ELEANOR HALL: A prominent Palestinian American has poured scorn on the prospect of US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu making significant progress on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Professor Saree Makdisi is in Australia this week to deliver the Edward Said Memorial Lecture and he says it's just too late now for a two state solution.
He also says yesterday's UN report into the war in Gaza earlier this year is not likely to have much impact.
The report's author Judge Goldstone condemns the actions of both sides in the Gaza conflict and calls on both Hamas and the Israelis to investigate his allegations of war crimes.
I asked Professor Makdisi if they're likely to do that.
SAREE MAKDISI: It's not really clear what Hamas' reaction is going to be but about the Israelis it's important to point out that they've actually completely refused to go along with this investigation as they have with all previous investigations including the ones led by for example Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Their position is basically nobody has the right to ask them any questions and that they are not subject to any kind of demands on the part of the international community.
The second thing that needs to be said is that although the report is critical of both sides, the very idea of comparing the kind of violence inflicted by the two sides on each other is I think just absurd.
It's true that Hamas or the Palestinian rockets killed three Israeli civilians and it's true that that shouldn't have happened.
But on the other hand to compare the deaths of three civilians to basically the wholesale destruction of the basis of civilised 20th century society - that is telephones, water networks, sewerage networks, electricity and so forth, the massive destruction of houses and schools and so forth - there is just no comparison between the kinds of violence, the level of violence inflicted by one side on the other side.
ELEANOR HALL: Well Judge Goldstone does say that both sides must now investigate. He has given them six months and he is saying there are allegations of war crimes. Now he is saying if they don't investigate he will refer the matter to the International Criminal Court. Is that likely to have an impact?
SAREE MAKDISI: Well he may recommend that the matter be referred to the Criminal Court but as far as I know all he can do is recommend and suggest and it is a question of whether the court will actually take the case or not.
These kinds of legal authorities can make recommendations and suggestions but that is basically all they can do.
And then the question is if it gets referred for example to the Security Council, what will happen at the Security Council. Will the US for example allow Israel to be criticised by an international tribunal? I find that extremely unlikely in the present conjecture, unfortunately.
ELEANOR HALL: Well President Obama has been somewhat stronger than the previous administration and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu surprised many when he said earlier this year that he would accept a Palestinian state.
Is this a sign that in fact a conservative leader in Israel may be able to finally bring about some solution to this conflict?
SAREE MAKDISI: No because the kind of state he's talking about is the kind of state that has been on offer, so to speak, for almost you know for 18 years now.
And when he uses the word state the kind of entity he is talking about the Palestinians perhaps may be possibly being entitled to is a state of disconnected territories that is literally patches. It is more like an archipelago really than a contiguous territory.
It would have no control over its airspace, its territorial water, its borders. It wouldn't be able to enter into treaties with other states. It wouldn't be a state by any understanding of the term state.
So he is just using a word to talk about something that the Israelis have been willing to talk about for 20 years...
ELEANOR HALL: The word Palestinian state hasn't really been used much by Israeli leaders though, has it?
SAREE MAKDISI: No but that's the point. So he is using the word Palestinian state so what are we supposed to do? Are we supposed to say hooray because he is using a word completely out of context and completely distorting the dictionary meaning of the word state?
ELEANOR HALL: So do you agree with a two state solution?
SAREE MAKDISI: No I think it's hopeless to try and resolve the situation in that way because first of all the two populations at this point are thoroughly intertwined. Even if Israel withdrew tomorrow to the 67 borders, 20 to 25 per cent of the population of Israel within its pre-67 borders is Palestinian and they are at the moment systematically disenfranchised in all kinds of ways simply because they are not Jewish.
So even a two state solution that went into effect tomorrow morning wouldn't address their right nor would it address the rights of those Palestinians who were expelled from their homes in 1948, again because they are not Jewish, because they didn't fit into the character of a state that wanted to describe itself as Jewish.
ELEANOR HALL: What is the solution then?
SAREE MAKDISI: The solution then is to say both populations are there to stay. Neither population has the right to lord itself over the other population. And therefore the solution is to find a way for them to live as equals in one reconstituted, democratic and secular state.
It would allow everybody to live and to fulfil their aspirations as human beings irrespective of their ethnic background.
ELEANOR HALL: Isn't a one state solution though even more unrealistic particularly from an Israeli point of view than a two state solution?
SAREE MAKDISI: No. It is perfectly realistic. It may be not desirable from Israel's point of view at this point but then again neither was it desirable for the South African white community to give full rights to blacks in South Africa in the 1970s and 80s. They were forced to ultimately.
These systems and structures of exploitation and racial differentiation resist change and the only way to ever change is when massive pressure is brought to bear on them.
ELEANOR HALL: So do you think that the Barack Obama administration in the United States is capable of bringing that pressure? Is it likely to be a catalyst for real progress?
SAREE MAKDISI: No, I mean capable? Of course it is capable because Israel couldn't do what it does without American support. Speaking now as an American I find it absurd that Israel can tell the US, no we won't do this when they depend on aid from the US to the tune of billions of dollars a year and they depend on American goodwill and so forth.
I mean if I, just speaking purely as an American now, I find it outrageous that this little client state treats the American superpower in this way.
But the point is that Obama is held to account by domestic pressures at home and so what has to change I think in the US and in Australia and in Europe and everywhere else around the world is for normal citizens, people who believe in justice and equality, to bring pressure to bear on their own governments.
South Africa changed not because the ANC won. The situation changed because pressure was brought to bear by well meaning citizens around the world who compelled their governments to take action.
ELEANOR HALL: That's Professor Saree Makdisi, who's visiting Australia to deliver the Edward Said Memorial Lecture. He'll also be speaking at the Sydney Ideas Festival at the University of Sydney next Tuesday.