Over a hundred people packed into three rooms in the Law School to watch—live or by video feed—a panel discuss the possibility of peace in the Middle East.
Despite the emphasis on solutions from the panel's title, "One State or Two? Alternative Proposals for Middle East Peace," the panelists primarily focused on the discouraging aspects of the current situation. The panel consisted of Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies and Literature Rashid Khalidi, assistant Middle East and East Asian Languages and Cultures Professor Joseph Massad, Princeton Near Eastern Studies Professor Mark Cohen, and Haifa University Lecturer Ilan Pappe.
Massad's presence coincides with controversy centered around allegations of anti-Israel bias and intimidation in Columbia's MEALAC department. Massad was one of the professors named by students in a series of complaints that prompted the creation of an hoc faculty committee to investigate the situation.
The panel focused on the current politics of Israel and Palestine. All four panelists condemned what they viewed as a situation ravaged by inequality and instability. But practical courses of action were not as clear.
Massad argued against blindly endorsing "pragmatic" solutions in the Middle East, highlighting the pro-Israel agenda he views as underlying the term.
"It is not pragmatic to give the [Palestinian] refugees the right of return ... it has always been explicit that transforming Israel into a non-Jewish state is not pragmatic," Massad said. "It is pragmatic for Israel to remain a racist Jewish state."
The only panelist who supported the idea of a two-state solution was Cohen, an expert in medieval Arab and Jewish history. Although he gave a lengthy speech on his specialty, he prefaced it with a disclaimer that history is "largely irrelevant [in the present] because things have changed so much."
Khalidi and Massad agreed with Pappe's assessment that a two-state solution is a "utopian vision."
All the panelists voiced their agreement that the reality is defined by Israeli racism, instability, and a dearth of governments committed to change.
Khalidi called the current status quo "the one state solution that dare not speak its name." He sees Israel as ruling a "state that exists today at the expense of the Palestinians. " He called the situation "inherently unstable ... [because] it fails to meet the most important requirement: of justice."
A solution that involves only an all-Jewish or all-Palestinian state is "a prescription first for civil war ... and then for unending conflict," Khalidi said.
The panelists attacked Israeli racism as the root of conflict, particularly in reference to debates about the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel and resulting Jewish concerns about losing a Jewish majority.
Under the 1950 Law of Return, all worldwide Jews are invited to immigrate to Israel. But the right of Palestinian refugees who left or were expelled after the 1948 War of Independence to return—either to Israel or its occupied territories—is not guaranteed.
"Israel's racist character [is] dubbed its Jewish character," Massad said. According to Massad, Israel refuses to recognize the right of Palestinian refugees to return because "they are not Jews."
"It is a commitment to Israeli Jewish racism that [labelled the right of return] a demographic threat," Massad said.
All four panelists lamented the lack of a solution that ensures Palestinian self-government. Massad said that the peace process has largely consisted of dividing Palestinian unity in successive deals that offered "the benefits of a [fantasy] state to be" to only the Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank, "the ultimate imaginary beneficiaries of Israeli largesse."
Pappe agreed that the current negotiations will not lead to the self-determination for the Palestinian people. "This is the music of realistic political settlements," he said, bemoaning the present Israeli and U.S. governments.
But the most optimistic words of the night were only in terms of broad, abstract vision.
"Let us imagine a world in which a majority ... is no longer committed to Israeli racism," Massad said.
"A two state solution is up against powerful structures and political realities," Khalidi said.