Today's question: One state? Two states? More? What should be the shape of the region in the future? Click here to read the week's previous exchanges.

Point: Judea Pearl

I will start with my utopia, which has been the utopia of most Israelis for the past 60 years: "Two states for two people, living side by side in peace, security and prosperity, equally indigenous and equally legitimate."

Is it desirable? The models of Spain and Portugal and Slovakia and the Czech Republic teach us that separate polities are sometimes necessary and often conducive to unleashing the distinct and creative energies latent in each society. In fact, the reason most people of conscience consider Israel the greatest miracle of the 20th century and the moral consciousness of the 21st is because it has demonstrated to the world that people bonded by a shared historical vision can take charge of their destiny and, in just 60 years, turn a scattered tribe of beggars and peddlers into a thriving democracy and a world center of art and science. There is no reason why Palestinian society, guided and assisted by Israel's example, will not reach equal heights.

Is it a just solution?

On Tuesday, we discussed historical justice, concluding that the historical claims of the Jews are no less compelling than those of the Palestinians'. Moreover, since Jews are a nation first and religious group second -- bonded by shared history, not faith -- the label "Jewish state" merely defines the cultural character of the polity and does not deny political rights to any minority.

True, religion has served as a carrier of the Jewish narrative, and orthodox Jews still lay claim to being the sole arbiters of Jewish identity. But realistically, the bond that unites an Ethiopian Jew today with his Russian counterpart is the understanding that (figuratively) both were delivered from Egypt, both journeyed with Moses to the land where the Bible was authored, both fought with the Maccabees (in the story of Hanukkah), and both rebelled against and were exiled by the Romans -- and both were destined to come together in their historical homeland and work together toward the establishment of a model society. Nationhood is a state of mind, not a historical document, nor is it guaranteed by land ownership or residence.

Is this utopia democratic? Despite all the complaining, criticizing and hysterical bashing, the saying "Israel is a thriving democracy" is not a slogan -- it is a hard reality. Israel's record of accomplishments speaks for itself, even without comparing it to that of other nations. The two main complaints about special privileges given to Jews are, first, the right to serve in the Army, and second, the right to immigrate and automatically receive Israeli citizenship.

The first is temporary and will naturally be modified when security conditions permit. The second is a remnant of worldwide anti-Semitic persecution (which, sadly, seems to again be on the rise) and serious considerations are given each year in Israel to bringing this law closer to standard criteria of immigration and naturalization. As you noted previously, George, the orthodox parties have disproportional power, and Israel's democracy is struggling daily with this phenomenon. This will be solved in time, and the best way to accelerate the process would be for Israel to have 10 years of calm. The miracle of normalcy would indeed be the best gift the world can give to a beleaguered democracy on her 60th birthday.

Is the utopia attainable? This is the topic of tomorrow's discussion, and I believe that the answer depends on whether Palestinians really want it to happen. I hope, George, that you will reinforce our hopes that there exists a willing peace camp on the Palestinian side -- my friends in Israel are thirsty for such signals.

Finally, a word on the so-called one-state solution. Despite the euphemistic terminology with which it is decorated in the media, I do not want to dignify this nightmarish contrivance with discussion, for this would only embolden the enemies of coexistence. In my opinion, this contrivance is a recipe for endless ethnic strife, Iraqi style.

Any peace-seeking pragmatist understands that a meaningful peace plan must take note of the 5.5 million Israeli Jews traumatized by collective memories of accomplished (1945) and attempted (1948) genocides who would never agree to relinquish the right to defend themselves. Defense and immigration policy are the two key ingredients that Israelis will not be able to relinquish under any peace plan -- all the rest is negotiable.

So let us remove the "one-state non-solution" from the table and concentrate on the realistic goals of peace and dignity for all people in the region: "two states for two people, equally indigenous and equally legitimate."

Judea Pearl, a professor of computer science at UCLA, is a frequent commentator on the Arab-Israeli conflict. He is the president and co-founder of the Daniel Pearl Foundation -- named after his son -- a nonprofit organization dedicated to dialogue and cross-cultural understanding.
Counterpoint: George E. Bisharat

Forgive me, Judea, for this long post. I believe that a single democratic, secular and multicultural state in Israel and Palestine would best actualize the rights of Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews. I will share my reasons over several days. But my main concern now is to critique your call for "two states for two peoples" in some depth.

Judea, with respect, it is you this time who has indulged in wishful thinking. Nowhere do you delineate the borders of these two states you propose. Perhaps that is because a just partition of Palestine into two states -- one Jewish, and one Palestinian -- is impossible. Israel has killed any chance of a viable Palestinian state by thoroughly and irrevocably colonizing the West Bank. Jewish settlers there and in East Jerusalem approach 500,000. Israeli land claims now cover about 40% of the West Bank, and expansion continues apace. Meanwhile, no political force on the horizon will reverse this colonizing juggernaut.