News & events


International Conference: Re-Envisioning Israel/Palestine

12 June 2009

Hosted by :

The Middle East Project, Democracy and Governance programme, HSRC

Start :

12 June 2009

End :

14 June 2009

Location :

Cape Town, South Africa


Vision and mission


This conference responds to the dangerous stagnation of the Middle East ‘peace process’ and its consequences in continuing violence, radicalisation of regional politics and corrosive effects on international security. The two-state paradigm for the effective resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has thus proved fruitless, but viable alternatives remain elusive and are urgently sought by diplomats, politicians, lawyers, and concerned professionals.  New thinking is urgently required.

On this agenda, this conference encourages a collective ‘re-envisioning’ of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through an interdisciplinary review of evidence and analysis. The themes are designed to assemble the freshest data, latest critical thinking and most innovative academic analysis, focusing on three areas: material conditions on the ground, national identities and their possible reconstruction, and how the conflict might be reconceived by the international community by applying different lenses of international human rights law.  Although the conference topics revolve around the one-state/two-state debate, which is now seizing attention in many international forums, the programme is designed to encourage frank discussion of any ideas toward a viable solution that can help illuminate viable strategies for achieving a just and stable peace.

The conference assembles experts from a spectrum of disciplines, including political science, sociology, history, geography, and international public law. The conference also seeks to connect South African and Middle East scholars in order to foster new research networks regarding democracy and identity.



Themes reflect workshops and activities of the HSRC Middle East Project (MEP) in 2007-2009. Each is chaired by a scholar involved in directing or supervising those events.

Theme 1:  International Law of Occupation Revisited


Theme chair: John Dugard, Extraordinary Professor  at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, and former Special Rapporteur on the Question of Palestine for the United Nations Commission on Human Rights

The fortieth anniversary of Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, coupled with Israel`s continued failure to comply with international law, has suggested to some legal scholars that the fundamental character of the occupation may require re-assessment. This theme invites papers exploring whether features of other international law regimes, such as apartheid and colonialism, are manifest in Israeli policy and what this analysis implies legally for the conflict and the international community. Proposals developing theory about how frameworks of IHL and IHRL may evolve or co-exist are also welcome.   Participants will be invited to engage with the HSRC’s special project on this subject: Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid?: A Re-assessment of Israeli Practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territories under International Law.

Theme 2:  Identities and Democracy in Israel-Palestine

Theme chair: Dr Nadim Rouhana,  Professor of International Negotiations and Conflict Studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, Boston, and Director of the Mada al-Carmel/Centre for Applied Social Science (Haifa)

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is commonly understood as steered by two dueling and immutable national identities – Palestinian-Arab and Jewish-Zionist. Yet recent historical scholarship has helped clarify the origins of these identities and demonstrated the possibilities of major identity transformations in Mandate Palestine. But what do these studies signify for the conflict? Must present identities be held as immutable in order to defend their exclusive privileges or struggle for rights? Is transforming the terms of the conflict inseparable from transforming these identities? This theme considers how past and possible constructions of ide1ntities relevant to the conflict — nationalist, citizenship, religious, ideological, colonial, cultural, victimhood — inform or constrain viable solutions to the conflict. This theme also considers the legal framework for such constructions and their transformation: for example, Israel’s Law of Return and the Palestinian right of return; Israeli laws relating to Palestinian land confiscation and displacement and how these can be reconciled with the demand for restitution to Palestinian refugees; and the Israeli constitutional tension between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ the Green Line regarding issues of citizenship, residency, and the right of movement.

Theme 3: The Political-Economy and Geography of Peace 


Theme chair: Dr Leila Farsakh, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Massachusetts-Boston


However preferable or inevitable any given solution in Israel-Palestine might seem, its viability inevitably rests on geographic and economic realities shaping the lives of people on the ground. Political leadership and diplomacy must appreciate and confront these hard realities or risk becoming irrelevant and futile. This theme invites empirical analyses of economic and social factors that help clarify parameters for the conflict’s potential solutions: e.g. nature of economic relations between Israel and the Palestinian territories and their likely prospects; poverty rates and trends; health trends; trade patterns; the labour market developments; water and other natural resources; population growth; and the geopolitics of borders. While basing their analysis on empirical data, papers will analyse how these conditions impact prospects for peace and growth in the area and what they should signify for viable solutions to the conflict.

Theme 4:  Arab-African Visions toward Non-racial Democracy in the Middle East


Theme chair: Dr Gerhard Mare, Director, Centre for Critical Research on Race and Identity, University of KwaZulu Natal (Durban, South Africa)

Africa and the Middle East share much in common regarding colonialism, decolonisation, struggles for democracy, Western intervention, and nation-building. Less commonly recognised is their shared heritage of Western discourse about race and ethnicity, which have interplayed with local identities sometimes to dangerous or lethal effect. Theme five explores this comparison by encouraging new dialogue and shared research between African and Middle East scholars: e.g., in clarifying how concepts of race and ethnicity have fed into relevant national movements and strategies of mobilisation; how race, ethnicity and religion have operated as contested and multiple identities within South Africa, Israel, and Palestine; how such identities have articulated with issues of gender and class; and how regional identity discourses that have historically provided potent fuel for liberation movements (e.g., ‘Arab’ and ‘African’) have or should inform national identities today.

Each theme will have a keynote talk by the theme chair, a policy roundtable, and panels for presentations related to the theme by conference participants and discussants.