Husam Zomlot, a Palestinian visiting scholar at the Harvard Kennedy School, discussed the prospects for a two-state solution in the Middle East yesterday night at a Cambridge Forum at the First Parish Church.
Zomlot, who served as a Palestine Liberation Organization representative to the UK from 2003 to 2008, said he believes that there are many obstacles to overcome in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But Barack Obama’s presidency presents a unique opportunity to bring about peace in the region, he added.
Zomlot called the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “the last remaining unfinished business of the 19th and 20th centuries.”
“It is the divide between might and right, between people and armies,” Zomlot said. “Between hope and despair.”
Zomlot, who is also a research fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, said that there are three possible alternatives to the two-state solution. The first is a democratic, bi-national state that includes both Israelis and Palestinians.
Another alternative would be a mass expulsion of Palestinians that would ensure a Jewish majority, and a third option would be the current “de facto” situation that has begun to resemble an apartheid state, Zomlot said, drawing a comparison to the white-dominated South African government.
But Zomlot said that though he believes the two-state solution is the best option, he is not convinced that the Israelis will relinquish settlement land easily.
According to Zomlot, there is also an ideological barrier.
“There is a considerable constituency,” Zomlot said, “who believe that the land of Israel is a God-given land.”
For an American president to successfully broker a peaceful resolution, he or she would have to have a strong commitment to solving the problem and an unbiased stance in the negotiations, and will have to offer parameters and guidelines moving forward, Zomlot said.
He added that he believes that Obama has met the first two criteria and is currently working on the third.
Zomlot said he also believes the involvement of the international community is crucial in achieving a long-lasting solution.
“Left alone, the Israelis and Palestinians are incapable of solving this,” Zomlot said.
Susan E. Nye, the chairperson of the Peace and Justice in the Middle East Task Force at the First Parish Church, said that her group suggested Zomlot as a speaker for the Cambridge Forum. The Task Force, which was established over four years ago, seeks to bring speakers who are “devoted to promoting just peace in the Middle East.”
The Task Force helped to sponsor the event with the Cambridge Forum as part of an ongoing discussion on the challenges facing the Obama administration, Nye said.
—Staff writer Zoe A. Y. Weinberg can be reached at email@example.com.