Looking at the central program of the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI) at UCLA's "Month of Ideas," a two-night event called "Perspectives on Partition: A 1-state vs. 2-state debate," it seems pretty clear that the only people who are invited to speak about whether to partition the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea in the polite setting of a student-sponsored event are those who support the idea of a two-state solution, at least in principle, even if they have declared that a one-state solution is, practically speaking, the only possible outcome in the region, given the current state of affairs.
Why the group decided to convene two separate panels, one with only Muslim panelists and one with only Jewish ones, is a question I haven't yet had the chance to ask the organizers. But it seems clear that, as a result, there will likely be less internal disagreement at each of these two events than there would have been at a single panel with Jews and Muslims both participating.
But enough about what won't happen.
On May 15, two Muslim speakers will address the subject. Reza Aslan, an associate professor of creative writing at UC Riverside who wrote "No God But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam," will almost certainly express some variant of his position that the two state solution is "dead and buried." His co-conversationalist, Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, can be expected to defend the idea of two states. Professor James Gelvin of UCLA's history department will moderate.
Two weeks later, the Jewish panel, whose positions are a bit more difficult to predict and could be harder to differentiate, will take the stage.
Director of the Nazarian Center for Israel Studies Dr. Arieh Saposnik, who in 2010 revoked the invitation of a speaker who tried to speak about the failure of the two-state solution (he said it was because the speech was not "academic"), last year addressed a breakfast hosted jointly by Americans for Peace Now and Meretz USA on "Arab Recognition of Israel's Right to Exist ." Seems pretty safe to assume that he's a supporter of the two-state solution, at least in principle.
UCLA Hillel Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, back in 2003, taught a class designed to "give the students a perspective on the necessity of compromise and the need to reject violence as an option; in concrete terms, the pursuit of a two-state solution." Has his position changed 180 degrees vis-a-vis a two-state solution in 9 years? That seems unlikely, though it would be understandable if he's become more pessimistic in the years since then.
And Jewish Journal President David Suissa, who might be expected to take the most right-leaning stance in this conversation, has shown that he, too, supports the idea of a two-state solution. At a debate last year, he seemed to agree with J Street's Jeremy Ben-Ami when it comes to what a Palestinian state should look like.
If all of these speakers believe that a two-state solution is an admirable and desirable ideal, how strongly will any of them argue that a single, binational democratic state is the only practicable resolution that could happen, given the current state of the Israeli-Palestinian problem?
I've seen Aslan take on challenging audiences before (including a prickly crowd at Sinai Temple last year), and I'd wager that he makes a strong push for the "one-state" solution at UCLA tomorrow night. Whether Suissa—who has said that he "isn't holding his breath" waiting for a two-state solution to actually be achieved—will end up playing a similar role on the Jewish panel is something that will be interesting to watch for.
I'll be interested to see where the participants in these two dialogues stand in the broader context of the Israeli-Palestinian debate. And because Jews and Muslims won't be sharing the same stage, doing that will involve assessing just how much disagreement there is at each event.
Voices on the anti-Muslim right, who believe that a two-state solution is just a temporary step on the way to a one-state solution that would mean the destruction of Israel, have said there's no difference between Ibish and Aslan, dismissing both as "Jew-hating terror apologists."
But what of the Jewish panel? If OTI had been looking for a professed Jewish one-stater, they could've asked someone from, for instance, the Zionist Organization of America to speak. Will there be a perceivable difference between the positions of Saposnik, Saidler-Feller and Suissa? Or will they simply be dismissed as "apologists" of another type?
Complete event details can be found here.