Transcript No. 479 (June 13, 2017)
My name is Mohamed Mohamed, I’m the executive director here at the Jerusalem Fund and Palestine Center. On behalf of our board of directors and staff, thank you all for joining us and thank you to our online audience as well. It’s also an honor to introduce and welcome back our distinguished speaker, Dr. Shibley Telhami, who will be giving today’s lecture which is titled “Assessing the impact of the 1967 war on the Palestinians 50 years later.” So, of all of the consequences of the 1967 war, which included the decline of Arab nationalism, the bolstering of US/Israeli strategic relations, the expansion of Soviet influence, and the broader hit that collective Arab identity took, the impact on the Palestinians was the most fateful. In his lecture, Professor Shibley Telhami will articulate the path that the war set for the Palestinians and why it has been enormously difficult for them to overcome even after 50 years of occupation. The lecture will also tie the current state of affairs to the diplomatic efforts on the Israeli Palestinian conflict, proposed by the Trump administration.
A little bit about Dr. Telhami: he’s the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development and the Director of the University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll. He’s also a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. His bestselling book, The Stakes: America in the Middle East was selected by Foreign Affairs as one of the top five best books on the Middle East in 2003. His most recent book, The World through Arab Eyes: Arab Public Opinion and the Reshaping of the Middle East, was published in 2013. Dr. Telhami was also selected by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, along with the Times, as one of the great immigrants of 2013. Dr. Telhami will today speak for 30 to 40 minutes and after that, we’ll have a Q&A session and we ask that you please wait for the mic to come to you when you ask questions so that the online audience can hear. And the online audience can tweet their questions to @PalestineCenter. Please join me in giving a warm welcome to Dr. Shibley Telhami.
Dr. Shibley Telhami:
Thanks so much, it’s a please for me to be here. So, what I’d like to do today is share a few thoughts with you about 67—the war and its outcome and where it leaves the Palestinians today. A lot has been written over the past few weeks as you know because of the 50th anniversary of the ‘67 war. There’s been a lot of writings on this—a lot of people had a lot of thoughtful comments on different aspects of it. I also wrote a piece on it, but what I’d like to do is give you some broader reflection that both history—what happened right after—and more about where things are now and how the two are tied together. I think obviously a starting point—as it should be—is with the human tragedy of people who are still under occupation after 50 years. I want to come back to that because obviously, I think this is the starting of the ending point in some ways. But, when you look at it, there’s also been a war of ideas that has taken place over the past 50 years. And it was certainly started by the ‘67 war that set a path that is almost irreversible. Let me give you a little bit of a flavor of just how the Arab world has been transformed in terms of its leverage and in terms of dealing with this issue. Think first about the Arab peace initiative of 2003 or 2002, right after 9/11 when the Saudis initiated the so called “peace initiative” just 15 years ago that the Arabs put forth as a package to address the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, where the Arabs would collectively bring in their leverage or incentive for Israel to make peace with them as a way of persuading the Israelis to relinquish the territories and accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. And that, of course, was rejected. It was not accepted by Israel and obviously the U.S. didn’t really push.
Think now that we have a regional initiative that looks like the Arab peace plan that is actually being supported by an American president, Donald Trump, and backed by the Israeli Prime Minister, who’s government doesn’t even accept a two-state solution. And the reason for it is that now there are a lot of people, certainly around the Prime Minister of Israel and in this country around Donald Trump, who think that the strategic picture has been so transformed that having the Arabs there is not going to result in any leverage toward the Israelis, but would rather pressure the Palestinians to make concessions more because Arabs want to make relations with the U.S. and Israel more than they want to extract concessions on behalf of the Palestinians. So, that tells you a huge story right there—the transformation of Arab position—now it may be an incorrect interpretation. I think it is actually, and, so, don’t get me wrong but it’s just the view, of how Arab leverage has on the issue of Palestine, has diminished over time, and is really startling. Let’s think about 67 particularly, and let me just go through a couple of the things that I think, had the consequence besides the obvious which is that Israel came to control all of historic Palestine including the West Bank and Gaza, and Palestinians came under occupation, that ‘67 in essence, began the decline of Arab support for the Palestinians, at the very same time that it pushed the Palestinians to go at alone as much as they could with bolstering Palestinian nationalism. That’s what it did!
