The Possible States Of Palestine
Terrell E. Arnold

For those in despair over the sixty-year failure to resolve the dire and reprehensible conditions Israel has imposed on the Palestinian people, a public debate by two prominent Israelis on the pros and cons of the choices is good news. The debate merits at least a cautious maybe.
On the one side stands Uri Avnery, an 82-year old European-born Israeli peace advocate who has been a thorn in the side of Israeli leaders since the first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion. He has been sounding off on Israeli official misdeeds since the Nakba of 1948 when Israeli terrorists and paramilitary forces either massacred or forcibly expelled nearly a million Palestinians from their ancestral home.
On the other side is Ilan Pappe, a native-born Israeli whose formative years were passed in the innocent environs of a mythical narrative of noble Jewish achievement that spoke naught of its bloody past. As an historian, Pappe awoke slowly to the truth of the Nakba and the continuing war crime that the Israelis have perpetrated against the Palestinians. But he told that like it was in his 2006 book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.
The debate is not a formal standup confrontation.
In his editorial Looking for Alternatives to Failure, published on Electronic Intifada, Ilan Pappe takes the position that the kind of external heat put on South Africa to end apartheid should be exerted on Israel to end their repression of the Palestinians and to live with them as equals. He embeds this approach in a three-part program of boycotts, disinvestments, and sanctions. All those steps were taken by outsiders in the South Africa case and ultimately succeeded in bringing down apartheid.
In his paper, The Bed of Sodom, carried on a website called Scoop, Uri Avnery lays out a biblical metaphor to discourage any attempt to put direct heat on Israeli leadership from outside to get them to deal fairly with the Palestinian people. Avnery argues that direct heat will backfire, causing even the Israelis who long for peace to rally behind Zionist leadership in an extremist position.
Avnery asserts that his group, Gush Shalom, and others in Israel's peace camp have made some progress. "We have compelled our government to recognize the PLO, and we shall compel them to recognize Hamas" Avnery asserts. Adverting to his metaphor, Avnery argues that all cases are not alike, and Israel cannot be made to fit a bed that was designed for South Africa, even granting that it worked in the latter case.
What are the issues?
For Palestinians or supporters, the leading issue is the right of the Palestinians to live in peace in their ancestral home, or some significant part of it. There are some major Palestinian issues: the right of return, the right to compensation if historic properties are not returned, and a capital in the old city of Jerusalem. There is some territorial flex in this position. In Ilan Pappe's view this translates fully as complete freedom of Palestinians to live anywhere in the state. That was the perception of the infant United Nations organization when it partitioned the territory in 1948. Pappe argues that in principle this is the best solution.
For Israelis or supporters, the gut issue is how to assure the exclusive Jewish character of their national home. Avnery speaks as a nationalist when he says the requirement is that Jews be a "robust majority" (now about five to one), but hard-line Zionists would expel all non-Jews from the state. Those preferences apply without regard to the size and shape of Israel. Avnery suggests dismally that in practice a Jewish state in which non-Jews are treated equally is unlikely; it would work, he said, only with some form of apartheid in which the Palestinians would be "hewers of wood and carriers of water." To support this stance, he cites the current reality: Palestinian per capita income is about $800 per year; Israelis get about $20,000.
This debate is healthy, but the tragedy of it is that, as usual, no Palestinians are involved. Since the first moves to implement the Balfour Declaration of 1917, third parties who have carved up their homeland have systematically ignored the wishes of the Palestinians. If they were consulted today, many Palestinians would favor a Pappe-like solution, if they retained at least a good part of their homeland with freedom to move about the rest of it.
That may be the default outcome. The Israelis continue to grab more land for settlements, Israeli-only roads, the growing wall, and Jordan Valley areas from which Palestinians are excluded. The result is that no independent Palestinian state of even modest fairness would be possible without abandoning many settlements and moving the Israelis back to the 1967 Green Line. Such a move right now is a no-no, right up to the Oval Office of the White House. The future actually depends therefore on the ability of the Israelis to treat non-Jews, mostly Arabs, as people of equal right and merit. The old hand, Uri Avnery is pessimistic about this. The younger, Ilan Pappe seems to believe that eventually fairness will prevail.
The writer is the author of the recently published work, A World Less Safe, now available on Amazon, and he is a regular columnist on He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State whose immediate pre-retirement positions were as Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War College and as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counter-Terrorism and Emergency Planning. He will welcome comment at <>



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