A debate between former Knesset Member Uri Avnery and Doctor Ilan Pappe
moderator: Professor Zalman Amit
Zalman Amit: Greetings to you all, and thanks for coming to be with us this evening.
First of all, I would like to thank Teddy Katz, who initiated this event and did a large part of the logistics involved.
I would not be exaggerating in stating that the subject we discuss today is the most important and most difficult question facing people on the left side of the political spectrum, and those whom we could broadly call the people of the peace movement. I also think we are lucky in having tonight two speakers who are perhaps the most clear representatives, respectively, of the two approaches and worldviews to whose debate this evening is devoted.
To my right is Dr. Ilan Pappe, historian of Exeter University, formerly of Haifa University. [Pappe corrects: Not yet formerly]. To my left is Uri Avnery, former Knesset Member, former editor of Haolam Hazeh Weekly, and present activist in Gush Shalom.
As agreed, the debate will be conducted as follows: First, Pappe will speak for twenty minutes and Uri Avnery will answer in a similar period of time.
Then, both will speak again for ten minutes each. Then will come the time for questions and answers, and I as moderator promise to exercise no censorship. Finally, Ilan and Uri will have five minutes each for summation.
I now ask Ilan to start the first round.
Ilan Pappe: I would like to thank Gush Shalom for this event, for the initiative and the willingness to discuss such an important subject in such an open forum. I hope that this is just the beginning of discussing this subject, not a one time event – since the subjects with which we will deal tonight are vital to us, and clearly a single evening would not be enough to thoroughly discuss them, reach personal and collective decisions and develop our strategy as a Peace Camp. Whatever the differences between us, we all belong to the Peace Camp, the camp which believes in reconciliation between the Palestinian People and Israel, and we all want to work together to promote that cause.
Zionism was born out of impulses. Fair impulses, natural impulses, impulses which can be understood against the background of the period when this movement was born, the reality of East and Central Europe at the end of the Nineteenth Century.
The first impulse was the desire to try to confront the waves of anti-Semitic persecutions and harassment – and possibly also a premonition that there was even worse to come. Therefore, there started a search for a safe haven where European Jews could live without fear for their lives, property and dignity.
The second impulse was influenced by “The Spring of the Peoples” in the mid-Nineteenth Century. The leaders of the Zionist Movement thought that it was possible to redefine Judaism as a nationality rather than only a religion. That, too, was an idea widely circulating at the time, and more than a few ethnic or religious groups re-defined themselves as nations. When the decision was taken – for reasons which into which there is no time to go into here – to implement these two impulses on the soil of Palestine, where nearly a million people already lived, this reply to impulses turned into a colonial project.
The moment it was decided that the only territory where Jews could be assured of a safe haven, the only territory where a Jewish nation state could be created was in Palestine, this humanistic national movement turned into a colonial project. Its colonial character became all the more pronounced after the country was conquered by the British in the First World War.
As a colonial project, Zionism was not a big success story. When the British Mandate came to its end, no more than six percent of the territory of Palestine were in Jewish hands. Zionism also succeeded in bringing here only a relatively small number of Jewish immigrants. In 1948, Jews constituted no more than a third of the population of Palestine.
Therefore, as a colonial project, a project of settling and displacing another people, it was was not a success story. But the problem – and the source of the Palestinian tragedy – was that the leaders of Zionism did not want only to create a colonial project, they also wanted to create a democratic state. And why was it a Palestinian tragedy that Zionism at its early career wanted to be democratic? Because it still wants to be democratic. Because if you put together Zionist colonialism, Zionist nationalism and the impulse for democracy, you get a need which still dictates political positions in Israel up to the present – from Meretz in the Zionist Left to the National Union party on the Extreme Right. It is the need to have an overlapping between the democratic majority and the Jewish majority. Every means is fair to ensure that there will be a Jewish majority, because without a Jewish majority we will not be a democracy. It is even permissible to expel Arabs in order to make us a democracy. Because the most important is to have here a majority of Jews. Because otherwise the project will not be a democratic project.
It is not surprising that not far from here, in the Red House on the seashore of Tel Aviv, eleven of the leaders of Zionism gathered in 1948 and decided that if you want to create a democratic state and also to complete the Zionist project, i.e. to take over as much as possible of the land of Palestine, and if you have no majority and you are only a third – than the only choice is to implement an ethnic cleansing, remove the Arab population from the territory you intend for a Jewish State.
In March 1948, under the leadership of Ben Gurion, the Zionist leadership decided that in order to have here a democratic Jewish state it was necessary to expel a million Palestinians. Immediately after the decision was taken, they have embarked on systematically expelling the Palestinians. Cruelly they passed from from house to house, from village to village, from neighborhood to neighborhood. When they were done, nine months later, they left behind them 530 empty villages and eleven destroyed towns. Half the population of Palestine had been expelled from its homes, fields and sources of livelihood – more than 80 percent of the population in the territory they conquered. Half of the cities and villages of Palestine were destroyed, and their ruins planted with forests or settled with Jews.
This was the only way in which a demographic Jewish state could have been created – the kind of state which is the common rallying call of the Zionist consensus, from then until the present.
Had this act of the Zionist movement taken place now, no international body would have hesitated to label it a Crime Against Humanity. The eleven Zionist leaders who took the decision were, indeed, criminals according to the criteria of International Law. Sixty years later it is a bit difficult to prosecute them, all the more as none of them is among us any more.
The UN Partition Resolution of November 1947 and the attempts to effect a division of the land after the 1948 War were not based on the ideals of Justice – i.e., there is justice and rights to the indigenous people, most of whom had been expelled, and there is justice to the new settlers. No. The basis for the impulse to effect a Two State Solution then, as at the basis of this impulse now, there was the idea that the Zionist Minotaur could be satisfied by letting the Jewish state have control over only part of Palestine – not the whole.
The UN had proposed giving 50 percent of Palestine. For the Zionists that was not enough and they took 80 percent of Palestine, and there was a feeling that that would be enough for them.
But we know that this territorial hunger did not end in 1948. When the historic opportunity came, a hundred percent of Palestine came under the rule of the Jewish State.
But here the great Palestinian tragedy manifests itself once again. Even after 100 percent of Palestine became the Jewish state, there is still a real impulse to create and preserve a democratic state. This is the background for the creation of a special kind of peace process, a peace process based on the assumption that the Zionist territorial hunger and democratic wishes can be assuaged by leaving part of Palestine – the West Bank and Gaza – out of Israeli control.
This gives a double profit: on the one hand, the demographic balance between Jews and Arabs is not disturbed; on the other hand, the Palestinians are imprisoned where they would no longer threaten the Zionist project.
But as we know, the situation on the ground became increasingly complicated. Perhaps this is the time to mention Meron Benvenishti, one of the first to point out to us the facts on the ground which made this, too, into a pipedream.
Already in the 1980s, the mantra of the Palestinian State beside the Israeli State – as a good solution to the conflict or as a way to assuage the territorial hunger of the Zionist movement and preserve Israel as a Jewish state – this mantra was encountering increasing difficulties.
One factor was that the ‘facts on the ground’ were steadily reducing the Palestinian territory, by creating and extending settlements. And from a different direction, there was the natural wish of the political movements to extend the ranks of those who supported the Two States Solution. Gradually, they found new partners, and these new partners gave new meanings to the term ‘A Palestinian State’. In fact, the connection gradually disappeared between the Two States idea on the one hand and the idea of solving the conflict on the other.
Suddenly, the Two States Solution became a way of arranging some kind of separation between occupier and occupied, rather than a permanent solution which should have dealt with the crime committed by Israel in 1948, with the problems of the twenty percent of Palestinians inside Israel, and with the refugee population which has steadily increased since 1948.
In the 1990s, and since the beginning of the present century, the Two States idea has become common currency. The respectable list of its supporters finally came to include, among others, Ariel Sharon, Binyamin Netanyahu and George W. Bush.
When your idea gains such adherents, that is far from a bad historical moment to rethink the entire idea. When the Two States idea became the basis for the Peace Proces, it gave an umbrella to the Israeli occupation to continue its operation without any apprehension. That was because official Israel, regardless of who was Prime Minister, was supposed to be involved in a Peace Process – and you can’t make criticism of a country which is involved in a Peace Process.
Under cover of the Peace Process, you can say under the cover of the slogan of Two States for Two Peoples, the settlements were extended, and the harassment and oppression of the Palestinians were deepened. So far so that the `facts on the ground’ have reduced to nothing the area intended for the Palestinians. The Zionist racist and ethnic hunger got legitimacy to extend itself into nearly half of the West Bank.
It was impossible to remain unimpressed by the impressive presence of the Peace Camp in the demonstration in support of Ariel Sharon, at the time of the Gaza Disengagement.
