The joint presentation by Ali Abunimah and Avi Shlaim constitutes the inaugural Edward Said Memorial Lecture, initiated by the Palestine Center.
Dr. Avi Shlaim is professor of international relations at Oxford Univeristy, Mr. Ali Abunimah is a Palestine Center Fellow, author and journalist, and co-founder of the Electronic Intifada.
The lectures deal with whether a one state or two-state solution would bring peace, justice and security for Palestinians and Israelis. Ali Abunimah's talk focuses on the question of, in Abunimah's words:
"why ever since I started talking about a one state solution, I encountered time and again the claim that the two-state solution is the easiest, most natural, most obvious outcome. And I wanted to talk about why that assumption is made."
Avi Shlaim talks in favor of the two-state solution.
A few words about the Palestine Center, a project of the Jerusalem fund.
Here is a description of it, taken off of the Jerusalem Fund website:
"The Palestine Center's purpose is to bring together people and resources within the American and Palestinian communities to educate about Palestine and the Palestinian people's ongoing quest for sovereignty on their land, civil and political rights and an end to Israeli occupation.
The need for such an organization can be found in the effects of the economic, cultural and political oppression Palestinians have endured and which continues on a daily basis in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the surrounding refugee camps and for Palestinians world-wide as they struggle to retain their homeland.
Occupation is an economic and political determinant as much as a social and psychological barrier to self-determination. Palestinians' ability to maintain their daily lives, build a strong civil society and participate in their democratic political system depends on international, humanitarian and non-governmental organizations such as the Palestine Center."
For more information, visit http://www.thejerusalemfund.org/aboutus.php
"Palestinians and Israelis: Two states or one state?"
Edited Transcript of Remarks by Dr. Avi Shlaim, Mr. Ali Abunimah, Dr. Mounzer Sleiman and Dr. Subhi Ali
"For the Record" No. 302 (3 October 2008)
On 18 September 2008, The Palestine Center held its first annual Edward Said Memorial Lecture with a discussion over whether a one state or two-state solution would bring peace, justice and security for Palestinians and Israelis.
The Palestine Center
18 September 2008
Dr. Subhi Ali:
Ladies and gentleman, on behalf of the Board of Directors and staff of The Palestine Center, I would like to welcome you to this important occasion, the inaugural annual Edward Said Memorial Lecture. First, I would like to recognize members from Dr. Said's family who are here. With us is Miriam, his spouse and his sister, Grace. Would you please stand up?
We are one week away from the fifth anniversary of Dr. Edward Said's death. Dr. Said needs no introduction, especially to this group. During the last five years, everything that could be said and written about Edward was warmly presented to those who had the privilege of knowing him personally and the millions who knew him and heard of him through his voluminous books and what had been written about him. [University of Exeter Professor of History] Ilan Pappe, a friend of Edward's and The Palestine Center, summarized it best when he wrote for the first anniversary of Edward's passing about the various Edwards we knew. And I quote, "He was the literal critic, a cultural philosopher, the voice of Palestine and compass of humanism." It couldn't be said better.
Today, we at The Palestine Center initiate and dedicate an annual memorial lecture, in today's case a symposium, in honor of Dr. Edward Said. The five years since Edward died witnessed the revival of the discussion of the one state versus the two-state solution for Palestine. Today's symposium will be moderated by Dr. Mounzer Suleiman who will introduce this extraordinary panel and moderate the program.
Dr. Mounzer Suleiman is an independent political military analyst with expertise in U.S. national security affairs. He's an independent media consultant and a frequent commentator and analyst with more than 25 years of experience in Middle East diplomacy and media relations. Dr. Suleiman is the Washington bureau chief and national security affairs analyst for the Orient News Services, published by The Strategic Center for Arabic and International Studies, in addition to serving as the bureau chief of Al Mustaqbal Al-Arabi Magazine, which is published by the Center for Arab Unity Studies in Lebanon.
I'd like to invite Mounzer and the panel, Dr. Shlaim and Mr. Abunimah, to take their seats. Mounzer, I'd like to turn the program to you.
