculated to preserve Israel's Ashkenazi-Zionist hegemony. Yet in the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, Ashkenazi Jews have been a demographic minority since the mid 1980s. Given the Arab-European, Mizrahi-Ashkenazi-Palestinian rifts in the pre-1967 state of Israel and the territories it occupied in 1967, a one-state solution would be an Arab majority solution. From the Mizrahi perspective, the Ashkenazi feminist "peace camp" critique and activism, whether on behalf of the two states solution or even on behalf of the one state are limited, if not counterproductive. Nevertheless, if Mizrahi feminists dare advocate a One State Solution, they would alienate their Right-wing Mizrahi communities and be prevented from carrying out their projects to aid Mizrahi women.

The Israeli regime has nearly finished building the Wall - an integral part of the "two states for two peoples" solution, which has already demonstrated that it has to be maintained by cyclical war rituals and bloodletting. Paradoxically, there is now a vivid comeback of the one-state scenario, Israel/Palestine, as the only reasonable long-term solution for the Question of Palestine. It is estimated that in the one state that might be called Israel/Palestine, 90% of the citizens will be of non-European origin. Half of them, women.



Dorit Namaan
Professor, Dept. of Film and Media, Queen's University | Bio >>

Re-imagining Israel: Israeli documentarists and the Palestinian Nakba

The Israeli cultural sphere has for the most part aligned itself with general leftist discourse in Israel, that is, it assumed the Palestinian issue can be solved should a Palestinian state be established in the West bank and Gaza strip. Such Israeli discourse avoided any uncomfortable questions about the Nakba, about the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees, and more generally, about the historical fact that the 1967 occupation is but part of the problem. Despite evidence that the Zionist leadership pre 1948 has aspired for control and separation of the communities, the general Israeli historical narrative claims that the 1948 war was imposed on Israel, and with it the inevitable partition. Along those lines, Israeli art and culture rarely addressed the conflict critically until after 1967. The focus of fiction films in particular, has often been on the occupation machine, on militarized conflict, and on Israeli leftist men, encountering Palestinian resistance to the occupation, often while falling for a beautiful Palestinian woman.

At the same time, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Israel's creation in 1998 (and partly as a positive fallout of the Oslo process and the New Historian debate), the term 'the Palestinian Nakba' has entered Israeli discourse and opened up a cultural and media discussion. Indeed, in the past ten years we have seen some tentative gestures towards acknowledging the Palestinian past of what is generally agreed upon as Israel. Two recent novels (Homesick and The Dajani Estate), and a few documentary films (Rt. 181, Happy Birthday Mr. Mograhbi, House, House in Jerusalem, Wadi, Grand Canyon, The Inner Tour) address this past in various ways. These cultural texts attempt to excavate a systematically erased and denied history, and are met with ambivalence and anxiety by the left, while co-opted for a right wing argument ("the whole of Israel is an occupation, not just post 1967 borders"). While the authors of the (highly popular) novels both rejected the idea of the Right of Return in interviews, the filmmakers of the aforementioned films probe the question of justice and the possibility of Israel to exist in its current configuration. The films portray a national, racial and ethnic complex space, which occupies more than singular narratives, and all films ask questions about how to simultaneously contain these multiple existences.

In this presentation I will focus on Rt. 181 (Michel Khleifi and Eyal Sivan) and Happy Birthday Mr. Moghrabi (Avi Mograhbi), especially as they start to tentatively consider a shared geographical space. Since the nation is primarily imagined culturally (Anderson) and since teleological historical narratives are crumbling down (I'd like to use Edward Said's wonderful Beginnings here) the emergence of such texts is actually crucial for the ability of Israelis to conceive of their nation differently, and to consider the axiomatic notion of partition as the best possible resolution paradigm for the conflict. I will examine the different aesthetic choices these filmmakers make in order to carve a space that can accommodate these conflicting and multiple narratives, and suggest a new imagined space.