The connection between the Two States for Two Peoples formula and the Peace Process logically led to peace activists who believe in Two States would cry out in the city square – How is that Square called? The Rabin Square? – that they would gather in the Rabin Squaare and cry out: Long Live Sharon, Long Live Disengagement, which means “long live the imprisonment of Gaza in the biggest concentration camp of the Twenty-First Century!” That is what they would cry out, that is the concern of the Sharon-supporting Peace Camp.
On the one hand, this formula makes it possible to continue the occupation by other means, in order to silence the outside criticism of the acts of the occupation. On the other hand, it enabled the State of Israel to create facts on the ground.
In any case, by 2007 you can admit: there is not a single stone visible, in what is now called the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which can serve in the construction of a Palestinian state.
How do you choose to look at this?
If the principle of Justice be the basis for those who support the partition of this country, there is no formula more cynical than the Two States Solution, as it is now presented in the Peace Camp. 80 percent of the country to the occupier, and twenty percent to the occupied. That is, 20 percent in the best and utopian case. More likely, no more than 10 percent, a dispersed and surrounded ten percent, to the occupied.
Moreover, where in this solution do you find a solution for the refugee problem, to where will return those who were the victims of the ethnic cleansing of 1948?
Where will their second and third generation return to, if indeed Justice is the guiding principle?
On the other hand, if pragmatism and “Realpolitik” be our guiding lights, and all that we wish is to assuage the Zionist State’s territorial hunger with a demographic efficiency, why offer only 80 percent? If brute force alone is to determine the solution, God Almighty, there is no need today to offer the Palestinians even half a percent. You can move Wadi Ara [Arab-inhabited region of Israel] to the West Bank, you can annex half the West Bank to [the settlement of] Ma’aleh Adumim and give the Palestinian in exchange some sandbags from [the Negev desert region of] Halutza, you can do a lot, lot more. If we trust in the international and regional balance of forces as the decisive factor we would give the Palestinians a tiny piece of land, hermetically enclosed with barriers and walls. Because we are not guided by moral principles, we are pragmatic people.
It’s true, there are Palestinians in Ramallah who are willing to rest content with that. We know there are, and they deserve to have their voice heard – but it is utterly unacceptable to silence the voices of the Palestinian majority in the refugee camps, in the diasporas, in the Occupied Territories and among the internal refugees in Israel who want to be part of a state – not a state erected on 20 percent of the land, but of a future state which will include the whole of the country which was once Palestine. There will be neither reconciliation here, nor justice or a permanent solution, if we don’t let these Palestinians have a share in solving the questions referring to reconciliation and to defining the sovereignty, the identity and the future of this country.
Unlike many other groups in the Western World, and possible against the historical logic of those who were the victims of a hundred years of Zionist disregard, these Palestinians surprisingly want to include in defining the future state a recognition of the right of the Jews living here to take part in that future.
Even the Jews who came yesterday from St. Petersburg and who pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, even the presence of these Jews is acceptable to the Palestinians. So we are not willing to let these Palestinians return? They, who are willing to let Lieberman stay?
Let’s involve them. Let’s respect their aspirations. Let’s not say: “It’s we who decide, we in Tel Aviv and Ramallah. No. They decide, too.
Let’s at least check the applicability of the idea. At least try out two ideas and give both a chance, the Two States Idea side by side with the One State Idea.
Let’s give some respect to the new idea. The old idea, the idea of partition, we have tried for sixty years. The result was exile, occupation, oppression, discrimination. Peace it did not bring. Let’s give something else a chance.
Let’s not offer drafts of a democratic constitution which would be applicable only to Western Bak’ah [Arab town inside Israel] and say that we don’t care about the future of Eastern Bak’ah [originally part of the same town, which is across the line in the West Bank]. Eastern Bak’ah could be imprisoned in an enclave, as far as we are concerned, or languish under a dictatorship. We want Western Bak’ah as part of the State of All it Citizens which we want Israel to become, but Eastern Bak’ah we will leave outside the fence, perhaps under a continuing occupation. How can we?
We have relations of blood, relations of blood and relations of common tragedy which cannot be divided. We are all in one political imbroglio.
The one who expelled and his sons and grandsons, and the one who was expelled with sons and grandsons and granddaughters, all of them together must take part in the negotiations on the future of the entire country.
Our political elites are incompetent in the best case and corrupt in the worst, in all that pertains to finding a solution to the conflict. The elites which accompany us in the Western World and the Arab World are just as bad. When these elites masquerade as Civil Society, simply because there are some politicians who happen not to hold office at a certain moment, the Geneva bubble is floated and the situation becomes even worse and peace even more far off.
We will find an alternative model. All of us, including the old settlers and the new – even those who got here yesterday – including the expellees with all their generations and those who were left after the expulsions. We will ask all of them what political structure fits all of them, which would include the principles of justice, reconciliation and coexistence.
Let’s offer them at least one more model, in addition to the one which failed. In Bil’in we are fighting shoulder to shoulder against the occupation – can we not live together with Bil’in in the same state? Who do we want more as our neighbors, Bil’in or Matityahu Mizrah? [The settlement expanding at the expanse of Bil’in lands].
In conclusion: in order for this dialogue to start and flourish, let’s admit one more thing. Let’s admit that the occupation which they are increasing daily, we – with all our important efforts – can’t stop from here. The occupation is part of the same ideological infrastructure on which the ethnic cleansing of 1948 was built, for which the Arabs of Kufr Qassem were massacred [in 1956], for which lands are confiscated in both the Galilee and the West Bank, for which detentions and killings without trial are committed. The most murderous manifestation of this ideology occurs now in Greater Jerusalem and the West Bank. In order to stop the extension of these war crimes, the extension of this criminal behavior, let’s admit that we need external pressure on the State of Israel. Let’s thank the associations of journalists, physicians and academics who call for a boycott on Israel as long as this criminal policy continues. Let us use the help of civil society in order to make the State of Israel a pariah state, as long as this behavior continues. So that we here, everybody who belongs and who wants to belong to this country, could conduct a constructive and fruitful dialogue.
The aim should be to create a political structure which will once and for all absolve us from the need to live under a conflict, and make it possible to build a better future. Thank you.
Zalman Amit: I give the floor to Uri Avnery.
Uri Avnery: It is a great privilege to speak to such an audience, in which there are many veterans of the struggle for peace.
This is not a gladiatorial fight to the death in a Roman arena. Ilan Pappe and me are partners in the struggle against the occupation. I respect his courage. We are in a common struggle but we have a sharp debate about the way to win it. What do we debate about?
We have no debate about the past. I am wholeheartedly willing to sign everything Ilan said on that. There can be no dispute that Zionism, which had implemented a historical project, had also caused a historical injustice to the Palestinian People. There can be no dispute that ethnic cleansing took place in 1948 – though allow me to remark, in parenthesis, that the ethnic cleansing was on both sides, and that there was not a single Jew left residing in whatever territory was conquered by the Arab side.
Occupation is a despicable condition which must be terminated. There is certainly no debate about that. We might have no debate about the far future, either, about what we would like to see happening a hundred years from now. Perhaps we will have a chance to talk about that, too, later this evening.
We do have a debate about the forseeable future. About the solution of the bleeding conflict, within a of range twenty, thirty or fifty years. This is not a theoretical debate. You can’t just say “Live and let live, each according to their beliefs, and let the Peace Movement live in peace.” There can be no compromise between these alternatives, because each of them dictates a different strategy and different tactics. Not the day after tommorow, not tommorow, but here and now.
The difference is important. It is crucial. For example: should we concentrate our efforts in the struggle for the Israeli public opinion, or give up the struggle inside the country and struggle abroad, instead?
I am an Israeli. I stand with both legs on the ground of the Israeli reality. I want to change this reality from one side to the other, but I want this state to exist.
Those who deny the existence of the state of Israel, as an entity expressing our Israeli identity, deny themselves the possibilty of being active here. All their activity here is foredoomed to failure.
A person might despair and say that there is nothing to do, everything is lost, we have passed the point of no return. As Meron Benvenishti said many years ago, the situation is irreversible, we have nothing more to do in this state.
It happens that you sometimes despair. Each one of us had such moments. Despair destroys any chance of action. Despair must not be made into an ideology. I say: there is no place for despair, nothing is lost. Nothing is irreversible, except for life itself. There is no such thing as a point of no return.
I am 83 years old. In my lifetime I have seen the rise of the Nazis and their fall, the peak of the Soviet Union’s power and its sudden collapse. One day before the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was not a single German believing this would happen in his lifetime. The experts did not forsee it – none of them. Because there are subterranean currents which act below the surface, and which nobody sees in real time. That’s why theoretical analyses come true so rarely.
