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

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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. He spoke to Frank Barat.

Ilan Pappe [Related Image]
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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  1. #1 an Israeli 05 Jan 14

    The one state solution is considered a realistic solution only by people who are totally ignorant about the history of Israel and the Arab Israeli conflict.
    It's such a not realistic solution that it's amazing how the Arab propaganda managed to put it on the table as the only real solution to the problem.

    Her are a few points to the ignorant people who write about this option:

    1. The state of Israel as is seen today has NOTHING to do with what the land used to be and used to look like. The land which the Arab Palestinians claim is theirs, which was for 400 years under Ottoman rule was one big desert with nothing in it. One big desolated desert with a few backward Arab villages and backward dirty holy towns where both Arabs and Jews lived.
    Everything that you see today in Israel which is a developed state was built drom scratch by the Zionists who settled in the land from the 1870's.
    The Arabs who for the life of them can't built a country which will be a developed democracy would like very much to be part of the successful country that the Jews built. They want everything that the Jews built to be handed to them on a plate.

    2. the whole reason that the Zionists came to the holy land and built it from scratch while having to defend themselves against the Arabs was to build a JEWISH state. A homeland for the Jewish peope.
    If anyone thinks that after 100 years of terrible wars and terror attacks that the Jews suffered from the Arab side and prevailed they will give up the Zionist dream for which they and their parents and frangparents gave their lives for - this person is crazy!
    We Jews managed to build a developed country for us and now we are supposed to give up the idea of a Jewish state so that our enemies will take over our country???

    3. The Arabs who live inside Israel today have nothing to do with the process of building Israel. They are not the ones who fought for this country and built it from scratch. They are free riders who are fortunate enough to live in a Jewish country and not an Arab country because as a result they get to live in a developed democracy.
    But they are a minority in Israel. The vast majority of Israelis are Jews who are responsible for making Israel what it is and they will NEVER give their home to millions of Arabs they have nothing in common with and will give up the dream and reality of a Jewish homeland.
    The one state solution will NEVER be accepted by the Jews in Israel. To them this idea is fiction.

  2. #2 George baumann 05 Jan 14

    Not knowing much about Middle Eastern or Israeli politics, I am confused. To me, a two state solution seems the only way to preserve a Jewish state. Preserving Israel as a Jewish state seems crucial, because of the hatred towards the Jews. As soon as they became a minority in Israel, which I think is certain if a one state outcome became official, their future would immediately become very tenuous. To me, a two state solution is not racism but a necessity for the very survival of the Jews. I can't see why it's not possible, apart from the ill-will and anti-semitism of Israel's neighbours and many people generally, including, sadly, (and consciously or unconsciously) the Left which goes into a kneejerk reaction when they perceive an underdog. Israel's enemies know this, and they are adept at playing the victim. I also abhor the Israeli Right, they do more than anyone to fuel anti-Israel sentiments, and they are too stupid and bigoted to realise this. But to advocate, as Ilan Pappe does, a one state solution seems to me tantamount to the Jews becoming a persecuted ethnic group once more. My confusion comes from Left intellectuals like him, who presumably don't wish to see Israel destroyed, not realizing this.

  3. #3 an Israeli 08 Jan 14

    To George baumann: I totally agree with you. The 2 state solution is the ONLY real solution to the problem. Why wasn't it impplemented?

    1. In 1947 the UN council voted on a resolution that called for the division of the them British mandate Palestine to two states - a Jewish state and an Arab state. Jerusalem was to be an international area belonging to neither states.
    The Jews accepted this resoltion but the arabs rejected it and opened a war against the Jews. It's important to mention that the Arabs were to get ALL of the west bank, parts of the Galilee AND the town of Jaffa near Tel Aviv. The Jews were given a narrow strip near the sea and mainly the Negev desert.
    Again, the Arabs declined this and refused any compromise ever since and opened wars against Israel in order to destroy it.

