- 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
- 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
- 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 rense.com. 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 <mailto:email@example.com>firstname.lastname@example.org.