For nearly a year, world-renowned public intellectual Professor Noam Chomsky (US) engaged in a wide-ranging email conversation focused primarily on Israel-Palestine with veteran Middle East analyst, Dr Tony Klug (UK), a frequent contributor to the Palestine-Israel Journal and an international board member. The correspondence, which was sparked by Klug’s article, which was published in PIJ (Vol. 25 No. 1&2, 2020), “Should Trump’s ’Vision’ for Israeli-Palestinian Peace Be Taken Seriously?” (Summarized below), prompted an initial response from Chomsky. Klug’s reply provoked a further Chomsky response, and the stage was set for a fascinating, free-wheeling tour d’horizon that surveys both historical and contemporary events, vacillating between areas of broad agreement and points of candid disagreement. What needs to be done by different parties to change the current awful reality and bring the long-running clash finally to a tolerable end is also probed.
Summary of Tony Klug’s PIJ article on the Trump “vision”:
Trump’s “Deal of the Century” is an exercise in sophistry, concocted by dyed-in-the-wool ideologues with a one-dimensional lens. It panders to Israel’s ultranationalists and is an ultimatum to the Palestinians to accept their lot as a defeated people so that Israeli rule over them may be entrenched indefinitely. But the Palestinians will not be defeated. If enacted, the scheme would breed endless strife. It would dash Palestinian hope and perpetuate their suffering; it would cast Israel and its citizens as pariahs; and anti-Jewish sentiment would spread within and beyond the region. Trump’s construal of the plan as portending “win-win opportunities for both sides” is self-serving baloney. In reality, it is a lose-lose-lose scenario. Both the Palestinian future and Israel’s acceptance in the region rest primarily on the decades-old occupation coming to a swift and complete end.
The plan’s launch conference was marked by ignorance, deceptions and a string of faux pas, exemplified by Trump’s inept reference to the “Al- Aqwa” Mosque (apparently confusing a sacred Muslim place of worship with a water feature!) In general, the plan attests to the unsuitability of the US to play the role of honest broker between Israelis and Palestinians. Never has this been truer than now. Other parties must get involved, for this is a matter with global repercussions.
Trump disingenuously claims his plan presents “a historic opportunity for Palestinians to finally achieve an independent state of their very own,” within a vision of a “realistic two-state solution.” By employing the two-state terminology, he is plainly trying to pass off the plan’s brutal annihilation of the international consensus for a Palestinian state alongside Israel as the very opposite: its optimal fruition. The smart response of other governments would be to swiftly recognize a Palestinian state alongside Israel, with its capital in East Jerusalem. International civil society needs to consider what constructive role it could actively play.
A rejuvenated Arab Peace Initiative (API) – long ago endorsed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and all Arab states — could provide the framework. Its offer of comprehensive peace and full diplomatic relations between Israel and the whole Arab world would once have had Israelis' dancing in the street. Despite more than a hundred retired Israeli generals endorsing the API as a basis for talks, so far successive Israeli governments have been quite dismissive of it, with the phony excuse that it is a diktat.
A positive feature of the Trump plan is that it projects its ultimate vision at the outset rather than seeking to move forward incrementally through step-by-step bargaining without a clear notion of the destination, an approach that doomed previous processes from their inception. In this sense, the Trump plan has more in common with the approaches of earlier Arab initiatives: the 1977 Sadat initiative, the PLO’s 1988 “historical compromise,” and the 2002 API. Commencing with a vision of the endgame – sketching out the horizon — has always been the more promising approach in principle, provided it took fully on board the key interests and aspirations of all parties or incorporated a mechanism for doing so. On this score, the Trump “vision” again fails abysmally.
Thanks. One reservation. I don’t think the API would have ever led to Israelis “dancing in the streets.” Syria-Egypt-Jordan offered Israel virtually that in January ‘76, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution that drove the Rabin government to virtual hysteria and that the US vetoed. And many similar options since. As Rabin put it clearly in ‘76, the plan is off the agenda because Israel will not envision any Palestinian state. Shamir-Peres put it even more clearly in ‘89, in response to the ‘88 Palestinian declaration of independence. There can be no “additional Palestinian state” between Israel and Jordan (additional, because Israel declares Jordan to be a Palestinian state). Pretty much affirmed in the Baker plan a few months later. Peres affirmed the same thing in his final press conference in ‘96. The first recognition of a possible Palestinian state that I’ve been able to find is by the incoming Netanyahu government. In an interview (Palestine-Israel Journal, summer ‘96), Netanyahu’s Minister of Information, David Bar-Illan, said that if the Palestinians want to call the fragments left to them “a state,” that’s OK – or they can call it “fried chicken.”
I take your point about the positions struck by Israel's political leaders, but the reference was to ordinary Israeli people in a bygone era. This said, even the stances of Israel's leaders were not quite as simple as that. Some of them were on a journey, even if the destination was uncertain. This was true for the later Rabin (still travelling when assassinated) and Olmert but, surprisingly, for Shimon Peres, too. I have been doing some research on this recently for a book I am endeavouring to write. His is an interesting case study.
I wonder. I saw a few comments by intellectuals – notably Amos Elon – about the “panic” in Israel when Sadat started making his peace offers, but never saw any indication that ordinary Israeli people were enthusiastic about opportunities for a two-state settlement, including the cases I mentioned – the ‘76 Syria-Egypt-Jordan two-state offer (repeated in 1980), the Palestinian 1988 proposal, and others like the Fahd and Saudi and Arab League proposals. Or that they even reacted when Prime Minister (PM) Rabin flatly rejected any such possibility, or when Chaim Herzog went beyond, charging (falsely) that the PLO had “prepared” the ‘76 offer in order to destroy Israel and that the Fahd plan was even worse. My impression is that the public was enthusiastic about the expansion, though there were some who issued firm warnings against it, especially Yeshayahu Leibowitz. My friend Israel Shahak at the time was viciously attacked at the University and in the press for even daring to talk about Palestinian rights (it changed much later, after the first intifada).
For years, Peres was wrongly portrayed in the west as a peace dove. But, in later years, judging from his public statements, this image wasn't entirely false. He was anything but a peacenik in 1975 when he proudly unveiled his “federation” plan that would comprise Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip “in which the inhabitants of the latter two areas would be accorded the maximum autonomy.” He claimed his plan constituted “an honourable solution for the Arabs themselves,” and maintained that it “provided for the first time a constructive Israeli proposal for resolving the Palestinian question.” A notable concession in his eyes was that the Palestinians in the Arab areas “could call themselves Palestinians if they chose!” That he termed it an “Israel Federation” was further evidence of how remarkably insensitive it was to Palestinian needs, interests and desires. (Definite echoes of these sentiments in the Trump plan.)
Following Sadat's visit to Israel in 1977, Peres outed himself (falsely) as a “dove.” A year later he was still proclaiming “Jordan is also Palestine… I’m against two Arab countries and against another Palestinian country, against an Arafat state.” You have pointed out there was no change in 1989 or 1996.
Peres was clearly conflicted, but slowly it seems he was becoming better tuned to Palestinian needs. Without his influence, it is unlikely that the 1993-5 Oslo Accords (however flawed) would ever have seen the light of day. In February 2002, reflecting on his 1975 “federation” plan, he told the Irish Times “We thought that autonomy is basically, almost independence … Today we discover that autonomy puts the Palestinians in a worse situation. We have to give them equal rights, equal recognition. We cannot run their lives, their economy.” In an interview on 18 December 2014 (two years before he died), he was even more explicit: “We are for a Palestinian state.”
He was not the only leading Israeli, Palestinian or Arab political figure to start off in one place and end up in another place (I could quote several top Palestinian leaders in this regard, starting with Arafat). There is nothing necessarily wrong with this, but it underscores the perils of snapshot quotations drawn from different points in time, however accurate they may be in and of themselves. The reality is very often more complex as I am finding out as I continue to research these matters.
Seems to me that the reality is pretty clear. In the crucial decade of the ‘70s, Israel made the fateful decision to choose expansion over security and diplomatic settlement. That continued through the ‘80s. Israeli leaders, including Rabin and Peres, were adamant in flatly rejecting every peace offer, none of them perfect perhaps but surely a serious basis for negotiation. And the public seems to have gone along. Oslo was understood, correctly, as a way to subordinate Palestinians to Israeli domination. The Declaration of Principles didn’t even mention Palestinian national rights as a long-term objective. Peres and Rabin remained adamantly and openly opposed to any form of Palestinian state. Peres in his last press conference on leaving office in ‘96. Labor began to tentatively talk about this as a possibility in the late ‘90s, for the first time as far as I’ve been able to determine.
Yes, in later years Peres presented himself as a dove. But before that he was a leading advocate of settlement deep in the West Bank (Zertal and Eldar give extensive information on this). And after Rabin’s assassination, he was portrayed as aiming for political settlement, but his actions and statements up to the assassination seem quite to the contrary.
A mythology has been created about Israel’s yearning for peace but they had no counterpart to deal with. That seems to me far from the truth.
I can only tell you that I was co-organizing an international symposium in Tel Aviv in 1977 when Sadat flew into the country. I had been in Egypt a couple of months earlier and returned there a few weeks later for the socalled Egypt-Israel peace conference. The mood in Israel when the Egyptian plane entered Israeli airspace was hugely emotional. Tears flowed, there was a mood of disbelief (and more than a little suspicion in some circles) and much rejoicing. People were indeed effectively “dancing in the streets.” The “Pharaoh” told them their presence in the area was legitimate and welcomed them back. But there was a Palestinian price (and of course an Egyptian price) and many, if not most, Israelis appeared ready to pay it at the time if it meant genuine peace and acceptance.
Menachem Begin, who it so happens had been elected as Israeli prime minister only a few months earlier, often gets undeserved credit for the peace treaty that was eventually signed. But his ugly antics at the press conference in Egypt subsequently ruined the initially warm mood among many Egyptians. I witnessed this personally and wrote about it in New Outlook at the time.
The cold telling of events in later years by people who were not on the ground can obscure the living reality in real time. I have discovered over the years that there is enough chapter and verse in this conflict for people with firm predilections to score whatever points they want by selecting evidence, even authentic evidence that supports their case. That's one reason why opinion is so polarized. My support for the national and human rights of the Palestinian people is long-standing and well-known, but I cannot deny my own experiences with either of the two peoples. Official documents tend to tell only part of the story and sometimes miss the most important parts.
You’re absolutely right about the mood, but it’s worth bearing in mind what the mood was about. There was no acknowledgment of Palestinian rights, let alone a Palestinian state. Peace? Everyone’s in favor of that. But on what terms? If Israelis were willing to pay a price, they kept very silent about it. On the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, “credit” is an odd word. The peace treaty put no constraints on settlement and said nothing about Palestinian rights.
It’s true that it recognized that the policy of the Labor government, extended under Begin, to take over and settle the Egyptian Sinai under Labor’s Galili protocol, was untenable. That realization dawned among Israeli planners after the near disaster of the ‘73 war, precipitated by the US-Israeli refusal to respond to Sadat’s peace initiatives. With that hope abandoned, Israeli planners and strategic analysts recognized that the next best option was to remove Egypt from the conflict so that Israel could proceed, without impediment, to settle the occupied territories and to attack Lebanon, as it proceeded to do – meanwhile flatly rejecting every Arab peace initiative that affected the occupied territories, like the Fahd plan, the 1988 declaration of independence, etc., until the late ‘90s. This was bipartisan. Sharon was more extreme, but Peres and Rabin went along all the way.
In short, I quite agree with you about the mood, but again, it’s worth bearing in mind what the mood was about.
I’m not sure whether or to what extent we’re agreeing or disagreeing here. I’ve been referring to the mood of the people. Your emphasis seems to be more on the mood among the political elite, although I might be wrong about this. A principal key to progress was always to outmanoeuvre Israel’s obdurate leaders. A primary reason Sadat’s 1977 initiative progressed (in contrast with the earlier efforts you cite) was that in this case, he cannily went over the head of Begin and his government by appealing direct to the Israeli people.
In effect, he cheated on history by flying in, out of order, and giving them an advance taste of peace while simultaneously setting out the conditions to earn its future fruits. He got the psychology (as he observed himself). By so doing, he snatched control of Israeli public opinion from the Israeli prime minister, who never got over it (as he confessed to Amos Oz). Sadat demanded every last grain of sand back in return for full peace. Begin weaved and ducked, demanding a bit here and a bit there. But Sadat stood firm and Israeli opinion backed him and together they drove the process forward.
When the Saudi plan/Arab Peace Initiative was launched in 2002, I argued they should take a leaf out of Sadat’s book and follow his example. I believe it could have made all the difference. Simply uttering the words without making any proper attempt to convince the other party (the Israeli people, in this case) of the sincerity of the intention (or more profoundly, the overt change of intention) would achieve nothing. The small print of the API made it clear that the target of the Arab promotional effort was Western and international power structures, not Israeli public opinion. For the latter, it was a case of take it or leave it. That was a profound error, if they were serious.
This attitude doomed it from the outset. Of course, they were in no mood to follow Sadat, whom they still considered a traitor for doing a separate deal with Israel (although at one time or another Syria, Jordan, the PLO, and more recently Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have each attempted to do precisely that!) So instead of the Sadat precedent offering a noble guide, it still stood — a full quarter-of-a-century later — as an ignoble deterrent. They were blinded by it. This was a huge mistake, even if understandable in the context of internal Arab politics.
I don't dispute the thrust of your case about the intransigence of Israel’s political leaders (although there were exceptional moments) and have written at length about this myself. But any analysis that omits the strategic and tactical failings of Arab political leaders (more Arab state governments than Palestinian leaders in my view, although none deserves to be let off the hook entirely) is incomplete in my opinion.
In any case, the situation has moved on, and we are now faced with a de facto one-state reality, which is on the verge of becoming further entrenched, although to what extent is not yet certain. The compelling question in the short term is whether this single state/single sovereignty will move in an apartheid, unitary, or binational direction. The terminology, I believe, is critical, as time and again I notice “binational” and “unitary” being used interchangeably as if they mean the same thing, when they categorically do not. The terms are used far too loosely, rather like “two-state solution” and its oxymoronic offspring “one-state solution” have been for years, to the detriment of intelligent debate.
One could imagine, for example, a possible future for a federal binational state (or maybe a confederal arrangement), whereas it is highly doubtful that a unitary “democratic secular” state, whereby everyone is “atomized” down to the level of the individual (to quote my fellow panellist Professor Bernard Wasserstein at a seminar some years ago), is even plausible as there is very little authentic support for such a set-up by either Palestinians or Israelis. It would require them to set aside their deeply felt national sentiments and possibly some of their customs, too, critical factors not always grasped by the contemporary narrow Western mindset – whether of the right, the left, or the centre — intent on imposing its own values, systems and structures on cultures from other regions of the world. We have had more than enough of the mayhem that often follows.
In the meantime, there would be a compelling moral imperative (if not a legal imperative, too, under international law and human rights conventions) to agitate for equal rights for everyone living under the same sovereign authority, for as long as that is the case, without requiring the Palestinians to forfeit their hopes for eventual self-determination or Israelis to give up on theirs. These objectives – independent states/confederation/federation — are often posed as alternatives but, to the contrary, they could be stages. One set of rights should not be used to cancel out the other set.
I don't think the Palestinians are ever likely to give up on their aspiration for statehood (nor, for that matter, will most Israeli Jews), regardless of what seem to be indicated by misleading snapshot polls. This would not be the first case of a state or a prospective state disappearing from the map, but not in people’s hearts, for a period of time for geopolitical reasons and subsequently reappearing (Poland is a compelling example). Equal civil and political rights within a common sovereign entity, while unassailable, are not necessarily enough or the end of the line, as the breakup of Czechoslovakia demonstrates, and as the UK and Spain, among others, might in the future demonstrate further.
There is a new debate to be had. I hope it will be constructive.
True, the people wanted peace and were therefore overjoyed that Sadat was publicly saying “I love you.” Apart from educated sectors, people were generally unaware of the Arab peace initiatives through the ‘70s that Israel had flatly rejected. For the public, the peace that they were being offered by Sadat required no sacrifice, except potentially of the takeover and settlement of the Egyptian Sinai under Labor’s Galili protocols, viciously implemented by Sharon. While the people were overjoyed about Sadat’s offer of peace with no sacrifices, they also voted for Begin and Sharon.
On the current situation, Israel is consummating the Greater Israel project of the past 50 years, always pursued relentlessly by Peres, Rabin, and on to the right: take over what is valuable in the West Bank (and before it became too costly, Gaza – and of course Golan), but not the Palestinian population centers. And always step by step, “dunam achar dunam,” under the radar. In the areas to be integrated into Israel, the population is being slowly thinned out by various measures that make life unbearable or else being confined to tiny enclaves, by now 165. This way, there will be no ‘demographic problem.’ In fact, as Greater Israel is more closely integrated with Israel proper and eventually annexed, the percentage of Jews may be even higher than it is today.
Except for some religious extremists, there’s little support for one state and an apartheid struggle, and no international support. Why should Israel want to take over Nablus? Of course, as in the standard neo-colonial pattern, something is offered to Palestinian elites. In Ramallah, one can go to fine restaurants, etc., just as in any neo-colony. Meanwhile, the Israeli population continues its drift to the far right, as polls consistently show. Even to “chosen people” fantasies. Israel is by now almost the only country where the young are more reactionary than the old, who still have some memories of the faded social democracy and the dreams of their youth.
I’ve been writing about all of this for 50 years. I don’t really expect anyone in the “peace camp” to read it. Illusions are much more comforting, but I don’t think they are wise. Failure to see what was clearly happening in the ‘70s only encouraged Israel’s fateful decision then, across the spectrum, to prefer expansion to security and the fulfilment of Leibowitz’s dire forecasts.
You’re quite right about failures on the Arab side, particularly the PLO. I’ve also been writing and speaking about that for years. Attitudes have changed among the general public here, quite considerably, and could lead to changes in US policy if a genuine solidarity movement developed. But it’s time, I think, for illusions to be swept away.
Your comment about sweeping away illusions reminds me of a packed Palestinian-Jewish meeting held in London in the wake of the 1991 Madrid Conference when speaker after speaker denounced the bias of the press. A straw vote was taken. Sure enough, almost everyone was evidently of the same mind (bar a small posse of irate journalists). The audience was then asked who the bias favoured. Roughly half thought it was definitely slanted towards Israel while the other half was equally convinced it favoured the Palestinian and Arab sides. The media contingent breathed a sigh of relief as the apparent consensus turned out in reality to be quite false.
I agree with you, of course, about the importance of sweeping away illusions. The problem is so does everyone else. It has been part of my life's work to shoot down the potent myths nourishing this conflict, on all sides of it, but you can be sure that many of them out there think the likes of you and the likes of me are crammed full of them ourselves. Maybe they have a point. For myself, with the way things have turned out, I suppose I ought to plead guilty. When I first advocated a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza after the 1967 war, I was certain its materialization was inevitable. And imminent. So much so that I berated my publisher for delaying the publication date of my pamphlet by a few months to January 1973 on the ground that we might miss the boat altogether if we wait that long!
Now it is said by some, decades later, from the far left to the far right and many points in between, that the two-state idea was always fallacious. I accept, of course, that it hasn’t happened and that the prospects are not exactly rosy, but I don’t accept that that means it was foredoomed. Israeli governments may never have been keen on it, the Israeli people lukewarm and Palestinians hesitant in their support, but it was the indifference, ineptness, or gross negligence of the international community that scuppered it. I had a direct involvement with some of that history, which I will be elaborating in a book I am currently writing which traces the genesis and evolution of the two-state idea following the 1967 war.
I still do not believe there can be a “solution” that is not constructed around the scaffolding of self-determination for both peoples. I fear that we are now moving into a state of perpetual conflict, sustained repression, and mutual fear, with toxic global overspill. I have been warning of this prospect for many years if the two-state paradigm were to conclusively fail. But I would like to think that the magic thinking that still swirls around will do less damage to the debate ahead than it has done in helping to destroy the only outcome which, in my opinion, ever made any sense. Some hope! I once thought I would see this conflict out. It is now very clear that it will see me out. And, I dare say, maybe even you (although I hope you continue to prosper to a very old age!)
Like you, I’ve long supported a two-state outcome, and in fact still do. The only realistic alternative is the Greater Israel project that both major political groupings in Israel have been pursuing for 50 years, very different from the ‘one-state’ delusions that are now popular. To pursue what options remain, we have to be clear about the history, including very explicit and adamant bipartisan Israeli rejection of two states from the early ‘70s, when Israel made the fateful decision to choose expansion over security, with the exception of a few years around 2000 when there was some debate about this.
I think that may be our only point of difference.
You may be right; except I don’t feel I can go along with the view that all Israeli prime ministers, from both parties, were unambiguously Greater Israel aficionados. The nuances are important because that’s where international leverage had a role to play that could have made all the difference. I’m sure a treatise could be written, drawing on their own pronouncements and actions, on how Rabin, Barak, Olmert, and Peres were all Greater Israel hawks, but a treatise could also be written, drawing on other evidence and personal testimonies, to show they were a lot more flexible and prepared to contemplate a Palestinian state if that would end the conflict.
Rabin's killers feared that was exactly where he was headed, despite his earlier exhortations to “break their bones.” That's why they murdered him. His participation at the peace rally where he was assassinated shortly after joining in the singing of a popular peace song were indicative of the distance he had already travelled. Who knows where he would have ended up? Barak's supposedly “generous offer” at Camp David, leaving Israel with around 10% - 13% of the West Bank, fell far short of his self-serving depiction of it, but he was prepared to divide the already annexed Jerusalem and, too late, he did shift his position at Taba later the same year to around 3% retention. Olmert, the Likud prince who had voted against the peace treaty with Egypt, travelled a huge distance in his talks with Abbas, asserting that the alternative to a Palestinian state was apartheid. Peres, the false dove, eventually concluded, in the last two years of his life, that a Palestinian state was the only way forward.
I believe it is a category error to lump these more pragmatic leaders with the true Greater Israel ideologues of Begin, Shamir, Netanyahu, and arguably Sharon (excepting Gaza for “demographic” reasons). But even they were susceptible to outside pressure on the rare occasion there was any. And this is the rub. The main culprit, in my view, was the failure of external powers — principally the US but the UK and other European governments as well — to (a) adopt peace plans that were not conceptually flawed and doomed from the start, and (b) apply robust, smart incentives and penalties. More solid peace plans were proposed to Western powers but consistently were not taken up. I was involved in a few such initiatives.
I believe there were a number of opportunities, under different Israeli prime ministers, when the right sort of pressure and intelligent international involvement could have been effective and brought what I used to call “this eminently resolvable conflict” to a successful conclusion.
Now, in the impending new reality, there are many questions floating around about what to do but very few answers, other than from the specialists in muddled thinking. Key to future progress, in my view, will be progressive alliances between Arabs and Jews, Palestinians and Israelis, as long as they don’t drift too far from their respective mainstreams.
We have to distinguish two periods, before and since 2000. I’ve looked through the record pretty carefully and reviewed it in print, with sources. If you check, I think you will find that it includes every PM until 1996, Peres’s last term, which he concluded with a press conference in which he stated that there will never be a Palestinian state. Then comes Netanyahu, with the comment I quoted. By the late ‘90s, there was some talk about the possibility. Then Barak and the Taba conference, which seemed to be getting somewhere according to participants until Barak cancelled it. The later record is one of much less uniform rejectionism.
If there’s anything I’ve missed, I’d very much like to know. I don’t see any category error, but of course we have to distinguish pre- and post-2000.
Separate point. According to the best sources I can find (Pundak and Arieli particularly) there was never any 3% offer or anything like it.
I don’t think the time distinction you make is the only meaningful distinction. The ideological rigidity (or sheer stubbornness) of different individuals was also critical. Likud leaders in general tended to be much less flexible and accommodating than Labour leaders, but this was not uniformly so. On the one hand, there was the ex-Likudnik Ehud Olmert, who ended up as “dovish” as any of them, if not more so. On the other hand, there was Golda Meir, who rejected even the notion of a Palestinian people, let alone a Palestinian state (I spoke to her myself about this in 1973 when, over a long private lunch, I handed her a copy of my pamphlet which called for a Palestinian state alongside Israel; she glanced at the cover and passed it on to a nearby aide).
Her predecessor, Levi Eshkol, was a lot more open-minded, even offering in February 1969 to talk to Fatah, widely viewed in Israel at the time as a band of terrorists, with Arafat the chief thug. His offer was never put to the test, though, as he suffered a fatal heart attack a few days later. Golda’s assumption of the premiership put all further talk of a Palestinian state or negotiating with “terrorists” into cold storage for nearly a quarter of a century. Labour Party Secretary General Arieh (Lova) Eliav did favour a Palestinian state, however, and promptly got his marching orders from her. There were other nuances, too, which are an important part of the record.