    2. In the 1967 war Israel conquered the west bank and east Jerusalem (and other territories). It tried to negociate peace with the Arabs but then again they didn't want to hear of it. And then for the first time Israel did something that hindered the chances to get peace. Since the Arabs refused any compromise, most Israelis felt that there will never be peace anyway with the Arabs, so religious Jews that view the west bank as part of the land of Israel, that belongs to the Jews, started to settle in the west bank. It's important to note that Jews always lived in small numbers in the west bank - Hebron for instance is considered a holy city for Jews and Jews always lived there as well as in other places in the west bank. But in 1967 there was an Arab majority there. In anycase, the new Jewish settlements only began, gradually after 1967 so all this talk about the core of the problem being the ’occupation’ or the settlements is nonesense. The core of the problem has always been the unwillingness of the Arab side to reach a compromise.
    Anyway, over the years more and more Jewish settlements were built in the west bank. I think that actually these settlements are part of the reason why the Arabs wanted to start talking to us Israelis at all. They saw that time is working against them as more and more Jews settled in the west bank.
    Anyway, now the settlements are so spread out and numerous that it's going to be much harder to give all of the west bank to the Arabs. The irony is that the Arabs who saw how hard life is under their own Palestinian rule and saw how good the Arabs inside Israel live have changed strategy. All of a sudden they don't want a separate Arab state. They know it'll just be another poor and corrupt 3rd world Arab country. They much prefer to have a one state together with the Jews. They see developed Israel and they want to be part of that, not of the Palestinian authority. But the one state solution is a suicide option for Israel. The Arabs inside Israel and in the west bank will make a very big minority that in a few years will turn into an Arab majority because of the Arabs' higher birthrate and because of all the millions of Palestinians now living in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan etc. who would move to this one state. So the Jews will be a minority in the country their forefathers built. Because Israel is not just lad. Israel is a modern state with industry, political system, judicial system, education syatem, hospitals, infrustracture etc etc. THese were all built by the Jews and now they are excepted to share the country that they built from scratch with millions of Arabs with whom they have nothing in common? In addition, is there any doubt that the Arabs will give the Jews hell until very single Jew will be chased out of country his/her forefathers built?
    So again, it's only non Jews or non Israeli Jews that can bring up the one state solution as an option. To ALL Israeli Jews this option is like putting a bullet in their head.
    So even though it's harder now to split the land to two, it can be done and it's the only solution. Let me remind you that to get peace with Egypt Israel agreed to give all of the Sinai back to Egypt - a territory which is 3 times bigger than Israel itself. In addition it uprooted all the towns and villages that Israelis built in the Sinai. In addition, in recent years Israel pulled out of the Gaza strip, uprooting thousands of Israelis who built their homes there. So a compromise can also be reached in the west bank, the problem is that the Arabs don't really want a Palestinian state in the west bank and Gaza. They want Israel off the map and they want all the territory which is now Israel to belong to them.

  4. #4 Amrit Kohli 21 Apr 16

    thank you, Frank Barat, for reminding me, an East African Asian Indian American, that a two-state solution is the light, not the key; that it is, in fact much worse: it is a reincarnation of Partition.

    so, you have reminded me of my own vision for Palestine: that Israel be annexed by Palestine, and Palestinians and Jews live together under a shared government that eliminates Israel, but not by genocide, but rather by the common sense that it would take to dismantle an institution that has entrenched itself inside the Jewish identity: Israel.

    and it is time for the Jews to shed their Israeli skins, and join us in the world of the living, and recognize that the institution of Israel is a genocidal regime that brings shame to the Jewish identity.

    after the recent slaughter of Palestinians by Israel, i began to feel that if you are Jewish, then you cannot be Israeli. no Jew would be party to genocide, for brutally obvious reasons.

    so, you are correct, Mr. Barat, in saying that a one-state solution is both possible and desirable, but i have to ask, whose state would it be? America's? the Jewish people's? the Arabs? because what frightens me is that we can't seem to elect a President that doesn't support Israel at the detriment of the Palestinans.

    anyway, thank you for your article and interview with Frank Barat. i found it encouraging.


  5. #5 Jacob Ober 14 Jul 16

    The title logically leaves us with the notion that a one-state solution is the answer to the Israel/Palestine conflict. I suppose that with a one state solution , the jews and arabs will just stop their violent and unending conflict and live happily ever after? This is a utopian fantasy, but a beautiful idea at the same time.

    Sadly, part of the human condition is to form groups and nations and inevitably conflicts will arise as they have arisen throughout history. I would love to see Benjamin Netanyahu and Ismail Haniya sitting around a campfire at Glastonbury sharing a few spliffs and singing along to a John Lennon medley on the guitar, but I live in the real world. Even if a one state solution were the best solution, extremists on both sides would not allow peaceful co-existence to happen. It is lazy of the far left and self righteous to examine ethnic conflicts in the world and to side with the weaker of the combatants. As for your choice of interviewing Mr Pappe, well he would say that wouldn't he?

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