Dr. Mounzer Suleiman:
Good afternoon. Thank you, Dr. Ali. Again, welcome everyone.
Since Dr. Ali talked a little bit about Edward and this is the inaugural memorial event for him, allow me to also add a few words about Edward. One of the best ways to understand Edward Said's life and contributions is to read an important and compelling collection of interviews conducted with him over the last three decades of his life. They reveal the eloquence and unique voice of a fascinating figure who is an outstanding cultural and political critic. But in the 28 interviews gathered by Gauri Viswanathan, professor of English at Columbia University, from publications here and abroad, Said addresses an extraordinary range of subjects: political, artistic and personal. The passion he feels for literature, music, history and politics is powerfully conveyed in these interviews, which include Said's views on the role of the critic, society, the origins of Orientalism, musical performance, the importance of teaching, the future of Palestine, political correctness and censorship and
the idea of national identity.
In relation to our discussion and panel today in the politics of dispossession, Edward Said describes his support for and skepticism about the tangled history of the Palestinian national movements by saying, "I refuse all inducements to join one of the groups or to work in the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] largely because I felt it was important to preserve my distance. I was a partisan, yes, but a joiner and member, no." His non-partisan approach has meant that while condemning the United States' policies in the Middle East, he was also criticized by some Palestinians who accused him of sacrificing Palestinian rights and making unwarranted concessions to Zionism. He was an unsparing critic of the Oslo Accords on the grounds that they did not adequately recognize Palestinian rights. He advocated a two-state option for the Middle East, thereby recognizing the right of Israel to exist. A policy later adopted by the Palestinian National Council [PNC] in 1988, in time, he
came to believe that the two-state solution in which Palestine and Israel could coexist would be unworkable and argued for a single state in which both people could coexist. While criticizing the totalitarian regimes of much of the Arab world, he also condemned the venality and corruption of the Palestinian Authority [PA]. It's not surprising that Professor Said's politics of secular interpretation has been described as a complicated politics of non-affiliation, irony, detachment, externality, amateurism, self reflexive skepticism and crusty anti-authoritarian defiance. All this led to Said's support for liberal, secular and democratic approaches to the Middle East conflict.
I hope I summarized, a little bit, his opinion. Of course, we all long for the time we could have with him and Mahmoud Darwish and other people who for a long time represented the face of Palestine, the voice of Palestine in many ways.
For our panel today, let me introduce first Mr. Abunimah. He's a Palestine Center fellow, expert on Palestine and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and is the author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Mr. Abunimah is co-founder of the Electronic Intifada, an online publication about Palestine and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Electronic Iraq and Electronic Lebanon. Abunimah has lectured on Palestine at universities and other forums in North America and Europe. His articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Financial Times as well as several English language Arab newspapers. He's a frequent guest on local, national and international radio and television. Mr. Abunimah was born in the United States and grew up in Europe. Both of his parents were born in Palestine—his mother in a village near Jerusalem, an area that is now in Israel, and his father in a village near Bethlehem. He received
his B.A. from Princeton University and Master's degree from the University of Chicago.
Dr. Shlaim is a fellow of Saint Antony's College and professor of international relations at the University of Oxford. In 2006, he was elected fellow at the British Academy. Dr. Shlaim is based at the Middle East Center at Saint Antony's College. His main research interest is in the Arab-Israeli conflict. He's the author of several books, among them The Politics of Partition: War and Peace in the Middle East, A Concise History, The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World and Lion of Jordan: King Hussein's Life in War and Peace. He is coeditor of The Cold War in the Middle East and War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948. Professor Shlaim is a frequent contributor to newspapers and a commentator on radio and television on Middle East affairs.
I'm glad to have them both join us. We'll give the floor to Abunimah.
