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The Oxford University Student Union debating society has been forced to cancel a debate on the Middle East following the withdrawal of the proposers of the motion: "This House believes that one state is the only solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict."
Prof. Avi Shlaim of the university's St. Antony's College at Oxford, and Dr. Ilan Pappe and Dr. Ghada Karmi, both of Exeter University, were due to present the one-state solution at Tuesday's debate.
Norman Finkelstein, formally of De Paul University in Chicago, Peter Tatchall, a gay rights activist, and David Trimble, a former first minister of Northern Ireland, were due to present the case for a two-state solution. Shlaim and Pappe are both Israelis.
When Peace Now-UK co-chair Paul Usiskin saw Finkelstein's name on the team opposing the motion, he expressed concern that "a far-left detractor of Israel" had been chosen to defend the existence of the Jewish state.
He told the Student Union they were "seeking sensation over substance" and were denying a proper and balanced debate.
Following talks with Oxford Union President Luke Tryll, the union decided to drop Finkelstein and invited Usiskin to participate along with Yossi Mekelberg, an associate fellow of the Middle East program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, who is also Israeli.
Usiskin told The Jerusalem Post that a Jewish student informed him Sunday that the proposers of the one-state solution were disgruntled at his inclusion in the debate and demanding Finkelstein's re-invitation. When this was refused, Shlaim, Pappe and Karmi withdrew from the debate.
"They clearly thought they had it sown up," said Usiskin. "I believe they're desperate for another arena in which to deligitimize Israel, after the failure to begin the academic boycott of Israel - in which all three were key. What they expected was a clear field for a one-state solution as the start of creating that new arena. Those of us who believe in Israel and support a two-state solution remained steadfast and denied them their victory."
Instead of the debate, a discussion with student participation will take place, in what Usiskin described as a "more open forum where a free flow of views can be held."
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