Nothing is lost until the fighters raise their hands in surrender. Hands up is not a solution, nor is it moral. In our situation, a despairing person has three choices: (A) Emigration; (B) Internal Emigration, that is to sit at home and do nothing; or (C) Run away to an ideal world of messianic solutions. The third possibility is the most dangerous, because the situation is critical – especially to the Palestinians. There is no time for a solution which will be implemented in a hundred years. There is needed an urgent solution, a solution which could be implemented within a few years – even if it is not ideal.
I heard people say: Avnery is old, he sticks to old ideas and cannot absorb a new one. And I wonder: A new idea? The idea of a Single Joint State of Jews and Arabs was old when I was a boy. It flourished in the 1930s. Among others, it was inscribed on the banner of the movement whose headquarters we meet in today, Hakibbutz Ha’artzi Movement. But that idea went bankrupt and it was the idea of the Two States which flourished in the new reality.
If I may make a personal remark: I am no historian. I have seen things with my own eyes, heard them with my own ears, felt them as they were happening. As a soldier in the 1948 war, as a newspaper editor for forty years, as a Knesset Member for ten years, as an activist of Gush Shalom. I am in the thick of things, from different and changing points of view. I have my hand on the public pulse.
There are three basic questions about the One State Idea.
First: Is it possible at all.
Second: If it were possible, is it a good idea.
Third: Will it bring a just peace.
About the first question, my answer is clear and unequivocal: No, it is not possible.
Anybody who is rooted in the Israeli-Jewish public knows that this public’s deepest aspiration – and here it is permissable to make a genralization – the far far deepest aspiration is to maintain a state with a Jewish majority, a state where Jews will be masters of their fate. This takes precedence over any other wish and aspitaration, it takes precedence even over wanting to have a Greater Israel.
You can talk of a Single State from the Meditteranean to the Jordan River, define it as bi-national or supra-national – whatever the term used, in practice it means the dismantling of the State of Israel, destruction of all that was built for five generations. This must be said out loud, without any evasions. That is exactly how the Jewish public sees it, and certainly also a large part of the Palestinian public. This means the dismantling of the State of Israel. I am a bit disturbed by the fact that these words are not said explicitly.
We want to change very many things in this country. We want to change its historical narrative, its commonly held definition as “Jewish and democratic.” We want to end occupation outside and discrimination inside. We want to build a new framework in the relations between the state and its Arab-Palestinian citizens. But you cannot ignore the basic ethos of the vast majority of the citizens of Israel. 99.99% of the Jewish public do not want to dismantle the state.
There is an illsusion that you can achieve this by outside pressure. Would outside pressure force this people to give up their state? I suggest a very simple test. Think for a moment about your neightbors at home, colleagues at work, fellow students. Would any of them give up the state because somebody outside demands it? Pressure from Europe, even pressure from the White House? Short of a decisive military defeat on the battlefield, nothing will induce Israelis to give up their state. And if Israel is militarily defeated, our debate will become irrelevant anyway.
The Palestinian People want a state of their own, too. This is needed in order to satisfy their most basic aspirations, the restoration of their national pride and the healing of their trauma. Even the Hamas leaders with whom we spoke want it. Those who think otherwise engage in daydreams. There are Palestinians who speak of a Single State, but for most of them this is simply a code word for the dismantling of Israel. And even they know it is an utopia.
There are those who delude themselves that if they speak of a bi-national state, that would frighten the Isralis so much that they will immediately consent to the creation of a Palestinian State at the side of Israel. But the result will be the opposite. This frightens the Israelis, that’s true – and pushes them into the arms of the right-wing. This arouses the sleeping dog of ethnic cleansing. About this I agree with Ilan: this dog is sleeping, but it is still there.
All over the world, the trend is opposite: not the creation of multi-national states but on the contrary the division of states into national units. This week the elections in Scotland were won by a party seeking to separate from Britain. The French-speaking minority in Canada is always hovering on the point of secession. Kosovo is about to become independent of Serbia. The Soviet Union broke into pieces, and Chechnia seeks to separate from Russia. Yugoslavia fell apart. Cyprus fell apart. The Basques want independence. In Sri Lanka there is a civil war, as in Sudan. In Indonesia the seams are coming apart in a dozen places.
There is no example in the world of two different peoples voluntarily agreeing to live in one state. There is no example in the world, except for Switzerland, of a really functioning bi-national or multi-national state. And the example of Switzerland, which has grown for hundreds of years in a unique process, is the exception which proves the rule.
After 120 years of conflict, after a fifth generation was born into this conflict on both sides, to move from total war to total peace in a Single Joint State, with a total renunciation of national independence? This is total illusion.
How is this supposed to be implemted in practice? Ilan did not talk about it. This worries me. I suppose it should look like this: The Palestinans will give up their independence struggle and their wish for a national state of their own. They will announce that they want to live in a Single Joint State. After that state is created, they would have to struggle in its framework for their civil rights. Many good people around the world will support that struggle, as they did in the case of South Africa. Israel will be boycotted. Israel will be isolated. Millions of refugees will return to the country, until the wheel turns a full circle and the Palestinians assume power.
If that was possible at all, how much time would it take? Two generations? Three genrations? Four generations? Can anybody imagine how such a state would function in practice? An inhabitant of Bil’in paying the same taxes as an inhabitant of Kfar Sava? Inhabitants of Jenin and of Netanya together formulating a constitution for the state? The inhabitants of Hebron and the Hebron settlers serving side by side in the same army, the same police, obey the same laws? Is this realistic? This is not realistic today, nor would it be realistic tomorrow.
There are those who say: It already exists. Israel alreay rules one state from the sea to the river, you only need to change the regime. So, first of all: Tthere is no such thing. There is an occupying state and an occupied territory. It is far easier to dismantle a settlement, to dismantle settlements, to dismantle ALL the settlements – far easier than to force six million Jewish Israelis to dismantle their state.
No, the Single State would not come about. But let us ask ourselves – should it somehow be erected, would that be a good thing? My answer is: absolutely not.
Let’s try to imagine this state – not as ideal creation of the imagination, but as it might be in reality. In this state the Israelis will be dominant. They have an enormous dominance in nearly all spheres: standard of living, military power, level of education, thechnological capacity. Israeli per capita income is 25 times – 25 times! – that of the Palestinians, 20,000 dollars per year compared to 800 Dollars a year. In such a state the Palestinians will be “cutters of wood and hewers of water” for a long, long time.
It will be occupation by other means, a disguised occupation. It will not end the historical conflict, but just move it to a new stage. Would this solution bring about a just peace? In my view, exactly the opposite. This state would be a battlefield. Each side will try to take over a maximum of land. Bring in a maximum number of people. The Jews would fight by all possible means in order to prevent the Palestinians from gaining a majority and taking power. In practice, it would be an Apartheid state. And if the Arabs do become a majority and seek to gain power democratically, there would start a struggle which might reach the scale of a civil war. A new version of 1948.
Also those who support this solution know that this struggle would last several generations, that a lot of blood might be shed and that there is no knowing the result. It is an utopia. In order to achieve it, you need to replace the people – perhaps the two peoples. To produce a new kind of human being. This is what the Communists tried to do, in the early years of the Soviet Union. Also the founders of the Kibbutz. Unfortunately, you can change many things, but humans don’t change their basic nature.
Precisely a beautiful utopia can bring about terrible results. In the vision of “The Wolf lying down with the Sheep” there would be needed a new sheep every day. The Two State Solution is the only practical solution, the only one which is within the bounds of reality. It is ridiculous to say that this idea was defeated. In the most important sphere, the sphere of consciousness, it is growing ever stronger.
After the war of 1948, when we raised that banner, we were a small handful, which could be counted on the fingers of a single hand. Everybody denied the very existence of a Palestinian People. I remmeber how, in the 1960s, I was running around Washington, talking with people in the White House and the National Security Council. Nobody wanted to hear of it. Now, there is a world-wide concensus that this is the only solution. The United States, Russia, Europe, the Israeli public opinion, the Palestinian public opinion, the Arab League. You should grasp what this means: the entire Arab World now supports this solution. This has enormous importance for the future.
Why did it happen? Not becauase we are so clever and talented that we convinced the whole world. No. The internal logic of this solution is what conquered the world. True, some of the declared adherents are only paying lip service. It is quite possible that they use it to distract attention from their true purposes. Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert pretended to be supporters of this idea, while their true intention was to prevent the abolition of the occupation. But precisely the fact that such people need to resort to such a pretence, that they are now outwardly committed to it, exactly that proves that they realize it would be futile to go on fighting it. When all peoples, the whole world, recognize that this is the practical solution, it would finally be implemented.
The parameters are well-known, and about them too there is a worldwide agreement.