Mr. Ali Abunimah:
Thank you. I'm triply honored to be here today. The Palestine Center has been a wonderful resource for me to allow me to do my work and research, and for that I thank them. It's an incredible honor to be asked to speak at the first Edward Said Memorial Lecture. It's enormously touching. It's also a great honor to appear with Professor Avi Shlaim whose work has been so great over the years and, who like Edward Said, has been a teacher for many of us. So, for me to appear with him is a great honor.
In 1994, Edward Said wrote—and think of the time we were living in just after Oslo and just after the Gulf War when people felt such a sense of defeat—"It is simply not enough to say that we live in the New World Order which requires pragmatism and realism and that we must shed the old ideas of nationalism and liberation. That is pure nonsense. No outside power like Israel or the United States can unilaterally decree what reality is." I think those words are still apt today when so much seems to be in flux. Certainties that seemed so solid are crumbling rapidly. So, let's modify those words to say that no outside power has the right to unilaterally decree what the future will be, and we should assert our voices in shaping the future that we want to see and to live in.
I'm not going to do what you expect, maybe, which is to justify a one state solution because you've heard me do that many times, some of you, and I will surely do it again. But what I wanted to do is to talk about why ever since I started talking about a one state solution, I encountered time and again the claim that the two-state solution is the easiest, most natural, most obvious outcome. And I wanted to talk about why that assumption is made. Still underlying the logic of the two-state solution is the traditional justification, which has been accepted by the United Nations in 1947, that it may be the lesser evil but at least it would provide finality—definitely separating two hostile ethnic groups whose claims to sovereignty and self-determination in the same territory were irreconcilable. But as [Duke University Professor of Law and Political Science] Donald Horowitz has observed, the only thing partition is unlikely to produce is ethnically homogenous or harmonious states.
Rather, it merely brings about a reordering of heterogeneity; it just mixes things up. And the specific cases of Ireland, Palestine, India and the former Yugoslavia partitions, or the attempt to carry them out, did not end civil conflict as the proponents of partition had hoped. Instead, as [author of Literature, Partition and the Nation-State] Joe Cleary has written, partition has generally served as a watershed, as a decisive realignment not only of commoner forces but of the very terms of the conflict. What was a hot civil war, he observes, is afterwards resumed in slower gear as it were, as a more cautious and protracted cold war between and within states. Moreover, partition has invariably been accompanied by various forms of ethnic cleansing, forced population transfer and coerced assimilation all in the name of producing the supposedly normative conditions of liberal, democratic statehood. And the violence, which is often portrayed as being a transient phenomenon, has
continued chronically and been fundamental to maintaining the arrangement produced by partition.
Despite decades of toil, political scientists and conflict resolution specialists have yet to come up with any robust theory or evidence showing when and where partition could fruitfully be applied without such disastrous results. So in general, partition fell out of favor. Recently, it's come back into fashion, particularly since the early 1990s with the wars in Yugoslavia and again after the 2003 American led invasion of Iraq. So, you have people like [U.S.] Senator [Joe] Biden, for example, proposing partition plans for Iraq. You see in American political science that there's this reemergence of pro-partition literature, which typically takes the form of advice to a powerful government, in this case the United States, on how to intervene in troublesome, local conflicts. And you find that this literature more or less explicitly endorses ethnic cleansing albeit by so-called humane means. In other words, ethnic cleansing is inevitable. So, let's provide the trucks and help with
the resettlement and make it humane. It is rooted in the view that durable ethno-national identities constitute the main explanation in certain kinds of conflicts and that separation is inevitable. The only question is how to achieve it. It's not surprising then that academics and activists concerned about ethical values and rights have increasingly embraced solutions designed to end ethnically demarcated conflicts while avoiding partition or seeking to dissolve the boundaries created by earlier partitions or ethnic cleansing.
The debate has shifted towards which kind of unitary state and there are all kinds of terms in the literature: integrationism, consociationalism and so on. But while an extensive literature exists on how to achieve such unitary solutions in Northern Ireland, Cyprus, the former Yugoslavia, Sri Lanka among many other places, consideration of Palestine as a sight for such an experiment is almost absent except, of course, among a small but ever growing number of scholars who are focused on Palestine-Israel. Edward Said was one of the pioneers in terms of bringing this debate back. Instead, what we find are constant assertions that partition remains not only the best and most practical solution but the only one possible. Often, this claim is made on the grounds of pragmatism and realism; recall Edward Said's words in terms of that. This is despite the fact that Palestine-Israel has much in common with many other well studied cases where partition has been ruled out.
