Answer To Uri Avnery
By Ilan Pappe
28 April, 2007
The following is Ilan Pappe's
response to Uri Avnery's essay "Bed
Avnery accuses the supporters of the one-state solution of forcefully
imposing the facts onto the "Bed of Sodom". He seems to regard
these people at best as daydreamers who do not understand the political
reality around them and are stuck in a perpetual state of wishful thinking.
We are all veteran comrades in the Israeli Left and therefore it is
quite possible that in our moments of despair we fall into the trap
of hallucinating and even fantasizing while ignoring the unpleasant
reality around us.
And therefore the metaphor
of the Bed of Sodom may even be fitting for lashing out at those who
are inspired by the South African model in their search for a solution
in Palestine. But in this case it is a small cot of Sodom compared to
the king-size bed onto which Gush Shalom and other similar members of
the Zionist Left insist on squeezing their two-state solution. The South
African model is young -- in fact hardly a year has passed since it
was seriously considered -- while the formula of two states is sixty
years old: an abortive and dangerous illusion that enabled Israel to
continue its occupation without facing any significant criticism from
the international community.
The South African model is
good subject matter for a comparative study -- not as an object for
a hollow emulation. Certain chapters in the history of the colonization
in South Africa and the Zionization of Palestine are indeed nearly identical.
The ruling methodology of the white settlers in South Africa resembles
very closely that applied by the Zionist movement and later Israel against
the indigenous population of Palestine since the end of the 19th century.
Ever since 1948, the official Israeli policy against some of the Palestinians
is more lenient than that of the Apartheid regime; against other Palestinians
it is much worse.
But above all the South African
model inspires those concerned with the Palestine cause in two crucial
directions: by introducing the one democratic state, it offers a new
orientation for a future solution instead of the two-state formula that
failed, and it invigorates new thinking of how the Israeli occupation
can be defeated -- through boycott, divestment, and sanctions (the BDS
The facts on the ground are
crystal clear: the two-state solution has dismally failed and we have
no spare time to waste in futile anticipation of another illusory round
of diplomatic efforts that would lead to nowhere. As Avnery admits,
the Israeli peace camp has so far failed to persuade the Israeli Jewish
society to try the road of peace. A sober and critical assessment of
this camp's size and force leads to the inevitable conclusion that it
has no chance whatsoever against the prevailing trends in the Israeli
Jewish society. It is doubtful whether it will even keep its very minimal
presence on the ground, and there is a great concern that it will disappear
Avnery ignores these facts
and alleges that the one-state solution is a dangerous panacea to offer
to the critically ill patient. All right, so let us prescribe it gradually.
But for God's sake let us take the patient off of the very dangerous
medicine we have been forcing down his throat the last sixty years and
which is about to kill him.
For the sake of peace, it
is important to expand our research on the South African model and other
historical case studies. Because of our failure we should study carefully
any other successful struggle against oppression. All these historical
case studies show that the struggles from within and from without reinforced
each other and were not mutually exclusive. Even when the sanctions
were imposed on South Africa, the ANC continued its struggle and white
South Africans did not cease from their attempt to convince their compatriots
to give up the Apartheid regime. But there was not one single voice
that echoes the article of Avnery, which claimed that a strategy of
pressure from the outside is wrong because it weakens the chances of
change from within. Especially when the failure of the inside struggle
is so conspicuous and obvious. Even when the De Klerk government negotiated
with the ANC the sanctions regime still continued.
It is also very difficult
to understand why Avnery underrates the importance of world public opinion.
Without the support this world public opinion gave to the Zionist movement,
the Nakba (catastrophe) would not have occurred. Had the international
community rejected the idea of partition, a unitary state would have
replaced Mandatory Palestine, as indeed was the wish of many members
of the UN. However, these members succumbed to a violent pressure by
the US and the Zionist lobby and retracted their earlier support for
such a solution. And today, if the international community alters its
position once more and revises its attitude towards Israel, the chances
for ending the occupation would increase enormously and by that maybe
also help to avert the colossal bloodshed that would engulf not only
the Palestinians but also the Jews themselves.
The call for a one-state
solution, and the demand for boycott, divestment and sanctions, has
to be read as a reaction against the failure of the previous strategy
-- a strategy upheld by the political classes but never fully endorsed
by the people themselves. And anyone who rejects the new thinking out
of hand and in such a categorical manner, may be less bothered by what
is wrong with this new option and far more troubled by his own place
in history. It is indeed difficult to admit personal as well as collective
failure; but for the sake of peace it is sometimes necessary to put
aside one's ego. I am inclined to think that way when I read the false
narrative Avnery concocted about the Israeli peace movement's 'achievements'
so far. He announces that 'the recognition of the existence of the Palestinian
people has become general, and so has the readiness of most Israelis
to accept the idea of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as the capital
of both states'. This is a clear case of amputating both the leg and
the hand of the patient to fit him to the Bed of Sodom. And even more
far-fetched is the declaration that 'We have compelled our government
to recognize the PLO, and we shall compel them to recognize Hamas' --
now that the rest of patient's limbs have been dispensed with (sorry
for the gruesome metaphor but I am forced into it by Avnery's choice).
These assertions have very little in common with the position of the
Jewish public in Israel towards peace from 1948 until today. But facts
can sometime confuse the issue.
