Debate on whether US should leave Israel

A peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians would stand a better chance if America pulled out of the process.

That was the conclusion of a London audience at an Intelligence Squared debate at a packed Cadogan Hall on Monday.

Putting the resolution which called on "Uncle Sam to butt out" were Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti and William Sieghart, founder of Forward Thinking, an organisation engaged with the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Lined up against them were Jeremy Ben-Ami, founder of the alternative American Israel lobby group J Street, and former New York Times foreign editor Roger Cohen, who also writes a column for the International Herald Tribune.

But the opposers could record some success. An audience vote taken before the start of the motion showed 243 in favour of the motion, 163 against and 212 undecided.

Stats

Before the debate:
243 in favour of the motion
163 against,
212 undecided

After the debate:
307 in favour of the motion
260 against,
42 undecided

By the end, however, the overall majority had been cut, with 307 for, 260 against and 42 abstentions.

Mr Sieghart contended that America's financial and diplomatic support for Israel enabled it to maintain its West Bank occupation without cost.

If the United States ended its protection, a salutary international "process of delegitimisation of Israel as a result of its occupation would begin", he said. "People would threaten to take Israel out of the World Cup, out of the Eurovision Song Contest."

Mr Ben Ami, whose organisation is based in Washington DC, challenged the pro-Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign to state explicitly that it was working for a two-state solution rather than the elimination of Israel.

"I don't agree that the local BDS movement has in its charter a recognition of the state of Israel," he said.

Arguing for the necessity of American involvement in the peace process, he said: "This conflict is like a bitter divorce. You don't ask the angry husband and the angry wife to sit at a table together in direct talks… you bring in a mediator."

Last updated: 3:25pm, March 1 2012