I want to give two examples of this. John McGarry and Brendan O'Leary, two of the leading proponents of power sharing between ethnic groups in divided societies, a form of binational state, are credited with providing a framework for resolving the Northern Ireland conflict and explained why a repartition of Northern Ireland between Catholic nationalists and Protestant Unionists would not work. Repartition, meaning the first partition in 1921, didn't do a good enough job of separating people. So, let's try to do it again and get them to more homogenous zones. And what they wrote is that there's no easy way to partition Northern Ireland along ethnic lines. Any possible boundary or set of boundaries would leave Belfast, which is the largest city that contains a third of Northern Ireland's population, within unionist boundaries. Given that many of the newly partitioned areas would remain ethnically heterogeneous, there would be question marks surrounding the durability of the new
frontiers—the kind of uncertainty that leads to ethnic cleansing. McGarry and O'Leary add that previous British administered partitions in Ireland, Palestine and India do not inspire confidence in repartition as a solution. And yet, they were among those predicting that a two-state solution in historic Palestine now seems inevitable even though we could replace Belfast with Jerusalem and we could replace Palestinians with Israelis and come up with an exactly similar conclusion.
Similar inconsistencies arise among other authors, particularly with respect to discussions of refugee rights. [Professor of International and Comparative Politics] Sumantra Bose from the London School of Economics looked at conflicts in Sri Lanka, Cypress, Bosnia, Kashmir and Palestine and argued that in deeply torn societies where integration around a common national identity is simply not possible yet, where partition and segregation are also infeasible or normatively undesirable, the type of settlement, binational settlement that was agreed in Bosnia is, despite all its vices and flaws, the only option. One of the advantages Bose welcomes is that under the Dayton Agreement almost half a million refugees and internally displaced persons returned home with international assistance, and I'm quoting, "to places that are now dominated demographically and politically by members of another ethno-national community, an enormous achievement in a country with a total population of three
and a half million and deep traumas as a result of a recent war." First, he writes, "The Dayton Agreement balanced the recognition of ethno-national autonomy with a vigorous affirmation of the right of all victims of ethnic cleansing to return and reclaim their homes." But Bose treats Palestine as an exception. There he asserts that Israel "must acknowledge in principle the suffering caused by the Palestinians' 1948 dispossession without accepting anything more than a very limited actual Palestinian right of return to the state of Israel." Yet, I searched in vain for a case as to why the permanent dispossession of Palestinian refugees, as opposed to Bosnian Muslims, Serbs or Croats, should be considered normatively more desirable or inherently more feasible, or why Israeli Jewish preferences for ethnic segregation and supremacy should be fully accommodated while those of say Bosnian Serbs or Turkish Cypriots are denied.
There could be many reasons for the persistence of partitionist thinking when it comes to Palestine even when it has faded elsewhere. But I'm going to focus on one particular example and try and do so in the ten minutes that remain. A likely reason for the continued—though we should note the rapid dwindling support for the two-state solution when it comes to Palestine—is that it appears to be the ratification and normalization of a partition that already happened and that resulted in a current reality of distinct geographical, political entities. One of these entities is the state of Israel and the other a Palestinian state in waiting whose statehood merely awaits declaration. It already exists; it just has to be called the state of Palestine—so the thinking goes. This impression has been constantly reinforced in the post Oslo period by maps in the media, which show the pre 1967 ceasefire lines, the discourse about a Palestinian government and nation building with which
Palestinian elites replaced the discourse on national liberation, resistance and self-determination. They stopped talking about those things and started talking about a Palestinian state as if it already exists. And there are constant assertions that the contours of a political solution are already virtually agreed along the lines of the Clinton parameters or the Geneva Initiative. Yet, they're so agreed that the latest Annapolis peace process has not resulted in a single word being placed on paper about issues that have been agreed. The claim is constantly that all that is missing is sufficient political will, sufficiently intense negotiations in order to bring about this already waiting reality. And you'll hear in the next few weeks a lot of nonsense that—[Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister] Tzipi Livni becoming prime minister creates a new window of opportunity—will give new life to the peace process. Be prepared to swallow a lot of that kind of nonsense in the next few weeks.
