A panel debate at the Sydney Opera House discussed "Israel & Palestine In The New Middle East" yesterday in front of a packed – and sometimes angry – audience.
Naomi Chazan, in Australia to launch the local branch of the New Israel Fund, argued valiantly in favour of a two-state solution, while Peter Hartcher, the political editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, argued that the "fluidity" of the current situation generated by the "Arab Spring" offered huge opportunities although the chances for a settlement remained distant.
Academic Ghassan Hage, the author of White Nation and Against Paranoid Nationalism, urged the audience not to be bound by the constraints of a one- or two-state solution, but rejected the notion that Palestinians who still felt pain from being forced from their homes in Israel during the 1948 war were part of the "old narrative" and that these claims had to be dealt with in any negotiations.
American academic Saree Makdisi, author of Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation, was fiercely critical of the Israeli government and argued strongly for a one-state solution that includes rights for all Palestinians, including those living in the Palestinian Diaspora.
Chazan, a former deputy speaker of the Knesset, rebuffed the idea of a one-state solution, not just because it is impractical given the animosity on both sides but because it would deny self-determination to both peoples. Professor Chazan also urged both professors to move beyond the narrative of the past and to take a realistic view of the future.
The full panel comprised Professor Naomi Chazan, President of the New Israel Fund and former head of Israel's Meretz Party, Sydney Morning Herald Chief Reporter Peter Hartcher, Melbourne University Anthropology and Social Theory Professor Ghassan Hage and English Literature Associate Professor Saree Makdisi from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Professors Hage and Makdisi both called for the dissolution of the Jewish state, with the latter urging a one-state solution and the former saying there should be no nation-states at all.
Hartcher sketched an outline of the new Middle East and issues pertaining to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
NSW Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff, NIF President Robin Margo and many members of the Jewish community were in the audience.
Alhadeff said "neither Professors Hage nor Makdisi were willing to concede the right of Israel to exist as the state of the Jewish people, yet Makdisi drew the insidious apartheid-Israel comparison while expounding the need for everyone to respect everyone else's human rights. Professor Chazan was dignified in the extreme."
Although there was due to be questions from the audience, the panel debate ran over time and the partisan crowd was not able to engage in debate – much to the chagrin of some vocal audience members.