It is also worth noting that the time distinction you observe was not particular to Israel. The international community considered the Jordanian option the only option until 1988. It took until March 2002 for the UN Security Council to officially support a Palestinian state alongside Israel, echoed in the Arab Peace Initiative the same month. The Palestinians (PLO) themselves, of course, did not endorse the idea of a Palestinian state alongside Israel (instead of instead of Israel) until 1988, remarkably declaring five years later that it accepted Israel’s “right to exist” (I had never expected them to go that far). So, as frustrating as it was for those of us who had been calling for two states for years, the Israelis were not seriously out of step timewise with the rest of the world on this issue.
The plans that then emerged from the US government, such as the Road Map (30 April 2003) were conceptually flawed (http://www.hlrn.org/img/documents/The%20roadmap.pdf.) Incrementalism was absolutely what not to do. Someone compared it to trying to jump over a huge chasm in two or more leaps! About three months earlier, together with colleagues at the Oxford Research Group, I had put forward a proposal for a temporary international protectorate over the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a prelude to Palestinian independence.
It attracted quite a lot of interest, which included media interviews, invitations to address numerous meetings, an article in Open Democracy (https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/article_1207jsp/), republished on other platforms, and an op-ed in the Guardian (15 January 2003) by the influential columnist Jonathan Freedland, under the title “At last, a fresh idea.” Freedland commented: “Debated in policy circles in Washington and London, this new plan is said to be gaining currency on the Israeli centreleft as well as winning a warm hearing in Palestinian leadership circles. Its advocates include people who have rarely agreed on much before, but who suddenly believe that, in this most hopeless of conflicts, they have at last hit upon a plan which might work.” https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2003/jan/15/foreignpolicy.world
A short time after our proposal appeared, a similar, although less farreaching, plan was put forward by Martin Indyk, published in the May/June 2003 edition of Foreign Affairs: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/israel/2003-05-01/trusteeship-palestine
Despite all the interest and support, these proposals got crushed by the US Road Map juggernaut, the self-evident weaknesses of which were obscured by the fog of wishful thinking and self-deception. Like most US proposals, it also suffered from the urge to exploit an ostensible peace process to promote other foreign policy aims, such as gaining an advantage over its strategic rivals, rather than focus strictly on resolving this eminently resolvable conflict.
Further, the absence of an effective enforcement mechanism in the shape of smart potential rewards and smart threatened penalties foredoomed all international peace initiatives and rendered negotiations ultimately pointless. The idea that all that was needed was friendly mediation or that the parties, seated around the same table, would somehow come to understand each other better and display enough goodwill to get an agreement over the line was always bunkum. So, too, was a programme of “confidencebuilding measures” in an occupation situation, or the belief that violence was the main impediment to ending the occupation rather than seeing that the violence was a product of the occupation. Violence has more of less ceased in recent years, but guess what?
So, as we observed previously, and not to let Israeli governments off the hook, there is plenty of blame to go around in failing to achieve a Palestinian state.
As for the 3%, it is worth looking at the Moratinos “non-paper” on the Taba talks, published in the Journal of Palestine Studies (click on the link, then open the PDF document): https://online.ucpress.edu/jps/article/31/3/79/52925/The-Taba-Negotiations-January-2001
There is a reference there to a 6% Israeli proposal (which itself was a considerable improvement on the proposal at Camp David). But I believe this was before land swaps, which some reports argued brought the figure down to 3% (although this figure might have included the projected passage between Gaza and the West Bank). The Palestinians, not unreasonably, insisted on zero per cent and, from memory, I believe this was reflected in the subsequent unofficial Geneva Initiative.
Finally, what you say about Barak cancelling the Taba conference is technically true, but the intifada was well under way by then and Barak was about to be trounced in the Israeli election by the notoriously hawkish Sharon, whose earlier incursion into the Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif compound, accompanied by several hundred-armed guards, had helped spark the uprising with the obviously deliberate (and successful) intention to undermine Barak.
Eliav is the single exception, and he was very marginal as you know. Meir, Rabin, Peres were adamant rejectionists until the end (Peres shifted after he left office in 1996 and tried to craft an image as an elder statesman, but that’s obviously irrelevant). There were no nuances pre-2000, and it’s idle to look for them. Straight rejectionism, spearheaded by Labor in the ‘70s, which also insisted on settling the Sinai, building the all-Jewish city of Yamit, driving out thousands of inhabitants, razing mosques and towns to build kibbutzim. Labor’s Galili protocols, plans finally abandoned by Begin.
Again, in the 1989 Peres-Shamir coalition government that responded to the explicit PNC peace offer by declaring that there can be no “additional, Palestinian state” (my italics) between Jordan and Israel, on to Rabin’s escalation of settlements and rejection of a Palestinian state after Oslo and Peres’s final press conference, flatly rejecting any such outcome.
The international story simply makes the picture clearer. In January 1971, Israel rejected the international Jarring initiative, supported by Sadat, for a peaceful settlement with nothing for the Palestinians. The issue was Labor’s goal of settling the Sinai (the Galili protocols).
In January 1976, the UN Security Council considered a resolution, supported by Egypt-Jordan-Syria, calling for two states on the Green Line with guarantees for the right of each state “to exist in peace and security” with secure and guaranteed borders. There was of course room to negotiate, but PM Rabin rejected it out of hand, declaring that there will be no Palestinian state and no negotiations with the PLO. Ambassador Chaim Herzog practically went berserk. He claimed (falsely of course) that the resolution was “prepared” by the PLO in an effort to destroy Israel. It was vetoed by the US. The PLO condemned “the tyranny of the veto.”
With the Security Council blocked by the US, international debate then shifted to the UN General Assembly where there were regular resolutions with similar content, virtually unanimous, rejected by US-Israel, occasionally joined by some US dependency. It’s true that the UNSC didn’t accept a Palestinian state until 2002 – because the US vetoed such proposals in the Security Council and voted with Israel in the General Assembly to reject them, virtually alone.
There simply are no nuances. In the ’70s, Labor made the clear decision to choose expansion over security. There is no deviation from total rejectionism until flickers in the late ‘90s. Always fully supported by the US, some meaningless rhetoric aside.
There’s plenty of blame to throw around, but we should be clear about this very explicit record. Like you, I was frustrated by the failure to implement the overwhelming international consensus on a two-state settlement from the mid-70s.The overwhelming reason is US-backed adamant Israeli rejectionism.
(Chomsky’s responses are interpolated in bold type)
I don't dispute your raw facts, but I do think they need to be contextualized and qualified.
Everything can always be presented in more detail, and when we do in this case it simply brings out more clearly what I said: flat rejectionism on the part of both political groupings in Israel until the late ‘90s, when there were some flutters of reconsideration, backed by the US in opposition to virtually unanimous global opinion.
I make these observations:
1. Regarding principled supporters of two states, I would add Beilin to Eliav.
That’s true. His MehiroshelIhud is a very valuable indictment of Labor’s rejectionism, up to the early ‘80s. But, of course, he was in the margins.
2. There were three prime ministers — Rabin (1993), Barak (2000), Olmert (2008)— who, with all their prevarications, were inching towards doing a serious deal with the Palestinians, either because of external pressure, internal pressure, Palestinian pressure (intifada), or belated recognition that otherwise Israel was heading towards apartheid and the death of the Zionist dream of a Jewish democratic state. All three of them were late (and not necessarily full) converts. Each of them was abruptly stopped in their tracks — by assassination, by a looming electoral defeat, and by imprisonment.
2000 and 2008 are irrelevant, for the reasons discussed. The issue is total rejectionism from the early ‘70s to the late ‘90s.We can speculate as to what might have been in Rabin’s mind. But his actions are clear. Oslo was flatly rejectionist in principle, not a mention of Palestinian national rights even as a long-term goal in the DOP (Declaration of Principles), underscored by limiting mention of UN Resolutions to 242 and 338. After Oslo, Rabin carried forward his policies of expanding settlements in the West Bank, formulating the strategy clearly. Carried forward by Peres, very explicit rejectionism, including his final press conference in office.
In Rabin's case, I was part of a small contingent that met Arafat in London shortly after Rabin had been assassinated. Arafat was visibly distraught, convinced that had Rabin lived they would have resolved the conflict on the basis of two states. That was his judgment. I can’t gainsay it. Olmert claimed that he proposed a net retention of 0.5% (excluding the West Bank/Gaza passage).
In short, from the early ‘70s to the late ‘90s, it is impossible to point to any departure from strict rejectionism.
3. Israeli politicians did not form a monolith. Sustained international pressure, notably US pressure, could have made the difference.
Absolutely. That’s what I’ve been writing and speaking about since the mid-70s, when full US support for total Israeli rejectionism became completely clear.
The hard-line Begin would not have withdrawn from Sinai (even though he was not ideologically committed to it) without a combination of external and internal pressure. But very little international pressure was applied to withdrawing from the West Bank throughout the length of the occupation. I encountered the flawed argument time and again that Israel's withdrawal from Sinai and then Lebanon and then Gaza proved that in principle Israel was willing to withdraw from all captured Arab land, including the West Bank, in exchange for peace. The Palestinians just had to stop their violence. For ideologues like Begin, Shamir, and Netanyahu (and to a lesser extent Sharon), the logic worked quite differently. Judea and Samaria were the prize. There was more scope with the more pragmatic leaders, but it wasn't exploited. On the evidence, I find it hard to go along with the view that there was nothing but persistent and undifferentiated rejectionism on Israel’s part (any more than there was persistent and undifferentiated Palestinian rejectionism, which is another common, and in my opinion equally erroneous, view but for which a case could and has repeatedly been made).
In short, the facts are unambiguous. As for the Palestinian leadership, I have far harsher criticisms than yours, but the facts are also clear. From the mid-70s, they took the position that they would accept sovereignty in any territory they could obtain, without relinquishing the right for more.
4. There appears to be an important nuanced difference between pre-1988 and post-1988 resolutions. Pre-1988 resolutions used such language as a “just solution,” “inalienable Palestinian rights to self-determination,” “right of return to homes and property,” “right to national independence and sovereignty in Palestine,” and “full withdrawal from occupied territories.”
That is simply false. The January 1976 Security Council resolution was quite explicit about a two-state settlement on the international border. To save you the trouble of looking it up, here are the crucial words:
That the Palestinian people should be enabled to exercise its inalienable national right of self-determination, including the right to establish an independent state in Palestine in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations: That Israel should withdraw from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967. The appropriate arrangements should be established to guarantee, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of all states in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries.
Loud and clear. PM Rabin understood it perfectly, responding at once that there will never be a Palestinian state. Herzog went beyond, claiming that the resolution was “prepared” by the PLO in order to destroy Israel – false, of course, but it reflects the mood among the more dovish sectors – the “panic” that Amos Elon described. The resolution was supported by Syria, Egypt, Jordan, and vetoed by the US. The PLO condemned “the tyranny of the veto.” Matters shifted to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), where the US regularly voted alone with Israel (sometimes some US dependency) against the world on similar resolutions. Sometimes US rejectionism was so extreme that it became an object of ridicule, e.g., in Feb. 2011, when Obama vetoed a resolution backing official US policy on settlement expansion.
The only pre-1988 General Assembly resolution I have come across which explicitly refers to a Palestinian state was the one on 17 December 1981 which, with studied ambiguity, called for the “establishment of its independent sovereign state in Palestine” (no explicit mention of alongside Israel). I have now looked up the draft UNSC resolution of January 1976, vetoed by the US: [S/11940 of 23 January 1976 – Home – Question of Palestine] and note it did not unambiguously call for two states either, one next to the other (this is not nit-picking because it did make it explicit after 1988; see below), although I think you’re right that this was a reasonable implication.
The wording was explicit. There’s little point denying plain and explicit facts.
It would be surprising if Jordan did back a Palestinian state on the West Bank at that time, as the Hashemite monarchy was vehement in its own claim on the territory until 1988.
Call it what you will. That was the official Jordanian position, reiterated later. In 1988, Jordan renounced any rights over the West Bank but that’s consistent with their support for a Palestinian state, explicit since ‘76.
5. Compare those resolutions with General Assembly (GA) resolution of 15 December 1988, exactly one month after the Palestinian National Council (PNC) meeting in Algiers which, for the first time, called for a separate Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza and three days after Arafat addressed the GA expanding on the new policy and endorsing the 1947 partition resolution 181.
The GA resolution began by "Recalling its resolution 181 (II) of 29 November 1947, in which, inter alia, it called for the establishment of an Arab State and a Jewish State in Palestine ... Aware of the proclamation of the State of Palestine by the Palestine National Council in line with General Assembly resolution 181 (II) .. Affirms the need to enable the Palestinian people to exercise their sovereignty over their territory occupied since 1967 ...".
Considerably more ambiguous than the UNSC resolution of Jan. 1976, which was also far more important than a UNGA resolution.
And it’s worth adding the response of the Peres-Shamir coalition government to the PNC declaration: there can be no “additional” (!!) Palestinian state between Israel and Jordan, and the fate of the territories will be determined in accord with the guidelines of the Israeli government (endorsed in the Baker plan). That’s Peres the dove.
The GA resolution of 15 December 1988 was a watershed resolution as it was the first time as far as I can tell that a Jewish state in Palestine was openly affirmed (reaffirmed) in any of these resolutions alongside a Palestinian state to be established in the occupied territories (defined clearly as 1967 rather than possibly 1948). Although it took another 14 years for the Security Council to adopt the same two-state policy, it is really only from December 1988, following the lead of the PLO, that it could realistically be
said that two states became official UN policy (albeit with the opposition of the US and a large number of abstentions). It is a stretch to say that two states was the UN policy before then.
Nor did I say so. The UN could have no policy because of the US veto, and of course, the US dismisses the UNGA routinely on all sorts of issues.
Israel, of course, also opposed the 1988 GA resolution, but by 1993 it had started, begrudgingly, to show more openness towards the idea of a separate Palestinian entity …
Maybe secretly, but there is unambiguous and strong rejection in public, up to Peres’s last press conference in office.
… a development which the constant expression of international opinion by way of these resolutions and in other ways may have had an understated long-term influence, alongside other game-changing developments, notably the first intifada.
I shall refrain from responding to every detail you have raised as my intent, like yours, is not to score points, and I’m concerned that we may unwittingly be descending into that. It may be more useful for me to contextualize my past (and present) remarks by explaining what has been motivating my involvement. From at least the inception of the Israeli occupation in June 1967, it has been one thing: to resolve this wretched conflict. That is what has driven me for the past fifty-plus years. Otherwise, I have no axes to grind.
The conflict dominated student politics at the local, national and international levels when I was active in those areas in the late sixties and early seventies. It was my baptism of fire. Subsequently, I travelled quite extensively in the region, became immersed, learned a lot, and acquired an affection for and close affinity with both peoples (which is not to say I never got infuriated). Some of my travels were research-oriented for my PhD thesis on the Israeli occupation, 1967-73. I have remained involved, on and off, in different capacities ever since then, although I confess to having made a number of unsuccessful escape attempts. I have written extensively about and around the conflict over many years and have been a consultant to both the Palestine Strategy Group and the Israel Strategic Forum.
My first work, published in January 1973, advocated a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza alongside Israel, and I was closely in touch with the small number of Israelis and Palestinians who were proposing the same formula at that time. We were convinced that was the only way to resolve the conflict. I have put forward a number of peace plans of my own over the years and have campaigned for them at different levels, including with the governments of the UK, the US, Israel, and the PLO.
I witnessed and strongly welcomed the steady increase in support for a two-state outcome by other Palestinians and Israelis as the years progressed, until they became at one point a clear majority on both sides. I was perturbed when the proposal came to be known as the “two-state solution,” as I felt this terminology was misleading in more ways than one. One regrettable consequence was that the language gave birth to what I regard as an oxymoronic offspring, the so-called “one-state solution” (inasmuch as one state means a unitary state). When people today oppose or dismiss or ridicule the two-state idea, including some radical leftist Israeli Jews, I wonder how much they realize that the main implication of their stance is that the Palestinians cannot have their own state? This is the vital missing parameter. The Israelis already have their well-established state. It is the Palestinians who are stateless.
I mention all this as it might cast some light on my take on the matters we have been discussing. My interest in, for example, past events is not for the purity of the historical record, nor to push one interest over another, nor to prove a point, nor to condemn one party or another, nor to discredit this or that individual, nor for any other purpose except to resolve this miserable conflict. So what guides me and what I look for in examining events, including historical detail, are clues that indicate a vulnerability or a possible change of orientation, which may then be leveraged. The snapshot is of less interest to me than an indication of a change in the direction of travel, which sometimes may be quite subtle.
In the shadow of a recent change of PLO policy, the General Assembly resolution of December 1988, previously cited, was an obvious example to my mind of a detectable change in tone if not in substance, for reasons explained, but evidently not to your mind. Among other leading figures, the political development of Rabin – the reason he was assassinated – was for me another good example. I hold there was plenty of evidence he was on a journey, the destination of which was yet to be determined. But again you did not see it that way. I suppose we'll just have to disagree on such matters. We appear to agree at least about Olmert, which is another important case in point.
For at least the past 15 years I have been warning that we are in the last-chance saloon (the title of one of my past articles). It is possible that that saloon has now closed. But I'm not quite ready to give up on the quest to resolve the conflict as I still see potential opportunities, including the prospect of a change of orientation on my own part about how to end it. So I will continue to look for those vulnerabilities and opportunities while I can, until I spot the chance for another breakthrough which, in the history of this conflict, tends to come when least expected.
I take your word that Jordan supported the draft UNSC resolution of January 1976 calling for two states, but if you happen to have the source to hand, I would appreciate being apprised of it. The reason I find it surprising is that in the period that followed the 1967 war, King Hussein was vehemently opposed to a separate Palestinian entity on the West Bank. In a radio broadcast, his government denounced it as an “imperialist and Zionist design.” In March 1972, Hussein advanced his “federation” plan between the West Bank and East Bank. The plan was summarily rejected by the PLO, Syria and Egypt, which promptly severed relations with Jordan. But if you are right, less than four years later, Hussein was supporting a Palestinian state at the UN alongside Syria and Egypt. It is not clear how this squares with his relinquishing Jordan's claim to the West Bank only after the seminal PNC meeting in 1988. But I’m perfectly happy to be set right.
We do appear to see eye to eye, however, on the crucial difference that outside pressure could have made, particularly from the US, a contention apparently underlined by Israeli Trade Minister Haim Zadok in an interview with Uri Avnery shortly after the 1967 war. Reflecting on the interview in a 2018 article, Avnery affirmed that Zadok told him Israel would almost certainly, have buckled under concerted pressure:
Back in 1967, I asked, what part of the newly occupied territories the government was ready to give back (to Jordan). He replied: “Simple.
If possible, we shall give back nothing. If they press us, we shall give back a small part. If they press us more, we shall give back a large
part. If they press us very hard, we shall give back everything.”
This is why I pin the major blame on the US and other outside powers for the disastrous status quo. It was in their power to have prevented it from developing. This does not, however, as you rightly say, let the Israeli political class off the hook.
If you have not come across the burgeoning Israeli joint Jewish-Palestinian group “Standing Together,” it is worth looking them up (link below). It is, I think, one of the few beacons of hope to have emerged in recent years: https://www.standing-together.org/about-us
On Jordan, it was reported at once by the New York Times (NYT), https://www.nytimes.com/1976/01/27/archives/us-casts-veto-onmideast-plan-in-uns-council-americans-say.html, and in many other sources then and afterwards: “Representatives of Egypt, Jordan and Syria attacked the veto with varying degrees of harshness, Dr Ahmad Esmat Abdel Meguid of Egypt said it would hinder the peace process. Jordan's Sherif Abdul Hamid Sharif called it a ‘historic mistake’ and Syria's Mowaffak Allaf labeled it ‘a betrayal’.”
If you read further in this article and the background discussions, you’ll see it was supported by the Arab states generally. Again in 1980, then on in further Arab peace plans, all rejected firmly by the unwavering bipartisan Israeli leadership, including Rabin and Peres until the end. I don’t see any difficulty reconciling Jordan’s support for a Palestinian state with their maintaining their claim over the West Bank after the option was blocked by the entire Israeli leadership spectrum, backed by the US.
The important fact, at least for those of us concerned about Israel and the Palestinians, is that in the 1970s, beginning with Israel’s rejection of the Jarring initiative and forcefully with Rabin-Herzog’s rejection of the ‘76 option and later ones, the Labor Party and its Likud successor made a fateful decision: to choose expansion over security. You recall Leibowitz’s reaction, which I shared, though I wouldn’t have put it that strongly. At that point and since I’ve been writing that from that point on, those who call themselves “supporters of Israel” are in fact supporters of Israel’s moral degeneration and possible ultimate destruction. I’m sorry to see the prediction verified and think that those of us who are concerned should preserve the record accurately, without illusions.
One illusion of Palestinians and the diminishing number of Israeli doves (including the truly outstanding Gideon Levy) is the “one-state proposal.” Israel will never accept its disappearance (apart from some right-wing religious lunatics), and there is zero support for it, including Third World countries that are jealous of sovereignty. It serves as a cover for the Greater Israel project that Israel has systematically been constructing for 50 years, under the leadership of Peres, Rabin, Begin, Sharon, unremittingly until this millennium. No need to review what happened since. I’ve been writing about that repeatedly, in Palestinian journals as well, and speaking about it constantly, to deaf ears. On Rabin, I only know about his very clear public stance to the day of the assassination. On Olmert, it was post-2000 – there’s more to say about it, but I’ll put it aside.
Like you, I don’t think the game is over, though there are many obstacles – including the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS),” which is adopting self-destructive tactics and has pre-empted the space for a genuine Palestinian solidarity movement of the kind that might have grown out of Avnery’s earlier BD [boycott/divestment] initiatives. Thanks for the link. Didn’t know about them. Looks promising.
(Chomsky’s responses are interpolated in bold type)
I am grateful to you for having drawn my attention to the January 1976 draft Security Council resolution and have now perused the wider debate on it (https://unispal.un.org/DPA/DPR/unispal.76nsf/0/D0242E9E210D937585256C6E0054DF8A). I acknowledge it is a significant brick in the story and don’t disagree that the draft resolution very clearly expressed the right of the Palestinians “to establish an independent state in Palestine.” But because of the US veto, it did not become official Security Council policy and therefore is not part of the official record. But it was an important snapshot of opinion.
It is far more than a snapshot. It is a revealing illustration of the consistent stand of the entire Labor-Likud leadership up until 2000, including the so-called doves, from dismissal of Sadat’s peace offers and rejection of the Jarring initiative through the rest of the century. Rabin’s outright rejection of a Palestinian state, forcefully enunciated in his rejection of this opportunity, persisted until his assassination. Herzog’s hysterical reaction speaks for itself. Peres, one of the main architects of settlement deep in the West Bank, took an even more extreme position, declaring that there can be no “additional” Palestinian state.
Yes, it’s not part of the official record because the US blocked it, as it continued to do through the century and in other ways since. The sole serious departure was Clinton’s parameters, quickly abandoned.
Don’t know how to say this more clearly. In your search for private feelings, you are missing the crucial fact that in the 1970s, with firm US backing, Israel made the fateful decision to choose expansion over security, with enormous consequences: One is of course avoidable security problems, another is the moral degeneration that was predicted (Leibowitz and others, me, too, for what it matters), Israel’s decline from an admired social democracy to an international pariah and the darling of the far right. And, of course, crushing of Palestinian hopes.
The forceful rejection of peace by the US-Israel in ‘76 is a dramatic illustration – of stable and unchanging policies.
… The problem with snapshots, however, as I’ve occasioned to mention before, is what they don’t reveal. Anyone who reads the record of the debate could be forgiven for gaining the impression that Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and the PLO were in harmony on these matters and sincere in their support of a Palestinian state alongside Israel (which was the implication of the draft resolution).
The “snapshot” reveals with complete clarity that Egypt, Jordan, and Syria supported the resolution without reservations. It wasn’t an “implication” of the resolution; it was explicitly and precisely affirmed. The only person who claimed that the PLO was in harmony was Herzog. Of course, they were not. The PLO at the time was moving towards agreeing to accept any territory granted to them, as a base for further expansion – much like Ben-Gurion in ‘47.
Yet in reality, the Palestinian world as a whole and factions within the PLO had yet to reconcile themselves to the existence of Israel.
Completely true, but irrelevant to Israel’s fateful decision to choose expansion over security, rejecting the peace offer of Egypt, Syria, Jordan.
Writing only a few months earlier, in April 1975, Said Hammami was probably the first PLO official to speak out openly on this topic (and paid the ultimate price for his “treachery” three years later at the hands of a breakaway faction of the PLO). A highly influential article by the heavyweight Palestinian scholar Walid Khalidi in support of the two-state idea appeared only in July 1978, more than two years later. It took a further ten years for the PLO to adopt the paradigm as its official policy. January 1976 came much too early.