So why does this not happen? If it's all so easy and these states preexist and are just waiting to be declared, why hasn't it happened? I would argue that it's because partition along the pre 1967 borders was really only a brief traumatic interlude in what was and remains a binational reality. The two-state solution would therefore require once again the massive violence of partition with consequences no less disastrous and unpredictable than earlier partitions. Ilan Pappe has stressed the pattern of continuity in Palestine's modern history as a geopolitical entity with its own cultural cohesiveness and distinctiveness, and he contrasts this with the dominant mainstream Zionist perception of Palestine as formed of two units: one Jewish and one not Jewish, which we have inherited now. This continuity was violently disrupted by the partition and ethnic cleansing of 1947 and 1948, but it did not destroy the binational reality. Comparing the 1921 partition of Ireland with the
partition of Palestine, Joe Cleary noted that neither event heralded a durable status quo. In Palestine, political partition effectively ended when Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967.
Describing the decades after the 1970s when the British reinstalled direct rule in Northern Ireland and the Israeli occupation since 1967, Cleary calls on [Italian Political Theorist Antonio] Gramsci's concept of the interregnum: an in-between period in which the ruling class has lost its consensus, is no longer leading but only dominant, exercising coercive force alone. It is a period when the old is dying and the new cannot be born. And we've been living in that period since 1967. Arguably, the Northern Ireland peace process, in contrast to the Arab-Israeli one, ended the interregnum giving birth to new legitimate potentially lasting political order. But if politics remains blocked during the interregnum, life on the ground is not. On the 40th anniversary of the 1967 occupation, [Israeli Political Scientist] Meron Benvenisti wrote, "The decades since the war have proved that 1967 was not a disjunction but quite the opposite, a union, and that the preceding period was merely a
reprieve. The Six-Day War was the final battle in 1948's War of Independence, and the partition dictated by the armistice agreements—which lasted for almost nineteen years—was eradicated by the Israeli occupation." Today, there are many other Palestinian and Israeli scholars who have echoed that.
I want to make a point about partition. The Israeli political geographer Oren Yiftachel has written, "Today the interdependence of processes across Israel-Palestine persists despite the historically significant attempts by the [former Israeli Prime Ministers Yitzhak] Rabin, [Ehud] Barak and [Ariel] Sharon governments to re-carve an exclusive Israeli political territory leading to a repartition of Palestine." Note his use of the word repartition. "Such efforts are held but precisely because the original partition line failed to do the job of separating and dividing." Cleary's description of Northern Ireland is apt again for Palestine. He talks about a process of fragmentation that was so extensive that it could be argued that since the 1970s, the partition of Ireland no longer stopped at the interstate border. The militarization of local territorial boundaries and the increased segregation of its two communities have effectively produced a whole series of internal partitions as
well. Without going into any detail, we can see how the walls, the new geography of Palestine so resembles that.
Finally, partition does not manifest only in physical and political separation but also in the cultural narratives of its victims and beneficiaries. And here, I'll elaborate if we have time in the questions. What you see is that Palestine-Israel is an exceptional case in this sense. Unlike all the other partitions, both communities continued to represent their territory as being the entire territory of historic Palestine. Neither has limited its imaginative conception of the territory it belongs to as being a piece of Palestine, unlike say Kosovo or Pakistan or Tamil Eelam where the ambitions were limited to a piece of the territory. So, I would argue that if partition requires one or both communities to legitimate it by having a narrative of belonging to a smaller piece, Palestine is farther from partition than any of the other places.
