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Debate on Middle East Stirs Emotions:

A possible solution to the decades-old conflict between Palestinians and Israelis was the subject of a debate at the Santa Monica Main Library on March 15.

Josef Avesar, an Israeli-born attorney, is the founder of IPC (Israeli-Palestinian Confederation). His idea is that the two governments would form a governing body, somewhat like the European Union, with both governments retaining their power over their respective citizens, but with representatives from each side meeting to legislate issues concerning both Israel and Palestine.

For this debate, Avesar was challenged by Dr. Roberta P. Seide, a historian and research and education consultant who represented the Israeli viewpoint, and Dr. Saree Makdisi, a professor of English literature at UCLA, who represented the Palestinian viewpoint.

Prior to the debate, Avesar gave a brief presentation of the IPC’s concept: Both the Israeli and Palestinian governments remain the same, the elected confederation will consist of 300 districts, the elected representative of each district may be of either kind of citizenship, but given current demographics, the makeup of the Confederation would be approximately 180 Israelis to 120 Palestinians (“but that may change with time”).  Fifty-five percent of Israelis and 55 percent of Palestinians would have to vote yes to pass legislation, and both sides would have veto power.

“Isolation is dangerous,” said Avesar. “This plan would engage both sides.”

Both of Avesar’s debating partners honed in on what they saw as flaws in the concept. The first question was: Would the Confederation improve the quality of life for Israel and Palestine?

Dr. Seide and Dr. Makdisi agreed that it would not. Dr. Seide said, “The problem is not in the mechanism. Rather, unfortunately, the Palestinian leadership’s goal seems to be to destroy another state – Israel.” Dr. Makdisi’s view was, “For Palestinians, the quality of life is determined by the Israeli occupation. Seventy percent of Palestinians live below poverty lines of less than $2 a day. Those are direct and deliberate results of Israeli occupation.”

Avesar defended his proposal by referring to the “extremists” on both sides as deterrents, but insisting that the IPC concept would put the issues in a “completely different dimension.”

The next question was whether the two groups would retain their “sovereignty.” Dr. Makdisi said, “There is no Palestinian state so there can be no Palestinian sovereignty.” Dr. Seide said the plan would “undermine Israel’s sovereignty” because it “sets up a parallel government without any specific powers.”

When the debate turned to a discussion about how the Confederation would work on issues as one body, Dr. Seide exclaimed, “How can you sit down with an assembly of Hamas members?” Thereafter, she made more frequent mention of the “suicide bombings” attributed to Hamas.

Dr. Makdisi said that in some ways he could accept the idea of the Confederation, but continued to emphasize that the Palestinians cannot function as a government as long as they are an “occupied” people.

Dr. Seide spoke of the long history of oppression experienced by the Jews, their contributions to the world and their right to a homeland. But when she also stated that the Israeli Jews “want peace” and that they have tried to make peace and their offers were rejected by the Palestinians, some members of the audience laughed and made derisive noises. Moderator David Marcus warned the audience to keep it civil.

When asked to come to a conclusion as to whether a Confederation would lead to peace in the Middle East, only Avesar seemed to believe that it might.    

“Israelis believe terrorism is the problem,” he said. “Palestinians believe occupation is the problem. But they’re both excuses.

“I’m proposing a Confederation. There may be other solutions but this is the one I believe in.”

Information about the Israeli-Palestinian Confederation is available at aboutipc.org. 

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