by Erez Bleicher
In a contentious panel discussion hosted as part of the Jerusalem Talks series at the Jerusalem Cinematheque by the Heinrich Boell Foundation-Israel on October 15th, 2015, four speakers articulated disparate visions of the future following weeks of vigilante attacks in Jerusalem and unrest in the West Bank. Under the title "Two States, One State, No State?" the panelists convened to discuss the possibilities of peace in the region and to compare thoughts on various frameworks for mutual relations between Israelis and Palestinians in the context of the escalating violence. On the panel sat poet Eliaz Cohen from the settlement of Kfar Etzion, public opinion analyst Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin of the online +972 Magazine, former head of the Shin Bet (General Security Services) Major-General (Ret.) Ami Ayalon, and Palestinian Israeli Joint List Knesset Member Aida Touma-Sliman. The discussion was introduced by Kerstin Mueller, Director of the Heinrich Boell Foundation-Israel and moderated by German radio journalist Doris Simon.
All of the panelists shared an unequivocal commitment to a future in which Israelis and Palestinians live as full citizens under systems of civil law, but unsurprisingly, were sharply divided about the most viable frameworks to achieve this aim. This was especially apparent as the three Jewish Israeli panelists discussed issues of occupation, settlement, and the state primarily in relation to constructions of national identity within their own respective communities leaving MK Touma-Sliman to sharply interject the perspectives of Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line.
The Israeli public rejects the creation of a single binational state
While discussing the possibility of a one-state solution Dr. Scheindlin remarked without hesitation that the majority of the Israeli public rejects the creation of a single binational state out of hand. She also made clear that as settlements have encroached further into the West Bank over the last twenty years they have greatly eroded the viability of a two-state solution and caused the larger Israeli public to identify with the settler population as a vital component of the larger civic body that must be protected at all costs.
Ayalon responded emphatically that the establishment of two states is the only way to end violence in the region while maintaining the national aspirations of both populations. He went so far as to say that Israel and Palestine are "like twins joined at the hip – one more beautiful and one ugly (though each side thinks they are the beautiful one) - that must be separated from each other through a delicate procedure."
Ami Ayalon to moderator Doris Simon: “Israelis and Palestinians are like two Siamese twins joined at the hip” Photo: Patricia Cordell
Cohen agreed with him that ideally there would be "two states with open borders working in cooperation" but also stressed that the religious connection of Jews to the land of the occupied West Bank must be honored in whatever framework arises.
"If you want peace, don't be a settler"
This sparked the most uneasy moment of the evening as MK Touma-Sliman admitted she had been uncomfortable sitting beside Cohen since the moment she had learned he was a settler, and that there is no framework in which she would support the presence of settlers on that land. She continued to say that she thinks Jewish Israelis and Palestinians are speaking two different languages and that talk of "living together [on that land] is the language of occupation."
MK Touma-Sliman to Eliaz Cohen: “I am not comfortable sitting alongside a settler” Photo: Patricia Cordell
Personal reflections on recent violence
I think many of the most poignant moments of the panel occurred as participants shared personal feelings about the recent violence in the city and the wave of Palestinian resistance we are now witnessing. Cohen echoed a statement made during the introduction of the event that if what we are seeing is a "third intifada it is a more primitive one without organizational backing."
I'm not sure why anyone who followed the developments of the Arab Spring would conclude that a lack of formal organizational backing automatically renders a movement unsophisticated and would urge people to remember that institutional political entities are often forced to chase after the momentum generated by the autonomous struggles of those they claim to represent.
Dr. Scheindlin made what was perhaps one of the more devastating remarks on the recent bloodshed when she said that young Palestinians living under occupation already "consider themselves the walking dead" and are therefore unafraid of desperate action. This contextualization of recent violence was echoed by MK Touma-Sliman when she said that "two sides are murdered, and two sides are killed, but only one side lives under occupation."
Dr. Scheindlin: “Young Palestinians living under occupation consider themselves the walking dead" Photo: Patricia Cordell
As a whole the panel served as a pressing reminder that violence will continue in one form or another as long as Palestinians continue to face extreme deprivation under military occupation without hope of lasting change. The perspectives of the panelists showcased the divisions that exist within the Israeli Left and the wide chasm that exists between the discourses of Israeli and Palestinian civil society. It highlighted the difficulty of visioning a concrete end to the occupation in this moment of overwhelming fear and made clear just how necessary such discussions are as we dream a collective future far removed from the bleakness of the present.