ICSR’s second annual Atkin Conference was introduced by the Atkin Fellowship’s benefactor Celia Atkin, who’s generosity has created a unique programme.
The first panel, ‘What Should a Palestinian State Look Like?’ was chaired by ICSR Co-Director Dr. Peter Neumann and included:
- H.E. Sabri Saidam, Advisor to the Palestinian President;
- Professor Yezid Sayigh, King’s College;
- Dr. Said Jamil Haifa, Chair of Economics Department at Birzeit University;
- Professor Majid al-Haj, Vice President and Dean of Research & Professor of Sociology at the University of Haifa
- Diana Buttu – Former spokesperson with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO)
Buttu kicked off proceedings by offering a blunt, yet realistic, assessment of Palestinian statehood, saying that she does not foresee the creation of a Palestinian state due to the practical difficulties faced by Palestinians that cannot be simply ‘undone’ with the signing of any peace agreement. She noted a number of problems that she has observed over the years, citing the example that, apart from IDF soldiers, none of her Palestinian students had ever met an Israeli.
Dr. Haifa spoke of his vision of a future Palestinian state, based on the 1967 borders, that will put an end to the conflict and flourish as a just, durable and peaceful society. In order for this to happen, he claimed that Israel must pull back to the 1967 borders as defined in UN Resolution 242 and consider some degree of Palestinian right of return.
Dr. Sayigh, like Butto, also offered a bleak assessment of the peace process, referring to it as ‘make believe’. It is a fiction, he said, that Palestinians need institution building, rather the most pressing issue was that of a breakdown of constitutional order. Both the rival governments, Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, are unconstitutional and increasingly authoritarian, and this must change if we are to see any real progress.
Professor al-Haj, during his assessment, stressed the many similarities between the Israelis and Palestinians and stressed that any future state must be a secular, democratic one. However, he did concede that it was inevitable that religious groups will wield a lot of influence. He also said that he believed a two state solution was not a realistic prospect, envisioning instead an interim solution that involved a multinational and multicultural state.
Dr Saidam concluded the panel by stating the need for a shift from conflict management, to conflict resolution. The problems on the ground as he saw it were ‘immense’, and one solution could be including Hamas in the process.
Video and pictures of this discussion will be available on the ICSR site shortly.