Jordan, as previously indicated, was vehemently opposed to separate Palestinian statehood when the idea was raised shortly after the 1967 war, and its leadership denounced and threatened anyone who favoured it. Thousands of Palestinians perished in “Black September” 1970 when the PLO was gunned out of Jordan. King Hussein's proposal for a federated United Arab Kingdom eighteen months later had only been on the table for under four years when the kingdom appeared to throw its support behind the 1976 UNSC resolution. It beggars belief. Another twelve years passed before Jordan officially dropped its claim to the West Bank.
Not “appeared” and it doesn’t beggar belief at all that Jordan decided to go along with Egypt and Syria. And it is consistent with their maintaining a claim to the West Bank after the entire Israeli political leadership made clear its unwavering rejectionism, with US support.
Less than two years after the draft Security Council resolution, the president of Egypt flew to Israel to make a separate peace. The treaty with Israel called for Palestinian autonomy, not statehood.
Correct. In the face of flat rejection by the Israeli left and the US, Sadat lowered his requests.
The Palestinians might have got a better deal had Arafat taken his place at the negotiating table in Cairo offered to him by Sadat, but he chose instead to participate in a Gaddafi-organized “rejectionist” conference in Benghazi.
Syria-PLO relations, in particular those between Assad and Arafat, were tempestuous, fluctuating over the years between mistrust and hostility. Arafat was physically expelled from Syria in June 1983, and all ties were broken. Dozens of his followers were detained for the next six years. Syria sponsored its own Palestinian guerrilla groups. Syrian support for the Palestinian cause tended to be very much on its own terms.
I am throwing out pieces of information here rather than constructing a thoroughly researched thesis. But there is a theme that runs through these and similar points, and I raise them to suggest that the ostensible unanimous Arab support for Palestinian independence in the January 1976 draft resolution might have had an element of disingenuousness about it. In the light of the histories and the many conflicting contemporary interests, I would be hesitant to accept at face value genuine across-the-board support
for an (Arafat-run) independent Palestinian state as early as January 1976 (although I had proposed it myself three years earlier), as there was ample evidence that this was not necessarily what the different parties then wanted. What might have made it easier for them to conceal their differences was the confidence that the motion would be vetoed by the US.
As for the US veto, there is much to be said on that. But I shall resist the temptation.
I’ll skip the above. Yes, all sorts of hidden feelings are possible. I’m talking about what happened, what opportunities existed, and what choices were made.
Returning to Rabin, you say you only know about his very clear public stance to the day of the assassination. But, having previously called for “force, might, and beatings” to quash the Palestinian revolt (he denied he said break bones), these were his words at the peace rally moments before he was assassinated:
“There are enemies of peace who are trying to hurt us, in order to torpedo the peace process. I want to say bluntly, that we have found a partner for peace among the Palestinians as well: the PLO, which was an enemy, and has ceased to engage in terrorism. Without partners for peace, there can be no peace. We will demand that they do their part for peace, just as we will do our part for peace, in order to solve the most complicated, prolonged, and emotionally charged aspect of the Israeli-Arab conflict: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This is a course which is fraught with difficulties and pain. For Israel, there is no path that is without pain. But the path of peace is preferable to the path of war ...”
In short, no departure from his total rejectionism, putting aside his cowardly claim that violence is the sole responsibility of the PLO. Not a hint of any Palestinian national rights. Of course, he wanted peace. Who doesn’t, on their terms? And the flat rejectionism of this statement is fortified by his programs of escalating settlement and explanation of the strategy behind it at the very same time.
I hold no brief for Rabin, but I don't see how you can maintain he was not on a journey. The huge crowd at the rally clearly felt he was. His assassin and many on the right felt he was. I think he was, and I think he thought he was. It's hard to know where he would have ended up. Maybe he had already gone as far as he was prepared to. Maybe not. But look at the distance Olmert travelled some years later when he, too, had to face the realities of Israel’s situation.
Yes, the crowd felt that he was on the way to peace – a peace that would implement the Greater Israel project that he and the other Labor leaders had been pursuing since 1970, but now with Palestinian acceptance. Why shouldn’t they have been delighted. And the right recognized that inherent in the Greater Israel project is leaving some shreds to Palestinians, which they reject, just as they reject Netanyahu’s annexation proposals today. That is the only journey for which there
is any evidence, including the quote you give.
One of my favourite songs as a kid was the Gershwins’ It ain’t necessarily so: “the things that you’re liable to read in the bible, they ain’t necessarily so.” It was my first lesson in healthy scepticism, in not taking things at face value lest the deeper messages are lost. It is one of the tools I commonly employ in trying to make sense of the multifaceted Arab-Israeli conflict.
It lies at the base of my long-espoused contention that the Arab League’s famous three “noes” of Khartoum three months after the 1967 war may be better understood as meaning (or indicating) three “yesses”: yes to recognition, yes to negotiation, and yes to peace – but not yet.
That’s quite right I think, and it’s supported by the record. Nasser’s inching towards negotiations, Sadat’s acceptance of Jarring, and a lot more.
After the trauma of the 1967 setback, time was needed for the Arab world to come to terms consciously with the deeper meaning of their military defeat and Israel’s military victory. It was also a profound political, social, and psychological blow. Once the shock started to retreat, Arab states, as well as the Palestinians, would catch up with the new reality and be prepared to recognize and negotiate with Israel and offer it peace if certain conditions were met. Which, slowly but steadily, is what happened in practice. Taking
the three “noes” literally missed their true significance in the circumstances of the time (even though they were “explicitly and precisely affirmed”). To this day, Israeli hasbara cites the Khartoum declaration as evidence of abiding Arab intransigence.
On the other side, the intimations, or explicit declarations, of support for a Palestinian/Arab state by Levi Eshkol, Moshe Dayan, and Yigal Allon, among others, in the wake of the 1967 war have been cited by Israeli sources to show early Israeli munificence and instant Palestinian rejectionism.
Can you give me sources on these? The only example of Israeli munificence I know was the famous June 19, 1967, offer that Abba Eban made a fuss about and hasbara generally – all shown to be complete fabrication by Avi Raz. But if there’s anything else, I’d like to see it. That Palestinians were completely rejectionist until the mid-70s is not in question. I was sharply criticizing them for that, in print, from 1969.
On digging deeper, it becomes clear that by a “Palestinian state,” these Israeli leaders meant something quite different from a sovereign independent state on the West Bank and Gaza with Jerusalem as its capital. Moshe Dayan and Uri Avnery used the same term but did not mean the same thing. It was for me another instance of the importance of not taking things at face value in this conflict.
I’d like to see the statements.
To my mind, the January 1976 draft Security Council resolution needs to be looked at with a similar sceptical eye. I don’t diminish its significance as either a snapshot or a step in a moving picture. But a superficial reading of it, disregarding all the background intrigue, narrow state interests, and inter-state rivalries, carries the danger of seeing what one is inclined to see, or seeing no more than what literally is there, rather than panning out and questioning the broader motives of the supporting parties. In this case, in
particular, of the three Arab states. To put it another way: their apparently unbridled, synchronized support for this resolution ain’t necessarily so.
First, it was not a snapshot; it was part of a long sequence, both for Israel and the US The entire top political echelon in Israel resolutely rejected every opportunity for peace, flatly rejecting any option for a Palestinian state (Rabin forcefully, Herzog hysterically, same with the others). You’re right that there was more behind the 1976 offer. The Arab states kept toning down their proposals, hoping that they could get something the US wouldn’t veto. When they saw that the US was going to veto anything, they stopped trying. Nevertheless, the resolution was quite explicit, as was Israel’s strong and firm rejection, and the support of the Arab confrontation states, in the only form that non-members of the UNSC can express support. As was the PLO’s indirect support in its condemnation of “the tyranny of the veto.”
With the UNSC barred by the US (there was actually another attempt in 1980), UN discussion shifted to the GA, with regular resolutions along similar lines, opposed only by the US-Israel (sometimes joined by a US dependency). Meanwhile, Arab initiatives kept coming, like the Fahd plan, flatly rejected by Israel. That continued until the end of the century. Meanwhile, settlement continued, under Peres’s lead, deep in “Samaria,” with not a hint of change. True, Labor had to abandon its Sinai project, but that’s all. Peres maintained his strong and outspoken rejectionism until he left office, even declaring Jordan to be a Palestinian state in his rejection of the 1988 PLO offer. Rabin never wavered either in word or deed, as exemplified by his support for expanded settlements.
The crucial fact is the significance of this consistent series of events. In the ‘70s, Israel made a fateful decision – eyes open – to choose expansion over security, with terrible consequences, not only for Palestinians but for Israel as well: moral degeneration, increasing international isolation, shift from admired social democratic model to support from the far right as Israel itself shifted to the right, all predicted, all the results of the firm decision in the ‘70s, no nuances.
To your other points. You write: “You draw a distinction between Israel's stand pre-2000 and post-2000. It seems you are suggesting Israel was more flexible after 2000? It's not clear to me how you justify that.”
By the factual record. Until 2000, total rejectionism. In 2000, Barak entertained the notion of a Palestinian state. At Taba, negotiators on both sides claimed that almost all problems were on the verge of resolution when Barak cancelled the meetings. In following years, there were various discussions and offers. So the justification is clear.
You misunderstand my point by calling them “private feelings.” I trust that what I have written above explains my position better.
I think we agree that Arafat and the PLO were on a journey, from total rejection of Israel's existence from the PLO's inception to implicit recognition after 1974 to more explicit recognition from 1988 to open recognition in 2003. But you seem unable to see that Rabin was also on a journey, the final destination of which was still undetermined.
You’re overlooking the crucial difference. The PLO journey is on the record. Rabin’s journey was in what you think was in his mind, belied by everything in public: his statements, his strong support for expanded settlement.
That is a crucial difference.
Arafat himself unquestionably saw that Rabin was on a journey.
He wanted to see that, for his own reasons, which I don’t admire as you know, but that’s a different matter.
I won’t repeat what I have already said in support of the contention but it’s puzzling to me how you clearly see it in one case and fail to see it at all in the other.
Not at all puzzling. In one case we have a definite and explicit record. In the other case, we have beliefs about what Rabin had in mind, which is sharply opposed to what he was saying and doing.
Their respective journeys, in my view, had nothing to do with altruism, international law, or “dovishness” but were propelled by the dynamics set in motion by an irresistible force and an immovable object battling it out. For them (Arafat and Rabin), in contrast with some of their compatriots, the sheer realities were of a higher order than ideological purity. They both were moving towards recognizing the imperative of a deal that would accommodate at least the minimum core aspirations of the other people. A bullet put paid to that, which of course was its intention.
The bullet put paid to the fear by the far right that he was going to offer the Palestinians something, even though he never hinted at a state and was working hard to undermine the prospects with his aggressive settlement programs. Same is happening now with right-wing settler opposition to Netanyahu’s annexation proposals.
Referring to the 1976 draft resolution as a "peace offer of Egypt, Syria, Jordan" is quite a stretch.
Not a stretch. All three supported the peace offer – which it was, explicitly – in the only way that support is possible outside the UNSC.
It is believable in the case of Egypt (proven a year later), credible in the case of Jordan (although, as said, Jordan's enthusiasm for a Palestinian state at that time is doubtful, to say the least), but out of sight in the case of Syria. I am not aware of any other evidence to support the contention that Syria was genuinely serious about reaching peace with Israel or offering peace to Israel at that point of history.
I’m sure all three countries genuinely wanted Israel to disappear. But they also explicitly supported the peace offer and continued to do so when the US forced debate to shift to the GA and as Arab peace plans were put forth.
To my understanding, it is not accurate to say that the reason Jordan maintained a claim to the West Bank was that the Israeli political leadership rejected a Palestinian state. I believe the order of this is wrong. Jordan rejected a Palestinian state right after the 1967 war and only finally dropped its stance that the West Bank should be re-absorbed into the kingdom when Palestinian, wider Arab, and international opinion was swinging solidly behind Palestinian independence consequent to the seminal PNC decision in 1988.
You had said that Jordan’s support for the 1976 peace offer is inconsistent with its maintaining a claim to the West Bank until 1988. It doesn’t seem to me inconsistent. Once Israel made explicit its total rejectionism across the political spectrum, backed by the US, Jordan had no reason not to maintain its claim of responsibility for the West Bank.
I don’t want to misinterpret you but if, by your earlier point, you meant that the "crowd" – the multitude of Israelis at the 1995 peace rally – would have been delighted with a peace “that would implement the Greater Israel project,” I believe you badly misperceived the spirit of that gathering.
I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I don’t see any reason to discard the facts. There was no option for a Palestinian state in 1995 and nothing about abandoning the settlements. By definition, that is the Greater Israel project. The crowds probably never thought about it much. They wanted peace – but the peace they wanted happened to be the Greater Israel project.
I agree that the Oslo Accords have been a disaster for the Palestinians. Dividing the West Bank into three zones (or four, including East Jerusalem) resulted in their having even fewer of the rights they were entitled to under the Geneva Convention and deprived them of the relative freedom of movement within the territory they had until then. In the 1970s, I used to drive throughout the West Bank, often in the company of Palestinian colleagues – and sometimes with Israeli colleagues, too — with very little hindrance. We
encountered few, if any, roadblocks and checkpoints. But the accords didn't have to be the begetter of disaster. There was important progress in other respects that should not be thrown out with the bathwater. The unprecedented agreement in the Declaration of Principles to such sentiments as “peaceful co-existence”, “mutual dignity and security,” “historic reconciliation,” and “a spirit of peace” was an authentic advance, but in reality the terms of the accords were inherently unequal, and the methods of implementation not just cumbersome but patronizing and humiliating. They were supposed to lead to peace but have left us further away from that ideal than ever. And, yes, I do think the Israeli state and the US/international community, not the Palestinians, have been the main culprits.
The DOP was clear and explicit. The final outcome at the end of negotiations would be based on 242/338, which offer nothing to Palestinians. Arafat accepted it for the same reason he made an end run around the internal Palestinians through Oslo. He knew that he and the Tunis PLO were on the verge of being thrown out by the Palestinians within and was seeking to hold on to power. That was already beginning to be clear during the intifada. I spent some time in West Bank villages, sometimes breaking Israeli military curfew. It was a local independent uprising, which went well beyond Palestinian national rights. Though the PLO had plainly lost control and barely knew what was happening, when villagers were asked who their political representatives were, they said Arafat and the PLO. But it was visibly waning, and by the early ‘90s it was pretty clear that Haidar Abdel Shafi was becoming more popular, and that popular opinion supported his rejection of settlements, not Arafat’s acceptance of them in his power grab.
But all of this is beside the main point: Israel’s adamant rejectionism across the top political echelon, and its fateful decision of the ‘70s, of which its rejection of the ‘76 peace offer was a highlight.
Seems pretty clear by now that this is not going to get anywhere. We’re simply looking at different things. I’m looking at the historical and documentary record. You’re looking at what many people may have had in mind. We’ll never reach any resolution this way.
To be clear, like you, I do regard the historical and documentary record as crucial. More often than not, my battles are with heavily biased “pro-Israel” advocates who consistently misrepresent the record, whether through conscious deceit or sheer ignorance. Sometimes the battle is with their “pro-Palestinian” counterparts who suffer a similar malady. But I also think it is vital to contextualize and interpret developments to make fuller sense of them, rather than necessarily take them at face value, which can be quite misleading.
In response to your request for sources, I am attaching extracts from the draft opening chapter of a book I am currently writing. I have highlighted the most relevant passages but have left in parts of the wider discussion for context. Should you have any thoughts or advice on the content, or additional information, I would welcome this.
My survey does not pretend to provide an exhaustive record of opinion during the initial phase of the Israeli occupation but to add my personal findings and observations to the accounts of other studies in the area. Among the most authoritative sources are Avi Raz, The Bride and the Dowry; Tom Segev, 1967: Israel, the War and the Year that Transformed the Middle East, chapter 20; and Galia Golan, Israeli Peacemaking Since 1967, chapter 2.
Thanks for sending. I’ll read it with much care and interest. On a quick scan, it looks very valuable.
CONDENSED VERSION OF KLUG’S 14-PAGE ATTACHMENT
“While undertaking research in the region in 1973, I interviewed most of the dozen or so Palestinians and Israelis who were calling for a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip alongside the Israeli state – what in later years came to be known as the “two-state solution.” I had myself made the same proposal in a pamphlet, “Middle East conflict: a tale of two peoples,” published at the start of the year.
Among the early Palestinian advocates with whom I spoke were Aziz Shehadeh, Muhammad Abu Shilbaya, Aref al-Aref, Nihad Jarallah, Hatem Abu Ghazaleh (“after perhaps five years of UN custodianship”), Victoria Nasir and Raymonde Tawil. Hanna Siniora should be added to the list of early proponents, although I only came to know him personally in subsequent years.
Among the early Israeli advocates whom I interviewed were Uri Avnery and Arieh (Lova) Eliav. Eliav was a former general secretary of the Israeli Labour Party who fell out with party leader Golda Meir over this matter. In 1975, Avnery, together with, among others, Ya'akov Arnon, Amos Kenan, Meir Pa’il, Matti Peled and Yossi Amitai, formed the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace which agitated for the establishment of a Palestinian state and drew in more than a hundred other prominent Israelis. From the government, Foreign Minister Abba Eban favoured a Benelux-type arrangement for Israel/Palestine/Jordan.
Aside from Eban, most of these proponents viewed a future Palestinian state as an independent political entity with full sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as the capital of the state. There was scope for equitable border adjustments, but this was not seen as a major obstacle as it was assumed there would be open borders.
But not everyone who formally paid lip service to Palestinian statehood shared this basic vision, as would soon become apparent in a series of other interviews I conducted and from other primary sources. What some ostensible advocates of a Palestinian state really meant by the term was a form of limited Palestinian autonomy on just the West Bank. And not even all of the West Bank. The eastern part of Jerusalem and some other areas would be excluded. So, too, would be the Gaza Strip. Using the same terminology of a Palestinian state to denote quite a different conception naturally caused a good deal of confusion and gave the misleading impression that there was wider support for it at the time, especially on the Israeli side, than actually there was.
A case in point was the claim trumpeted by the Jewish Observer and Middle East Review, a British Zionist journal, on 20 July 1973, that Levi Eshkol, prime minister of Israel until February 1969, had offered the Palestinians a state in the West Bank shortly after the conclusion of hostilities in June 1967. In interviews with me, Moshe Sasson, who had conducted intensive discussions with scores of local traditional leaders and professionals from November 1967 to December 1970 at Eshkol’s behest, categorically denied the paper’s claim. Adi Yafeh, head of the prime minister’s office, concurred. So, too, did Sheikh Ja'abari, the mayor of Hebron, and Rashad al-Shawa, a pro-Hashemite former mayor of Gaza, who had both been sounded out about becoming the civil governor of most or part of the occupied area.
Their caution was doubtless influenced by the vehement opposition of Jordan’s King Hussein to even the “civic control” idea. Sasson testified (in A Man of Peace, 1997) that Hussein was “convinced that the setting up of a Palestinian Administration would be the first step towards an Independent Palestinian State.” Hamdi Cana’an, the mayor of Nablus until March 1969, told me that Jordanian Prime Minister Bahjat Talhouni denounced “this imperialist and Zionist design” in a radio broadcast and threatened countermeasures.
Jordan was not alone in fearing that a Palestinian state would be the inevitable outcome of an Arab civil administration. According to Sasson, Menachem Begin, leader of the Israeli right, also held that “the concept of autonomy leads to a Palestinian state. If we say autonomy, this is an invitation to an independent Palestinian state,” which he vehemently opposed.
Both Menachem Begin and King Hussein could have called into evidence, albeit mistakenly, the statements of two very senior members of the Israeli cabinet made just days after the conclusion of the 1967 war. Sasson has quoted Defence Minister Moshe Dayan as saying: “If the Arab representatives of the West Bank and Gaza were to come to me today and declare their wish to negotiate the establishment of a Palestinian State, I would not advise the State of Israel to refuse their proposal.”
In a closed session of the Israeli cabinet on 19 June 1967, Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Allon was reported by Sasson as having said: “I take into account an agreed, independent Arab state, surrounded by Israeli territory.”
So Dayan spoke of “a Palestinian state” and Allon spoke of an “independent Arab state,” but they plainly did not have in mind anything like the sovereign, independent Palestinian state alongside Israel of the authentic two-state camp. Allon’s caveat, “surrounded by Israeli territory,” was particularly telling. If the putative “independent Arab state” Allon envisaged was to be a truncated enclave bounded by Israel and to exclude Greater Jerusalem and other sizeable chunks of the West Bank as outlined later in the influential plan that bore his name, the new state would be deprived of roughly half its potential territory, or significantly more than half once the exclusion of Gaza was taken into account.
In practice, the so-called “Allon Plan,” that broadly guided Israeli policy in subsequent years, although it was never officially adopted by the government, soon dropped any allusion to an independent state in favour of returning the area of the West Bank that Israel would eventually evacuate to the Kingdom of Jordan, bringing the plan more in line with King Hussein’s position prior to 1988.
For as long as Levi Eshkol was the prime minister of Israel, there was a chance that some sort of political accommodation may have been found with the Palestinians in the short term, even if it fell significantly short of a full Palestinian state. He was quoted by Sasson as saying at the cabinet meeting of 19 June 1967: “I started with an autonomous region, but if that would be impossible, they will have their independence.” It is unlikely, as discussed, that he meant anything like full independence. In his book 1967, the Israeli historian Tom Segev wrote that “Israelis … had a sincere desire to find out whether an independent Palestinian state was feasible in the West Bank and Gaza” but concluded, in line with the findings here, that “Israel never offered the Palestinians full independence or a compromise they could accept on the matter of Jerusalem.”
Eshkol was succeeded as prime minister by the more hard-line Golda Meir who, two days before she took office on 17 March 1969, was reported by the Sunday Times to have openly cast doubt on whether a Palestinian people ever existed, almost as if she wanted to signal at once a sharp difference between her attitude and Eshkol’s apparently more conciliatory approach.
On the face of it, there was one short-lived exception to this uncompromising stand when Golda Meir’s defence secretary, Shimon Peres, unveiled his idea for a “federation” comprising Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (to which Jordan might later be attached) “in which the inhabitants of the latter two areas would be accorded the maximum autonomy.” According to the Israeli newspaper Davar on 27 June 1975, Peres maintained that his plan “provided for the first time a constructive Israeli proposal for resolving the Palestinian question.”
That he believed it to be an initiative brimming with promise was indicative of the state of thinking in mainstream Israeli circles during the years following the 1967 war. A notable concession in his eyes was that the Palestinians in the Arab areas “could call themselves Palestinians if they chose,” apparently unaware of how patronizing this sounded and how tokenistic a gesture it was.
Peres claimed his plan constituted “an honourable solution for the Arabs themselves” while provocatively terming it an “Israel Federation.” The plan was remarkably insensitive to Palestinian needs, interests, and sentiment. But the mindset of this senior minister was unable to see this at the time. It was obscured by the twin viruses of self-delusion and wishful thinking that had seeped into and colonized the Israeli body politic in the wake of its triumphant military victory in 1967.
That Israel termed that victory the “six-day war” was early evidence of the internalization and normalization of hubris. Any peace plan conceived in this frame of mind, whether Peres’ federation idea, or Ehud Barak’s socalled “generous offer” at Camp David in 2000, or Ehud Olmert’s last-gasp proposal to Mahmoud Abbas in 2008, or even the landmark 1993 Oslo Accord – was doomed to failure before it was even articulated.
Peres claimed to have converted to “dovishness” after 1977, when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat made his historic visit to Jerusalem. A year later, however, as reported by the Times of Israel on 11 October 2016, he was still proclaiming: “Jordan is also Palestine… I’m against two Arab countries and against another Palestinian country, against an Arafat state.”
So it was demonstrably untrue that Peres “always believed a two-state solution was possible,” as reported by the Telegraph on 28 September 2016. But events did impact on his views and affect his outlook. Reflecting on his 1975 federation plan in February 2002, he told the Irish Times “We thought that autonomy is basically, almost independence … Today we discover that autonomy puts the Palestinians in a worse situation. We have to give them equal rights, equal recognition. We cannot run their lives, their economy.” In an interview on 18 December 2014 broadcast on YouTube, he was even more explicit: “We are for a Palestinian state.” In eventually going through what appears to have been a genuine conversion, albeit much too late, he was not the only leading Israeli, Palestinian, or Arab political figure to start off in one place and end up in quite another place.
Another such figure was King Hussein, the architect of the other “federation” plan in the 1970s, only his version, announced on 15 March 1972, would have federated the West Bank with the Jordanian East Bank rather than with Israel and would have excluded Gaza. Under Hussein’s federation, which preceded the Peres proposal by three years, the West Bank – to be known as the Palestinian region, with East Jerusalem as the regional capital – would have formed one of the two semi-autonomous regions of the putative “United Arab Kingdom.” The king would have continued as the absolute monarch.