But in order to stifle any
debate on the one-state solution or the BDS option, Avnery draws from
his magic hat the winning card: 'but beneath the surface, in the depths
of national consciousness, we are succeeding'. Let us thus provide the
Palestinians with metal detectors and X-ray equipment -- they may discover
not only the tunnel, but also the light at its end. The truth is that
what lies in the deepest layers of the Israeli national consciousness
is far worse from what appears on the surface. And let us hope that
this remains there forever and does not bubble to the surface. These
are deposits of dark and primitive racism that if allowed to flow over
will drown us all in a sea of hatred and bigotry.
Avnery is right when he asserts
that 'there is no doubt that 99.99 percent of Jewish Israelis want the
State of Israel to exist as a state with a robust Jewish majority, whatever
its borders'. A successful boycott campaign will not change this position
in a day, but will send a clear message to this public that these positions
are racist and unacceptable in the 21st century. Without the cultural
and economical oxygen lines the West provides to Israel, it would be
difficult for the silent majority there to continue and believe that
it is possible both to be a racist and a legitimate state in the eyes
of the world. They would have to choose, and hopefully like De Klerk
they will make the right decision.
Avnery is also convinced
that Adam Keller debunked most successfully the argument for a boycott
by pointing out that the Palestinians in the occupied territories did
not give in to boycott. This is indeed a fine comparison: a political
prisoner lies nailed to the ground and dares to resist; as a punishment
he is denied even the meager food he received hitherto. His situation
is compared to a person who occupied illegally this prisoner's house
and who for the first time is facing the possibility of being brought
to justice for his crimes. Who has more to lose? When is the threat
mere cruelty and when is it a justified means to rectify a past evil?
The boycott will not happen, states Avnery. He should talk with the
veterans of the anti-Apartheid movement in Europe. Twenty years passed
before they convinced the international community to take action. And
they were told, when they began their long journey, that it will not
work -- that too many strategic and economic interests are involved
and invested in South Africa.
Moreover, adds Avnery, in
places such as Germany the idea of boycotting the victims of the Nazis
would be rejected out of hand. Quite to the contrary. The action that
already has been taken in this direction in Europe has ended the long
period of Zionist manipulation of the Holocaust memory. Israel can no
longer justify its crimes against the Palestinians in the name of the
Holocaust. More and more people in Europe realize that that the criminal
policies of Israel abuse the Holocaust memory and this is why so many
Jews are members in the movement for boycott. This is also why the Israeli
attempt to cast the accusation of anti-Semitism against the supporters
of the boycott has met with contempt and resilience. The members of
the new movement know that their motives are humanist and their impulses
are democratic. For many of them their actions are triggered not only
by universal values but also by their respect for the Judeo-Christian
heritage of history. It would have been best for Avnery to use his immense
popularity in Germany to demand from the society there to recognize
their share not only in the Holocaust but also in the Palestinian catastrophe
and that in the name of that recognition to ask them to end their shameful
silence in the face of the Israeli atrocities in the occupied territories.
Towards the end of his article,
Avnery sketches the features of the one-state solution out of the present
reality. And thus because he does not include the return of the refugees
or a change in the regime as components of the solution he describes
today's dismal reality as tomorrow vision. This is indeed an unworthy
reality to fight for and nobody I know is struggling for it. But the
vision of a one-state solution has to be the exact opposite of the present
Apartheid state of Israel as was the post-Apartheid state in South Africa;
and this is why this historical case study is so illuminating for us.
We need to wake up. The day
Ariel Sharon and George W. Bush declared their loyal support for the
two-state solution, this formula became a cynical means by which Israel
can maintain its discriminatory regime inside the 1967 borders, its
occupation in the West Bank and the ghettoization of the Gaza Strip.
Anyone who blocks a debate over alternative political models allows
the discourse of two states to shield the criminal Israeli policies
in the Palestinian territories.
Moreover, not only are there
no stones left in the occupied territories with which to build a state
after Israel ruined the infrastructure there in the last six years,
a reasonable partition is not offering the Palestinian a mere 20 percent
of their homeland. The basis should be at least half of the homeland,
on the basis of the 181 partition route, or a similar idea. Here is
another useful avenue to explore, instead of embroiling forever inside
the Sodom and Gomorrah stew that the two-state solution has produced
so far on the ground.
And finally, there will be
no solution to this conflict with a settlement of the Palestinian refugee
problem. These refugees cannot return to their homeland for the same
reason that their brothers and sisters are being expelled from greater
Jerusalem and alongside the wall and their relatives are discriminated
against in Israel. They cannot return for the same reason that every
Palestinian is under the potential danger of occupation and expulsion
as long as the Zionist project has not been completed in the eyes of
They are entitled to opt
for return because it is their full human and political right. They
can return because the international community had already promised
them that they could. We as the Jews should want them to return because
otherwise we will continue to live in a state where the value of ethnic
superiority and supremacy overrides any other human and civil value.
And we cannot promise ourselves, as well as the refugees, such a fair
and just solution within the framework of the two-state formula.
is senior lecturer in the University of Haifa Department of political
Science and Chair of the Emil Touma Institute for Palestinian Studies
in Haifa. His books include, among others, The Making of the Arab-Israeli
Conflict (London and New York 1992), The Israel/Palestine Question (London
and New York 1999), A History of Modern Palestine (Cambridge 2003),
The Modern Middle East (London and New York 2005) and his latest, Ethnic
Cleansing of Palestine (2006).
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