One: A Palestinian State will be created, side by side with Israel.
Two: The border between them will be based on the Green Line [pre-1967 border], possibly with agreed excahnges of territory.
Three: Jerusalem will be the capital of both states.
Four: There will be an agreed solution to the refugee problem – meaning that an agreed number will return to Israel, and the others will be absorbed in the Palestinian State or in the present places of habitation while getting generous compensations, for example like what the Germans paid us.
I am not against asking the refugees. Let us put on the table the solution which will be agreed upon – a detailed, clear solution, so that each of the refugees would know the choices they could make – and ask them. Neither Ilan nor me can speak authoritatively in the name of the refugees. (I did talk with some refugees in Lebanon when I was there, at the time of Sharon’s previous adventure.)
In my view the great majority of refugees, if you give them the compensations they truly deserve, the great majority would prefer to stay where they are. Because they live there for sixty years already, their sons and dughters got married there, they have opened businesses there.
I think there will remain a problem of some hundreds of thousands for whom a solution will have to be found, and I am in favor of us being full partners and finding a solution. I also don’t think it would be so difficult. When everything else is solved and only the Refugee Problem is left on the table, the public wil agree to a compromise. I think that is a country which already has a million and quarter Arab Palestinian citizens – and I think it is good that there are – some addition will not make a big difference.
Five: There will be an economic partnership between the two states, in whose framework the Palestinian Government will be able to defend the interests of the Palestinian People, unlike the present situation. The very existence of two states will to some degree diminish the gap in the imbalance between the two sides. This imbalance exists. We can complain about it, we can cry salty tears about it, but this balance exists – and we need to find a solution in the real existing world, not in an imaginary world which we would have liked to come into existence. We have to find a solution in the real world.
Six: In the longer range, there should be a Middle-Eastern Union on the European model, which might eventually include also Turkey and Iran.
There are big obstacles. They are real. Real obstacles can be overcome. They are as nothing – I want to emphasize this – they are as nothing compared with the obstacles on the way to a Single State. I would say that it is in the order of one to thousand. Opting for the One State since it is diffcult to gain the Two States is like being unable to beat a lightweigt boxer and therefore choosing to contend with a heavyweight; or failing to run a hundred metres, and therefore shifting to the marathon; or being unable to attain the peak of Mont Blanc, and therefore trying the Everest instead.
There can be no doubt that the One State Idea gives its holders a moral satisfaction. Somebody told me: OK, perhaps it is not realistic but it is moral. This is where I want to stand. I respect this, but I say: this is a luxury we can’t afford. When we deal with the fate of so many people, a moral position which is not realistic is immoral. It is important to repeat this: a moral stance which is not realistic in immoral. Because the final result of such a stance is to perpetuate the existing situation
Ilan Pappe: The One State idea does not proceed from despair. There is indeed despair of the political elites, that is true – but no despair of human nature or of civil society. The despair is felt from politicians who sell and commercialize and resell again and again the Two State Solution for sixty years already – and the results are visible on the ground: more occupation, more injustice, greater and ever more systematic violation of human rights and civil rights.
There is hope. You can see it, for example, in the Galilee – where Jews and Arabs live in a region relatively free from state interference.
It is interesting to note that exactly where there is a demographic balance between Jews and Arabs, there are also business partnerships, joint schools, suddenly there is a budding common life of the two nationalities. It turns out that you can fight segregation.
Why is it possible to fight it? Do you know why? Because the idea that nationalism is bound to win around here is the result of manipulation and education – not of human nature. You can educate otherwise.
It’s true – there is an enormous difference between the Two State Solution and the One State Solution. For two states you need politicians, for one state you need educators. Educators are people who don’t expect to see results within a year or two. It can also happen that the educators will not see the results within their lifetime. What Yossi Beilin can’t afford, I can: to die without knowing whether or not the seeds of education for one common state of Jews and Arabs would bear fruit. A politician can’t afford such a thing – not because he wants the conflict to end, but because he does not want his political career to end.
If this unrealistic Two State formula which says that settlements can be dismantled is indeed realizable, who is going to dismantle Gilo? Is anybody going to dismantle Gilo? What are we talking about? And who is going to dismantle Ma’ale Adumim? What are we talking about? What settlements are going to be dismantled? These are not “settlements” in the Israeli public mind which Uri is talking about. Deep, deep in the public consciousness Gilo is an inseparable part of the state of Israel – and if Gilo is not dismantled, it’s no use to talk about two states at all.
If somebody could tell me under which conditions Gilo could be dismantled, I am willing to start again talking of two states. Without that, there is nothing to talk about. An exchange of territory is an invention of Israeli diplomats. No sane Palestinian could accept that, on such a small territory.
The real Two States formula – not the utopian one in which Gilo becomes part of the Palestinian state, but the real Two States formula – is the one which we see being implemented in front of our eyes. It means fifty percent of the West Bank annexed to Israel, and the other fifty percent as a Bantustan surrounded by walls and fences, but with a Palestinian flag. That is the state, with apparently some kind of tunnel connecting it to the other concentration camp which is called the Gaza Strip.
This is what will be signed in a ceremony on the White House lawn, about which the Zionist Peace Camp will come and say: nevertheless, this is a bit better than what we had until now.
We have already seen the results of this kind of thinking .
There is a need for persons who struggle with their society. The kind of person who says to his society: I am sorry, the collective ideological identity which you have chosen is despicable and impossible to maintain. It does not stand the test of Judaism or of common morality.
This idea that Jews have an ethnic preference, ethnic majority, ethnic superiority – for a state which is supposed to represent the victims of the Holocaust. Am I supposed to accept all this because the majority thinks so? Because this is the result of past education? Even if I am left as the only Israeli who thinks otherwise, I will go on saying it!
What are you trying to say? That in the name of the collective consciousness as it was under the Apartheid Regime, it was forbidden for a white person to come and say out loud what certainly did not sound realistic in the 1960s and 1970s – that Apartheid was a despicable ideology?
Zionism is not the ideology of a national movement. It is an ethnic ideology of dispossessing the indigenous people and denying them the possibility of going on living here. If we do not start changing the discourse, the general public certainly will not.
There ARE points of no return in history. Yes, there are points of no return in history. I am sorry to say, Uri, that genocide is a point of no return, an irreversible act. There is no lack of examples.
Let me tell it to you as a historian, there is no lack of historical examples where ethnic cleansing turned into genocide. You should give a thought to the depths of this national consciousness, this Jewish consciousness from which you draw such hope for the implementation of the Two State solution. I don’t like to contemplate these depths, the possible transition from ethnic cleansing to ethnic extermination.
From the audience: Where does it not exist? It is like this all over the world?
Ilan Pappe: I want to tell you the worst of all. If within twenty years we will not come up with an alternative solution, and indeed the Israeli balance of power will stabilize a situation where half of the West Bank will be annexed to Israel and in the other half the people just could not go on sustaining themselves, it is quite possible that we will wipe the Palestinians out of history. It is possible that we will wipe them out of all consciousness – but then the Arab and Muslim World will wipe us out, even if it takes a hundred or two hundred years.
We have to think of a long-term solution, not only in order to end the occupation, not only in order to find a solution for Jews and Arabs in this country, but because the entire future of the Jewish people will be in danger if the Zionist Project will succeed to get itself completed. The Zionist Project will only be completed if the majority of this country will be Jewish, and there will be as few Palestinians as possible.
As to what the refugees want, there is – by the way – a project which tries to check their political will. It is called CIVITAS. If you look at the results, Uri, you will see uncomfortable things. Most of the refugees want to return. Most of the refugees don’t want money.
But perhaps the most important thing which we can see in the process of democratization which is now beginning in the refugee community is that the most important question where they are concerned is not to return or not return, to take compensations or not to take compensations.
The most important question that they ask themselves is: why are we not allowed to take part in defining the future of out homeland.
Not if we return, even if we don’t return – let us take part in the decision! Not only the inhabitants of Jenin and the inhabitants of Jaffa, let us also take part in defining the future of the country!
Ten minutes have passed, so I will say two more sentences.
Is it possible? It is not possible tomorrow, nor is it possible the day after tomorrow. I am sorry to say that it is far more possible that the Zionist Project will succeed to create here a state without Arabs. This is far more possible. It is on the cards, among other things because of the mistake of the peace camp and the support for “Two States for Two Peoples”. Because with the help of the slogan of “Two States for Two Peoples” it is possible to start talking of a transfer of population, it is possible to talk of reducing the Palestinian territory, it is possible to cleanse the Israeli territory of Palestinians. “We are here and they are there” said Ehud Barak. They can also cleanse the Palestinian minority in Israel, in the name of the sublime idea of Two States.