Yoav Peled
Professor, Dept. of Political Science, Tel-Aviv University | Bio >>

One State or Two? The View from Transitional Justice

Transitional justice aims at providing moral and judicial guidelines for the transition from "barbaric" societies, that do not respect human rights, to "minimally decent" ones, that do (Rajeev Bhargava; "minimally decent" because for Bhargava no capitalist society can be truly decent.) It assigns the greatest moral value to the transition itself, foregoing punitive and compensatory measures that are deemed essential by other conceptions of justice. Because successful transition is the highest moral good for transitional justice, it must take into account the real relations of power between the two sides, as well as their core interests and values. (In this sense it is a very "political" conception of justice.) Thus, in South Africa it was realized that equal citizenship and some sort of historical reckoning were essential requirements for Blacks, while immunity from prosecution for state crimes and no redistribution of wealth were essential for Whites. The result was majority rule and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Can a similar mechanism be found in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? This is the most crucial question that needs to be discussed in trying to evaluate the chances for a peaceful resolution of that conflict. In this paper I argue that both the two-state option that guided the Oslo process, and the one-state option, that has become increasingly popular since the demise of that process, are deficient from the perspective of transitional justice.

The Oslo process faltered, for various reasons, long before it reached the issue of the right of return of the Palestinian refugees. But, if for no other reason, it would have faltered over that issue. For the Palestinians, Israeli recognition of the right of return is an essential requirement for reconciliation, while for the vast majority of Israeli Jews, including the staunchest devotees of the Oslo process, it is a taboo. The Geneva Understanding, the most far-reaching bilateral document outlining the two-state solution, denies the Palestinian refugees the right of return to Israel and has therefore no legitimacy among the Palestinians.

The one-state solution is in reality a misnomer: Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories in effect constitute one state already, but it is a state where a very large minority of the inhabitants is denied all citizenship rights (and others are accorded less than equal rights, to various degrees). The issue, therefore, is one of equal citizenship, not of constituting one state. The problem of effecting a South Africa- style solution of one-person-one-vote in this case, is that for the vast majority of Israeli Jews such an arrangement would mean the end of the Jewish state, and they would rather fight (or emigrate) than accept this solution. This political reality cannot be ignored or circumvented by clever legal formulae, so from the point of view of transitional justice this is no option at all.

What transitional justice would mandate in this situation is a solution that could reconcile the Palestinians' right, and just demand, to live as free and equal citizens in their own state, with the fear of Israeli Jews of being overwhelmed demographically by the Palestinians. I would argue that the Northern Irish model may provide useful guidelines for finding such a solution. This model is based on three key elements: consociation, the constitutionally-grounded involvement of the two sides' "motherlands," and a larger political formation - the EU - encompassing both sides. Applied to Palestine/Israel, this could mean maintaining a unitary political formation west of the Jordan, with a complex form of sovereignty lying in a body composed of Palestinians, Israeli Jews, the Arab League, and the US, with very close association to the EU.



Dan Rabinowitz

Senior Lecturer, Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology, Tel-Aviv University and Central European University|Bio>>

The Third Option: A Shari'a State?

The military conflict in Gaza in January 2009 and, in particular the political negotiations that followed in its aftermath, demonstrated clearly that Hamas is a movement that aptly marries long term vision with mid term strategy and short term tactics. The conflict suggests that what Hamas desired - and to a large extent attained - was to create a new reality whereby Gaza’s effective daily contact with and dependence on Israel is considerably reduced. This goes hand in hand with another (temporary) trajectory which interests Hamas: reducing the feasibility and potential for tightening contacts and cooperation with the West Bank, thus leaving Egypt as the sole potential corridor for commerce, finance and political links of Gaza with the outer world. These dynamic are clear reflections of Hamas’s chief political objective in the immediate run: to proactively construct as many obstacles on the path of a two state solution or a confederacy with Israel as a separate entity.

This reading of Hamas and its strategy suggests that the debate between those still aspiring to a viable independent Palestinian state alongside Israel and those subscribing to a unitary secular state in Palestine/Israel must now accommodate a third political program: one with a long term vision of one Shari’a state in the whole of Palestine, at work in the immediate run to buttress its foundations in the Gaza strip. This could of course have significant implications on prospects of reconciliation as seen and acted on by the USA under Obama.



Nadim Rouhana

Professor, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University | Bio>>

Beyond the One State--Two States Debate

This paper examines the compatibility of two-state solution with basic concepts of reconciliation in protracted social conflict: seeking just solution -- at least in terms of attainable justice; facing historic responsibilities; examining history and historic truths; and achieving political and constitutional restructuring that guarantees democratic governance. It will be argued that reconciliation is the best safeguard for long lasting peaceful relations between Israelis and Palestinians and that for reconciliation to be achieved the four components mentioned here should be addressed.

