The Economist debates the Middle East Peace Process

The Economist is hosting one its week-long online debates this week, on the following question:

This house believes that bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are not currently a viable way to reach a two-state solution. 

On one side of the debate is David Makovsky, an Israeli-American and a major figure of the Israel lobby writ large in Washington and director of the leading Zionist think tank WINEP.

On the other side is Daniel Levy, who is Israeli-British, the co-director of the left-leaning New America Foundation's Middle East Task Force, and former peace-processor in the government of Ehud Barak. Levy has written some great things generally and is taking the lead on skepticism about resuming negotiations now. 

Two Israelis. Two commonly seen talking heads about the nitty-gritty of the 20-year peace process. I like Daniel Levy and his work, so at least there is a real difference between the sides, but still: there are so much fewer opportunities for Palestinian (or other Arab) analysts to put their views on this topic to a public of the kind The Economist can muster. 

The Economist's fine former Jerusalem correspondent, Gideon Lichtfield, introduces the debate with some caveats about the fact that you have Israelis debating this, rather than an Israeli and a Palestinian:

In their next statements our speakers will take their arguments further. But by now you may well be asking why we have two foreign-born Jews debating this issue, rather than a Jew and a Palestinian, and preferably native ones.

That was actually an accident of logistics rather than an ideological choice, but the fact is that on this particular question, national identity counts for little. This is not a clash between Israeli and Palestinian views (which range widely, in any case) on what is just; it is a much more pragmatic argument, reflecting the disputes in international policy circles, where both men now work, about how to get things moving. There are Palestinians who will take Mr Makovsky's side, and Israelis who will find even Mr Levy's cautious hope that peace talks can one day resume too optimistic.

You may also wonder why we restricted the debate to a fairly narrow spectrum of opinion. Mr Levy and Mr Makovsky differ mainly on how to get to two states, and some will say that is the wrong question to ask. We could have invited a "one-stater" who believes that Israel's occupation is too entrenched to undo, and that the only solution is to create a single country with equal rights for all Jews and Palestinians. At the other extreme, we could have asked an Israeli right-winger to argue that the Palestinians must remain in stateless limbo to ensure Israeli security. But it would have been an unedifying shouting matchhence the narrow framing. Where the Middle East is concerned, it is hard enough just getting people to agree on what to disagree on.

We will, however, broaden the conversation with two guest contributors, one Israeli and one Palestinian, who will each add a different perspective. 

Still, it adds up to three Israelis and one Palestinian. It's not that this debate between two people who know the fine details of peace-processing is not interesting. And I'm not saying that there has to be absolute parity in nationalities. But why restrain the debate to being about the modalities, rather than the very relevance, of the two-state solution? Perhaps they should correct this by making a future debate involving mostly Palestinians about some other aspect of the conflict, such as what should be done about settlers, or perhaps the viability of the one-state solution. After all, why air the same stale ideas all the time? 

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.