The proposal was summarily rejected by the PLO, fearing that it was designed to end the Palestinian struggle. Suspecting that this was a step towards Jordan making a separate deal with Israel, Syria also rejected the plan, and Egypt severed relations with Jordan because of it. This was more than a little ironic in retrospect as five and a half years later, it was Egypt that broke ranks and initiated a separate peace with Israel.
Both federation plans were designed to contain and control Palestinian national aspirations rather than genuinely accommodate them and so were doomed from the start. Eventually, the Jordanian king also had his epiphany. In August 1988, he formally relinquished the Hashemite claim to the West Bank in favour of the PLO, proclaiming his support for “an independent Palestinian state on the territory.”
I read the highlighted parts and also did a quick search for Eshkol and Dayan, and as I’d thought, neither of them ever proposed a Palestinian state. Eshkol, never. Dayan is alleged to have said that something should be left to Palestinians (as I’m sure he believed – Greater Israel was never going to include the population centers). According to a secondary source (Sasson), Allon “reportedly” said in a private meeting that a statement by Dayan might be interpreted as meaning that he would agree to some kind of Palestinian state. Pretty thin evidence, but I have no doubt that it is true. Same is true of Netanyahu, though the evidence is far stronger. To quote myself, with a very solid source:
“Israel’s first official mention of the possibility of a Palestinian state was apparently by the ultra-right Netanyahu government, which agreed that Palestinians can call whatever fragments of Palestine are left to them ‘a state’ if they like, or they can call it ‘fried chicken’.”
And as you report, Peres remained deeply opposed to a Palestinian state throughout his political career and was also an architect of deep expansion into Samaria, as forcefully reiterated in his final press conference on leaving office in 1996. Later, of course, he sought to depict himself as a man of peace.
So I think we can firmly conclude that the entire top political echelon was flatly rejectionist pre-2000, totally committed to the fateful decision of the ‘70s to prefer expansion to security.
That I think is the crucial issue, which should be emphasized, highlighting as well the Israeli reaction to the 1976 peace offer of the confrontation states, vetoed by the US, and hence shifting UN reactions to the UNGA.
There is a question I want to put to you but will hold back for now to give you time to look at the rest of what I sent you in case you want to respond further. No hurry. I am meanwhile trying to find out more information about the “peace rally” on 4 November 1995 and will let you know if anything of interest turns up.
Found some time. A lot of interesting material I didn’t know about. A few queries and thoughts.
1. Eban Benelux proposal, 1973. Is there any record of that?
2. Seems to me misleading to list Begin as opponent of a Palestinian state but not Rabin, Herzog, Peres, Dayan, in fact the whole top political echelon.
3. On Jordan’s “epiphany,” that was clear enough from ‘76. But that we’ve already discussed.
There was an article in the New York Times in May 1989 on Eban’s Benelux proposal.
I have my own original notes of his talk to an international conference in Jerusalem on 29 May 1973 at the Van Leer Institute but they don't reveal anything materially different from what was written in the NYT piece, with the exceptions that he stressed the wide diversity of views in Israel on these matters and argued “boundaries are only one aspect of security,” bemoaning “the growing attitude in Israel not to see the security aspect in all its parts but to rely on size and boundaries only.” He thought this was a bad thing and was “suspicious of those who quote everything in the bible except for peace.”
He was critical of Dayan’s “functional partition” (under which Palestinians would exercise their political rights in Jordan while Israel would hold on to the West Bank) as opposed to his own support for “territorial partition,” with border changes. In his envisaged Benelux arrangement, the three component entities would each have sovereignty but with “mutual accessibility in men and goods.” It would have to be constructed so as not to entail “any risk to Israel’s security.”
As regards Israel’s approach to peace-making, you distinguish, if I understand you correctly, between the pre-2000 and post-2000 periods. The question I wanted to put to you was: If you are right about this, to what do you attribute it and what do you think was the turning point and why? This seems to me a crucial question.
The NYT article is by Amnon Rubinstein. He just alludes to Eban, without any information. He refers to Israeli concessions, but inaccurately. Israel rejected the Jarring initiative after Sadat accepted it. The most interesting part is his reference to Meir’s map. Do you know of any way to access the original?
Herb Kelman refers to Arafat’s interest in Eban’s proposal but doesn’t actually say what it is.
There is a clear difference pre-and post-2000. Pre-2000, there is no break in official rejectionism in the top political echelon, illustrated by Peres’s firm statement in his 1996 press conference, on leaving office, that there will be no Palestinian state and Rabin’s evasion of the issue, along with announcement of programs of settlement expansion. Next comes the Netanyahu government’s statement that Palestinians can call whatever is left to them “a state” if they like – or “fried chicken.” In the late ‘90s, Labor publications began making allusions to a possible Palestinian state. Then comes Camp David and Taba.
The division seems very clear. One can ask about the reasons. I presume that after 25 years of growing international isolation in pure rejectionism supported by the US, it began to break through that this is a dangerous position to be in. Furthermore, the Greater Israel project implemented by both political groupings since 1970 had never envisioned taking in Arab population concentrations, raising the “demographic problem,” so it was recognized that the plans might move towards some formalization, relieving international pressure.
Rubinstein spoke of a verbal sketching of a map by Golda Meir, rather than an actual drawing, in his NYT article. Another mention of her verbal map may be found in the last paragraph of page 519 of Golda Meir: A Political Biography by Meron Medzini, at the following link: https://library.oapen.org/handle/20.500.12657/31403
In essence, in the Times of London article on 12 March 1971 to which he refers, repeated in the Knesset on 16 March, she stated that the security border between Israel and Jordan should be the River Jordan, Israel would give up parts of the West Bank [to Jordan], Gaza could not be returned to Egypt, Sharm would remain in Israel's hands, and there must be territorial contiguity between Sharm and Eilat. Sinai would be demilitarized. United Jerusalem would remain under Israeli sovereignty, as would the Golan
Heights. There would be no Palestinian state in the West Bank/Gaza Strip (WB/GS). She rejected international guarantees and called for secure and agreed borders to be determined through negotiations.
It's worth noting that this statement, less than four years after the 1967 war, came when the glow of military victory still shone brightly in Israel. According to Rubinstein, the statement was viewed in the round in Israel as a dovish position! But, as I suggested in the extract I sent to you of my book-in-the-writing, with the elevation of Golda Meir to the Israeli premiership in 1969, any prospect of advancing peace with the Palestinians went into cold storage for nearly a quarter of a century.
I suppose this gels with your point that Israel started to take less of a hard line after the turn of the century. You seem less certain, however, about why this was. Or maybe you don't think it matters much. As I have tried to explain, I do, and I believe it was not so much a sharp change with the dawning of a new millennium as a process that was set in motion long before then. The origins may be traced back, in my view, all the way to the 1973 war, a critical turning point because it destabilized the sense of invincibility within Israel and alerted the population to the need to deal with its neighbours. We have discussed before (or at least I have postulated) the huge psychological and emotional effect of the visit to Israel in 1977 of the president of Egypt and the message of welcome back (unqualified but conditional) to the region he brought with him. Among other effects, it stimulated the creation of Peace Now, which developed into the first mass peace movement in Israel, focusing at that time solely on peace with Egypt.
The next destabilizing factor was the six-year intifada, sparked in 1987, which led directly to the clandestine Oslo talks with the PLO in 1993. By then, the Israeli leadership under Rabin had started to realize they could not just ignore the demands of the Palestinian people any longer. As a consequence of our conversation, I asked the Director of External Relations of Peace Now, Brian Reeves, with whom I had been in contact before, these questions:
Was Peace Now a principal organizer of the November 1995 peace rally where Rabin was assassinated?
Roughly how many people attended the rally?
Did Peace Now already then have a two-states policy?
Had Rabin ever intimated support for such a policy around that time?
A judgment call, but was there an implicit or explicit recognition (or mood) among the attendees of the rally of the imperative of a Palestinian state?
This was his response:
“It was a Peace Now-Labor-Meretz-organized rally, which had more than 100,000 in attendance [proportionately equivalent to several million in the US].
“I swear, if I hear another person claim Rabin's negotiations were some sort of ruse to maintain the occupation forever my head is going to explode. Yes, Peace Now was for a peace agreement with the Palestinians, and so was Rabin. We may not have called it the two-state solution at the time, but it was abundantly clear that when you said “peace” you meant an end to occupation and two separate political entities living side by side. And like us, Rabin’s conception of what it would take to create a Palestinian state changed over time, as it did with everyone else in Labor. Barak initially offered Clinton and the Palestinians at Camp David 65% of the West Bank, I believe, before eventually coming to around 90%, and then 94% in Taba. Peace Now started off demanding a united Jerusalem but changed as Oslo progressed and it became clear this violated a Palestinian red line.
“Everyone who knew Rabin says that he understood the Oslo process as one leading to an independent Palestinian entity. Cherry-picked statements about him 'currently' not being in favor of a state often even belie the opposite – that he was leaving the door open to an eventual public endorsement of statehood. Imagine yourself leading a country where you need Arab support to stay on as prime minister. Every statement of yours needs to sound skeptical and hard line, just to create a little more room to then take another compromise. People who point to a few statements and ignore his actions, including risking his life, are rewriting history.
“These sentiments are better articulated in this article by Guy Ziv written a few years back [Nov 2, 2017] (https://www.haaretz.com/.premiumfight-the-rightist-revisionists-rabin-wanted-a-palestinian-state-1.5462291). Of course, any book on Rabin will paint an even better picture.”
I know well enough from previous correspondence with Brian Reeves that he is well-informed, sharp and deeply committed to peace with the Palestinians based on two authentic, independent states. His rendition above chimes with my oft-stated description of Rabin as being on a journey, the destination of which was uncertain. We will never know for sure, but there were indications that it was leading in the direction of accepting Palestinian statehood. As a frequent visitor to the country, with close Israeli and Palestinian connections, this was my impression, too.
The mood among Palestinians changed sharply not just with Rabin's assassination but, probably more importantly, with the subsequent election of Netanyahu in 1996. There was a strong sense of betrayal. Hopes were revived somewhat in 1999 with the election of Barak, who saw himself as the inheritor of Rabin's mantle. An experienced military leader (like Rabin) but a novice political leader (unlike Rabin), he screwed up big time and quickly, but he did put unprecedented concessions on the table, first at Camp David in July 2000 and then at Taba towards the end of that year (I would question the accuracy of Brian Reeves’ figures). By then, of course, the second intifada had broken out, triggered by the Sharon-led march to the Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif but provoked by years of Palestinian frustration with the ongoing occupation.
So now we were into the new century when things, as you have pointed out, started to change. But it wasn't a standing start. It already had a wind behind it, and to make sense of subsequent events it is important to understand this. As I have suggested before, the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, important as it was, could have been another major breakthrough had its sponsors adopted a similar attitude to that of Sadat and set out to sell it to popular Israeli opinion rather than put the effort into trying to convince Western leaders and public opinion that they were the good guys by putting forward a peace plan. If peace was genuinely the aim (as it was for Sadat), its authors were addressing the wrong audience. It was, in my view (which I frequently expressed at the time) a big opportunity lost.
I think this helps clarify the matter. My own position, which I think is reinforced by this discussion and the information here, is that the crucial decisions were made in the 1970s: flat and outspoken rejectionism across the top political echelon, a fateful decision to choose expansion over security with all the consequences for the Palestinians and for Israel’s moral degeneration and decline from a highly admired social democracy to a pariah among more liberal sectors of world opinion and support shifting to evangelicals, the nationalist far right; and becoming virtually a vassal of the US. The rejection of a clear offer of peace and security in 1976 is a crucial step in the process, which continued with no departure until 2000.
That’s quite consistent with your picture of a process of rethinking going on in some sectors, and the inflection points. 1973 – basically the Kissinger-Dayan October war – surely was a trauma, which caused rethinking. That’s why Kissinger shifted from racist contempt for Arabs to realization that if he wanted to keep control, he’d have to move to negotiations, at least over Sinai. And for Israel, the triumphalism of the post-1967 period – very effectively captured in Amnon Kapeliuk’s fine book – was shattered. And it’s true that there was euphoria when Sadat visited Jerusalem and it seemed he was offering full peace without Israel having to give up anything. Same with the intifada. I was there at the time, and I recall old friends asking me whether I thought Israel would even exist in 25 years.
It’s also true that there were illusions about Oslo among Palestinians and Israelis who didn’t pay attention to the radical rejectionism of the DOP and what followed and didn’t understand Arafat’s cynical manipulations. As for your Peace Now friend, I have no way to read Rabin’s mind, but I do see that after Oslo he accelerated settlements in the West Bank and outlined the strategic vision that would prevent any meaningful Palestinian autonomy. As for Peres, his extreme rejectionism wasn’t even ambiguous.
Guy Ziv may like to believe that Rabin “would certainly have made every effort to end the occupation that threatens Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state,” but the facts, including what he cites, show the exact opposite. Doubtless he wanted to leave something for the Palestinians, along with Netanyahu and every sane hawk. All recognized that the Greater Israel project they were constructing would have to leave out the Palestinian population centers to avoid the “demographic problem.” But there’s no indication of anything beyond that. And Ziv must surely know that he’s sharply underplaying Peres’s firm rejectionism to his last day in office. His citation of Rabin in 1976 is, to say the least, deceptive, unless he is completely unaware of Rabin’s forthright establishment of the extreme rejectionist position in 1976. Why 2000? Barak was no fool (I’ve met him). I think he understood that Israel could not proceed with the extreme rejectionism of the past years. And Clinton clearly wanted some kind of achievement. The long process that we agree on (almost) no doubt was in the background. As for Taba, it looked as if it was getting somewhere when Barak called it off.
Not sure how much disagreement there is between us, emphasis and some speculations aside.
It's interesting that you met Barak. Of course, I don't know what he said to you, but I wouldn't accept at face value whatever he said, whether in public or private. He kept coming up with different stories to save his skin or justify his actions. For all I know, he believed every one of them at the time of telling. As I recall, he initially represented his “generous offer” at Camp David in July 2000 as involving handing over to the Palestinians almost all of the West Bank (claimed subsequently, I believe, to have been 97%). No one else who was there thought it was more than 92% net after land swaps (at a stunning ratio of 9 to 1). The lowest figure reported by a participant was 87.5%. Additionally, a sizeable portion of the Jordan Valley, as well as all international borders, would remain under Israeli control in some form. So, too, would the water below and the skies above. The remainder of the West Bank, already physically separate from the Gaza Strip, would be effectively divided into three or four barely connected or unconnected entities (this is elaborated in my September 2001 article on Oslo and Camp David: “The Infernal Scapegoat”: http://mideastweb.org/ infernalscapegoat.html).
To this day, the figure of 97% at Camp David is quoted by all manner of people as the offer the Palestinians summarily turned down. It was, evidently, very effective hasbara.
The much improved proposal at Taba a few months later (January 2001) was closer to the offer Barak had falsely claimed to have made at Camp David. He caught himself out on this, as it could not have been a much improved offer if it was essentially the same offer. Had he actually made the Taba offer at Camp David, we might be in a very different situation now from the car wreck that currently confronts us. When the negotiations, such as they were, did not work out, he changed his tune from that of a serious peacemaker to a charlatan whose purpose all along, we were advised, had been to expose Arafat's commitment to peace with Israel as fraudulent.
The question now of course, as always, is what is to be done in the evolving situation? At the zoom conferences I have recently been involved in, I have been warning against being lulled into thinking something very important has been won should the annexations be delayed or even called off. All that actually would achieve is a reversion to a dreadful and worsening status quo. I have been suggesting instead that the proposed annexations should be used as a spur to turn the tables, to go on the counteroffensive, to step up the pressure to bring the occupation to a final end. If you have other thoughts, or more concrete ideas, I would be happy to feed them into future such discussions (assuming, of course, I agree with them!)
My impression is that Barak didn’t take the Taba negotiations very seriously.
I agree with you about the annexation and, in fact, the Netanyahu- Kushner ‘greatest deal’ that lies behind it. They basically formalize the Greater Israel project that has been taking shape on the ground and if pursued – I frankly doubt that it will be, at least now – would increase Israel’s isolation apart from the hard right.
I think that there are possibilities to move towards some sort of two state settlement, perhaps along the Geneva lines, or what it seemed was being approached at Taba. But cutting to the chase, if there was an authentic popular movement in the US with concern for Palestinian rights, concern for Israel’s moral and political collapse, and concern for a secure and just peace, it would focus on the weak point in the Trump-Netanyahu drive for Israeli expansionism: US aid to Israel. A strong
argument can be made that it is illegal under US law, and with the shifts in public attitudes over past years, there could be pressures to consider withdrawing it – also bringing in right-wingers, for horrible reasons. The illegality is understood by those in power – maybe not Trump, but those with a functioning brain, like Obama. That’s why they so strongly oppose the obvious way to end any conceivable threat of Iranian nuclear programs: introduce a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East, with the kind of enforcement that worked very well with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as all acknowledge (rightwing nutcases aside). It’s long been strongly supported by Iran and The Group of Seven (G-7), of course by the Arab states, everyone else relevant. Always vetoed by the US, most recently Obama. Everyone knows why. The US would have to acknowledge that Israel has nuclear weapons, bringing the Symington Amendment into play. There’s also the Leahy law, which clearly bans military aid to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
The BDS movement could move in this direction, but they are making what seems to me a serious tactical error: keeping too rigidly to a set of fixed principles, some of which make good sense (concerning the occupation), others that are self-defeating, as has been shown over and over, and tending to avoid other promising options.
Even discussion of these matters would send a chill down the spine of the Israeli right (which, unfortunately, is quite extensive by now, particularly among the young, polls seem to show). Technically, Israel doesn’t require the aid for survival, but without US support it would have no alternative beyond openly joining the most reactionary Arab states and separating itself from most of the world.
I can understand why the Palestinians pay homage to the BDS movement, given that their other options appear to be diminishing by the day. In a way, they have been driven to it, as it’s the one thing that gives them hope. What else would one have them do in the face of their appalling reality? But I share your view that it is a false messiah. I would certainly be interested to learn more about your own take on this.
The way I see it is that it has one main advantage and one main deficit (and a few other deficits besides). The main advantage is that it is a tool to keep the issue alive and draw more supporters into the cause. The main deficit is that, apart from the publicity angle, it doesn't have a clear principal objective. The movement is a broad coalition of two streams. One stream wants to see the occupation ended and its replacement with an independent Palestinian state (that would coexist peacefully alongside Israel). The other stream aspires to one unitary state (which for some would be secular, for some Arab, and for some – such as Hamas – Muslim). To put it another way, the difference is between those who want to see the end of the Israeli occupation and those who want to see the end of Israel. The two streams cannot agree on the goal; so they agree on the strategy = BDS. But a strategy without a clear destination is not a strategy; it is just a collection of actions that ultimately lead nowhere. They just go around in circles, claiming
successes here and there but not achieving anything of substance, primarily because they haven't settled on what constitutes substantive progress towards a clear agreed end.
So, for example, they celebrate when an institution of some description agrees, after concerted campaigning, to dispose of its stock in a company that assists the occupation or in some way bolsters Israel. But all that has really happened in such cases, apart from the opportunity for publicity (and the feel-good factor for the campaigners), is that a share certificate has been shuffled from one body to another body. It may be viewed in some cases as a significant setback for Israel, but that doesn't necessarily mean it is an advance for the Palestinians. Both sides have a history of measuring their advances in terms of the setbacks to the other, which is one reason why there has been such little progress towards a positive settlement (there are other reasons as well, of course!). The BDS activists need to ask themselves whether their actions have contributed, in reality or potentially, to the liberation of one inch of territory (or, alternatively, to have furthered the prospects of the one-state vision).
A more profound question is, are their actions capable of such success, whichever of the two end games is envisaged? Success will ultimately depend on attracting the support of world powers, as it was for the overthrow of apartheid in South Africa (an achievement that was catalyzed by the collapse of the Soviet Union, diminishing the strategic importance of the white South African military). This is underscored in the BDS's own literature: “BDS aims to end international support for Israeli violations of international law by forcing companies, institutions and governments to change their policies.”
However, it is hard to see more than a very few UN member states (or large corporations) seriously throwing their weight behind BDS if the objective of the campaign is the demise of the State of Israel, as is implied by the goal of a unitary state. There are all sorts of political, historical, military, moral, religious, and strategic reasons (including combating the likes of ISIS or prospective other such groupings) why other states are unlikely to back such a position. Even for powers naturally sympathetic to the Palestinian
cause, a categorical assurance that the end of Israel is not the aim of the BDS movement is likely to be a condition of effective support, a condition that vagueness about the campaign's goal cannot satisfy.
So the lack of clarity about its main aim is a serious handicap. When I worked in years past as a campaign coordinator at Amnesty International, the first question we would ask of anyone who proposed a campaign was what was its main aim? It didn't have to be particularly ambitious, but it did have to be clear and easy to understand. If you wanted to persuade someone (we would say), you have to know first what it is you wanted to persuade them to. If you haven't figured it out, go figure and come back.
Another requirement would be that any additional aims should not undermine or burden the main aim. In the case of BDS, in addition to the ambiguous demand made of Israel to end “its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands,” the campaign has two other firm demands: the right of millions of Palestinian refugees (defined as including descendants) to return to their homes and an end to discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel. These could easily be three separate, albeit related, campaigns but, by crowding them all into one package, potential supporters of the first aim (even assuming it was clear) might hesitate to sign up because of reservations about supporting a full right of return to what became Israel in 1948 (as opposed to their settling in a future Palestinian state). They might also question the justification for singling out and penalizing Israel, among other, mostly oppressive, countries of the region (and beyond), for discrimination against their respective minority populations.
All in all, this is not a well-thought-out campaign that would have passed muster when I was wearing my old Amnesty hat.
It is a commonplace within the mainstream Jewish world that the BDS movement is antisemitic. This was said to me only a few days ago – as if it were an undisputed fact – by quite a progressive guy. In its material, BDS claims to be an “inclusive, anti-racist human rights movement that is opposed on principle to all forms of discrimination, including antisemitism and Islamophobia” and that “progressive Jewish groups play an important role in the movement.”
These are important statements, even if they are not always complied with. I think the antisemitic accusation is lazy and for the most part unfair. But this is not to say that its material and campaigning don't have the potential to stir anti-Jewish feeling and doubtless sometimes do. But the parallel rises in recent times of anti-Jewish sentiment in the Arab and Muslim worlds and of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment in the Jewish world (and maybe growing negative sentiment towards both population sets in the wider world) are almost inevitable consequences of the ongoing conflict, and ultimately the only way to puncture them is to bring the conflict swiftly to an end.
I look at it from a somewhat different perspective: the US activist scene. The BDS movement is rather like parts of the left that felt that if some blacks say something, they have to obey, mindlessly. The Weather Underground, for example. Young people caught up in this suffered severely, unable to distinguish authentic and serious black organizers from crooks seeking to exploit white guilt. I have good friends who were severely harmed by that. Today, many people supportive of Palestinian rights feel that they must observe the conditions that are claimed to come from Palestinians.
There are three demands: boycott Israel until it (1) ends the occupation, (2) permits all refugees to return, (3) ends all discrimination. (1) makes sense: that’s the Avnery-Gush Shalom campaign of 1997, which has had considerable success. (2) will never happen, and everyone knows it, including the PLO back as far as the ‘70s. To put it forward just says “we don’t want any solution.” (3) is appropriate for all countries, not least the US.
Serious solidarity groups don’t follow a catechism. They consider the consequences for the victims of the tactics they adopt. The consequences of (2) and (3) were perfectly predictable in advance, and it’s been demonstrated constantly in practice: It diverts attention from the plight of the Palestinians to questions of academic freedom, the transparent hypocrisy (why not boycott Harvard, which has a far worse record than the Hebrew University?), fighting charges of anti Semitism; (2) means destroying Israel, defense against laws banning BDS, etc. The Palestinians are forgotten. The actions strengthen the rightwing in Israel and here.
Furthermore, there are opportunity costs. Actions that could be effective are ignored because they weren’t handed down. And the space for a serious solidarity group is pre-empted.
They are very good people, just as in the Weather Underground. Unlike the many solidarity organizations I’ve dealt with and helped organize over the years, they are unwilling to discuss tactics and consider their effects. They have their fixed principles.
I’m drawing lines too sharply, but that seems to me the general picture.
Your perspective on the BDS movement appears to chime with mine. Taken together, its demands are more a wish list than a practical programme, and much of its action, as you indicate, is diversionary. While all of its aspirations may in principle be perfectly legitimate for a dispossessed people, we seem to agree that, as a realistic proposition, (2) is fantastical and (3) is a universal problem. But even (1) is problematic because, unlike Uri Avnery/Gush Shalom, it leaves open what it means by ending the occupation. Its activists may see this as a virtue for the cohesion of the movement's different factions, but I suspect, for reasons given, it will prove to be a major handicap in its effort to attract the crucial support of major powers. It is set up almost as if it is designed to fail.