The paper will then examine if a two-state solution responds to these components. In order to do so, the paper will take as a point of departure a two state-solution based on “political realism” as broadly defined as possible. So it will be based on a solution that falls between the Clinton parameters offered in December 2000 and the Geneva Accord reached by a group of Palestinians and left-wing Israelis in 2003. The paper will show why such a two state settlement falls short of achieving reconciliation and why it cannot last in the face of a possible change in power relations in the region. The paper will then define what vision is compatible with reconciliation and show why the One State - Two States debate limits the possibilities for defining such a vision.



Gershon Shafir
Director, Institute for International, Comparative and Area Studies, University of California at San Diego | Bio >>

Capitalist Binationalism in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

A little known and never carefully analyzed response to the outbreak of the Arab Revolt in April 1936 was a binationalist blueprint offered by a coterie of Jewish leaders in Palestine. They are referred to in Ben Gurion's memoirs as "The Five," intimating that they undertook this initiative strictly as individuals. In fact, in contrast to most other Mandatory binationalist programs which were put forth by socialist or liberal bodies and individuals, this blueprint bears the hallmark of the leading entrepreneurs in the Yishuv who sought Middle Eastern markets and, consequently, economic cooperation with the Palestinians. Their proposal floundered on the opposition of the Labor Zionist movement and the indifference of the Palestinian leadership. The paper relies on hitherto unused archival sources and its goal is to examine the circumstances for the conception of binationalist blueprints and their political as well as economic aspects.




Jewish groups blast ’anti-Zionist’ conference at Toronto university


By Raphael Ahren, Haaretz - 22 June 2009


A controversial conference on peace in the Middle East is set to start Monday at Toronto's York University, despite sharp criticism from local and international Jewish groups, who have called the partly government-sponsored event a "blatant exercise in anti-Zionist propaganda."

Entitled "Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace," the three-day meet features presentations by dozens of speakers, including Palestinian and Israeli scholars.

"The conference seeks to systematically measure models based on two states or a single binational state, federal and con-federal approaches, and other models in between and beyond," according to the organizers. "The framework of the conference invites robust academic critique of the deficiencies, promise, and perils of the range of prospective models of statehood." Neither anti-Semitism nor any other form of racism has any place in this forum, they added.

Yet several Israel advocacy groups have suggested the choice of speakers indicates the general tenor of the conference will be unfair toward Israel.

"This sham of a conference, which questions the Jewish state's very right to exist, promises to be a veritable 'who's who' of anti-Israel propagandists," Frank Dimant, the vice president of B'nai Brith Canada, said in statement. "This is not an issue of academic freedom, despite the great lengths the university is going to, to try to paint it in that light. It is purely and simply about delegitimizing the Jewish state and its supporters here at home - an exercise that runs far afield of so-called legitimate academic discourse."

B'nai Brith also stated that the conference will host speakers who "advocate for the destruction of the Jewish state," "reject compromise" and "justify terrorism."

Ed Beck, president of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, said yesterday that it was clear that, "the conference premise and configuration represents a clear bias against Israel and allows for a discussion of [its] delegitimization." While his nonprofit organization has not taken an official stance on this conference, Beck said many its nearly 20,000 members were concerned that "vulnerable institutions such as York University only [give] a seemingly increasing sense of academic and intellectual legitimacy to anti-Israel forces which, in the long run, constitutes a cumulative, serious debilitating attack on Israel in terms of erosion of support."

"The speakers range from the extreme left - those who say Israel should be wiped off the map - to Israelis who are quite hesitant about going," Gerald Steinberg, the executive director of the Israeli watchdog NGO Monitor, told Haaretz. "Some of them said they realized that it'll be a mini Durban," he added, referring to the controversial UN-sponsored conference on racism.

The Toronto event, organized by four Canadian professors, is partly sponsored by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada - a federal agency promoting university-based research and training in the humanities and social sciences. The conference is also part of York University's official 50th anniversary programming, a fact that university president Mamdouh Shoukri defended by citing academic freedom.







June 22-24 

York University, Toronto Canada

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