What I want to say is that the two-state option is not the easy default option many still believe. It is the radical option that would require us to embrace partition anew with all of its horrors. It would require at least the involuntary movement of hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers, many of them armed. It would require millions of Palestinian refugees to remain behind fortified frontiers they do not recognize and do not cross, and who can guarantee that it would not spark the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian citizens of Israel. It is much more likely that for these reasons, rather than a lack of political will or an insufficient number of trips by [U.S. Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice, that a two-state solution has never been implemented and, in my opinion, never will be given the stubborn attachment of both Israeli Jews and Palestinians to the entirety of the contested territory and the organic connections between them. We can conclude that if there are objective
criteria for partition, Palestine is the least suited of all candidates. The default option then is to begin by recognizing the binational reality—infinitely fragmented and unequal though it is—then we can begin to consider how to change the political regime and the state system to fit the people rather than trying to exchange the people to fit the regime.
Dr. Avi Shlaim:
I'm very happy to be here on this beautiful summer morning. Apparently, one has to come to this side of the Atlantic in order to see the sun. I'm grateful to the Palestine Center for inviting me, and I'm delighted to share a platform with my friend, Ali Abunimah, although we are on opposing sides on this particular discussion. It is also a great honor for me to take part in the first Edward Said Memorial Lecture because I was fortunate enough to have been, in the words of [Egyptian writer] Ahdaf Soueif, one of Edward's 3,000 close friends.
Let me begin with a word on where I stand. I have never questioned the legitimacy of the state of Israel. I've always been a supporter of a two-state solution to the conflict, and I remain a supporter of that solution. I do not question the legitimacy of the state of Israel within the pre '67 borders. What I'm opposed to uncompromisingly is the Zionist colonial project behind the Green Line. My objective to the idea of a democratic binational state in Palestine is not ideological but a practical one. I think that this idea is an attractive idea; indeed, it's a noble vision. The problem about it is that it has no chance of being turned into a reality. In short, it's pie in the sky.
There are several reasons for this. One is that the gulf between the two communities in Palestine is very deep and probably cannot be bridged. Israelis and Palestinians have very divergent national narratives, affiliations and aspirations for the future. They're divided by language, religion, culture, education and what have you. Secondly, there is precious little grassroots support on the Palestinian side for a one state solution. On the Israeli side, there is virtually no significant support for this idea. The overwhelming majority of Israelis, whatever their political stripe, are opposed to this notion and, indeed, they regard the very term, a binational state, as a code for the dismantlement of the Jewish state. One example of an Israeli liberal is Amos Oz. Amos Oz described the relations between Israelis and Palestinians as a marriage that has not worked and has aided in a divorce. The issue for him now is simply to divide up the assets. Basically, what he would like is
for the Palestinians to have their own little state and to get out of his face so that he can get on with his life. And it's typical of Israelis; they don't want to live together peacefully with Palestinians. They want complete separation. Thirdly, in contrary to what Ali said, the trend in international politics since the end of the Cold War has been towards the resurgence, the reassertion of ethnic nationalism. Just look at the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Look at the disintegration of former Yugoslavia into six separate states. Look today at what is happening in Georgia where even with a small province, they're cessationist movements. Perhaps, the most instructive parable is near our home in Iraq. If Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites cannot live peacefully together in Iraq, it's inconceivable that Israelis and Palestinians will be able to achieve this feat.
The binational state is okay as a vision. It is a useful framework for organizing our thinking about the problem. It is a very invaluable means for applying pressure on Israel to begin ending the occupation. But it is not going to happen. To proceed on the assumption that the binational state idea can be realized is not just an illusion, it's a dangerous delusion. My own approach is conditioned by my understanding of history. For most of my professional career, I have meandered around the Palestinian tragedy. What is the basic cause of this conflict? The basic cause is the clash between two national movements. There are two nations on one land, hence the conflict. It follows that the only reasonable, the only practical solution is the partition of Palestine.