I should clarify that my doubts about the BDS movement do not mean I am opposed to sanctions or the threat thereof. Not at all. Without concerted pressure, I don’t see any opportunity for progress. Reviving face-to-face negotiations – a popular mantra in diplomatic circles and among peaceniks – would be pointless without robust pressure. But I would distinguish between “smart” and indiscriminate sanctions. To smart sanctions, I would add smart incentives.
A package comprising smart penalties and smart incentives is exactly what I proposed in a pamphlet published in May 2009, written for and in the hope that the recently elected President Obama would adopt its recommendations. Copies were delivered to policy advisors at the White House and selected congressional members. In its preface, it expressed the fear “that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is on the verge of becoming irresolvable but that President Obama's first term offers a final opportunity to settle it.” In sum, in place of “sham negotiations,” it proposed three steps:
1. The conflicting parties are invited to tender their realistic visions of the endgame within a brief fixed time-period, based on two viable states and a comprehensive regional peace.
2. Whether the deadline is observed or not, the Quartet then formulates a definitive international plan to end the conflict and to settle the wider Arab-Israeli issues.
3. The Quartet issues its definitive plan, including a schedule of concrete interim targets, with powerful inducements for each party at each timetabled step. Maintaining a strong leadership role, the Quartet actively presides over the plan’s implementation.
The full plan is available at: https://fabians.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/VisionsOfTheEndgame.pdf
Disappointingly, the Obama administration preferred the familiar pattern of ineffective “confidence-building measures” (bizarrely between an occupying authority and an occupied people), phony negotiations, and no robust enforcement mechanism. The outcome was predictable. It was a massive missed opportunity. Obama raised many hopes and has a lot to answer for, in my view.
The incentive side of the package was (and is) as important as the penalty side. But time and again, rewards have been gratuitously gifted to Israel with no quid pro quo. As I recall, these included membership in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and I read only last week of the European Parliament's approval of an "Open Skies Agreement" between Israel and the European Union (EU). Why have these powers persisted in granting these and other concession free of charge? With serious application, the whole issue could have been resolved well before the menace of Trump came along and contaminated everything.
It seems we’re very much in agreement, with somewhat different priorities. Mine are to try to change US policies from within. I don’t think it’s impossible. If you haven’t seen it, Chemi Shalev’s piece in Ha’aretz this morning (24 June) on the Bowman-Engel campaign and its significance for Israel is pretty much on target, I think (https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-engel-s-likely-n-y-defeat-should-spurnetanyahu-to-rethink-annexation-but-it-won-t-1.8945012). The voting base for Israel among liberal Democrats is shrinking, almost to the point where in the US, support for Israel is likely to be based almost entirely on the ultranationalist right and Evangelicals (who are bitterly anti-Semitic). That offers opportunities of the kind I mentioned that could be pursued if there were a genuine solidarity movement concerned with the rights of Palestinians and a settlement that would take Israel’s legitimate interests into account.
There are possibilities here that could make a difference if they were sensibly pursued. That’s been true for a long time. From the ‘70s, the PLO leadership simply couldn’t be convinced that they should make some efforts to help with development of a solidarity movement, as others have done, and they should stop posturing in ways that simply antagonize American opinion. Many tried, including people close to them like Edward Said and Eqbal Ahmad. It was hopeless. Great opportunities were lost. I think we’re seeing it again.
I believe significant opportunities have been lost, too, through what, in my opinion, is the misapplied barrier of “normalization,” for which the BDS movement bears a major responsibility. You mention the importance of public opinion in the US. While appreciating the sensitivities, I would add the importance of forging alliances, if not overtly then informally, with anti-occupation forces in Israel, which I have constantly been urging my Palestinian friends to do (and have made several attempts at initiating). But time and again, we come up against the brick wall of “normalization.”
You may be aware of some young Palestinian activists breaking up a meeting at the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem a couple of years ago, called to critique the Oslo Accords. The veteran Palestinian national political figure, the highly respected Ziad AbuZayyad – co-founder (with Victor Cygielman) and co-editor (with Hillel Schenker) of the valiant Palestine-Israel Journal, which hosted the meeting – was shoved and verbally attacked by some of the youths who had broken into the meeting room and proceeded to destroy the conference setting. They had been misinformed that the event was called to celebrate the anniversary of the Oslo Accords and to discuss normalization. The event was cancelled.
I fully understand and have every sympathy for anti-normalization as part of a wider coherent strategy. No country can preside over a completely abnormal situation like an indefinite occupation and constant stealing of land and expect its principal victims to behave towards it as if everything were normal.
It was the same under South African apartheid. In 1970, I spent a week billeted with the Black Consciousness Movement leader Steve Biko at a residential student conference in Durban, hosted by the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), an ostensibly multiracial but in reality predominantly white-led organization. I asked Biko at one point why he was even there (and indeed why he had previously been a member of the NUSAS executive). It's not the white man we hate, he said, it’s the system they have imposed on us that we hate. We will never normalize it or the people who operate it. He was completely opposed to normalization. But to overthrow the system, he sought alliances with other groups and individuals, whoever they were, if they shared the common purpose of ending apartheid. He didn't see this in any way as normalization.
Of course, rage can blur these distinctions. Palestinian anger is understandable and justified, but it is not a strategy and is not (necessarily) anti-normalization. Let loose, its consequences can in fact be very detrimental to the central cause. That's the danger of allowing a principle to descend into an undifferentiated slogan.
Thanks for the reference to the Chemi Shalev piece in Ha'aretz, which I have now read. Nonetheless, you say the Palestinians have failed to make proper efforts to gain public support in the US. You speak of the need for a genuine solidarity movement and hold that “there are possibilities here that could make a difference if they were sensibly pursued.” This sounds like sound advice, but what concretely would you propose they do?
One of the four members of the secretariat of the Palestine Strategy Group, to which I have been a consultant for several years together with the estimable Professor Oliver Ramsbotham, is my good friend Dr Husam Zomlot, who was the Palestinian ambassador to Washington until he was kicked out by Trump. He now holds the same position in the UK. You may know him. He was the star turn at two consecutive J Street conferences. Born in Gaza, he is young, amenable, bright, charismatic, and well connected. He is outspoken against antisemitism but uncompromising about Palestinian rights. In May 2019, he was interviewed by the London Jewish Chronicle on these matters (full disclosure: I arranged the interview and was present for it) [https://www.thejc.com/news/features/palestiniandiplomat-husam-zomlot-call-britain-lead-middle-east-peace-antisemitismhamas-netanyahu-1.483948.]
He has for many years been a strong supporter of two states but remains open-minded. They are looking for concrete action ideas. What should I tell him? By the way, Oliver and I have also been consultants to the Israel Strategic Forum, which unfortunately is currently stagnant.
Young people do a lot of crazy things. Right now, many are calling for a workers’ revolution in the US based on the Black Lives Matter protests about police violence. I have had meetings with young Palestinians in Lebanese refugee camps and in Gaza who were condemning my positions as too rightwing because they were preparing for a Guevarastyle uprising in the Galilee.
There are very concrete things that a genuine Palestinian solidarity movement could do. As you know, among more liberal sectors, opinion in the US has shifted towards support for Palestinian rights, particularly among younger people. That’s been impeded by BDS insistence on the two suicidal planks of the doctrine and the corresponding shift of attention away from Palestinian rights to issues of anti-Semitism, academic freedom, repression of first amendment rights by the anti- BDS legislation, etc.
This sharp change of opinion could be used to organize for challenging US military aid to Israel as a violation of US law – the Leahy Law, banning military aid to forces engaged in systematic human rights abuses, and the Symington amendment, arguably banning aid to countries producing nuclear weapons outside the Treaty on the Non- Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) framework. Even opening this question would provide space for advocates of a diplomatic two-state solution, and it would also open the doors to educational efforts to bring to the general public suppressed facts about US-Israeli policies. Most important, it would reveal a carefully suppressed but quite crucial fact. Iranian nuclear programs are a huge issue, leading very close to war. There’s an obvious solution: a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East. Unanimous support (including, strongly, Iran), rejected of course by Israel, vetoed by the US, which refuses for this reason to concede that Israel has nuclear weapons. There’s no serious inspections issue, as the JCPOA over Iran's nuclear program record shows. That opens major possibilities for organizing and activism.
All of these things – there’s a lot more – open enormous opportunities for a genuine solidarity movement. Opportunities that are lost by the BDS demand for return of all refugees, one state, BDS until all internal human rights issues are settled – and nothing else that isn’t listed in the program.
(Chomsky’s responses are interpolated in bold type)
So, I take it that you don't see any potential for the BDS movement itself to be transformed into the genuine Palestinian solidarity movement of which you speak. For it to be that would require it to prune and hone its aims, expand its potential circle of support, including in the corridors of power, and be more focused and innovative in its campaigning by, as you suggest, exploiting the plentiful existing laws and provisions (applicable for the EU no less than the US) and taking advantage of growing public sympathy almost everywhere for the underlying Palestinian cause in a way that did not entail Israel's eradication. As long as Israel's eradication remains even an implicit aim, or is thought to be, the appeal will be very limited, especially among governments and other important circles of influence.
That’s my feeling. I’ve often discussed it with BDS activists, often friends, going into details about what they could do. But they are unwilling to depart from the fixed doctrines, believing that it is “the voice of the Palestinians” (which is dubious) and that it is our duty to obey the subalterns, however suicidal the policies.
The problem is that the BDS movement occupies a lot of the space and dominates the rhetoric. Even Palestinians and others who have a beef with the BDS movement and its leadership tend to pay lip service to it. To pay homage has become part of the ritual. For many Palestinians, BDS is or is said to be their main hope, and for many young Western liberals and leftists it is seductive, even if in reality it is the latest in a long line of false messiahs. But how could it be dislodged? What would it take? You have indicated what some of the elements of a programme could be – but what would be the agency? And what should come first: the programme or the agency?
You’re quite right about occupying the space. I don’t know the answer except for the familiar “patiently explain.”
I don't know whether you feel the aforementioned Palestine Strategy Group may have potential to fill the void. You may have come across Sam Bahour. He is another of the four members of the PSG secretariat and made the keynote presentation (17 minutes) at their recent event, the audio recording of which may be accessed at the PSG website: http://www.palestinestrategygroup.ps/.
The other two members of the PSG secretariat, in case you know them, are Bashir Bashir and Refqa Abu-Remaileh, both highly regarded.
Almost never have time to watch or listen. Will try.
The PSG website explains: “The launch event constituted the final activity of a three-year, multitrack project entitled ‘Building Strategic Capacity: Empowering Civil, Political and Emerging Constituencies in Palestine’. The report built on twelve specially commissioned research papers that explore the Palestinian issue in light of the changing Israeli, regional and international contexts. It provides up-to-date insights and offers options, scenarios and pathways towards a peaceful settlement of the conflict.”
That makes good sense, but what is needed to break the BDS stranglehold here is a strategy for activists here. There are sound ideas, but it’s hard to break through.
If not the PSG, then whom?
In looking up a reference in “The New Intifada: Resisting Israel's Apartheid” (2001), I came across and read your Introduction. For one thing, it gave me a better idea of your perspective. For another, I was interested to note your description of Shlomo Gazit as a “respected analyst.” For the record, this is what he told me in August 1973 when, as General Gazit, he was the "Coordinator of the Occupied Territories" (less compunction in those days to refer to them as such):
# The only permanent civilian settlements (outside of East Jerusalem) at that time were at Kiryat Arba, the Etzion Bloc and the Jordan River valley. Unauthorized attempts to establish other settlements were quashed by the military government.
# At the end of the war, “everyone thought that Israel would return to the 1967 borders” (by which I understood him to mean that concerted international pressure to this end was anticipated in Israel, as in 1956). Thus, Israel's efforts to quickly establish new facts on the ground to help determine the shape and location of the future borders.
# Meanwhile, there was a policy to achieve co-existence, based on three main planks:
1. Eliminate two-way prejudices and false perceptions on a national basis.
2. Open bridges (over the River Jordan) to transmit a more accurate image of Israel throughout the Arab world.
3. Create material ties in practice between Israel and the West Bank in such areas as tourism, commerce and services, as these could not be achieved through official negotiations in the existing political climate.
Interesting. Reasonable proposals.
By the way, if you have not already seen it, I think you might find of interest the article by Shaul Arieli in the current edition of the Palestine-Israel Journal: https://pij.org/articles/1998/trump-plan-sets-the-conflict-back-100-years .
Hadn’t seen it. The information on Olmert is interesting, but it seems that he was in no position at that point to negotiate anything. It’s a bit ungenerous to call the Palestinian position 71 years of rejectionism. How would Israel feel if some foreign invaders were willing to accept only half the country?
Meanwhile, I have read a long mea culpa by Peter Beinart, who joins a trail of former repentant Jewish Zionists (Israeli and non-Israeli) who have now abandoned their old light for a brand new one. If you haven't already come across it, his confession may be found at: https://jewishcurrents.org/yavne-a-jewish-case-for-equality-in-israel-palestine/
Saw it and was rather amused. I wrote about all of this in some detail 50 years ago. It aroused total hysteria. In fact, my own publisher, Andre Schiffrin, was unwilling to publish it until it appeared in French translation, causing some embarrassment. The reason was that the proposals were then feasible, hence threatening. Now they’re hardly a joke, so it’s OK to pat him on the head and say “nice boy.” Note also the usual error about Israeli policy. What’s taking shape is not one state but the Greater Israel project of the past 50 years, which avoids the “demographic problem.” But it’s good that he wrote it. Valuable for the Jewish community here.
(Chomsky’s responses are interpolated in bold type)
It will be valuable not just for the US Jewish community but for the UK Jewish community, too, and I’m sure for others around the world. It has already generated much debate and is having ripples. That you beat him to it by 50 years is an unfair contest. I don’t think he was quite born yet.
My point was not precedence. Rather, the difference in reaction. 50 years ago, the ideas were feasible and therefore bitterly condemned when they were not totally suppressed. Now it is not even a remote option – Israel is not going to politely go out of existence, and no serious actor in the world is considering anything like that. That’s quite typical.
You’re right, of course, about the Greater Israel project. But because the debate has simplistically been framed for so long as between one state and two states, if it is not one, it must, in the eyes of the man on the Clapham omnibus, be the other. So Beinart's apparent conversion is cheered by the one-state camp as representing a victory for them and a blow to their two state foes, piling confusion upon confusion.
Correct. And it’s virtually impossible to break through this confusion.
I recently came across articles, both written in 1999, by Edward Said and Uri Avnery. They both argued that the key to progress was not to erect barriers between the two peoples but to foster the closest cooperation on an equitable basis. Avnery contended that one state was unworkable and two neighbouring states steadily drawn together by ever-closer ties was the only feasible option. Said simultaneously claimed that separate states were unworkable and only in one state could they develop a cooperative relationship. It's a pity these two giants, whose analyses and principles had much in common, are not still around to debate their strongly held differences on the best framework for a solution to a problem they both knew and understood so well. As you know, I go along with Avnery. Without a Palestinian state, there is no Palestinian agency to achieve anything else. One equitable state will not come about through magic. It would just legitimize the buying up (or seizing) of great chunks of the land by Israelis at the Palestinians' expense.
Both wonderful people (Said was a close friend, Avnery more casual) but the discussion was pointless. Avnery is right (but “unworkable” is an understatement). Said, a wonderful guy, was living in a dream world (we discussed it, to no avail). If we favor one state, why not “no state,” an even better option and just as realizable (abrogate the imperial imposed borders and over to some regional federation).
Brian Reeves of Peace Now requested my take on Beinart's article. Below was my response. I don't know whether or to what extent you would agree with my comments:
Beinart is of course a serious commentator, and his article is quite a tour de force. But I suppose it's also a bit of a mea culpa and in that sense something of a self-indulgence. It's revealing that his NYT op-ed was headed "I no longer believe in a Jewish state". But the fact is a Jewish state exists and is likely to continue to exist well into the future, in one form or another, whereas a Palestinian state is still an aspiration which many Palestinians have not at this point abandoned. So, what Palestinians may read when they see the op-ed's heading is actually "I no longer believe in a Palestinian state", and they may wonder who does this (Jewish) guy think he is, relinquishing the Palestinian right to statehood and freedom because he has had an ideological change of heart about his formerly passionate Zionism? He repents at our expense, is how they may see it, even if they rejoice at his conversion.
I suspect many Palestinians will favor Beinart’s proposal of a single state, soon with a Palestinian majority (particularly if refugees return, and under Beinart’s proposal, why not?) So, a Palestinian state with a Jewish cultural center.
Sam Bahour and I came up with a different approach. This was in 2014 in anticipation of the failure of the Kerry talks. Our proposal was for the international community to call on Israel to declare whether it regarded its rule over the West Bank to be an occupation (bearing in mind that all occupations are supposed to be temporary) or a permanent state of affairs: https://mondediplo.com/outsidein/if-kerry-fails-what-then. If the former, it was well beyond time to bring it swiftly to an end by a comprehensive withdrawal from the territory in favour of a Palestinian state. If the latter, it had no case for not granting full and equal rights to everyone living under its sovereign jurisdiction.
Under the Greater Israel project of the past 50 years, now being consummated (if annexation proceeds), there won’t be a great number of Palestinians within Israel. The Palestinian population centers are excluded, and they’re slowly being expelled by one or another means from Greater Israel. The great majority of Palestinians in the WB will be in unviable conditions. The proposal doesn’t deal with that.
I could construct an argument that our proposal does deal with that, but there is little point in doing so at this stage. Our proposal and almost any other projected scenario will have no purchase anyway, unless outside powers are prepared to take seriously their obligation to end this toxic conflict. Everything at this point depends on this. In fact, it has really always been thus.
The current threat of annexation is a clear indication of the Israeli government's intent. In that case, or in any case, the international community should now press for equal rights in the whole space for as long as Israel rules it. This does not mean dropping two states at this point and switching irrevocably to one state. But it does mean requiring Israel to make an imminent choice between treating equally everyone subject to its rule (whether annexation proceeds or not) or handing over the West Bank to Palestinian sovereignty.
So, “equal rights until there is a solution” is the demand we have proposed, whatever that solution may be. If the Israeli government and people don’t cherish the idea of equal rights within one entity, even in the short term, then they have a clear alternative path, and it is up to the international community, under the authority of any number of international conventions, to firmly impress this choice on them, which will almost certainly need to be sharpened through inducements, whether in the form of incentives or penalties or more likely both.
The choice is ultimately a matter for the Israeli people and the Palestinian people. The outside world has an instrumental role to play in delineating that choice, but I don’t think it is the role of outsiders, including those on a painful ideological journey, to pre-determine the actual choice. That is the preserve of those who will have to live with the consequences.
As for the threat of annexation, it is not enough to oppose it. If it does not happen, the energy generated in opposing it should be channelled into stepping up the campaign to end the occupation. Synchronizing Israeli/ Jewish/Palestinian/Arab strategies — a much neglected project — should be integral to the planning, in my opinion. I have been urging this for many years. Now, I believe, is the time to act on it.
The Zionist movement, like many national movements, has, from its inception, comprised diverse currents. One of these currents, which has increasingly had the upper hand in recent times, knows very well what it wants to achieve, and it single-mindedly set out its stall long ago to achieve it. You have consistently observed yourself that its aim is pretty much a known quantity. In the face of this imperative, it has always been up to the international community to live up to its responsibilities and take the necessary measures, backed by such robust pressure as is required.
We may differ slightly on interpreting Israeli history. True, the Zionist movement had diverse currents. Shertok differed from Ben-Gurion. Eliav differed from Dayan. And since the ‘70s, the whole country has shifted well to the right. But I don’t see much difference in actual policy on the matters we’ve been discussing.
(Chomsky’s responses are interpolated in bold type)
Between them, the US and European powers could have enforced a solution at almost any time since 1967. There were several propitious opportunities. As witnessed by Shlomo Gazit's comment to me in 1973, the Israelis had been expecting the pressure from the moment the 1967 war ended, which prompted them to act sharply to minimize and help shape the territorial concessions they would imminently be required to make. They well remembered what happened in 1956 following the Sinai venture, when they were forced into a total withdrawal. But this time — I think genuinely to their surprise, at least initially — the pressure never came and this, to my mind, is a huge indictment of these powers. It is they who are most culpable in my book for the current shipwreck.
Europe could have done a good deal more, but the US has overwhelming responsibility since the ‘70s, and still does. Matter of judgment, but I’d put substantial blame on the Mapai-based coalition, though it’s true that without strong US support they couldn’t have implemented their plans.
If Trump is re-elected, nothing good can come of it. The Israel-Palestine conflict will be one of many disaster areas. But if Biden is elected, and especially if both Houses in addition are captured by the Democrats, there will be one final opportunity to end this wretched conflict once and for all. The party needs to adopt clear principles and commit to firm timetabled measures. I don't know if Biden is up to it, but it is important that the Sanders wing does not throw in the towel, as so many others have done in recent years, and keeps up the pressure. If the US provides the leadership, there is a good chance that European powers — Israel's main trading partners — will throw in their not inconsiderable weight in support. Between them, they have a lot of clout if they are prepared to use it.
As you know, I don’t expect much unless a genuine solidarity movement develops which puts pressure on the crucial issues, such as the illegality of US aid to Israel and ways in which protection of Israeli nuclear facilities is preventing a straightforward resolution of any alleged issue with Iranian nuclear weapons, an extremely dangerous issue. All well understood, but undiscussable. A popular movement could break through these walls of silence and gain considerable public support, I think. Can’t imagine the Dems going in this direction alone.
Meanwhile, youthful protests over all sorts of issues are becoming commonplace in Israel (including in the last few days). Something is stirring in the country.
I hope you’re right. What I’ve seen looks rather self-serving.
There is widespread dissatisfaction with Netanyahu still being in office (thanks to a turncoat Gantz) and with his outrageous behaviour, which carries the potential to be directed against the occupation. If non-violent civil resistance by the occupied Palestinians coupled with a coherent diplomatic and information offensive at the leadership level were added to the mix, new currents in Israel could be roused. The puffed-up talk of annexation — which appears to have been shelved for the time being — could ironically become the historic spark that puts the end of occupation back on the international and national agendas, from which it had faded. This may sound far-fetched at the moment, and I recognize the ever-present danger of conflating one's analysis with one's hopes. Nonetheless, I wouldn't rule it out as a possible future direction. If we can, we need to help it happen.
To get back to your wish for a “genuine solidarity movement,” it seems to me the questions are who or what should comprise the kernel of this movement (the agency), what should be its goals (crisp not vague) and what should be its methods (smart not scattergun)? There is, of course, an interconnection between these elements.
I suggest the kernel of the agency should be a core of committed Palestinians and Israelis who, whatever other differences may divide them, have a shared track record of dedication to ending the Israeli occupation swiftly by replacing it with an independent Palestinian state. Such a clear, unambiguous goal by a joint leadership (or a coordinated leadership working in parallel) could potentially inspire a broad worldwide coalition of Arabs, Jews, Muslims and other civil society groups and individuals ready to work in partnership (or alongside each other) to this concrete end (including more than a few people whose heads have been filled in recent times with a vague, ill-thought-out, notion of a unitary state). The novel elements of this proposed movement would be the joint (or synchronized) leadership and the specificity of aim.
I have long maintained that joint initiatives can be much more persuasive, appealing and effective than initiatives from one side or the other, but until now there have not been any serious attempts to forge them or they have quickly been foiled. I attribute this to two main factors, although there may have been others. One is the habit of the Israeli side to “take over” (not necessarily deliberately), which soon alienates the Palestinians. I could cite many examples of this tendency. The other is a warped application of the
notion of “normalization” on the Palestinian side. To guard against both these tendencies, some constructive international presence at the “leadership” level, maybe in a consultative role, may be helpful.
My view is that the goal should remain narrow, specific and achievable in limited time. As much as I would like to see a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East (or a nuclear-weapons-free world, for that matter), I fear that would introduce many complications, raise all sorts of other issues and reduce the potential constituency of support. So, I would suggest leaving that question aside for this limited purpose, or campaign on it separately. There is no reason why different campaigns on different issues could not be pursued simultaneously.
As for methods, provided they stay within international legality and do not abrogate human-rights conventions, including not using violence against civilians, I don't see a need to restrict them, although they would need to take care that they do not alienate the campaign's base of supporters around the world or undermine the campaign's goal. Focus would be vital to the campaign's success. So civil disobedience, for example, where thought to be effective, could be a tactic, especially for the occupied Palestinians.
International pressure, in the form of robust penalties and rewards or the threat (or promise) thereof, may be called for, too.