Now let me tell you why that is the case. First, when you look at the Palestinian struggle after ‘48, it certainly was about the right of return, and very quickly, it was about Arab nationalism. Because the Palestinians weren’t really so much focused on their nationalism or their sense of nationhood, as much as [on] the question of justice tied to a broader Arab cause. Here, you have the rise of Jamal Abdel Nasser in 1952, who is essentially saying that Palestine is the core of the Arabs, that this is an Arab cause, it’s not a Palestinian cause. And so, the leader of the most powerful Arab state is adopting your cause. Obviously, Palestinians adopted Arab nationalism. The extent to which Palestinians adopted Arab nationalism, people don’t quite internalize that I think, because you know, intellectually, emotionally, and certainly practically it was the most promising avenue to regain Palestinian right, was seen to be in this collective Arab action. Obviously even in ‘48 it wasn’t really called a national cause, but what the Arabs felt was at stake was sort of Arab rights being taken, and Palestine is part of the Arab world.
And so much so that, I want to fast-forward a little bit too, to tell you how this preoccupation in Palestinian minds with Arab nationalism versus Palestinian nationalism even after the Palestinian nationalism emerged, remained a real issue for Palestinians. Fast forward to 1982, when Israel invaded Lebanon, and then the PLO became besieged, and then ultimately was forced to withdraw through a deal and went into exile in Tunis. And when the Palestinians left Lebanon the PLO, obviously [their] headquarters were moved from Lebanon ultimately to Tunis, the first act was for Yasser Arafat instead of stopping in an Arab country, he went through Greece. And the PLO magazine Filistin al-Thawra immediately moved its headquarters to Cyprus, not to an Arab country [but] to Cyprus.
So I want to read [to] you an exchange in the following issues of Filistin al-Thawra, which was an indication sort of the struggle that people [were] feeling because this was a moment obviously where the PLO was left to fight the war alone and obviously couldn’t succeed and ultimately was forced to withdraw. And there were people like Muammar Qaddafi calling on the Palestinians, [saying it would be] better to commit suicide on behalf of the Arab nation. If you recall that, that was kind of an example of Palestine seen not as a Palestine case but as something for the Arab nation itself. And so you have a Saudi student [who] wrote a letter to the editor of Filistin al-Thawra at that time and he said, “Why did you not choose an Arab state as your center, as we all would have expected. I had not expected that the PLO would be so ungrateful to all the aid provided by the Arabs especially since the liberation of Palestine is the primary Arab concern.” So this is a Saudi student writing to a Filistin al-Thawra editor. So here’s the reply from the editor. He said, “The PLO is not ungrateful. The deposits of one Arab state in the United States provide a sufficient budget for the liberation of Palestine in a year. Payment of blood cannot be compared with monetary payment. This revolution is indeed Arab, but Palestinian decisions shall remain independent regardless of the cost.” Now that was the response of the editor but I want you to think about that for a minute, which is sort of Palestinian defiance at a time when they were left alone.
But then there is an intellectual article that is actually the lead article and the lead article is much more reflective because this is just an exchange of letters, right, so this is not a central thesis of how the thinking goes. The lead article is about who’s a Palestinian and who’s an Arab and what does that mean—that was right there and then, at that time. And here’s the lead article: the conclusion is the Palestinian considers himself first Arab, second Arab, and third Palestinian. And that was even at that moment of vulnerability, because intellectually it was hard for Palestinians to peel themselves off from the pan-Arabism that was so promising to their aspirations and because also they still needed Arab support. They were still vulnerable and they still needed Arab support.
