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After Lebanon: a personal reflection on Israel and Palestine

By Philip Mendes - posted Monday, 13 November 2006

I have supported a two-state solution for over 23 years since I was caught up as a naïve 17-year-old first-year university student in the ill winds and polarisation of the Lebanon War debate at Melbourne University.

Desperately I sought some mid-way compromise between the rigid anti-Zionism of much of the political Left, and the parochial pro-Israel patriotism of much of the Jewish community. After a short but intense investigation I identified two states as the only solution that would potentially meet both the minimum security needs of Israel and the minimum national aspirations of the Palestinians.

For me two states has always meant simply the right of Israel to exist as a sovereign Jewish state within roughly the pre-1967 Green Line borders, and equally the right of the Palestinians to an independent state within the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This means no coerced Jewish settlements within Palestinian territory (no to Greater Israel), and equally no coerced return of Palestinian refugees within Green Line Israel (no to Greater Palestine).


For most of the period from 1982-2000 I was a complete optimist. This optimism was based (with hindsight) on the arguably simplistic assumption that only political barriers on the Israeli side prevented the implementation of the two-state solution, and also on the absence of a complementary critical analysis of internal Palestinian actions, factions and agendas.

In short, I rationalised that a moderate Israeli Government willing to cede significant territory and recognise Palestinian national rights would provoke a corresponding surge of good will among Palestinians.

In contrast, over the last five years I have become convinced that Palestinian political barriers to peace are just as significant, and perhaps more significant than those from the Israeli side. I am unfortunately now a confirmed pessimist.

This pessimism was induced by the sad events of the second half of 2000 which forced me to re-examine my core beliefs. In regard to the failure of the Camp David negotiations in July 2000, I have argued that the Israelis made a reasonable proposal which went some way (but perhaps not quite far enough) to meeting minimum reasonable Palestinian aspirations. It was a proposal which at least deserved a serious counter-offer from the Palestinians.

Most commentators also agree that the Israeli proposals at Taba in January 2001 were more generous than those offered at Camp David, and went far closer to meeting minimum Palestinian aspirations for a contiguous and sovereign state.

Overall, there is no doubt from reading the memoirs of key Israeli negotiators and moderates - Yossi Beilin, Gilead Sher and Shlomo Ben Ami - that the Camp David and Taba proposals went a long way towards defining the parameters of a reasonable two-state solution.


Conversely, the Palestinians seemed unable to separate their justifiable demand for a state from their ideological demand for the return of 1948 refugees to the Jewish state rather than to Palestine.

The failure to find common ground in these negotiations, and particularly the subsequent Palestinian intifada (which is really an undeclared war against Israel) suggests there is a huge cultural gulf between Israeli and Palestinian concepts of peace.

Israel has always viewed peace in highly western terms as the cessation of war and violence following negotiations and mutual compromise. Conflict resolution will be based on a reasonable mid-way point between the conflicting Israeli and Palestinian narratives. Peace is seen as an end in itself.

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This is an edited version of his address to the “Arab-Israeli Conflict" Roundtable hosted by the University of Melbourne Department of History on October 24, 2006.

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About the Author

Associate Professor Philip Mendes is the Director of the Social Inclusion and Social Policy Research Unit in the Department of Social Work at Monash University and is the co-author with Nick Dyrenfurth of Boycotting Israel is Wrong (New South Press), and the author of a chapter on The Australian Greens and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in the forthcoming Australia and Israel (Sussex Academic Press).

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