We’re talking about different things: complementary and mutually supportive. You’re discussing what should be done in Israel-Palestine. I’m discussing what should be done to change US policy, crucial for any reasonable settlement.
You’re quite right that bringing up the Iran nuclear deal is not a priority within Israel-Palestine. It is, however, a very significant matter for organizing in the US to change US policy. A very powerful means of doing so is to bring the general population to understand that the very serious and threatening crises involving Iran are substantially rooted in US protection of Israel’s nuclear facilities, policies that are arguably in violation of US law. Crises that could be significantly mitigated, even ended, if the US government followed US law. The BDS movement hasn’t pursued these obvious and potentially quite effective means to lead to important policy changes because they are not handed down in the official doctrine.
Three quick points:
1. In asking around, almost no one (with a notable exception; see below) seems to know about the 1976 draft Security Council resolution. I suppose this is because it technically failed to pass, owing to the US veto.
I have argued before that the positions taken by different parties with regard to this resolution needed to be contextualized and interpreted. You may be interested to know the response to my query from my high-level Jordanian contact (who wishes to remain anonymous). The salient part of the reply was that the statement at the UN of the Jordanian representative “never mentioned the PLO or the right of the Palestinian people for an independent state, although he referred to the Palestinian right to self-determination. It may be concluded that Jordan was supportive of the overall position of the Non-Aligned Movement but not ready to go as far as renouncing its sovereignty over the West Bank and transferring its role in peace negotiations (over its status) to the PLO ... Jordan’s position should be viewed within its historical context and taking into account the changing dynamics at the UN (decolonization in Africa and Asia) as well as in the Arab League which recognized two years earlier the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people."
My reading of this is that at the time, Jordan's position remained that the Palestinians would (at least in theory) be able to exercise their right to self-determination in the semi-autonomous region of the West Bank, with East Jerusalem as the regional capital, under the federated United Arab Kingdom proposal of 1972. In other words, in 1976, Jordan did not envisage an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It adopted that policy only in 1988 following the lead of the PLO in the same year.
2. Not to go over old ground, but I stumbled across a web site with Yitzhak Rabin quotes. I have picked out the ones below (during the Oslo period) not to prove that he was a great peacenik — there are also some shocking, belligerent earlier quotes on the same website — but to underline the point that he was on a journey. Stuffing him into just one pigeonhole does not, in my opinion, give an accurate picture of the man or of the historical period or of the potential opportunities that were in the end sabotaged by all manner of forces:
“This rally must send a message to the Israeli people, to the Jewish people around the world, to the many people in the Arab world, and indeed to the entire world, that the Israeli people want peace, support peace. For this, I thank you.”
“I was a military man for 27 years. I fought so long as there was no chance for peace. I believe that there is now a chance for peace, a great chance. We must take advantage of it for the sake of those standing here, and for those who are not here - and they are many.”
“We must think differently, look at things in a different way. Peace requires a world of new concepts, new definitions.”
“I enter negotiations with Chairman Arafat, the leader of the PLO, the representative of the Palestinian people, with the purpose to have coexistence between our two entities, Israel as a Jewish state and Palestinian state, entity, next to us, living in peace.”
3. In the last few days I have been suggesting in Zoom meetings to various organizations the policy proposal devised a while back by Sam Bahour and myself, to which I have alluded before, to the effect of “a Palestinian state now or equal rights until there is a solution.” In these days of great uncertainty, it appears to be stirring a good deal of interest. I don't know more than this at this stage, but I expect there will be further feedback. I've been giving thought to your idea of creating a new solidarity movement, focusing on changing US positions vis-a-vis Israel. In the existing circumstances, it's hard to see how you would go about this. But it's always possible that things will start to change.
Clarification of the Jordanian position is very valuable. It would be helpful if it could be backed by some documentary evidence or reports from the time.
On Rabin, the quotes only show that he remained committed to the policies he announced publicly and implemented of expanding Jewish settlement in the West Bank so that any “Palestinian entity” that might emerge would not interfere with the Greater Israel Project that he, Peres, Begin and others were committed to and is now being formalized by Netanyahu. Everyone wants peace. The question is: What kind of peace?
I am waiting for confirmation from the same Jordanian contact about whether Jordan's position in 1976 was still in support of King Hussein's 1972 federated kingdom proposal (rather than for an independent Palestinian state). The Eid festival may be holding up the response. However, I am pretty sure it was, as it is common knowledge that Jordan did not change its official stance on this matter until 1988. As for documentary evidence from the time, I note from the written record of the debate that the Jordanian representative at the 1976 Security Council debate (paragraph 165) went no further than committing to "the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people."
I doubt very much that it will be possible to find further specific documentary evidence or reports from the time on this one aspect. However, I can assure you that my Jordanian source is impeccable. I'm not so sure everyone wants peace, as you have suggested. I can think of quite a few historical characters for whom perpetual conflict was their meat and drink. I fear this may be the case for the incumbent US president, as we might see more starkly if he gains a second term. Let's hope this concern is not put to the test.
I'm not looking to pursue the point about Rabin except to clarify that I have not been suggesting that he had done a complete flip but that the quotes cited (if you contrast them with past quotes of his) indicated a perceptible, ongoing shift in his outlook. Many people who worked with him attest to this. My view was that, if pressed by outside powers (notably the US), Rabin (possibly like Dayan before him) could have done a deal with the Palestinians had he lived, whereas Peres (despite his undeserved reputation in the West) could never have done so.
The Likudniks, on the other hand, were vehemently opposed on ideological, nationalist and religious grounds (Begin confirmed this to me in a three-way conversation with Eliav in the Knesset canteen in 1977 shortly before the election, which he won). If push had come to shove, both Rabin and Dayan could have carried the country with them. Begin would not have tried, and Peres never could carry the country. And anyway, the US pressure never came. That's where the chief culpability lay, in my view. Where was
Eisenhower when he was most needed? Israel would have scrambled to get the best deal they could and then retreated.
The street protests continue to spread in Israel (despite Covid). You say they are self-serving. I wonder what protests — or at least enduring protests — are not self-serving? Increasingly, they appear to be calling for Netanyahu's head. Clearly, there's a growing sense of dissatisfaction among the people. One thing can lead to another. Worth keeping an eye on it.
I doubt that there’ll ever be a convincing answer to what the Jordanian position was in ‘76, probably because there wasn’t any clear position. The background discussions reveal a lot of wavering among the Arab states on how to deal with the resolution, a lot of effort to see if it can be weakened enough so that maybe the US wouldn’t veto it – Israeli intransigence was taken for granted. When the Arab states recognized that the US was going to veto it no matter what, they agreed to support a stronger position. There’s a dissertation underway at Exeter that goes into this.
No doubt Jordan would have preferred to control the WB, but we’re unlikely ever to know how firmly they would have kept to this position had the US not backed Israel’s extreme and unwavering rejectionism, not just in this striking case but consistently, as the Labor government made the fateful decision to choose expansion over security, with consequences that we needn’t discuss.
Those seem to me the salient points, by far.
On Rabin, not much point proceeding. There’s a lot to blame the US for, primarily supporting Israeli rejectionism. I agree that a different US position would have likely led to different outcomes, whoever was in power in Israel. In August 1982, Begin pictured himself as cornering Hitler in his bunker and was desperate to move on for the kill. When the US said “No,” he quietly went away and never recovered. The way power works.
I still have not received a further response from my contact in Jordan and it's possible I will not get one, as the feeling may well be that clarification had already been provided.
Personally, from my own interviews in the 1970s and other research, I think the position was clear then and for a few years more, namely that the Palestinians may exercise a form of self-determination in the semiautonomous West Bank in a federated kingdom of which Hussein would remain the absolute monarch (1972 plan). The plan was just about enough to allow Jordan to go along with the 1976 draft resolution, while studiously refraining from speaking of an independent Palestinian state, which at that time they opposed. Still, I'm prepared to be corrected and would remain open-minded to the Exeter dissertation when it is available.
I wonder what your take is on two extraordinary events this week in which I have involved myself (probably wastefully), namely a bizarre instant reaction by an over-zealous Jewish journalist — who describes himself as a “progressive (critical) Zionist” — to the catastrophic explosion in Beirut and, secondly, the reported conversion of the wholeheartedly pro-Zionist president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, to two states (just as Beinart creates the vacancy!) and his linking of Israeli policies with the growth in antisemitism.
In the first case, the journalist (whom I know a little) wrote a piece in, of all titles, Tikun Olam (“Heal the World”), definitively blaming Israel for the blast (cautiously at first but with almost no restraint towards the end of his article).
There was no evidence, just hearsay — as if the situation in the region was not already volatile enough. I thought his supposed scoop was irresponsible and wrote to him as below:
“I trust you were very diligent in checking your sources and the facts with regard to this massive tragedy, leaving thousands dead and injured. If not, it would be hard to avoid the conclusion — would you not say? — that this is extremely irresponsible journalism, in so many ways. At first, I took your reportage at face value and was horrified by what you termed Israeli ‘criminal negligence’ but I haven't yet come across any other serious journalists, apart from you, who are making this very grave allegation (and thus, in effect, legitimating it). Even Hezbollah has been reported as saying that the Israelis were not involved. Maybe they are mistaken, but surely it would have been worth a mention. What, I wonder, was your hurry? If it turns out you were right, please forgive this intervention. If it turns out you were wrong, I wonder what you will do about it?”
As far as I am aware, he has not, to date, withdrawn, qualified or substantiated his dramatic claim. Outsiders, in my opinion, have a responsibility not to add fuel to the flames with reckless charges (whether or not in the future they turn out to have had a grain of truth).
The other development regarding Lauder was reported on the front page of the London Jewish Chronicle. I sent them the following letter in response (which they did not publish):
“The belated conversion of the influential president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, to the two-state idea, and his overdue recognition of the connection between ’nationalistic’ trends in Israel and the global surge in anti-Jewish sentiment could, if genuine, be a watershed moment. But how heartbreaking it is that he waited until the horses have all but bolted.
The ’terrible’ situation today might have been avoided if he and his ideological fellow travellers had had their historic epiphany some decades earlier instead of throwing their hefty weight behind the relentless colonization of captured Palestinian territory and pillorying those of us who have been warning of the perils of a prolonged military occupation almost since its inception in 1967.
But the threats are not just to the fading prospects for peace and the global perceptions of Jews, as serious as they are. Long-established Jewish values are steeped in the principles of justice, freedom, equality and peace, principles that have made an extraordinary contribution to human civilization and have a clear echo in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These ideals, embedded in the Hebrew Bible, the Torah, and passed down the generations, lie at the very core of Jewish identity and, more than any ritual, are the glue that binds together Jews of many different persuasions in many different countries.
For these reasons, Jews do not make natural occupiers. It goes against the grain. But the ever-deepening occupation of the land and lives of a neighbouring people has been cultivating, bit by bit, a new, much uglier, grain. The battle between the conflicting sets of values encapsulated by these two grains is existential and its outcome will define the Jewish future (not to mention the Palestinian future). People will have to decide which side they are on.”
My recollection from a draft I saw of the Exeter dissertation is that it won’t say much about this. Jordan was keeping quiet, waiting to see how the ball was rolling. There was a lot of effort to see if a resolution could be crafted that was weak enough so that the US might not veto it. When it was clear that the US would not approve anything meaningful, they returned to earlier drafts. Total Israeli hostility was taken for granted. I doubt that we’ll learn anything more about the Jordanian decision, because there probably never was anything firm. And pursuit of the issue diverts attention from the really significant matter: Israel’s decisions in the ‘70s to choose expansion over security, with US backing.
The ‘76 resolution is a clear illustration of it, one of many, including Jarring, the Galili protocols, and much else.
Good letters. Lauder could have made a difference.
I understand but am not enthusiastic about the predictable Palestinian response to today's (not entirely unpredictable) announcement about Israel- United Arab Emirates (UAE) links. On the face of it, it is yet another setback for the Palestinians, but it's a shame they have not acquired the knack of turning a new development to their advantage.
I don’t see how the Palestinians could turn this new blow to their advantage. It seems to me to have little to do with them, except to affirm that in the eyes of the US (and, of course, Israel) they are utterly worthless, beneath contempt.
It seems to me just a step towards advancing the one coherent geopolitical strategy that one can discern in the Trump administration: constructing an alliance of the most reactionary states, headed by the White House, including Bolsonaro’s Brazil, the Middle East dictatorships, Israel, Modi’s India, Orban’s Hungary, and a few others like them. It formalizes longstanding tacit relations between Israel and the brutal Gulf dictatorships. Another blow against Palestinian rights.
I certainly take your point about the Trump administration's strategy to construct an alliance of the most reactionary states. But I think it's vital that the Palestinians don't just take every setback on the chin and instinctively reject it all, but rather look for creative ways to turn these continuing developments to their advantage, or try at least to get something out of it in each case, or at the very least not to make matters worse for themselves. For example, reflexively withdrawing their ambassador from the UAE (imitating the practice of well-established states in given circumstances) while Israel prepares to send theirs to the country (by way of replacement?) is not necessarily the wisest move for them to make. I don't think it's correct that there is nothing they can do. They have to be part of the game. They have assets, if they will use them. I have been in touch with my Palestinian contacts about this.
Meanwhile, I have just received a further response (below) about the draft vetoed Security Council Resolution (SCR) of 1976 from my Jordanian contact who is clearly extremely well informed. I have my own preliminary assessment of what this highly reliable individual writes, but at this stage I pass it on to you without comment as it would be interesting to know what you make of it.
• While the draft resolution called for the creation of a Palestinian state, the language was very flexible. First, it was in a non-binding form using the word “should” (Affirm that the Palestinian people should be enabled to exercise…). Second, it mentioned that the right of Palestinian people includes the right to establish an independent state in Palestine. The paragraph therefore never determined where in Palestine the independent Palestinian State should be, nor did it provide that such a state will encompass the territories occupied from Jordan in June 1967. This should also be read with OP 1 (c) and 1 (d) of the draft which reiterated that Israel should withdraw from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967 and that arrangements be made to guarantee the territorial integrity and political independence of all states in the area. Jordan could have argued then that the draft resolution, while proposing the establishment in Palestine of a state for the Palestinian people, calls for the return by Israel of all the territories it occupied from Jordan and that the creation of a Palestinian State must not be in conflict with Jordan’s territorial integrity (that includes the WB and East Jerusalem).
• The draft resolution, while acknowledging the PLO as a representative of the Palestinian people, never mentioned that it had a right to negotiate the status of the territories occupied from Jordan in 1967 (WB and East Jerusalem) or the establishment of a Palestinian State on such territories or elsewhere. And as importantly, it never mentioned that the PLO is the sole representative of the Palestinian people. It remains Jordan’s position that it represents the part of the Palestinian people who hold Jordanian nationality, including their claims for national and other rights (such as the right to return and compensation).
• Therefore, it may be assumed that Jordan was willing to accept the possibility of a future creation of an independent Palestinian State but without prejudicing its (Jordan’s) position as regards to being the legitimate sovereign over the WB and Jerusalem and without acknowledging any right for the PLO to create such a state or negotiate the status of the territories occupied from Jordan in 1967. Jordan could have also argued that, under the draft resolution, the issue of enabling the exercise of the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people does not necessarily mean the creation of an independent state and that it left the door open for the existence of an autonomous (Palestine) within a federation or confederation with Jordan.
I don’t know of any good option for the Palestinians, beyond sumud (steadfastness) and accommodating as best they can.
Thanks for the comment from your Jordanian contact. It accords pretty well with my own sense, as discussed earlier. To repeat: In background discussion, Jordan didn’t take an active role, while the Arab states tried to find some sort of compromise that wouldn’t elicit an outright US veto. The ironclad rejectionism of Israel was taken for granted. When it was clear that nothing would shake Kissinger’s support for Israeli rejectionism, they came out with a stronger resolution than they had contemplated. Jordan was sitting on the fence, waiting to see where the US would go.
The primary conclusion seems very clear, not just from the fate of this resolution but from the whole course of diplomacy and policy from the ‘70s. Under Labour leadership, Israel was unshaken in its extreme rejectionism. The US might have decided differently, but Kissinger decided to support Israel’s decision to choose expansion over security, from which it rarely wavered apart from a few moments here and there, mainly at Taba if we can take it seriously.
There’s of course more. There always is. But it should not obscure the main theme, very clear in the public record of Rabin and Peres, not to speak of the extremists like Sharon and Netanyahu.
I note that you regard the comments from my Jordanian contact as according with your sense of it. As I see it, the contact’s valiant attempts to square the circles come perilously close at times to disingenuousness, but overall I feel they validate my contention that Jordan performed acrobatics to construe the draft resolution to be compatible with Hussein’s 1972 federation proposal whereby the Palestinians would have a limited form of autonomy on the West Bank. In other words, Jordan hadn’t changed its position at that time on an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank (culminated in the final sentence). It adopted this policy later only in the wake of the PLO’s decision in 1988 to accept a state alongside Israel and other Arab states’ endorsement of this policy.
The PLO itself was a long way in 1976 from adopting that policy. The groundbreaking article in Foreign Affairs in support of the two-state idea by the Palestinian intellectual heavyweight Walid Khalidi only appeared in July 1978. There had been a steady undercurrent toward that goal among Palestinians from the early 1970s but the PLO was nowhere near adopting it as early as 1976.
As for Syria, it had never previously evinced support for a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Its government, too, at that stage was also manoeuvring for position. Egypt may have been the only Arab state at that time that was genuinely looking for a solution.
That's all now in the past. We obviously cannot change that, even if we don’t see entirely eye-to-eye on every part of it. But we (the people) can have some influence on the future course of events. Here’s what I have been saying to my Palestinian contacts:
On the face of it, the UAE-Israel accord is indeed a diplomatic success for Netanyahu (and Trump) and a setback for the Palestinians. Whatever one may think of it, it is a strategically significant development, if not in some ways a game changer, especially as it might be the precursor to similar future agreements between Israel and other Arab states (we shall see).
However, while understandable, the official Palestinian reaction is not, in my opinion, going to get anywhere. Rejection, even very firm rejection, is a reflex, not a strategy. A strategy would build on the reflex by putting forward alternative proposals (as I believe they should have done previously in response to the Trump plan). One of the Palestinians' strongest assets is international public opinion (and, still, popular Arab opinion), but it cannot be galvanized on the basis of a negative. As things stand, they are just letting Trump and Netanyahu do all the running.
All the reflex negativism does is feed into the calumny, repeated ad nauseam, including by the greenhorn Jared Kushner, that the Palestinians only ever turn down peace proposals. What is needed now is to get ahead of the curve in the form of a Palestinian Peace Initiative (PPI), drawing on, revising and updating the Arab Peace Initiative (API). Get it out there and initiate a worldwide campaign. Clear elements and demands. No “creative ambiguity” about its goals (in contrast with the BDS movement). I appreciate the delicacies, but a way needs to be found to draw in the anti-occupation forces in Israel and the wider Jewish world among other constituencies. There is a whole audience out there waiting to be mobilized.
Just condemning and withdrawing the Palestinian ambassador is, at this and every future stage, to whistle in the wind. The argument is likely to catch on that if the frontline states of Egypt and Jordan can maintain diplomatic and other relations with Israel, why not the more peripheral Arab states? The Palestinian diplomatic presence in these countries, if withdrawn, will be replaced in due course by the Israeli diplomatic presence. This is bound to have an effect on domestic opinion in these countries. The Palestinian “leadership” needs to wake up and live up to its name. Providing a lead so that others may follow could be so much more effective than just crying betrayal (however justified that may be).
It’s surely true that none of the Arab states was enthusiastic about a Palestinian state. They were sitting on the fence, waiting. The PLO at the time was just beginning to move towards the position of accepting whatever they might get and trying to move on to a full state. So, they all supported the resolution with reservations.
But all of this seems to be consistently avoiding the major issue, as it pales into insignificance in the face of adamant Israeli rejectionism, expressed forcefully by Rabin and absurdly by Herzog. And it is only one example of the dedication of Labor to totally reject any Palestinian rights and to continue the settlement programs, at that time even in Sinai where extreme violence and destruction was carried out. And, of course, the crucial matter of US support for Israel’s rejectionism. In comparison, the question of the vacillations of the Arab states and the PLO amount to very little.
I think it is quite important to be clear about these matters.
Turning to the present, the Palestinians are surely not taking a constructive stance, but I don’t have any idea about what to suggest to them. We can surely anticipate that the longstanding informal relations between Israel and the Gulf dictatorships will come more into the open, and if Trump wins the election, his administration is likely to move to firm up the reactionary international they’ve been constructing, run from the White House and including a network of reactionary states: Bolsonaro’s Brazil, the Gulf dictatorships, al-Sissi’s Egypt, Israel under one or another right-wing government, Modi’s India, Orban’s Hungary, and other such elements around the world. No hope here for Palestinians or other oppressed groups.
Their one hope, I think, lies in a change in US policy. Not impossible I think; matters we’ve discussed before.
I agree it is important to be clear about these matters. But I think the nuances are also important and shouldn't be overlooked if we want to gain more insight into why certain positions were taken by different parties at different times, not just what those positions were at any given moment of time. But I don't want to go over old ground, as I prefer to focus on what could be done now aside from bemoaning the new developments and crying betrayal (once more), however justified that may be in Palestinian eyes.
Before coming back to that, I am certainly with you on the question of the US's harmful or at least negligent role post-1967. I have referred previously to my interview with General Shlomo Gazit in 1973, when he explained that following Israel's lightning military victory in the 1967 war, “everyone thought that Israel would return to the 1967 borders,” just as it had been forced by US pressure and Soviet threats to withdraw in full from Egyptian territory following the 1956 venture. So, Israel was determined to establish as many new facts on the ground as possible — with future security as a primary (although certainly not the only) consideration to begin with — before it was inevitably obliged to hand back the bulk of the captured territories. That was the initial framing.
But the anticipated pressure to withdraw from all or most of the West Bank never materialized and, over time, Israelis (especially new generations) became more and more accustomed to it being an integral part of their territory and felt increasingly free to populate it. Restrictions and inhibitions steadily faded away. These developments were a direct function of the negligence or indulgence from the outset of the international powers, notably the US They have a lot to answer for in my book. More than any other actor.
As for the present, the way I see it is that the Palestinians need to look at and cultivate their assets. They have international public opinion, from the grass-roots level to states governments on their side — at least as regards gaining their own independent state — including Arab governments and civil society. What I believe they need to focus on is how to mobilize this huge asset (or assets) in support of this goal.
First, there is the need to be absolutely clear that the end of occupation and statehood is their goal and not be fuzzy about it (in contrast with BDS’s consciously ambiguous goals). Second, they need to put forward their own plan behind which their assets may unite and mobilize. The Arab world (including the UAE) is still formally committed to the Arab Peace Initiative. Most of the world does or would support it, too. The Palestinians don't have to re-invent the wheel. Drawing on the most salient parts of the API, they could devise a Palestinian Peace Initiative and campaign for it around the world. But they need to get ahead of the curve rather than constantly being forced to play catch-up.
They could, for example, anticipate likely future developments and, contrary to their current stance, welcome initiatives of Arab states towards Israel but condition them on parallel diplomatic, trading and other moves and gestures towards the Palestinians rather than fruitlessly, even counterproductively, withdrawing the existing Palestinian diplomatic presence. They could seek commitments from Arab states that their dealings with Israel will be firmly regulated by progress towards a Palestinian state. Public opinion within these states could be targeted in support. They could lobby Western states to recognize the Palestinian state (and lobby Arab states to lobby Western states to the same end) and press for them to regard Israel's presence on its land as an illegal infringement of the territorial rights of a sovereign state.
This could give rise to any number of legal cases in courts around the world, including in countries where Israel has financial and other assets. They could mobilize civil societies internationally, including Jewish and other self-declared "pro-Israel, pro-peace" circles. J Street in the US, Yachad in the UK, JCall in the EU, among other “dovish” groups, may potentially be receptive.
The US government, by contrast, is definitely not a Palestinian asset under Trump, but it might be to an extent under Biden, and the Democratic Party may increasingly be so, especially in the context of a coherent Palestinian Peace Initiative rooted on a sound platform.
Of course, these and other ideas would require a change in the present Palestinian frame of mind and a readiness to think strategically (rather than reflexively). But that is all it would require to get going once they've got over the shock of the UAE betrayal. I have been encouraging Palestinian contacts and colleagues to think in these terms. I hope others will do so, too. Reviving hope and formulating a sound strategic plan are the key factors. Despair, on the other hand, is fruitless and destructive. It will get no one anywhere – apart from handing the advantage to negative forces. People need to ditch the habit of throwing in the towel (including on a Palestinian state). There’s been far too much of it over the years, and it’s made the life of Netanyahu (and like-minded annexationists) much too easy.