So in 1967, that’s when it all started, this dilemma, because Nasser when you look at Jamel Abdel Nasser, he captured the imagination of a lot of Arabs. We didn’t have polling to know how much but we do know from events that have happened across the region and from testimony across the board that he captured the hearts of many, many Arabs across the board. And clearly he made the question of Palestine a central mission for Arab nationalism, and in fact one reason why he could make the proposition that Egypt should be the one who leads the Arab world, as opposed to Saudi Arabia or Jordan or other countries that were contending for leadership at that time, was one thing that claimed that Egypt is the only one that can use its military power to achieve Arab aspirations in liberating Palestine and in fighting off Western imperialism. The two were tied together and obviously he used the ‘56 war in which the attack on him failed as an example. So the issue for him was [that] Palestine was so central to Arab nationalism even aside from whether he succeeded in unifying countries together or getting Arab unity. But aspirationally, the promise, the psychology of Arab nationalism, the psychology of the faith in Nasser rested on his ability to deliver militarily and obviously in ‘67 there was tremendous hope among followers of pan-Arabism [that] this would be his moment of delivery. And instead of course we know what happened.
And I say in fact the Arab world went into collective depression from which it, some say, may not have recovered because it was really the death of aspirations, because that’s how it was tied to this pan-Arabism. And with it, obviously, in a way the recognition that Israel was not about to disappear as some had argued and in fact it was able to not only occupy the rest of historic Palestine but Egyptian territory and Syrian territory. And this what I want to say about that, which is that aside from the psychology of, put aside Syria for a moment, but certainly Egypt because of Nasser’s leadership role, put aside even Jordan which joined the war in ’67, but Nasser was of course the center of the hope and certainly his military defeat led to the death of aspiration, but in practical terms that wasn’t the biggest problem. In practical terms it was that Israel came to occupy the Sinai and the Golan Heights and why is that in practical terms more important? Because that’s the time when in fact that Egypt and Syria had territories of their own to get back from Israel that they wanted more than they wanted to help the Palestinians and ultimately that really opened the door for Egypt to go it alone in Camp David because they wanted to get their Sinai back and that became much more important. Up until then, Nasser’s focus on Israel and Palestine wasn’t particularly costly and frankly in ‘56 he certainly didn’t start that war. It was a tripartite aggression on him. Britain France and Israel launched that war in ’56. He didn’t initiate that war, he didn’t want that war, and he didn’t win it militarily but he won it politically. He had not really fought a war over Palestine. He had rhetorically made the argument that he could win and that was enough to get the aspiration of the people, given the interpretation of the framing of 1956. So Nasser had not really paid a particularly heavy price over Palestine, even by the way in ’67. I want you to think about this a little bit because
there’s a lot of reframing of what actually happened.
Now Nasser himself in 1967 by most accounts, certainly in my mind I’ve studied this and have written about that and there’s room for disagreement here because we don’t know all the facts still even now fifty years later, but in my own opinion Nasser wasn’t going out there to fight war with Israel. Nasser had been engaged in an Arab cold war, [in] what Malcolm Kerr called the “Arab cold war” and he is by the way the father of Steve Kerr who’s just won the NBA championship last night for the Warriors. Malcolm Kerr was somebody I knew who had been a professor at UCLA and then became the president of the American University in Beirut before unfortunately, tragically he was assassinated. He wrote a book that was pretty well known called The Arab Cold War documenting that period from ‘56 through ’67, [studying] the Arab cold war by which he meant Nasser and the Arab nationalists versus their foes in the Arab world like Saudi Arabia and Jordan and the monarchies particularly across the Arab world. When you look at that, at Nasser after ascending after ’56, [he] started declining a little bit in his influence after he started intervening in Yemen, and the Yemeni intervention was not particularly successful, and then the United Arab Republic that he formed with Syria and Iraq disintegrated, so he was on the defensive in the 60s. And in fact the whole tension started when the Soviets gave the Egyptians information that Israel is amassing [troops] to attack Syria and all of his moves were essentially out there to say, “You know if you go to war with Syria, you’re going to war with me.” He was using his leverage as the most powerful Arab state to gain more credibility in the Arab world and so his moves were intended essentially as a deterrent. So if the Israelis didn’t attack, as he probably suspected they were not going to attack and then he still would reap the benefits because he would have been seen to have stopped Israel from attacking Syria and used his credibility as the most powerful Arab state to defend the Arab nation.