By the way, I don’t think that pressure from the outside is what will finally bring about the creation of one state. That is not what I said. I said that pressure from outside can bring about the end of Israeli military presence in the lives of the Palestinians. But the end of this military presence would not be the end of the conflict.
That was the pipedream of Camp David 2000, that an end to the occupation would be the end of the conflict. No. The end of the occupation would just make possible a real, full, just discussion of the end of the conflict. The end of the conflict in this small country could be brought about on the basis of one joint state.
Historical examples can be cited against it, but contrary historical examples can be also be cited. The same is true for contemporary examples, some can be cited on the one side and others on the contrary side. What is most important is the questions which we ask ourselves – exactly we, who are partners for a joint struggle with the Palestinians. Do we have no partners on the Palestinian side for building here a joint state? Are there no Palestinians in Israel with whom we want to build a joint state? Are there no Jews in Israel with whom we DON’T want to build a joint state? So let us already make the division as between normal Jews and Arabs on the one hand and Jews and Arabs who are bastards on the other side. Let us stop dealing with the nationalist discourse which perpetuates occupation, alienation and oppression. Thank you.
Zalman Amit: Second round, Uri Avnery has ten minutes for a reaction.
Uri Avnery: I am in a bit embarrassing situation – because in the debate between emotion and logic, it is always emotion which gets the applause. In the debate between absolute morality and relative morality, absolute morality gets – and rightly so – the applause.
I have listened attentively to what you said, Ilan, but I also listened attentively to what you did NOT say. You did not say how you can bring about the dismantling of the State of Israel. You did not say how the one state will come about. You did not describe how it will look in reality.
You have described ideal things. Excuse me for making such a comparison,
but you reminded me a little bit of the utopian book “Altneuland” by the Founding Father of Zionism. But we live in reality, and we know how things look in reality. How they can be in reality and what can be created in reality – and that is what counts.
There are many good people in Israel. Many, who do good things. There are a hundred peace organizations and more, each one of which does important things in its own way. There are teachers who educate for Jewish-Arab coexistence, there are kindergartens which start this even earlier in life, all true. But you yourself said that the solution which you propose will not come about in their lifetime. You propose planting an almond tree of which your grandchildren will get to eat.
But God Almighty, all this frightens me terribly. You talk of ethnic cleansing, of the terrible danger of ethnic cleansing. You talk of the terrible dangers which threaten the Palestinian people in the present reality, and I see this situation as darkly as you see it. I am even more somber than you. In this reality, we have no fifty years to wait for a solution!
I said that there can be no compromise between out positions. But let’s offer you a compromise anyway: work with us for the creation of the two states. After the two states will be there, after these dangers would be averted, go on struggling to get them united into a single state.
I say this seriously. Struggle for it that the two states will become one, voluntarily. I personally hope very much – and I talked about that with Arafat, more than once or twice – that between the Israeli state and the Palestinian state there will a kind of federation, a partnership between two states with an open border and a joint economy – of course, with safeguards for the Palestinian economy.
The first time that I met Arafat, during the Siege of Beirut, he talked of a “Benelux” style solution (the older among you would remember Benelux, the united framework of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg).
Arafat meant a triangular alliance of Israel, Palestine and Jordan, and possibly including Lebanon too. During our last meeting, he still talked of that.
This is, indeed, an important and worthy vision. But meanwhile, we have a patient lying in front of us, a severely wounded and bleeding patient. The most urgent thing is to stop the bleeding, to find a solution which is not ideal, which is real and can be implemented.
To end this part of the debate: I don’t think that the Peace Camp was defeated, nor that it failed. There is a far more complicated process going on here. There are things which happen on the ground, and things which happen below the surface.
It is absolutely true: On the ground we see that reality is terrible, that it is even getting worse – if that is possible, and we know that it is always possible. We deal with all that every day.
But below the surface other things are happening.
There was a time when 99% of the Jewish-Israeli public denied the very existence of the Palestinian People – now, nobody speaks like that any more. Once, the big majority opposed the idea of creating a Palestinian state. Now, according to all opinion polls, the great majority in Israel accepts this idea as part of the solution.
When we said that Israel should talk with the PLO, they said we were traitors. Afterwards, the government made an agreement with the PLO. Now we say that there should be talks with Hamas. I am sure that Israel is going to talk with Hamas, and that it will not even take too long before that happens.
We said that Jerusalem was going to be the capital of two states. That was terrible, unacceptable. Jerusalem is the Eternal Undivided Capital of Israel, blah, blah, blah. But when Ehud Barak proposed a kind of partition of Jerusalem – and it does not matter whether he meant iit or not, and precisely what he meant – what was the public reaction? The public was silent.
Something is changing in this country. The changes in the depth of public opinion are vital on the way to the solution. I think we are winning, I think that the historical development is leading in our direction.
It is not easy, the obstacles are enormous. But I am not mindlessly optimistic. I am optimistic on the basis of reality. I think that we will get to the creation of a Palestinian state, side by side with Israel. And I think that Palestine will be a proud national state.
I know that for many people the word “National”, the word “Nationalism”, are dirty words. You can open a big additional debate on that, and take up a whole new evening with it, but I will say only this: anybody who ignores the enormous power of national feeling lives in an unreal world. Reality is nationalist.
National feeling is far too deep to be uprooted from people’s hearts. It will not take a month, nor a year or two. It is a matter for centuries. Even in Europe, sixty years after European unification has started, look at what is happening in the football stadiums. See what happens when national feeling is hurt – even in Europe. Nationalism is an existing fact, which must be taken into consideration.
Ignoring the irrational element in politics is not a rational behavior. Irrationality exists. It is rational to take the irrational into account. We need to think how, despite this irrationality, we can reach a solution which can be lived with.
Zalman Amit: Now we get to the part where I start earning my bread as moderator. I tell you in advance that not all questions can be presented, that would take far more than the fifty minutes allotted to questions and answers, but I will try my best and hope for your help.
The first question is for Ilan, from Moshe Bokai: “UN Resolution 181 is the document on whose basis the State of Israel was declared. That resolution also defined borders for two states. Can anybody but the United Nations abolish that resolution?”
Ilan Pappe: Can anyone but the UN abolish that resolution? Certainly. The Israelis and the Palestinians can abolish this resolution through any joint historical process, if they just want to.
There is no problem. There is nothing sacred about that resolution, nothing – unless you repeat the mistake which was in the base of that resolution. The mistaken idea that, though the country’s original population, 66% of the whole, did not accept a certain solution – nevertheless the International Community and the United Nations felt justified in imposing on the indigenous population a solution which they found unacceptable. Therefore, of course this solution can be abolished. It has no legally-binding status, it has no special status. What will ultimately decide is what the inhabitants who were here and the inhabitants who are here will decide.
Zalman Amit: Another question to you – you talk of a criminal colonialism of the Jewish People, in the form of Zionism. Does that not mean that you deny the rights of the Jewish People in the past, and naturally also today? Does this not mean that there should be no talk of One State for Two Peoples, but just of one state for a single people, the Palestinian People?
Ilan Pappe: I do not deny the right of the Jewish People to a state, as I do not deny the right of the Palestinian People to a state. I do deny the the right of the Jewish People to dispossess the Palestinian People of their homeland. If the political solution which is being proposed would enable the Jewish People to continue dispossessing the Palestinian People, this is not only morally unacceptable – it also means that the conflict would be perpetuated. Therefore, what I seek is a solution which in the final account will enable everybody who lives here to feel that their historical rights are respected, and that their civil and human rights are respected, too. If this sounds like absolute morality, I shudder to think what relative morality would consist of.
Zalman Amit: The next question is for Uri Avnery. Considering that Jews had been persecuted all along their history, does the existence of a state with a Jewish majority not invite a new Holocaust, under the shadow of the Iranian threat?
Uri Avnery: We cannot in this evening devote the time for a detailed discussion of what happened in this country in the past hundred and twenty years. It is a long story, a complicated story, a difficult story, a tragic story – and not one story but two stories, two narratives, an Israeli one and a Palestinian one. Thoroughly analysing it requires a whole evening to itself, or perhaps a week or a month.
We in Gush Shalom, in the brochure which is on the table outside, entitled “Truth against Truth “, have made an effort to write a draft for a joint Israeli-Palestinian narrative about how the conflict was born and developed up to the present. Whoever wants can read it.
About the Iranian Bomb: well, when part of the Jews decided that they want to be a nation and create a state, they took a very grave risk. There had been a traditional Jewish way of life, and it was very simple – when Jews were in danger, they packed their belongings and ran away to another country. They have survived very well that way – perhaps not very well, but they survived that way for two thousand years.
When our ancestors decided to be a nation and create a state, they took a calculated risk. They have gone back to the arena of history, and the arena of history is a dangerous place.
