Victor Cygielman: The Arabs claim that the land now in Jewish hands was plundered from them. What is your view on this accusation?
Kobi Leket: As somebody who supports peace and territorial compromise, I submit that we have to put things in a historical perspective. World history is a history of injustices, including injustices perpetrated against Jews. (Perhaps one of the greatest acts of genocide was carried out by the USA against the native Americans, but it is not spoken about because the Americans are so strong.)
So if one looks at developments in the Jewish-Arab conflict in their historical context (where so much is arbitrary), I reject the accusation. Indeed, I see it as legitimate to draw a line according to which what belonged in its day to the biblical Kingdom of David now belongs to the Jews.
After all, two thousand years ago the Jews lived here. Some of the peoples who were here disappeared. Some hundreds of years ago, in a certain historical period, the Arabs arrived. The question is this: Since, whatever the numbers involved, they received a kushan (title deeds) from the Turks, should this be considered God-given and the Arabs a "holy people"?
Along with the attempt to think in historical terms, we have to try and deal with private cases of injustice as best we can, be it in the case of the Jews and the world, Jews and Arabs, Jews and Palestinians, etc. But I don't consider that control of the land has anything to do with God.

What about the old Zionist concept of "a people without a land for a land without a people"?

I don't think there was "a people" here when the first Zionist settlers came. There were relatively few Arabs here and the country was largely empty. But since they were here
for some hundreds of years, then just as Ben-Gurion was prepared to accept the 1947 UN partition proposal, I am, in principle, ready to divide the land between us and them.

But on this question of land, did we not take the land
at their expense?

Not so. A few hundred years ago they were not here. When they came, they took the land. Where does one draw the line? Look, for example, at the Bedouins in the Negev. Leaving aside the national aspect, according to their way of life they are
spreading out all over the Negev, without the permission of the authorities. Whether some of them were there for a long time, or whether they came more recently from elsewhere in the region, why should the whole of the Negev belong to them?
There is a similar problem of illegal settlement by Arabs in the Galilee. We are not talking about meeting the needs of natural population growth, which is looked after in rural planning.

Did the Israelis not take Arab land to build the Galilee town of Carmiel, for instance?

Yes, and at this moment I don't have an answer to that problem. I am not among those who say that, as far as we are concerned, if the Arabs don't like it, they can get out. In
Galilee, the British tried to put some order into the land question and before them, the Turks. Before then, the question was one not of statehood but of land: everyone took over whatever land he could.
As I see it, we have a small state while the Arab countries have large populations and the Arabs rule in many parts of the world. I accept this. I also accept that as a part of the dynamics of history, a Palestinian entity was created. But the Jewish aspiration for its homeland is also a part of the history.
From the point of view of land, our War of Independence in 1948 is also a part of history. Everything was created in wars and up to this very day, changes are brought about by war, as we see all over the world. The question is not who came here first and who took what land, but where to determine the point of reference.
My point of reference is, in general, the results of Israel's 1948 War of Independence. It was this premise that directed the former head of the Jewish Agency Settlement Department, Dr. Ra'anan Weitz, who greatly influenced the shape of Israel's settlement enterprise from the 1950s. (By the way, he did not discount the possibility of a Palestinian state, many years before his party Mapai, now the Labor party, thought in this direction). In our case too, the results of the war determined the situation.

What about the post-1967 position and settlement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT)?

The problem is that after 1967, along came Jews who espoused the concept of a "greater Israel." Jews had also lived in Hebron. Remember that the Arabs did not accept Ra'anan Weitz's views and maintained that the whole of Palestine is theirs. The Arabs wanted everything: so why should Jews not have the same right "to liberate all the 'land of their forefathers'"?
I myself am in favor of partition, for human and for political reasons. The settlers over the Green Line (1967 borders) say they are continuing the pioneering efforts of
the kibbutz movement. There is, at first sight, something in this, but once one has made the differentiation between what is "ours" and what is "theirs," it is unjust not to act accordingly. However, since the Arabs did not accept the differentiation, why should all the Jews do so?

Israel's government, all Israeli governments, including those of Labor, lent a hand to the settlers. That is a fact.

What is a fact? The Rabin government decided at a certain stage upon a basic change in their thinking. Before this, in fact, there was a broad consensus in Israel (of which
I was not a part) to maintain the occupation and to prevent a Palestinian state. I am convinced that ever since they rejected the UN 1947 partition proposal, the Arabs have failed historically. Nevertheless, my evaluation of right and wrong is founded on the essence of my own outlook as a democrat and a humanist. I am worried by the attempt to present us - and sometimes for us to present ourselves - as overlords. This is a historical distortion. As a Jew and a Zionist, my own conscience as regards the conflict is absolutely clear.

So what does your conscience tell you now?

Israel has to make a decision, in the chronological rather than in the physical sense, where to draw the border. When I said that the answer is according to the results of
the 1948 War of Independence, this means that in our readiness to compromise, the question of Israeli settlements in the OPT does not exist. Without going into detailed
solutions, in the broad sense they should not be there. If Begin destroyed Yamit, surely we can bring the West Bank and Gaza settlers back to Israel. But it would be good if on this issue some agreed solution in cooperation with the Palestinians could be worked out.