You’re quite right that nuances shouldn’t be ignored, but they should be treated as they are: nuances. There’s also a major factor that is not a nuance but rather the major story, expressed forcefully by Rabin and many others and implemented in policy, as in Labor’s Galili protocol and its brutal implementation. Hardly for security. The Labor “doves” are the prime guilty party. A secondary factor is Kissinger’s support for their rejectionism, setting a pattern that others emulated. There was no security argument for Hebron or the later settlements. That’s pretense. The crucial fact is that Israel had a choice between security and expansion, and led by the Labor “doves,” it chose expansion. The ‘76 resolution is a dramatic illustration, but only one of a series of cases, the highly provocative settlement programs included. I don’t think the prime actors should be let off the hook.
I agree with your proposals to the Palestinians. I don’t personally expect anything from Biden and The Democratic National Committee (DNC), which is working hard, and so far successfully, to cut off his moves to reach out to the progressive voting base. Their retraction of his climate policies is a shocking illustration of the power and reactionary commitments of the donor-oriented Clintonites who are trying to maintain their iron grip on the party, rather similar to the Blairites in England. I think there is more hope in the popular base, who could be organized as an effective force, another matter on which we agree.
You are right about there having been no security argument for Hebron or the later settlements. Not even military officials pretended there were. As I have mentioned, General Gazit told me in August 1973 that unauthorized
attempts to establish settlements were “quashed by the military government” with the exceptions of Kiryat Arba (just outside Hebron), the Etzion Bloc (between Jerusalem and Hebron) and the Jordan River Valley. Colonel David Farhi, advisor on Arab affairs to the military government, admitted to me at around the same time that it could not reasonably be argued that Kiryat Arba was built for security reasons which, as you indicate, was the usual justification for a new settlement. Rather, he said, it was established under heavy internal pressure from the Israeli political right and, of course, it was to prove to be not the only one.
Farhi (who, like Gazit, later transitioned from the military to the academic world but tragically drowned at the age of 40 in 1977) defined four main political positions in Israel at the time:
1. The extreme hawks of the Greater Israel movement, who agitated for annexation of all the land captured by Israel in 1967 – first and foremost the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – with full rights granted to all the inhabitants. (Precisely what was meant by “full rights” within a self-defined Jewish state is a moot point).
2. The realpolitik hawks, who favoured annexing as much land as possible without compromising the Jewish character of the state and without risking security.
3. The realpolitik doves, who would give back as much land as possible without endangering the security of the state.
4. The extreme doves, who would return all, or virtually all, the captured territory unilaterally (he cited, as a leading proponent of this position, Yitzhak Ben-Aharon, Labour MK and secretary-general of the Histradut).
As is known, there was subsequently an acceleration in the building of settlements all over the West Bank, authorized and unauthorized, especially after the election of the first Likud-led government in 1977 and again following the Oslo Accords in the 1990s. Their principal purpose was plainly to put paid, once and for all, to any talk of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, or at least to encircle any future Palestinian entity. On his part, Rabin spoke with two tongues. The Palestinian street, on the other hand, in the light of Oslo, eagerly anticipated the materialization of their own state.
As you regard Rabin, Peres and other Labour leaders responsible for "Israel’s adamant rejectionism" and of favouring Greater Israel, I wonder if you would place them solidly in the first category (assuming you accept these classifications as broadly accurate), alongside the likes of Begin and Shamir?
We agree, I believe, that the security argument was used time and again as a pretext. But I don't go along with the view that that doesn't mean there were no genuine security concerns, at least as an authentic perception. Once again, I think the nuances are important and can count for a lot. As a matter of record, below is an extract from a piece I wrote for the magazine New Outlook following what was the first broadly mainstream Israeli-Palestinian dialogue meeting after the 1967 war (at which I was privileged to be present), held over two days behind closed doors at the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem in December 1978:
This asymmetry was one message that came across on the second day. Another was contained in a series of speeches by Israelis angered at the allegation that there was no real foundation to their security fears. One Israeli described in graphic terms what it was like trying to raise a family on a kibbutz within gun range of the Syrian Golan Heights before June 1967. Every night, he said, his children had to sleep in the bomb shelter. Another Israeli, who spoke movingly of the historical experience of the Jews – a people which has been threatened with extinction before and seen the threat carried through almost to the end – asked rhetorically what the intentions of five invading Arab armies were in 1948?, what the Palestinian National Covenant means if not what it says?, and ridiculed the notion that Israel could not be defeated in time with vulnerable borders if there were a concerted Arab attempt to do so. The point was finally accepted – quite genuinely it seemed – by the very Palestinian who made the charge in the first place. In openly confessing that the discussion had changed his understanding, he added that it was very difficult for the average Palestinian to comprehend this fear, be it rationally or irrationally based, in view of their experiences of Israeli actions over the last 30 years.
It’s good to know you concur with my proposals to the Palestinians. If you have any Palestinian activist contacts yourself these days, I wonder if you would also be prepared to encourage them to take a positive initiative?
There’s also no security argument for settlement in the Jordan Valley, or anywhere else in the occupied territories. Surely not in the Sinai. All of that was obvious – I’m sure to Gazit – and it became transparent in ‘73. The IDF had to delay its response to the Syrian attack in order to clear out the settlers in the Golan. States commonly plead “security” for their actions. Very rarely true. In the case of settlements, I’m sure Gazit knew as well as other military strategists that the settlements reduced security, not only because of the provocation, but also for simple technical reasons, as the Golan case illustrated.
The truth is that Labor chose expansion over security, in diplomacy and in its policies. And with virtually no disagreement. Rabin and Peres were strong advocates of this position, to the end, though of course not at the level of Shamir or killers like Sharon. Begin is harder to place.
The pleas about security in the New Outlook piece were no doubt heartfelt, but misplaced. I’m sure you’ve read Dayan’s concession that the large majority of incidents on the Golan were provoked by Israel – I think he said 80%. Even without Dayan, it was clear simply from the record.
I was not aware of Israel having to clear out the settlers in Golan to allow the military to respond to the Syrian attack in 1973. But it's an important point and thanks for alerting me to it. It is, as you indicate, just one example of the settlements being a burden in terms of security. In the West Bank, many of them started as military/agricultural settlements (nahal outposts) and, once they were handed over to civilians, other military-inhabited settlements predictably needed to be built to protect them, and so on.
The army was employed to protect not just the settlers but also to control the West Bank in general. This diverted them from their fundamental task to protect the country's borders. Another reason why the settlers, the settlements and the occupation as a whole were a security burden.
A major difference between Labour leaders and Begin was that the former routinely pleaded security in their justification of Israeli colonization of the West Bank, while Begin and other Likud leaders did not. They used the security argument only with regard to the retention of the Golan Heights and Sinai. I suppose it could be argued that Begin was more honest in that he held that Judea and Samaria belonged eternally to the Jewish people and Israel and should never be handed over to the Arabs regardless of other considerations.
This said, I don't think it is true that Israel has not faced genuine security threats, and you can see why. Its creation was seen as a gross injustice by Palestinians, a sentiment that was widely shared in the Arab world, which regarded it as an affront to Arab nationalism, anti-colonialism and Islam. By and large, they were sincere in wanting to see the state eradicated. President Nasser, when asked about the united Arab aim on the eve of the 1967 war, declared that it was to destroy Israel. He qualified that statement by adding “if war broke out” but went on to say that he thought it would. In summarily expelling the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) buffer force in Sinai (even if he didn't expect his demand that they leave to be carried out, or at least not so swiftly), he certainly helped to precipitate the hostilities.
The PLO head at the time, Ahmed Shukairy, declared that all remaining Jews at the end of the war would be removed to Haifa from where they would be transported by boat to their “native lands,” but that he doubted there would be any survivors (this was reported by the Arab Report and Record four days before war broke out). These sentiments, while not necessarily representative of all Palestinians, were heartfelt and reflected a current of opinion that felt Israel's demise (including the removal of its people or not) would be an act of profound justice.
Threats of destruction may roll off the backs of some nations. But for a people who were still recovering from the brink of extinction, they had a strong resonance.
Without going into the whys and wherefores now, Palestinian attitudes in general underwent profound changes following the 1967 war, in some cases abruptly, in others more gradually. But the Israeli perception, if not the reality, of danger to Israel and its people was real and so easily exploited by the Israeli political leadership. As for the Palestinians, even before 1948 they had every reason to fear for their security, as they very much still do.
But I worry they are not playing their cards to good effect. It is for them to decide, of course, but I hope they will adopt a different strategic approach from the one followed in recent times.
Looking over the record, from December 1947 until May ‘48, it was touch and go, but after the flood of Czech arms in violation of the truce, Israel’s military supremacy was overwhelming and it was mostly expulsion, destruction of villages, massacres. From then to ‘67 the record is covered well by Benny Morris. The security threats were overwhelmingly the result of the aggressiveness of Ben-Gurion and Dayan, with Sharon contributing massacres. In ‘67, it looked as though Israel was facing a major threat. I believed it. We learned later that Israeli and US intelligence didn’t. Pretty soon afterwards, the story became Israel’s adamant rejection of diplomacy and peace. There was indeed a threat in ‘73, after Israel-Kissinger dismissed Egypt as a basket case and refused to take Sadat seriously. Then on to Israel’s decision to choose expansion over security – which did, of course, mean that Israel faced some security threats. You’re right about the Labor-Likud difference. Begin was honest. The nahals were pure fraud. Part of the general strategy of expelling the Palestinian population by establishing military and green areas where no settlement is permitted, and lo and behold, pretty soon all-Jewish settlements are cropping up. The Labor- Likud Greater Israel program is now being solidified, even more with formal links to the world’s most reactionary and brutal states replacing tacit relations, a core part of the Reactionary International that’s being forged in the White House.
I wish I could think of a good strategy for the Palestinians, beyond overcoming their severe internal problems and seeking international support. As before, I think their only real hope is a change in US policy, which could happen and would be advanced if there were a genuine solidarity movement here – something that Palestinians could help develop, for the first time, just as other Third World nationalist movements have done. Part of their tragedy is the failure of the leadership to understand this, from way back.
(Chomsky’s responses are interpolated in bold type)
You wrote: “In ‘67, it looked as though Israel was facing a major threat. I believed it. We learned later that Israeli and US intelligence didn’t.” This was a part of the story, but only a part of it. Intelligence agencies are not infallible. They make mistakes. They can suffer from bravado and delusion. They would (or should) routinely consider best-case and worst-case scenarios. As part of worst-case planning, Tel Aviv parks were consecrated as emergency cemeteries. Thousands of graves were dug. The best-case scenario from Israel’s viewpoint prevailed in the event because the military aircraft of the three main belligerent Arab states were obligingly left exposed on the tarmac in Egypt, Jordan and Syria respectively, enabling the Israeli air force to take them out in the first few hours of the war. Israel then had command of the skies, and the war was effectively over by the end of the first day. But no one could have banked on this. Had the Arab commanders not been so negligent, the course of the war would have been quite different and its outcome less certain. In this, as in other cases, it's too easy to take the position that things were bound to turn out the way they did.
And the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Israeli intelligence can be right, as they were in their supreme confidence of quick Israeli victory in this case even if Israel hadn’t struck first. They were aware that the Arab armies were an empty shell, all bluster and not even the simplest equipment.
From memory, the fallibility of the intelligence agencies and the political class was exposed when, unlike many analysts, they failed to foresee the election of pro-PLO candidates in the 1976 West Bank municipal elections. Nor did these agencies anticipate the 1987 intifada. Like other commentators, I did not have access to any of the intelligence information the agencies had, yet my reckoning in both cases was more accurate than theirs, probably because I was not blinded by self-serving false notions. My intelligence came from speaking to the people plus a smidgen of oldfashioned common sense.
These are very different kinds of situations. Evaluating popular mood is one thing, not seeing whether soldiers have minimal equipment and no command structure is quite another. It’s like failure to predict the reaction to the Floyd murder.
Regardless of how it turned out, and who provoked it, the fact remains that the destruction of Israel was an explicit Arab war aim in 1967. The threat was real, even if arguably unrealistic. Some of the threats were articulated in blood-curdling terms. Those who claim that the eradication of Israel was not a war aim, fail to understand how deep the feeling of injustice was in the Arab world at the creation of Israel. Palestinians and other Arabs felt fully justified in wanting and expecting to see Israel wiped off the map.
For them, it was a moral good. It was not for no reason that Israel did not feature on any Arab map between 1948 and 1967 and for quite a time after 1967 too. Israelis, in turn, were fully justified in feeling the threats to their existence were authentic, and they may well have been carried out had the war gone the other way. This is also a part of the story.
Without access to what was available to intelligence, it seemed as though the threat was real. That’s why I and others were severely concerned. When the evidence became publicly available later, it turned out that we were seriously misled about the nature of the threat and that the supreme confidence of the Israeli command and US intelligence was justified.
You wrote “There was indeed a threat in ‘73, after Israel-Kissinger dismissed Egypt as a basket case and refused to take Sadat seriously.”
In actuality, there was no threat to Israel's existence in 1973, although it is true the Egyptian and Syrian military offensives did cause panic inside Israel. There was a default reflex that its existence was in danger. But the destruction of Israel was no longer a war aim. The Egyptian aim was to restore the whole of the Sinai desert (“every grain of sand”) to Egypt, first by limited military action followed by diplomacy. Sadat achieved this aim. He had no interest in invading Israel and never suggested such an intention. Leading Israeli politicians like Golda Meir (“if the Arabs start a war, I will feel sorry for the Arabs”) and Moshe Dayan (“if they start a war, it will be a six-hour war”) had been ridiculing the idea that the Arabs would dare initiate a war so soon after the 1967 humiliation, and in this mindset they brushed aside intelligence reports that indicated unusual activity. But the intelligence information itself was far from definitive, again demonstrating the imperfections of these agencies and their tendencies, too, to be influenced by the mood of the country and the instincts of the political leadership.
What you’re describing about Sadat’s goals was learned later. Israeli intelligence was blinded by the prevailing racist arrogance of the period (“the Arabs don’t know which end of the gun to hold,” “avoda haravit,” etc.), extensively documented in Amnon Kapeliuk’s important 1975 study to which I referred. Knowing nothing of this, the threat to Israel seemed so real that Golda Meir contemplated suicide while rebuffing Dayan’s idea to consider resorting to the then-limited nuclear arsenal.
As regards present-day Israel being a fully paid-up member of “Reactionary International”, I’m sorry to say I can only agree with you. I don’t think it was inevitable. Some of the country’s founding fathers would be horrified by the way things have developed. I expect this is true, too, for some of the founding fathers of the US in relation to that country. (I can't say the same for the UK, as it can hardly be argued that there were any noble founding principles!) Unfortunately, Reactionary International is quite a well-populated club these days.
In the US and to a lesser extent the UK, it’s not just the founders who would be horrified. The same is true of leading elements of elite circles in both countries, observing Johnson and Trump, a sharp break from history in both cases, more radically in the case of Trump. Here’s one illustration, from highly regarded retired senior military commanders: https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2020/08/all-enemies-foreign-anddomestic-open-letter-gen-milley/167625/.
Having tried it many times, I don't expect the Palestinians to succeed any time soon in patching up their main internal fault line between Fatah and Hamas, any more than The African National Congress (ANC) and The Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) liberation movements did during the apartheid years, or The Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and The Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) did under the Smith regime or, for that matter, the Haganah and Irgun did pre-statehood. The divisions run deep, and it isn't vital. What is vital is that the lead organization takes a decisive initiative that can attract widespread support, internally and externally. If it does that, Hamas might quietly support it too. Without such an initiative, there is no hope for what you call a genuine solidarity movement.
A genuine solidarity movement has to be here, in the US, also Europe. Unfortunately, it is lacking, and great opportunities are being lost in shifting US policy. I won’t review it again. There are plenty of problems elsewhere. Those at hand are the ones that are crucial and that we can influence.
The responses to my proposal for a Palestinian Peace Initiative (PPI) have been encouraging. Following input and advice from others, I have revised it and it is due to be published shortly by the Palestine-Israel Journal. The revised proposal is attached. There may still be time to revise it further before publication, should you have any advice yourself.
Thanks. Looks good.
The proposal for a PPI has now been published [https://www.pij.org/blogs/496]. The feedback has mainly been positive, even enthusiastic, including from most Palestinian respondents. Some interlocutors have conditioned the initiative on successful unity talks between Fatah and Hamas. Others have added the prior need for PLO reform, Palestinian elections and a change of leadership.
My sense, however, is that the proposed initiative needs to be taken with minimum delay and cannot wait for other elusive developments, which would take an age to come about, if ever. Without minimizing their importance, they are a diversion. If the initiative is postponed, the opportunity will have passed. Bold leadership can have amazing effects and be the best unifier. That, in my opinion, is what is needed right now.
I wish I could say the letter to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by retired military commanders that you referenced was hysterical and of another world. If there were ever a doubt about the pertinence of its warnings, Trump's call to the so-called Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” puts the doubt to rest. So does almost everything else about him. I hope General Milley has taken note and is closely monitoring the situation. But, like Covid-19, the Trump virus, even when eradicated, will leave its acerbic deposits on the body politic for years to come (what you might call “Long Trump”!).
On the other hand, Donald himself and members of his family, notably Ivanka, could face prosecution and prison terms once he is evicted from office. The Trump saga will run and run. The long-term effects of his toxins are up there with the poisoned legacy of decades of industrial waste and human mismanagement.
In the UK, we have a prime minister who has variously been described as an incompetent, a hypocrite, a seasoned liar and a dangerous buffoon (among other less printable epithets). But once he has gone, reckless Brexit aside, his footsteps will probably largely disappear too. That is one major difference between Johnson and Trump.
Good that the PPI is moving along. Agree that it should be expedited. As for what’s happening here – very ominous, and I think you’re right that the poison won’t be quickly drained, even if this malignancy can be excised.
(Chomsky’s responses are interpolated in bold type)
Referring back to our earlier discussion about the 1976 draft Security Council resolution, I have just come across an article in the July edition of +972 magazine that claims “Arafat ... had reached out to the U.S. as far back as 1973 ... In a message delivered via the president of the Ivory Coast, Arafat told U.S. officials: 'The Palestine Liberation Organization in no way seeks the destruction of Israel, but accepts its existence as a sovereign state; the PLO’s main aim… will be the creation of a Palestinian state out of the ‘Palestinian part of Jordan’ plus Gaza.' ”
If this reportage is true, it would arguably add grist to your theory, although I don't believe it would negate my caveats about the disingenuity of one or more of the Arab states. While Arafat's public address to the UN General Assembly in November 1974 could be interpreted as implying much the same position, it is news to me that he had already articulated this sentiment in such clear terms many months before then.
I have written to the author of the +972 piece to ask him for the source of this report and when in 1973 Arafat allegedly said this to the president of the Ivory Coast, Félix Houphouët-Boigny. I am waiting for a response. If he can authenticate it, I will have to make a small amendment to the draft chapter of my impending book that traces the evolution of the two-state proposal, as it would make Arafat one of the early proponents of two states following the 1967 war. Few people (myself included) were aware of that.
Will be interested if you find out anything. Somehow skeptical, though Arafat was a pretty devious character.
Slightly off-topic, a friend referred me to your interview with Democracy Now in July. At first sight, your descriptions of your “sociopathic” president as the most dangerous person in history and the Republican Party as a most dangerous organization, seem a bit over the top. At second sight, given that the US president is the leader of the most powerful country the world has ever known, these descriptions are probably spot on. The whole world is now at the mercy of the American electorate.
Since they elected him into office the first time around, people around the world are not very confident about their good sense the second time around. Almost everyone is on tenterhooks.
When I make that statement, I usually preface it by saying that it might sound outrageous, but I think it is the simple truth. Many seem unaware of the awesome threat of environmental catastrophe. Alone in the world, Trump is racing to accelerate it. Even Hitler didn’t commit himself to destroying human life on earth.
Not all human life, but I get your point. In the interview, you are captioned, inter alia, as a "World-Renowned Political Dissident." This description strikes me as quite negative and not particularly flattering. I think you would probably be better served if "dissident" were replaced by a more positive description like "analyst" or something like that.
That’s probably why “dissident” is used. “Analyst” is reserved for deep thinkers like Tom Friedman.
I have finally managed to track down the source of Arafat's reported assertion as early as December 1973 that he favoured a Palestinian state alongside Israel. It was the CIA! I have adapted the information to incorporate it into the relevant chapter of my book and reproduce the extract below, with the source in the endnote:
Although he didn’t reveal it publicly, Arafat’s personal conversion to the acceptance of Israel alongside a scaled-down Palestinian state appears to have occurred even before 1974. In its classified “Daily Brief” to the US president (Richard Nixon) of 14 December 1973 (partly declassified on 19 July 2016), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that it had received a private message from Yasser Arafat, via President Houphouet-Boigny of the Ivory Coast, which asserted that “the Palestine Liberation Organization in no way seeks the destruction of Israel, but accepts its existence as a sovereign state; the PLO’s main aim at the Geneva Conference [December 1973] will be the creation of a Palestinian state out of the ‘Palestinian part of Jordan’, plus Gaza.”
The CIA note also stated: “Arafat is personally prepared for a phased development from a confederation of Israel and the new state to a simple federation. He is not ready to divulge this to other Arab states, however, although he claims that all the PLO except the extremist wing supports him.”
Endnote: I am grateful to Amjad Iraqi for alerting me to this CIA brief in an article he wrote for +972 Magazine, 10 February 2020 (https://www.972mag.com/blind-spot-us-palestine-israel-peace/), and in subsequent email correspondence, October 2020. Iraqi drew his information from Khaled Elgindy’s 2019 book “Blind Spot: America and the Palestinians, from Balfour to Trump,” Brookings Institution Press, pg 88 and endnote 55 of chapter 3. Elgindy, an Egyptian- American scholar, was a former adviser to the Palestinian leadership on negotiations with Israel. I subsequently found the original CIA brief on the Internet: https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/DOC_0006007622.pdf
That's a very interesting discovery. I imagine that the US might have conveyed this information to Israel. I wonder whether there is any information about that.
I haven't come across any such information. It would be interesting to know, but I doubt that we ever will. Judging from my conversation in August 1973 with Golda Meir, who was prime minister at the time, it would have made no difference. She was completely blind to Palestinian national aspirations and would have dismissed Arafat’s statement as the devious pleadings of an unrepentant terrorist. I have now read pages 80-85 of Elgindy's book which indicates that Kissinger took a not-very-different position.
By the way, the CIA note revealed that the PLO contact with Houphouet-Boigny was Issam Sartawi (the CIA note refers to him as Asam Sartawi).
Hoping for no Biden wobbles tonight. Nearly the whole world (with nauseating exceptions) is holding its breath.
A premature nod of congratulations. What a relief! Looked precarious for a while. The dragon has been slain but the death throes could still be painful. I suppose we will have to brace ourselves for the longest three months in US history. Well done to all whom it may concern.
Sorry I haven’t written. It’s been a crazy time. We may be spared the worst but I see it as a shocking defeat. I’m sending you some comments: https://truthout.org/articles/chomsky-voting-is-not-the-end-of-ourwork-its-only-the-beginning/
There is plenty in your interview with which I am sympathetic. When I was involved in student politics in the 1960s, among other things we campaigned for greater equality in the light of appalling imbalances in income and wealth. Yet, compared with now, that era was an egalitarian paradise. With this in mind, in the round, I agree the election results are not that great. But given the reality of US politics, what would have constituted great? Even had the Senate and the House gone overwhelmingly Democratic, would that have changed the fundamentals much? In truth, the elections could have been a lot worse. For now at least, the important thing is that the dragon and all the sous dragons have been slain, bar the shouting. A tyrant and his criminal gang have been brought down. The death throes may yet be hellish (or in some cases amusing) but no longer will the daily insults, threats and actions against a range of vulnerable groups be issued from and enacted by the most powerful person in the world, and no longer will he have his tiny finger on the button, assuming we can get through to 20 January in one piece. He has been felled and schadenfreude has never felt so good. If only for a short period, I choose to rejoice. I am sure there will be plenty of opportunities, alas, to lament in the future.
I’ll be glad to see him go, but the results I thought were awful. Trump gained percentage of votes in every demographic except white males, probably because he’s personally disliked by college grads. The Dems lost in the House and at the state level, which means they’ll lose later elections by chicanery, which the ultra-right Supreme Court won’t block. And this against a president who had just killed a few hundred thousand Americans. If it hadn’t been for Covid, he’d have walked away. About the only bright spots were the counties in Arizona and Nevada where local Latino activists have been doing serious community organizing, without Dem help. They were too busy wasting huge amounts of money in affluent suburbs.
Just can’t bring myself to celebrate, despite the relief.
