‘A two-state solution is not the key to peace’

Ilan Pappe is an Israeli historian and author, currently teaching history at Exeter University in England. His book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, published in 2006, caused controversy, as has his radical position on the state of Israel.
Ilan Pappe

Ilan Pappe Salaam Shalom under a Creative Commons Licence

Why and when did you decide to stand on the Palestinians’ side? And what were the consequences for you as an Israeli?

Changing point of view on such a crucial issue is a long journey; it doesn’t happen in one day, and it doesn’t happen because of one event. If I had to choose a formative event that really changed my point of view in dramatic way, however, it would be the Israeli attack on Lebanon in 1982. For us who grew up in Israel, it was the first non-consensus war, the first war that obviously was a war of choice: Israel was not attacked; Israel attacked.

People who know Israel know that it is an intimate and vibrant society, so if you are against it, you feel it in every aspect of your life

It is a long journey and once you take it, facing your own society and family, it is not a nice position to be in. People who know Israel know that it is an intimate and vibrant society, so if you are against it, you feel it in every aspect of your life.

Most nation states are very good propagandists but do you think that Israel has taken it to another level?

Indeed. It is a very indoctrinated society – not because of coercion but because there is a powerful indoctrination from the moment you are born to the moment you die. I think it is more difficult now for the Israelis to rely on indoctrination, although they are doing a good job. There are a very few young people of Israel who challenge Zionism.

When you are brought up in a certain way and the policies and actions of your own government push the other side to take violent action as well, then you think that objectively your point of view is correct, because you see that there are suicide bombers and missiles sent from Gaza. It is very difficult for Israelis to separate the violence from the reasons for that violence. One of the most difficult things to explain to Israelis is what is the cause and what the effect.

It seems the circle of violence will never stop without education and knowledge…

I think one of the major challenges is to find space for Israelis and people from the West to be able to understand how it all began. The first Zionist settlers, when they realized that what they thought was an empty land was full of Arab people, regarded these people as violent aliens who had taken over their land. This feeds all the Israelis’ perceptions and visions. It is a dehumanization of the Palestinians that began in the late-nineteenth century. How to explain to people that they are actually a product of this alienation? It is one of the biggest tasks for anyone who engages in alternative education or is trying to convey a different message to the Israeli-Jewish society.

You moved to Exeter in 2007 but still go back to Israel often. How has the situation evolved in Israel in the past few years?

If you compare Israel today with the Israel I left, or the Israel I grew up in, the trend is to become more chauvinistic, ethnocentric and intransigent, which makes us all feel that peace and reconciliation are very far away. The task of changing Jewish society from within is formidable. This society seems to be more and more entrenched in its position. On the other hand, there is a growing number of young people who seem to grasp reality in a different way. So although the short-term does not harbour any chance for a change from within, there are signs that, with pressure from outside, there is a group of people with whom one will be able to create a different society in the future.

Should we therefore put all our energy on applying pressure from the outside, or should we still try to talk to Israelis to try to make them change their views?

The reason why we are all debating this is because the machine of destruction never stops. We don’t have the luxury of waiting any longer; many terrible things are happening. We also know there is a correlation between those terrible things and Israeli realization that there is a price tag attached to what they are doing. We urgently need to find a system to stop what is being done now, on the ground, and to prevent what is about to happen. You need a powerful model of pressure from the outside. As far as people from the outside are concerned, international civil society, I think the BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] movement is as good as it gets. There are two additional factors needed to make it a successful process, though. One is on the Palestinian side: the question of representation needs to be sorted. Secondly, you need to have a kind of educational system that takes the time to educate the Israeli Jews about a different reality and the benefit it will bring to them. If those factors all work well together, and we have a more holistic approach to the question of reconciliation, things could change.

Let’s talk about the ‘solution’. The two-state solution still seems to be the only one on the table. When you mention ‘one state’, people either call you a utopian or say that you are against Jewish self-determination. Even the so-called Palestinian political leaders still support a two-state solution. The more rational and humane one-state solution is not debated enough…

I think two things are taking place. One is the issue of Palestinian representation. The people that claim to represent the Palestinians from the West Bank became the representatives of the whole Palestinian people. As far as the West Bank is concerned, you can see why a two-state solution is attractive. It could mean the end of military control. One can understand this, but it disregards the other Palestinians: the refugees, the ones from Gaza and the ones that live inside Israel. That’s one of the difficulties. You have certain groups of Palestinians who believe, wrongly in my opinion, that this is the quickest way to end the occupation.

We urgently need to find a system to stop what is being done now, on the ground, and to prevent what is about to happen

The second reason is that the two-state solution has a logical ring to it. It’s a very Western idea. A colonialist invention that was applied in India and Africa: this idea of partition. If you question the rationality of it, you are criticized.

Of course, five minutes on the ground shows you that the ‘one state’ is already there. It’s a non-democratic regime, an apartheid regime. So you just need to think about how to change this regime. You do not need to think about a two-state solution. You need to think about how to change the relations between the communities. How to affect the power structure in place.

So why do people still say that the two-state solution is a necessary first step towards something better?

Again, it goes back to a rationalist Western way to look at reality. At the moment it seems that there is such a wide coalition for a two-state solution that you go for it. You do not evaluate its morality, its ethical dimension. It’s like this Jewish joke, about the person who loses his key and only looks for it where there is light. Not where he lost it. The two-state solution is the light, it’s not the key.

Ilan Pappe spoke to Frank Barat on 22 October for Le Mur a des Oreilles
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