Every people faces dangers. During the Cold War the United States was at every single moment faced with the danger that, in case of a nuclear war breaking out, two hundred million Americans would be killed within five minutes. That is the price of living in history.
I am not afraid of the Iranian Bomb. I think this is mostly a fabricated hysteria, part of the demonization of the Iranian People. Iranians are a normal people, like every other. The Iranian People are no more insane than the Israeli People.
Ilan Pappe: That’s not saying much.
Uri Avnery: True. The Iranian regime is not crazy, even if their president sometimes behaves a bit strange. If they gain a nuclear bomb – not that I wish for that – if they gain a nuclear bomb, they will not use it. They will have a Bomb and we will have a Bomb. They will not use theirs because they will know the price, and we will not use ours because we will know the price. We will live in danger like many other nations live under various dangers.
The greatest danger is the manipulation of the Holocaust. Anybody who mentions the Holocaust in any political context should be condemned. By the way, if you want a direct testimony about Iran, read what this guy said who this week landed by mistake in Teheran and was treated like a prince – though they knew he was Israeli.
Zalman Amit: Stay there a moment, there is another question addressed to you – from Rami Nashef of the Machsom news website – How would you define the status of Arab citizens in a Jewish state which is part of the Two State Solution. Would Arab Knesset Members be expecting a future like that of Azmi Bishara now?
Uri Avnery: I live in this state from its first day, and from its first day I objected to its being defined as ” A Jewish State”. I don’t know what that means. I don’t know what is a Jewish state. Nobody ever explained to me what is a Jewish state. For ten years of being in the Knesset I never was in any serious discussion defining what is a Jewish state.
What is it? A state expressing Jewish values? A state based on the Jewish religion? A state in which there is a Jewish majority? A state belonging to all the Jews in the world, eleven million people – some of whom are part of the American nation, while others are part of the French nation (and have voted this week for Sarcusi)? What is a Jewish state?
Many years ago, when I was still on speaking terms with Ariel Sharon, we had a very intense debate on this exact point – is this a Jewish state or an Israeli state. I am part of a group of citizens who lodges and appeal to the Supreme Court to remove the definition “Nationality: Jewish” from our identity cards and replace it with “Nationality: Israeli”. Therefore, for me this question is almost irrelevant.
The Arab document which was recently published in Nazareth is to a great degree acceptable to me. I think it is a basis for serious discussion.
Earlier, I said that there should be set out a new framework for the relations between the state and its Arab citizens. I think that discussion of this new basis can start from this document. I can only flatter its authors.
Zalman Amit: I have two questions for Ilan. The first one in fact consists of three small questions by Yehezkel Dolev – When did the longing for Zion and the desire to resettle the country start; are the Arabs in Eretz Yisrael the descendants of the Philistine People who were three thousands ago exterminated by King Saul and King David; and does the Koran contain any mention for the rights of the Jewish People over the Holy Land?
Ilan Pappe: The ideal of a Jewish longing for Zion, as a national vision, begins in 1882 – with some precursors a few years earlier.
Are the Palestinians of today descendants of people exterminated by King Saul? Look, I have encountered two interesting encyclopedias: The Hebrew Encyclopedia and the Palestinian Encyclopedia. The Palestinian Encyclopedia asserts that the Palestinians are the descendants of Cana’anites, the Hebrew one holds that the Jews here are descendants of the ancient Hebrews. Both assertions are utter bullshit.
About the Koran: no, the Koran does not recognize the right of the Jewish People for this land, nor does it recognize the right of the Palestinian People for this land. The Koran was created in the Seventh Century. At that time there were no Peoples or national movements – and surprisingly, at that time nobody was especially interested in Palestine.
The Koran was mainly concerned with finding a place in the world at the side of two well-established and quite strong Monotheistic religions. In that it succeeded quite well.
In the state which will be established here we will have to take into consideration all these positions: those who think they are descendants of somebody exterminated here three thousand years ago, those consider themselves descended from somebody expelled from here two thousand years ago, and those who think that the have a Divine Promise denied to everybody else. As is well known, the Zionist Movement does not believe in the existence of God, but strongly holds to His having promised this land to the Jews.
Zalman Amit: A question from our common friend Teddy Katz – what gives Jews, who themselves have a sovereign state, any moral, or other authority to impose on the Palestinians a supposedly common state, under conditions defined and dictated by the Jews themselves?
Ilan Pappe: There would have been neither hope not meaning for the idea of a joint, common Jewish-Arab state, if it was solely initiated by a group of Jews. I completely agree with that. I would not have presented myself here, to say what I say, if I had not felt certain that I am representing a common activity of Jews and Palestinians together.
This action must be common, with its basic idea standing in contradiction to the Two States idea. The idea in its base is not that in one part of the country – 80 percent – Jews decide what will happenn, while Palestinians take the decisions for the other 20 percent. No. I want Palestinians and Jews to take together the decisions for a hundred percent of the country.
Zalman Amit: Two questions to Uri Avnery. First, having seen in your lifetime so many phenomena which nobody predicted and nobody believed could happen, why can’t you accept the possibility that the nationalist ideas – Zionist as well as Palestinian – will swiftly pass away like smoke?
Uri Avnery: I do accept the possibility, except for the word “swiftly”. I remember one evening when I sat in a Ramallah restaurant, drank a bit of good arak, ate and drank while surrounded by the good Palestinian people of Ramallah. Feeling elated with the arak I thought: what a wonderful country this could have been, if there was peace. Everybody could have travelled everywhere in the country. I just think – and that is my main difference with Ilan – that it will not happen in a single joint state, because such a single joint state will simply not come into being.
I think that it CAN happen in two states, with each people having a state and a flag. They will have their state and their flag, and we will have our – different – state and flag, and each side will have its own football team, and the border will be open. The people of Ramallah would be able to swim in the Mediterranean, and we could – if we want – bath in the Jordan River.
These will not be mutually hostile states. Hostile states would not come into being, because the Two State solution can only be implemented with the agreement of both peoples. That, the agreement of both peoples to the proposed solution, was Ilan’s last sentence, and I completely agree with it.
The solution which you propose like the solution which I propose have one thing in common: neither could be implemented except with the common consent of Israelis and Palestinians. Anything but that would mean either the destruction of Israel or the perpetuation of Israeli occupation.
This solution or that, the one you consider realistic and the one I consider to be such – both need the consent of both peoples. And if you want to include the refugees in the decision, too, I am certainly not opposed to that. I think that any reasonable overall solution should provide the refugees with a reasonable solution for their problem. It would not be an ideal solution, but they would be able to live with it. We will place on the table the solution agreed on in negotiations, and they will approve it.
Zalman Amit: Uri, the next question – what if in the far future the number of Palestinians in Israel will exceed fifty percent, how will the State of the Jews be preserved then?
Uri Avnery: When the State of Israel was created, there were in it twenty percent Arab citizens. Now, after sixty years, there are still twenty percent Arab citizens. This is a statistical miracle, considering the enormous birth rate of the Muslim Arab citizens (the Christian Arabs have a lower birth rate than the Jews).
I think that what you speak about will not happen, but if it does – God will provide. If it happens in fifty years, the demographic balance will no longer be so important. It is not completely indispensable that there will always be four Jewish citizens for every Arab one. What we need to do now is push the demographic demon back into the bottle. At this moment it is a national feeling which cannot be dispensed with, but if after fifty years of common life in the State of Israel the demographic balance will change, than it will change. Many things change in the world.
In America, too, there is such a process. If fifty years ago somebody would have told the Americans: let’s create here a Hispanic majority, an uprising would have broken out. But later the Hispanics came and slowly increased, and quite soon there will be more Hispanics than White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. There are things which change in the course of a lifetime, there are natural processes, which should not be opposed.
In this debate we are talking about today, about the present consciousness of both peoples, on the solution which both peoples must achieve today, tomorrow, or the morning of the day after tomorrow. So, I am not among the people disturbed by this question.
Zalman Amit: Another question, a bit connected to the earlier one – if there will be two states, where will the Israeli Arabs be? In which one of them?
Uri Avnery: I would like to draw your attention to a very interesting phenomenon, which is hardly talked about. Some Fascists, Lieberman as well as Effie Eitam, have come up with a revolutionary proposal, a supposedly humane proposal. The Arabs in the towns and villages of the “Triangle” area of Israel will stay where they are, but the entire region will be transferred to the Palestinian state which will be created – and in exchange, the settlers will be annexed to Israel. Not a single Arab citizen of Israel had come forward to support this. Not a single one. Also not my friend Azmi Bishara.
Think about what this means. The great majority of the Arabs in Israel are nationalist Arabs. They are proud of being part of the Palestinian People, but they want to go on being citizens of Israel. Even as a minority.