The Peel Commission of Inquiry back in 1937 proposed partition as a solution. Its report is still a very interesting document, very interesting analysis on the nature of the problem. In a nutshell, it said that there are two communities, they just don't get along and the only solution is to separate them and to allow each of them to realize their national aspirations. There was an intense debate on the Zionist side about the Peel Partition Plan. One of the leading moderates was [first Israeli President] Chaim Weizmann who said the Jews would be mad, the Jews would be crazy if they rejected an independent Jewish state even if it is the size of a tablecloth. It's the first step that counts. The mufti, of course, rejected the Peel Partition Plan. I think that Weizmann was a much smarter political leader than the mufti. By the way, look at the Palestinian struggle for independence during the British Mandate; it's a story of how the mufti "muftied." In 1947, the U.N. proposed
partition again suggesting that the logic behind partition was irresistible. The Palestinians rejected, of course, the U.N. partition plan, and they paid the most terrible price.
I start with the axiom that the creation of the state of Israel involved a monumental injustice to the Palestinians. In 1948, Israel realized its right to national self-determination. Since 1967, Israel has persistently denied to the Palestinians the same national right. That is the problem today—the two nations but only one state. The issue since 1948 has been one of justice for the Palestinians. There is no absolute justice. History is often cruel, and it has been incredibly cruel towards the Palestinian people. By justice, I mean that the Palestinians should have a patch of land to call their own on which they can live in freedom and dignity. In other words, my summation is an independent Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem over virtually all of the Occupied Territories. If you want me to be more specific about borders, I can be. The solution is the Balen-Abu Mazen Plan of 1995, which [Senior Associate Member at St. Anthony's College, Oxford University]
Hussein Agha described to me as the deal of the century. That plan was also the basis for the Clinton parameters of the 23 of December 2000.
It is because I believe in a two-state solution that I was an enthusiastic supporter of the Oslo Accord. I believed that that accord, despite all its countless shortcomings, laid the foundation for an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. I thought it was a historic breakthrough because it was the first agreement between the two principle parties to the conflict. Moreover, I believed that the Oslo Accord began a process of slow, gradual, controlled Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories leading to a Palestinian state after the transition period. And I believed that this process of withdrawal would be irreversible. Edward Said and I had a debate about the Oslo Accord over the pages of the London Review of Books. Edward's article was entitled "A Palestinian Versailles." He saw the Accord as an instrument of Palestinian surrender, a sellout. I regarded it as a very limited but important step in the right direction. Since these heady days of 1993, I've often
asked myself who was right and who was wrong. When things were going well, when, for example, Oslo 2 was signed, I thought that I was right and Edward was wrong. When things went badly, in particular after the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa intifada, I thought that I got it wrong and Edward got it right. From today's perspective, there can be no doubt at all that Edward had the right reading of Oslo and I was completely wrong about it.
The question is why did the Oslo Accord fail? The critics of the Accords say it's because it was doomed to failure from the start. I beg to disagree. I believe that the reason for the failure of the Oslo Accords was that Israel, under the leadership of the Likud, reneged on its side of the deal. There are many reasons for the collapse of the Oslo peace process. One of them was the Palestinian return to violence. But there was one single most important, most fundamental reason for the breakdown of this process—Israeli settlement expansion. You simply cannot go forward towards a solution with the Palestinians and at the same time be stealing more and more of their land. Land grabbing and peacemaking just don't go together.
After the failure of the Camp David Summit, Ehud Barak invented the belief that at the summit he had made to [late Palestinian President] Yasser Arafat a generous offer and Arafat made the strategic decision to reject it and to return to violence. So, he tried his best, but there was no Palestinian partner for peace. This version of course is complete rubbish. But the overwhelming majority of Israelis right, left and center believed this myth; believed that there was no Palestinian partner for peace. And it was this myth that paved the way to the rise to power of the Likud under the leadership of Ariel Sharon in early 2001. Sharon was prime minister for five years. During those five years, we had a profound impact on the geopolitics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. [U.S. President] George Bush famously described Sharon as a man of peace. I've done a fair amount of al-Qaeda research in my time, and I can honestly say that I've never come across a single scintilla of
evidence which supports the view of Sharon as a man of peace. Sharon is a man of war through and through. He's the champion of violent solutions. He's the proponent of the doctrine of permanent conflict. Sharon is a Jewish Rambo. He's the unilateralist par excellence, excuse my French. Sharon's aim, in one word which I borrowed from the title of the late Baruch Kimmerling's book, is politicide, which means denying the Palestinians any independent political existence in Palestine.
The withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 did not signal the abandonment of this objective. On the contrary, the abandonment from Gaza was presented by Sharon as a contribution to the Roadmap, and it was nothing of the sort. It wasn't part of an agreement with the Palestinian Authority. It wasn't part of a comprehensive solution to the problem. It wasn't a prelude to further withdrawal. On the contrary, it was a prelude to consolidating Israel's hold over the West Bank. And then, there was the Wall in the West Bank. The justification of the Wall—as the name suggests, the name is the security barrier—is to provide security for Israel. Of course, it has that purpose, but to my mind the central purpose, a much more significant purpose of the Wall is to do with land grabbing rather than with security. After 41 years of occupation and eight years of Likud-Kadima rule, a two state plan is not a simple proposition. The deliberate aim of these right-wing governments has been to prevent the
emergence of a viable Palestinian state in Palestine. The aim has been to create weak, isolated enclaves under Palestinian strongmen who would be dependent on Israel. And with Israel having control of everything, that matters.
The Annapolis conference last year was a nonevent. It's a charade. Since Annapolis, the number of settlements has increased. Israel continued to expand settlements, and the number of checkpoints has increased roughly from 550 to 620 Israeli checkpoints on the West Bank, choking the West Bank. President Bush has given Israel a completely free hand. Never in history has there ever been less American restraint on Israel. Hence, the mad Israeli rush now to grab all they want to keep forever in the West Bank while their puppet still occupies the White House.
The massive and intricate web of settlements across the West Bank today makes the negotiation of a two-state solution a logistical nightmare. The problem is that the Israeli government continues relentlessly to destroy the basis for a two-state solution. Ali's logic, it seems to me, is flawed. Ali's logic is since the Israelis would not permit an independent Palestinian state, we should ask them to give us equal rights within a single state. But the Israeli objection to a one state solution is much more intense than their objection to a two-state solution. A one state solution would institutionalize apartheid. It would be worse than South Africa under apartheid. There are already two classes of citizens. If there is a one state solution, the Palestinians, both inside Israel and in greater Israel, will all end up as second or third class citizens. They'll become the hewers of wood and drawers of water, to use a biblical expression for the Israelis. Ali, if you think that this
apartheid system will change once the Palestinians achieve a majority, you are kidding yourself. You are up against cruel Zionism, and it can get more cruel than it has been over the last century. You are up against aggressive, scrupulous, ruthless and increasingly blatant Zionist racism. The right in South Africa eventually yielded power to the black majority, but Israel, with its exclusive Zionist ideology and its overwhelming military power, will never yield political power to a Palestinian majority.
To conclude, Israel today is the main obstacle to any solution to the problem. But a two-state solution remains the only viable solution to this tragic, 100-years-old conflict. At the moment, Israel has all the power and it seems to hold all the cards. But at some point, the Israeli public will realize that the occupation cannot be sustained indefinitely and it will elect a government that will begin to end the occupation. Israelis will not do this as a favor to the Palestinians but as a favor to themselves because as Karl Marx observed, the people that oppresses another cannot itself remain free. At present, there is not a light at the end of the tunnel; there is a tunnel at the end of the light. Nevertheless, I remain optimistic about the future. I remain optimistic because I believe that nations like individuals are capable of acting rationally after they've exhausted all the other alternatives.
Jewish Peace News editors:
Sarah Anne Minkin
Jewish Peace News archive and blog: http://jewishpeacenews.blogspot.com
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