What needs to happen this year and down the line in order to move towards a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Is there a viable alternative to the two-state solution?

Alpher: We need new Israeli, Palestinian and U.S. leaders who have a deeper understanding of the conflict, a greater willingness to compromise and public backing. But this wonʹt happen. The only conceivable exception could be an Israel-Hamas deal that stabilises the Gaza Strip in a way that points toward some sort of progress.

Khatib: The first step would be the organisation of an international peace conference to establish new terms of reference consistent with international law – a conference that can agree on a framework and terms of reference that are consistent with the basic rights of the Palestinians, including their right of self-determination and independence. The second would be to establish an international mechanism that would mediate fresh Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, forcing the parties to avoid pre-emptive practices such as settlement expansion.

This year the Israelis celebrated 70 years of the foundation of their State of Israel, which is mirrored by the Palestiniansʹ Nakba Day. This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the start of the Oslo peace process. What is the most realistic scenario for developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict this autumn and next year?

Khatib: Realistically speaking, the only scenario that can be expected in the next year is the current situation continuing with no major developments. The reason is that this status quo is very convenient for Israel, and Israel is able to maintain it. Firstly, because it is too powerful in terms of its military, and secondly, because the United States and Europe allow Israel to continue its actions.

Alpher: The era of the Oslo peace process approach is over. Sadly, Israelis and Palestinians find themselves sliding down a slippery slope towards an ugly, conflicted bi-national one-state reality. Israeli ultra-nationalism, Hamas Islamism and the West Bank-based PLO have all contributed to this failure to build a state. All other things being equal, this course of events will lead to a far worse reality in the decade ahead. Only a major regional cataclysm would "shuffle the cards" and change this. But it will happen eventually.

What does this scenario mean for the role of the EU and Germany? What would you recommend?

Alpher: Europe has to adjust to the slippery slope reality: this requires less hand-wringing about the demise of the Oslo peace process and the two-state solution and more involvement in understanding and "managing" the slippery slope and devising ways to at least slow the deterioration until an opportunity for change presents itself.

Khatib: This scenario will mean that the EU and Germany will remain marginal players in the Middle East conflict. Changing this sad political reality would require two things. Firstly, the EU needs to stop treating Israel as a state above international law and hold Israel and the Palestinians equally accountable for any violation. Secondly, the EU must insist on political involvement, at least equal to its financial contribution, as the EU and European states are the biggest donors, while having the least significant political role and influence.

Interview conducted by Christoph Hanelt

© Bertelsmann Stiftung 2018

Yossi Alpher is a consultant and writer on Israel-related strategic issues. As director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, he co-ordinated and co-edited a JCSS research project, producing "The Alpher Plan" for an Israeli-Palestinian final settlement. In July 2000 he served as special adviser to the prime minister of Israel, concentrating on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He co-founded and co-edited bitterlemons.net, a series of Palestinian-Israeli Internet-based political publications.

Ghassan Khatib is lecturer in Cultural Studies and Contemporary Arab Studies at Birzeit University. He was a member of the Palestinian delegation for the Madrid Middle East Peace Conference in 1991 and the subsequent bilateral negotiations in Washington from 1991-93. For 11 years, Khatib also co-founded and co-edited bitterlemons.net, a series of Palestinian-Israeli Internet-based political publications.

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