Zalman Amit: One more question, then I pass the floor to Ilan. What does it mean a struggle abroad? Is the struggle not here, on the land which we live on – not for a state abroad. And in continuation, in English: “You may say I am dreamer, but I am not the only one”? [English in the original].
Uri Avnery: I am a dreamer too [English in the original], but I try to dream dreams which can be implemented.
My reference to -a struggle abroad- was not a reaction to something which Ilan said here tonight, but to something which was said by another activist – also an Israeli Jew – at a very intense debate which we had on this subject a month ago, at a conference in Ramallah. He said something like: the struggle inside the country is lost. Israeli public opinion cannot be influenced. The entire struggle is redundant, completely without any chance. What we, the Israeli Peace Movement, should do is to move abroad and influence the international public opinion to pressure Israel, impose an international boycott on Israel, and so forth.
I think that our struggle is here, our battlefield is here. The Peace Movement should wage its struggle here. All of us, by the very act of conducting a daily activity here, confirm the fact that our battlefield is here.
I oppose the opinion that Israelis can, by acting abroad to encourage international pressure, positively influence the Israeli public opinion.
In one of the debates Adam Keller asked: The Palestinians live in terrible misery, and the entire world is monstrously boycotting them to the point of starvation in order to force them to give up their dreams – and nevertheless they do not yield. How, then, can you expect the Israeli public, which is a thousandfold times stronger economically, to yield to outside pressure?
I have yesterday received an interesting letter from a man who had participated in the struggle at South Africa. There are those who claim that south Africa can serve as our model. I think that there is no similarity between the two problems.
This man, evidently an expert on South African issues, is the opinion that it is wrong to attribute the fall of Apartheid mainly to the effects of the international sanctions. He considers the boycott as rather marginal, the decisive factor being the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Simply put, America had for many years supported the dastardly Apartheid regime, because of regarding it as a stronghold in the struggle against Communism. With Communism off the scene, the US had no further interest in propping up such a regime in South Africa, and it immediately collapsed.
American-Israeli relations are an important subject in itself, but those who expect the United States’ attitude to Israel to change within a few years do not understand the ideological depths of the American-Israeli connection.
The American national narrative is parallel to the Israeli one. There is the Jewish Lobby. There is the enormous power of the Evangelists, 80 million fanatics who believe that we are placed here in the Holy Land in order to implement their Messianic dreams. There is no similarity.
Zalman Amit: Two questions to Ilan, one shorter and one longer. The first one is in English: “Do you agree that there is irreversible contradiction between a Jewish state and a democratic state?” [English in the original].
Ilan Pappe: Yes. I think there is a clear contradiction between a Jewish State and a Democratic State. I think there is also an inherent contradiction between democratic ideals and having a Jewish State at the side of a Palestinian State. I share the position of Uri, that we would not want to see the [Arab Israeli] communities of Wadi Ara being forcible annexed to a Palestinian state, we all rightly protest this idea. But it is very interesting to note the position taken by the inhabitants of places like Eastern Bak’ah. Read the Palestinian press about this. They say: look how Zionism had won! Our friends in Bak’ah Al Garbiya, Western Bak’ah, think that it would be a disaster to live again in a united town of Bak’ah, because that would mean that they – Israeli citizens – would become part of the the West Bank [where eastern Bak’ah is located]. This is what zionism has done. It has created separated Palestinian identities. As if one type of Palestinians with one kind of identity can have a place only in the Palestinian state which Gush Shalom is offering, while another type of Palestinians will live in democratic Israel.
There is an inherent contradiction between the Two States idea and the idea of Democracy. Not because there is any possibility of Palestinians being fifty percent in Israel, Uri. Ethnic cleansing will start long before they get that far, it could start when they are just 23 percent. I don’t want to rely on the medical miracle which you believe in. You spoke about how wonderful it is that the Palestinians, though most of them are Muslims, have not passed the 20 percent level. How will it go on? Shall we send inspectors to make sure that they never will pass the 20 percent level? Go into bedrooms? Do you start realizing where you get when this the basis of your mental structures? We are dealing with something of which only one other people in history dealt with concerning the Jewish People.
To start counting how many Jews there are and how many Arabs. Even with a Two states solution, we will not for one moment stop counting how many Arabs there are in this country. Because otherwise, what is the whole idea of having such a state? If it would not be a Jewish State, why not have already a joint state?
Zalman Amit: Dr. Hemi Yehezkel asks if in your view, in the Israeli- Palestinian conflict all the badness and evil are on the Israeli side. He wants an answer in one word, if possible.
Ilan Pappe: if he wants one-word answers let him go to a court of law. With all due respect, I will ignore this request. And for the questions itself: No, badness and evil are not entirely on the Israeli side. There is quite a lot of them on the Palestinian side. You might not believe it, but they are human beings, too. They have perpetrated massacres, they have hurt innocent civilians, they did many stupid things which hurt themselves as well as others. The thing is that even they don’t deserve what Zionism did to them.
Therefore, Uri, the story is not complicated – unlike what you say and what is written in this brochure prepared by Gush Shalom. The story here is a simple story, a story of white people who were persecuted in Europe and who drove away the black people who used to live here. It happened in many places. The difference is that here the white people stayed, and surprisingly the black people who are left here are willing to build a single state together with them. So, we should be grateful to them for that, rather than start accusing them again and look for ways of locking them into impossible enclosures.
Zalman Amit: Ladies and Gentlemen, the time allotted for questions is over, and I can assure you that if we had wanted to take all the questions posed we would have needed another another hour and half at least.
There was still left one question of Dr. Yehezkeli, to Uri Avnery. Also of you he asks a short answer. He asks you if a Palestinian national Movement really exists – that is, a movement of people who declare themselves as belonging to the Palestinian Nation, or who appeal to the Palestinian Nation to declare itself as being separate from the Arab Nation. He asks for a one-word answer.
Uri Avnery: In one word, the answer is “perhaps”. Look, the issue of Palestinian Nationalism and its relation to Arab Nationalism is very complicated. To very much oversimplify: there is a specific Palestinian National Movement, within the larger, All-Arab National Movement. In the Arab language there are different words. There is “Watan”, which should be translated as “Nation”; and there is “Umma”, which is linguistically the same word as the Hebrew word for “Nation”, but which actually refers to the entire Arab World, or sometimes to the entire Muslim World.
How did a Palestinian Nation form here? Golda Meir had said that there is no such thing as a Palestinian People, and many had said it before. The specific Arab-Palestinian National Movement took form in this country, following the Zionist attack on the Arab people who lived in the country then.
The fate of the Arab People here was ever since then completely different from that of the Arab People in Syria, Lebanon or Egypt.
Here, a completely different problem was created. Here, the Palestinian People found itself faced with a formidable movement which progressively took over the country.
I define this historic, tragic and painful conflict (to whose Jewish side I am also sensitive) as a collision between an unstoppable force and an immoveable mass.
It is, in my view, not a completely one-sided story. When you, Ilan, show high sensitivity to the injustice done to the Palestinians, I accept this fully and more than fully. But when you completely ignore the fact that there is a Jewish side to that story, I don’t think this is true. And it is also not useful.
You could not effect the Jewish-Israeli public if you have no sensitivity to what this public thinks, to its fears and anxieties. All this exists. It exists, and you must take it into account, if you want to influence these people. Also to influence in your direction, also to bring six million Israelis to dismantle this state and accept a common state with another nation – a nation which they now hate and fear.
If you want to influence the Israeli public, you must understand these fears, understand where they come from. Only if we look at both peoples, see them at every moment of our struggle, see their anxieties and aspirations – only then do we have a chance of succeeding.
Zalman Amit: With your permission, I will go over to the final round, five minutes’ summations. Ilan, please.
Ilan Pappe: We said what needed to be said, and there should be no repetitions. Of course, the solution must contain the anxieties as well as the aspirations of both Jews and Arabs. I quite agree.
That is precisely what I think that the kind of political structure which was proposed in the past sixty years is a failure. Because it does not answer the aspirations of the people on both sides. That is the reason why the Peace Camp failed. Because its proposed solution does not answer the fears, does not dissipate the anxieties. Neither those of the Jews nor those of the Palestinians. Exactly the opposite.
This solution – the only solution, the only purpose for which the International Community is willing to pressure the sides, the only one which the Quartet is willing to go for – this solution only increases the anxieties, drives the fears deeper and deeper, increases the hatred, causes ever higher waves of violence. We have no time to try another ten years of this solution, another Road Map and another Oslo Agreement.
The Palestinians in the Territories don’t have enough people to pay for the continuing failures of the political elites which lead the Two States move.