You may be interested to see this thoughtful piece by my son Adam, with whom you may have had a connection in the past. He was one of the founders and national organizers of Momentum:
“… there’s a lot more to do, although it’s obviously great that Trump is out of the White House, but without Covid he may well still be there. It’s worth enjoying the fact he soon will be gone but the way history is unfolding there (and in Europe and globally) is concerning. People I work closely with in the US are very troubled about what they’re hearing from feedback from voters across the country and it seems the Republicans will rebrand themselves as ‘the party of the working class’ and pit themselves against the ‘establishment, elitist, globalist Democrats’. With four years of Biden in office and a growing right wing movement outside of it leads me to fear how 2024 will unfold. Being ‘anything but Trump’ may have been enough last time, but it won’t be again. An alternative vision that speaks to people’s hearts and minds needs to be put forward as well as policies that improve people’s lives - and not merely an erasure of Trump. Historical forces led to his success, just like Brexit’s. Trying to cling on to the post 1990/pre 2008 era won’t succeed as a longer term electoral strategy in my view. A much clearer vision needs to be articulated of what to be for as well as what to be against. I hope someone like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez runs next time and there does seem to be a whole new generation of leaders emerging in the Democratic Party but when they’re met with toxic hostility from their own party, as a whole generation has been within the Labour Party, it makes the job a whole lot harder. Anyway, for now, it’s worth savouring the celebrations!”
I cannot gainsay anything you have written but I feel perspective is no less important than forensic detail. I accept that people are getting carried away with the downing of a tyrant and downplaying or simply not noticing the other negative results and disturbing trends. I confess to getting carried away myself. I rejoice at the defeat of a monster. If one cannot celebrate now, even if a small mercy, then when? I don't want to go down a path of self-indulging a mood of gloom and doom, as if a triumph were not much different from a disaster.
The repercussions will be not just national but international, too. Already, a leading UK commentator has suggested that a no-deal Brexit is now, all of a sudden, off the table. If she's right, that's huge for the UK. For Ireland and the EU too. Netanyahu is suddenly coming under fire within Israel for having so openly backed Trump, throwing him on the defensive. It could be a turning point. When I think how insufferable, and potentially dangerous, the next four years would have been had Trump been re-elected, how can I not rejoice at his defeat? But I don't, of course, require this of anyone else.
There are so many other prospective knock-on effects. A fist of other elected thugs may fear that their days may also be numbered now that their mainstay has bit the dust. His downfall is not everything, but it is massive and will restore hope in the hearts of many ordinary people around the world. I think this needs to be acknowledged.
It could also give hope to vulnerable communities at home — victims of Trump's vicious tongue and discriminatory actions — and trigger other, more hopeful, social and political currents. It is up to the progressive forces within the US now to take advantage of the openings. There is a crying need for a new dynamic.
But, as said, I cannot gainsay the case you detail. The future could also be seriously dismaying. I endorse son Adam's fears and comments.
If you haven't already seen it, you may be interested in this report in today's Foreign Policy Morning Brief:
"A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday found that 79 percent of Americans believe Joe Biden won last Tuesday’s election, 18 percent are either undecided or don’t know, and 3 percent believe that Trump was the winner."
In the end, there is little doubt that Biden will take over as president on the appointed date (assuming that he doesn't have a heart attack and that the security forces prevent his assassination) but the wounded incumbent beast could cause a lot of damage in the meantime. I wouldn't at this stage rule out your speculation about Trump being forcefully ejected from the White House. In that eventuality, the streets are unlikely to be quiet. Trump will no doubt endeavour to hand to Biden as poisoned a chalice as he can. Verily, he is a vile brute. But now a toppled one. Good work!
Adam is right, I think. We should recall 2008. Obama's pretty words led progressives to go home and trust in the leader, who even held Congress. Within 2 years he so thoroughly betrayed the working class and the poor that they began to shift towards their bitter class enemy and were ready for Trump. Could happen again, now with an energized, organized and passionate proto-fascist Trump-run organization. Could happen by 2022.
Do you mean 2022 or 2024?
Both. I think they want to ensure that the country is ungovernable, even increase Covid deaths; then inevitable failures can be blamed on Biden and they can come roaring back. They have a lock on the courts, and with the legislatures in their hands, can redistrict to keep control of Congress. Their voting base is solid. People dying of Covid in Trump states are denying it on their death beds.
I entirely take your point about Obama. Having raised their hopes, he also betrayed the Palestinians, the anti-occupation circles in Israel and the prospect of a reasonable Palestinian-Israeli accord. So sure was I about his serious intent in this area that, as previously mentioned, I took time off to write (admittedly off my own bat) a proposed strategy for him, published as a pamphlet in May 2009. The idea – which I detailed earlier in this conversation – was based on the parties tendering their visions of the endgame to the Quartet which would then formulate a definitive international plan to end the conflict and preside over its implementation, employing powerful inducements.
The pamphlet was widely distributed and received a good amount of media coverage. We know it got to the White House and was read. It was extremely disappointing that instead of adopting a strategy broadly along its lines, he chose instead to persevere with old futile methods — so-called confidence-building measures (within the context of an enforced occupation!), timid interim steps, direct negotiations (between completely unequal parties), and so on — the failure of which were entirely predictable and played right into the hands of Netanyahu and the Israeli far right.
The question now is: Will Biden try to harvest the same fruitless tree or is he open to advice? Is there a role at this point for outside thinkers? If so, what can be done? Or do we just throw in the towel as so many have already done?
I've probably told you my favorite line from the Analects: The admirable person, presumably the Master himself, is the one who keeps trying when he knows there is no hope.
Has Obama learned anything from his errors? Does he still hold to his original ideals? Might he serve as Biden's Middle East emissary (not that I have any reason to think such an idea is being or will be considered)? We need ideas and practical proposals at this pivotal moment. I don't suppose you have any thoughts yourself about what may now be done concretely?
Before the 2008 election, I felt that Obama was a complete cynic. What happened later only confirmed it. I doubt that he thinks he made any errors. He's doing fine, praised to the skies, raking in dough. What's to complain?
You raise the spectre of a “proto-fascist Trump-run organization.” I wish I could disagree. I am careful about using the term lightly, as overuse tends to devalue its meaning, but I worry, too, about Trump’s own fascistic tendencies.
You also quote the Analects: "The admirable person ... is the one who keeps trying when he knows there is no hope." Not sure how to take that! But if we stop flying the flag altogether, as many have done, what is left but hedonism or misery? One day, the worm will probably turn — pendulums tend to work like that — but there would be no point if there's no one left to recognize, welcome and nourish it. So, on my part, I shall keep persevering regardless. That does not mean that at the moment I don't recognize that the Israel-Palestine question is, for now, pretty hopeless. One encouraging sign, though, is the number of decent civil society organizations in Israel, which are deserving of solidarity and support.
I take your point about Obama. I hope Biden will surprise us. There are some encouraging signs that he won't just be Obama Mark II. But, needless to say, not to raise hopes too high!
If you haven't already come across the article “America’s Next Authoritarian Will Be Much More Competent: Trump was ineffective and easily beaten. A future strongman won’t be” by Zeynap Tufekci in the Atlantic (6 November 2020), you might want to take a look at it. I believe it broadly supports your contention about the US election. The article concludes thus:
"The real message of this election is not that Trump lost and Democrats triumphed. It’s that a weak and untalented politician lost, while the rest of his party has completely entrenched its power over every other branch of government: the perfect setup for a talented right-wing populist to sweep into office in 2024" https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/11/trump-provedauthoritarians-can-get-elected-america/617023/
As with the Israel-Palestine question, it is what it is (although, as you have indicated, it is paramount to recognize exactly what it is) but the challenge is what may be done about it at the top level during the four years of the Biden administration, at the grass-roots level and at every level in between? I hope serious minds are working on this and that action follows. Otherwise, Tufekci's prognostication will be validated, and Biden's triumph will indeed turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory. America will be hell and a wretched role model for other countries.
I attach my own bad dream:
Not unlike Tufekci. This was done before the votes were in. A total disaster for Democrats. Lost everywhere, badly. The presidential vote was against Trump. Maybe if activism keeps Biden's feet to the fire, there will be some positive moves.
If America becomes hell — as it might — the rest of the world is pretty much doomed. But no choice except to keep trying.
I have recently listened to your engrossing interview with Owen Jones (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1W1gCzbQr2k) and have also now read your "bad dream." I wish I could say I profoundly disagree with your main theses — whether on US political trends, deadly market forces, climate change, Israel/Palestine, the global menace of far-right leaders or the whole awful drift of events, I share your concerns and fears. I would add the wilful destruction of wildlife and our inability to share this planet with other creatures.
I am also exercised, however, about the effect on the minds and spirit of people, particularly young people, of an almost unrelenting message of gloom and doom by thinkers they admire and look to for guidance. If hope is absent, or largely absent, from the picture, the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy may be unleashed. Energies may be diverted into cultish movements, extreme depression, self-harm, acts of wanton violence, self-obsessed hedonism or just total disengagement. My own view is that however bleak an analysis may be, if people are not to throw up their hands in despair and wait for Armageddon, the overall message needs to include advice about what people can do to turn the tide.
Our sons’ generation faces an unenviable dilemma of whether having children is fair to their prospective offspring and to the planet. Even for Joanne and me this was a question we had to grapple with to an extent. But the next generation has grown up in a very different era from ours, when the future somehow seemed rosy, despite the periodic crises (which were sometimes scary but limited in scope). Things are so much worse today, or at least our awareness of the problems is more acute than in the past. It is a wonder that younger generations keep their sanity at all. Does our amazing planet have a future? Could it have a future if we fight back? How to do that?
I had a long chat a while ago with a very intelligent 10-year-old, who happens to be a great nephew. He was excited about the idea of finding new planets for humans to inhabit to save and propagate the species. Without really realizing it, he had almost given up on the much more attractive and realistic option of preserving our own planet. A whole generation is being brought up with the notion that our world is effectively doomed and that the solution will be found in escape, technology and space. Even if we were miraculously to find another uninhabited inhabitable planet, how long would it take for human earthlings to rob it of all its natural resources, poison its atmosphere and destroy its ecology? It’s our planet or bust, and people are in desperate need for guidance on how to navigate through the present madness and save it and humanity.
You're right, of course. In talks and interviews, particularly to younger audiences, I try to remember to stress the fact that there are feasible solutions to all the problems that are falling on their shoulders and opportunities to grasp them, though time is short. Not an easy time to be young.
You have probably seen it before, but a friend just sent me a greetings card with the following quotation from Raymond Williams: "To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing." I think that is pretty much what we have been saying.
To switch: On scouring my handwritten research notes of 1976 this week, I was surprised to come across a reference to the vetoed Security Council resolution you mentioned to me several emails ago. So it seems I did know about it but obviously it went out of mind, probably because in the end it had no standing. However, I noticed in the same notes a reference to the successful General Assembly resolution of the previous year equating Zionism with racism. The proximity of these two resolutions is significant because it is hardly surprising if the full-frontal assault on the founding philosophy of the Israeli state convinced even the most dedicated peaceniks in Israel of the disingenuousness of Arab states' pretensions a few months later to full peace and acceptance.
Sixteen years later, in 1991, the Zionism = racism resolution was decisively revoked by the General Assembly, by which time there were solid indications that the political mood in the Arab world was genuinely transforming, especially among the frontline states, including the PLO after its overt policy change in 1988. Again, the proximity of these policy pronouncements is meaningful.
The current reality, of course, is that the pendulum has now swung almost completely the other way in the form of the equally noxious campaign to equate anti-Zionism with racism, in the form of antisemitism, implying that the Palestinian struggle against their dispossession and disenfranchisement is fundamentally illegitimate. As I see it, the disparaging of the bases of the two movements, each in turn, lies at the very heart of the conflict between the two peoples. Exposing and opposing these calumnies whenever they manifest themselves — regardless of which one appears to be in the ascendancy at different points in time — is, I believe, crucial if there is ever to be real movement towards a peaceful settlement between them.
Forwarding this link in case you have not come across this article by Trita Parsi:"Iran attack may be next in Trump's farewell bag of tricks": https://responsiblestatecraft.org/2020/12/31/more-clues-indicate-iranattack-may-be-next-in-trumps-farewell-bag-of-surprises/
I wish I could say this is sheer scaremongering.
Happy New Year!
The signs are surely there. I hope the Iranians are smart and disciplined enough not to give the maniac a pretext.
Any chance the Iranian government would listen to you? Leaving it to their unprompted questionable wisdom may be risky.
I don't think they'd even bother laughing, even if I could reach them. I'm also not their favorite character. Too many condemnations of their horrible record.
So the tyrant has finally gone into exile without blowing up the world. Something to cheer, I suppose. But his legacy and what it reflects will surely live on. I question whether he himself will be back, but what he represents isn't going to go away so easily. It's burnt into the fabric of US society and is scary. Biden has so far conducted himself with dignity under pressure and made a good start, I think. A stark contrast with the vulgar, arrogant Trump. A lot rests on his shoulders. But much is beyond his control. I wouldn't be surprised if the far right is quietly furious with Trump. He made them play their cards too early and badly, and they're paying a price. Still, they will re-group. What happens now in the Republican party is critical.
I have mostly been maintaining radio silence while concentrating on writing my book. But I do make exceptions, including avidly watching CNN. I've also been following the debate centred on the recent apartheid accusations against Israel, in particular by B'tselem. My letter to The Guardian on the topic was published on Friday in response to their editorial. If of interest, the online copy may be viewed at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/21/israel-apartheid-claimsand-roadblocks-to-peace
The paper presumably positioned my letter as a riposte to the letter immediately above it, which could almost have been drafted in the 1970s!
Very good letter to The Guardian – and well-placed.
Have been extremely busy. Constant talks, interviews, classes, statements, protests,…. Mail is a torrent, but I don’t think I missed any of yours.
I don’t know if it affects your classes but, as you know, almost everywhere student campuses are the place where the Israel-Palestine conflict is often played out, currently in the form of harassment of Palestinian-rights advocates and, in parallel, of Jewish students who maintain a connection with Israel and steadfastly decline to renounce Zionism. The mutual bitterness these actions engender is seriously detrimental to inter-communal relations and contributes nothing to ending the dispute. If anything, it probably has the opposite effect. So I question the wisdom of indiscriminately importing the toxins of the conflict into other societies, irrespective of who instigates it.
That said, I have been a keen observer of the student scene ever since I was myself a student activist in the 1960s/1970s and first witnessed an underlying chill of antisemitism and a gut suspicion of Arabs and Muslims. As these sentiments have spread and intensified in recent years, so apprehension has increased on both sides. But in some cases, the responses have been at a level of hysteria that are not just dysfunctional but at times counterproductive. A major culprit has been the London Jewish Chronicle under a bellicose editor who habitually plays on the genuine anxieties of the British Jewish population, driving them into new depths of fear and heights of outrage. (To be fair, he did commission and publish an article from me strongly critical of his incessant scaremongering (https://www.thejc.com/comment/opinion/the-problem-is-real-but-also-exaggerated-1.56522)
These type of anxieties and pressures lay behind an edict from the secretary-general of the Labour Party forbidding local branches from expressing dissent from the report of the Equality and Human Rights Commission on antisemitism within the party — and even from discussing Jeremy Corbyn's suspension — lest they upset Jewish members!
I have raised this matter at the leadership level, pointing out that "touchy" Jews would now be to blame for suppressing freedom of speech. And possibly even the break-up of the Labour Party. I questioned whether it may be permissible to discuss these matters if no Jews were present, so there would be no one in the room to upset? But how would anyone know if Jews were present? Should they announce their identity when they enter the room? Or raise a hand when asked? Or maybe it would be simpler if they just wore little yellow stars on their lapels to save embarrassment? The edict is absurd and its implications are horrendous but, in an era of the emperor's new clothes, few people are paying attention to the consequences of their actions and utterances.
You make some valuable points, but I'd be interested to learn of any investigations of the bitter denunciations of Islam that are rampant.
There should be such investigations, of course. Our own prime minister has in the past described the very small number of Muslim women in the UK who wear face veils — a very vulnerable minority — as "letter boxes" and "bank robbers." These prejudices are not just against Muslims and Islam. He also once referred to black people as "piccaninnies" with "watermelon smiles" (he did apologize to be fair!). There are many worse cases. The Conservative Party itself has been accused of institutional Islamophobia and an investigation has been called for. Strangely, there is no sign of one being set up any time soon!
To be honest, however, I don't really feel "whataboutery" is a valid response, although I have also sometimes engaged in it myself. It's more a deflection: a way of not addressing the matter or trivializing its validity. Defenders of Israel notoriously use the tactic themselves when Israeli behaviour is denounced. "What about?" is a fair question to pose, but it's not an answer to the issue at hand.
I agree with you that "whataboutery" (which I use all the time) would be a terrible defence, which is why I've never used it that way. Rather as inquiry (what are you actually up to?) and exposure (your pretense to be concerned about human rights, crimes, etc., is total fraud). Seems to me quite appropriate for that.
"Strangely"? Not sure.
When used that way, I agree. It is why I ducked out of Arab-Israel issues for some years in the 1980s and 1990s to join the staff of Amnesty International. That was my way of answering your question for myself. In the end, though, I got hauled back in. Difficult to stay away from.
On a related matter, in the light of the controversy over, and the gross inadequacy of, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, you might have read that an alternative definition, entitled "The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism," has been launched as a replacement.
The declaration includes a preamble, definition and a set of 15 guidelines that provide detailed guidance to identify and combat antisemitism while protecting free expression. It has over 300 signatories, many of them academic authorities in pertinent fields. My brother has been involved in its authorship. There are, inevitably, some flaws, and I have not signed it myself, but I believe it to be a vast improvement on the IHRA definition (which is not really a definition at all) and I hope it succeeds in replacing it.
I saw the Jerusalem Declaration, signed by a number of friends. If I'd been asked, I would have, too, as usual with reservations.
An article comprehensively rubbishing the Jerusalem Declaration on antisemitism, under the title "We don’t need another definition of Jew hate," recently appeared in the Jewish Chronicle:
The paper declined to publish my riposte (below) but other outlets now have:
Dave Rich slates the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA) while lauding the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition. Yet the JDA, more than a year in the making and now endorsed by over 300 international scholars of antisemitism and related studies, was only devised because of the damage wreaked by the ill-thought-out IHRA definition.
The IHRA language is so labyrinthine that it befuddles more than it clarifies. It defines antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.” Why not just say it is hatred towards Jews (or hatred of Jews)? That would at least be clear. But it would be no less inadequate, as so much of modern-day antisemitism, outside of the far right, is not expressed as “hatred.” It is more often disdain, resentment, aloofness, suspicion, prejudice, aggression, expressed as a trope, a stereotype, a sneer, a joke, an image, a wink or some other gesture or action.
Dr Rich says the JDA definition of antisemitism as “discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutions as Jewish)” risks missing all but the most overt cases. But this criticism would be better directed against the IHRA definition. The case he cites of the Hungarian government’s campaign against George Soros — it “never mentions the fact Soros is Jewish but it derives its resonance and force from the use of antisemitic language” — would be missed altogether by the IHRA definition’s narrow focus on hatred, while “prejudice” and “discrimination” would place it well within the JDA’s orbit.
The second part of the IHRA’s convoluted definition states: “Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” So non-Jewish individuals are apparently on a par with Jewish individuals when it comes to antisemitic manifestations! How illuminating. If the aim of the IHRA definition was clarity, as it claims, and the forging of a wide consensus, it has failed in these most basic of tasks. Its core definition is at best indistinct, and its “examples” and the interpretations given to some of them have proven deeply divisive and detrimental. The struggle against antisemitism is vital and would be better served by advancing a more coherent definition and set of examples, if not as a full replacement then at least as a corrective amendment to the corrosive IHRA effort.
It seems the Jewish establishment is reluctant to engage in this debate as it wants everyone to line up unquestioningly behind the IHRA definition. However, it is far too inadequate and contentious for this purpose. Even its principal author has acknowledged its shortcomings and complained about the way it has been abused by certain parties: (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/dec/13/antisemitism-executive-order-trumpchilling-effect). I suspect support for it will soon start to unravel as more and more people take a proper look at what it actually says and will be forced to consider sounder alternatives.
Good letter. Pretty remarkable that they wouldn't use it. I hope you're right that the IHRA effort will fade and be replaced by something sensible.
I don’t pretend to have any particular expertise on antisemitism but, in a 1977 pamphlet on the Middle East, I did draw attention to the warning signs of a prospective upsurge in global anti-Jewish feeling sparked by the deepening Israeli occupation. It was ridiculed at the time by Israel's defenders, closing their eyes to the developing realities. Denial has also characterized the responses of some luminaries of the anti-Zionist camp to the charge that there has been a marked rise in recent times in crude antisemitism in some left-wing circles. While playing down the phenomenon, it seems they feel free to say whatever they like about Jews as long as it is wrapped in anti-Zionist rhetoric.
There are, of course, other murky factors at play as well but ultimately, as observed in the 1977 essay, the only thing that could decisively halt and eventually reverse these trends is the end of the occupation or, at the least, the disassociation from the occupation of organized Jewish opinion in other countries.
And unfortunately, that's not in sight. My only hope is a shift of policy here. Not entirely impossible, I think. On the right strategy, I don't have useful thoughts.
It all depends on what the policy shift will be. If it's a reversion to the tired call for direct-negotiations-and-let's-see-where-they-lead-to, it's pointless unless the US is prepared to employ real pressure. Nothing is likely to be achieved by reprising Kelly-type negotiations without an effective enforcement mechanism. A more promising strategy, as elaborated in my 2009 pamphlet, may be for the US/Quartet to call on the principal parties to submit by a given deadline their own visions of the endgame, based on clear guidelines, to kick off the process.
Separately, I have reviewed a recently declassified Israel government document, sent to me by an Israeli research NGO, Atevot, that indicates that a Palestinian state was one of a number of options considered in the Israeli Foreign Ministry in the aftermath of the 1967 war, before it was ruled out. I have summarized and commented on it for a chapter of the book I am writing and could send you a copy of the summary if this is of any interest to you.
Very interesting about the ‘67 considerations. Would like very much to see what you are writing.
I am attaching the draft section of my forthcoming book that discusses the recently declassified 1967 Israeli government document, entitled: “A ‘top secret’ document”. In my summary, probably the most salient points are the following:
Decades later, it came to light that an independent Palestinian state had been one of seven options put forward for consideration in a “top secret” internal document of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, dated 13 July 1967 and entitled “The future of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.” The listed options were as follows (the source of this information and the proclaimed pros and cons for each option are elaborated in the attachment):
1. Annexation (with “some sort of autonomy”).
2. Returning the (“entire”) West Bank to Hussein (“Jerusalem excepted”).
3. Arrive at an agreement with Hussein for the return of some of the West Bank and its demilitarization.
4. A graduated solution (“leaving things without a clear decision”).
5. The establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
6. Palestinian state tied to the Jordanian kingdom.
7. Confederation or federation between the State of Israel and the State of Palestine.
In the discussion about option 6 – a Palestinian state that retains its ties with Jordan – it was observed that “The two banks are completely interdependent economically.” I highlight this point because I frequently encountered the argument from both Israelis and Palestinians during my 1973 field work in the region that it would be impossible for this reason to sever the West Bank from the East Bank, just as it has been asserted in more recent years that it is too late to sever the West Bank from Israel. In reality, it is never too late. History is full of such examples. In any case, changing the political arrangement does not necessarily mean severing economic, social, cultural and human relations where they are to mutual benefit.
The discourse about a Palestinian state included several elements which continue to resonate in today’s political debate, notably UN membership, demilitarization, the Jordan River as Israel’s projected security border, and the capital of the Palestinian state “situated in the closest possible location to Jerusalem.” It also referred to the landlocked state being offered a “free port” on Israel’s coast.
The document bore no signatures, but it was subsequently revealed that the authors were Shlomo Hillel, deputy director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Mordechai Gazit, a former director of the ministry’s Middle East research and planning division. They offered to do further work on the realistic possibilities and prepare detailed proposals.
Two baseline positions were subsequently decreed: (a) the Jordan River must be Israel’s security (if not legal) border; (b) Israel must strive to solve the “majority of the demographic problem” through an agreement with Jordan, and open tracks for peace. The final document concluded: “It does not appear that an immediate creation of an independent Palestinian unit is desirable ….”
When I interviewed Mordechai Gazit in 1973 — at which time he was director of Prime Minister Golda Meir’s office — he made this unwavering assertion: “If the Palestinians were given a West Bank state, the [Jordanian] Arab Legion would be there the next morning and the territory would again be annexed by Jordan — so that possibility is not practical.” He thought the existing situation could continue for years and ultimately the answer might be Moshe Dayan’s scheme of political rights in Jordan for West Bank Arabs. However, “if Hussein would negotiate with us, he would get back most of the West Bank and the population. We don’t want the population, as Golda Meir has said on many occasions.”
A most interesting and important discovery. Lots to think about what might have been.