It is always the occupier, the dispossessor, the oppressor who claims that the story is complicated. The victim always says: In fact, it is not so complicated. You have taken my home, you imprison me, you don’t let me breath – all this does not sound complicated to mme. It is hard, it is terrible and horrible, but it is not complicated. The occupier says: it is complicated, it is far more complicated, you have to understand also my side. The side of the occupier is something to which we will show understanding when the occupation is over – not a minute before.
There is another thing. Do we decide – and we must decide – what kind of game it is that we are playing. If as Uri says, we are really out to satisfy national feelings, then tell me, Uri: what National Movement which you know about would have concluded that now is the time to lay aside the Kalachnikov gun and the bomb, to end the struggle, because we have gotten the most realistic and normal solution which a national movement can ask for: twenty percent of the homeland. Let’s end the struggle, we got twenty percent!
True,these twenty percent are divided in two. True, ten percent of the twenty percent are divided again, in five. True, we are not really politically independent, even less do we have control over our economy, and the refugees have nowhere to return to. But how lucky it is that we are thinking in nationalist terms!
This, yes this is the Palestinian Nation State. This is what we fought for, for twenty percent of the soil. How can anybody speak in nationalist terms and not offer the Palestinians at least fifty percent of their homeland! What Palestinian will sit down with you, except the well-fed elites of Ramallah?
Now, you say: let’s agree about creating the Two States, and from there go on to building the Single State. Except that I, just like you, am afraid for what will happen within the Israeli State. Because it is clear that if we are talking not only in national terms but also in pragmatic political terms, we want – and you say we have a strong chance – to succeed in convincing the Israeli society of something which it is capable of accepting, not to talk to Israelis of a version which is beyond their comprehension. Fine.
We know what is the element in the Two States Solution which appeals to Israelis: “We are Here, They are There”. We can’t include the Arab in the “Here”, he does not fit in. Because then Yossi Beilin will correctly ask you: If you speak in nationalistic terms, why should the Palestinians have a state to themselves “there”, while “here” there would be a state with Arabs as well as Jews? Where is the logic in this? And the only logic which barely works is the logic of keeping the Palestinian inhabitants permanently at the twenty percent level.
When they pass above that level, even the most fanatic supporters of the Two States Solution will say that the principle of keeping an absolute Jewish demographic majority takes precedence over any other principle – also over Democracy or Human Rights or Civil Rights.
Anybody who supports the Two States Solution would not be able to refute this logic.
In summation, I agree with you that we have two agendas: a long term, principled agenda, and an immediate, vital; emergency agenda. I agree to that. The emergency agenda is to put an end to the Israeli oppression in the Occupied Territories.
But to come and say to achieve this is a struggle from the inside? To say this, after forty years of occupation? Are you trying to convince us that the Great Israeli Peace Camp is the force which would put an end to the daily Israeli crimes in the Occupied Territories? Or even the Palestinian National Movement? Is that what you learned from the past forty years?
Did the internal forces succeed in ending the occupation? Did they avert one day of occupation? Of injustice? Of oppression?
There is no National Movement which achieved its aim, no injustice to which and end was put, without a serious involvement of the outside world. There never was. We need the outside world in order to end the occupation. We need public opinion in Europe, in the United States. After forty years we have the right to say that we need an outside pressure on Israel in order to end the occupation, that we don’t want to wait for another forty years.
We have the right to say this. The inside and the outside – each has its own role to play. International public opinion has its role to play, and outside government have their role – just as the internal Israeli struggle and the internal Palestinian struggle have their own roles.
There is only one way to deal with a regime like the Israeli regime, which is based on an ideology which creates a separation between the Jewish population and the local population – a population whose cleansing started in 1948 and never stopped for a single day since then. There is only one way of conveying that the message that this ideology does not pay, that the occupation is too expensive to sustain. The only way is a clear message from conscientious people, of peace movements all over the world.
Israel should get the same message which was delivered to South Africa: “You will stay a pariah state as along as you continue committing these crimes”. This is an important message, a message which should be supported. It does not contradict the Palestinian struggle, it does not contradict the peace struggle. On the contrary, it strengthens these struggles, it gives it a chance. Without that, the first victims will be the Palestinians but we too will be victims, everybody in this room.
Uri Avnery: The issue is not to do one thing and stop doing another thing.
We need to make a simple strategic choice: where do we direct our main thrust. Nobody is saying: don’t go to international conferences. I do that all the time. Nobody says: don’t talk to the international public opinion. I talk to the international public opinion every week. The question is where the Israeli Peace Movement should direct its main thrust, its main effort. Where is its main battlefield. I say, unequivocally: that is here, in this country.
As to outside pressures: there are pressures which can help, and there are pressures which might cause damage, even grave damage.
If the outside pressure would be of such a kind as to make normal, sane Israelis feel that the entire world is ganging up on us because we are Jews, this pressure will bring an opposite result. If the pressure will be selective, if the boycott will be focused on bodies which support the occupation and take part in it, then it would be excellent. I am all for that. In fact, Gush Shalom pioneered this way, calling already ten years ago for boycott of settlement products.
Occupation will not end without peace. We have to see that in the most clear way possible: there is no way of putting an end to all this injustice, of ending the occupation, except in the framework of peace.
This was clear from the first moment, and is clear also now.
That is why it is so important to reach peace quickly. It is possible and realistic. Without achieving peace, the occupation will go on and on and on, and your plan will achieve the exact opposite of what you hope for.
Therefore, formulating a clear peace plan, which has a chance to be accepted, is not a theoretical matter.
You should be careful about the use of words. Sometimes, people throw words whose meaning they don’t understand. For example, “Bantustan”. In South Africa there were blacks who became agents of the racist regime, who took upon themselves to manage regions which were nothing but Apartheid concentration camps.
To say that the Palestinians who seek a state of their own are like the black servants of the racist regime – that is a terrible insult to the Palestinian People. The Palestinian People have risen up in two intifadas, they have shown in countless struggles that they do not yield to the occupation. You can defame Yasser Arafat as much as you want, but he was the national leader of a fighting people. Also today I think that signing the Oslo Agreement was a right decision for the Palestinians to take. That is hotly debated. But to say that the Palestinians who seek to create a state of their own are Israeli agents, like the heads of the South African Bantustans, is very insulting and very incorrect. There might be one person among the Palestinians today who might take up a role similar to that of the Bantustan leaders – and even about him I am not sure.
Demographic problems exist in many countries. Israel is not the only country which wakes up and rushes to count births. There had been elections in France just now, of which the main issue was the increase of the Muslim population in the country. There is in the United states an enormous debate about the Blacks and Hispanics, with demographic calculations being made all the time.
For myself, I reject any demographic way of thinking. I would say that politics plus demographics equals Fascism. Every thinking based on demographic calculations reeks of Fascism. Let’s meet again in a hundred years and see how the composition of the population in this country has developed.
Ilan Pappe: You should make some plans for a shorter range.
Uri Avnery: Let me tell you what I find most frightening in your proposal, more than anything else. You say that the Two States Solution is inherently bad and should be rejected. Your alternative is a solution which 99 percent of Jewish Israelis do not want, and which has no chance to be accepted. What does that leave? It leaves the slogan of the Israeli right wing: that there is no solution to this conflict.
That is what I am afraid of: of those who say that “There is no solution to the conflict”, the conflict will last forever, that it is our fate to suffer an eternity of it. This is what I am afraid of, because it can serve as justification to all horrors, up to and including ethnic cleansing.
To sum up: I am not pessimistic. I am optimistic. I think that nearly everything is possible. The one thing which is not possible to convince the Israelis to dismantle the state of Israel. This simply will not happen, not under any conceivable set of circumstances, even in situations which go beyond the most wild imaginations. It will not happen in the forseeable future. Well, it might happen beyond the forseeable future. For me, personally, that is not so interesting.
From the audience: It is the default option. There will be a Single State, whether we like it or not.
Uri Avnery: A single state means the dismantling of the State of Israel. The adherents of this idea should say this loud and clear. You cannot walk around on a tiptoe and wrap it in a million disguises. What is up for discussion on the table the existence of the State of Israel. Nothing else. If anybody here has found the way how to convince six million Israelis to dismantle the State of Israel for which five generations had fought, I raise my hat to them.
There is no such way. There are two things which we did not hear today, and I want to repeat them in the hope that they will remain engraved on your memories: First, we did not hear how a Single State will come about. Second, we did not hear what will be the situation in the Single State. These are two things for which you need to get a clear answer in order to convince anybody of this idea.
As I said, I am optimistic. I believe that the Two States Solution will be implemented. I think it is a solution for the forseeable future.
In any case, I have promised myself to stay alive until it happens.
Zalman Amit: This is not the end of this debate, in the larger sense, but the time has come to conclude this evening’s event. Thank you all for being an excellent audience. Good Evening.