So he certainly did take moves that were aggressive toward Israel, in blocking the waterway and calling for the withdrawal of UN forces from Sinai, and then moving forces into the Sinai, but by all accounts his intent wasn’t to wage war. In fact toward the end of the crisis, just before June 5th, Egyptian diplomats and their allies, particularly the Soviet Union, were trying to do everything they can to prevent the war from happening because the assessment [was] that Israel had the upper hand actually. And here in the U.S., the U.S. assumed that Israel would win although not with the same kind of speed and the Israelis were trying to get the U.S. to support them to launch the war on June 5th. Now whatever the Israeli moves were intended for, you can argue that they couldn’t live with an ascendant Nasser because without a war he would have won anyway politically, you could make that argument.
But there’s no question whatever their intent at that time and the calculation versus the prospects of war that there were two things that they stood to benefit from that had a history in their strategy from the beginning. One is that they always thought that isolating Egypt from the rest of the Arab world was the best military strategy to not have a possibility of an effective Arab attack. So in fact in 1956 when they came to occupy the Sinai, they went into a campaign to try to persuade Eisenhower to at least let them keep a little piece of territory through which they can negotiate bilaterally with Egypt to isolate it, to make a bilateral issue with Egypt to take it out of the Palestine equation. And there’s no question that this had been part of their thinking throughout and so this was obviously, whatever the immediate causes were, there was some benefit that would accrue by holding on to Egyptian territory. And that proved to be right because it was in fact the Egyptian incentive ultimately to have a peace agreement. And the second [thing] is that whatever the reason was for the immediate attack on, the immediate occupation of the West Bank, and certainly the King of Jordan joined Nasser at that time in the war, but the extent to which the Israelis moved across, taking East Jerusalem as well as the entire West Bank, is of course debated now [as to] whether that was planned or not planned and whether it was a good thing or a bad thing even from the Israeli point of view. The Israelis debate that to this day as you know if you’re reading the present analysis.
But here’s one thing that we know about and that is that the Israelis had never accepted the armistice line with Jordan as a final boundary. That is, they’ve never accepted that, you know, the armistice of 1949 between the West Bank and Israel is the final boundary because it wasn’t. And this by the way is not just a function of the lure of the rise of religious parties in Israel. There is that, because after, you know, invoking biblical metaphors after the occupation respect certainly solidified the groups within Israel who were more religious Zionist than secular Zionists. But if you look back, as we have, we have a record. I’ve written about this before for example in 1949 when the armistice lines were being discussed between Israel and the neighboring Arab states, one of the questions was whether if in fact Israel was offered peace by Arab States, whether Israel would accept it. So Moshe Sharett, who was a secular Zionist who was the foreign minister at the time of Israel said in a government meeting, he said, “If Egypt were to offer us a peace agreement along lines of the Armistice, post-48 Armistice Line, we should take it. That’s fine if Syria should offer us one. The only reservations we have is really that we don’t like the government of Syria.” But he had no problems with the boundaries. “But if Jordan were to offer a piece now along these armistice lines, we should not take it.” There was no question in whether the secular religious, there was no acceptance of that line within Israel itself and obviously what happened afterwards anyway reveals that because a lot of the proposals that came out of the secular Israeli parties were not [supportive of] full withdrawal and obviously the annexation of East Jerusalem took place almost immediately after. So whatever the immediate causes were, who fired the first shot, there was something bigger going on that was going to set a path. And it set that path.
So what about Palestinian nationalism? So this is one [that] I will talk about very briefly because I talk about the decline of Arabism because we know that that set the mood not only in terms of setting back the aspirations of pan-Arabism, but also of reviving statism by which I mean Egypt wanted its own territory more than it wanted anything else. Syria wanted to negotiate ultimately about the Golan Heights. And everybody was negotiating about their issues with Palestine anyway paying a price, initially a smaller price but ultimately a bigger price. And certainly this was accelerated by the ‘73 war where the Arabs did better than before and actually restored some of the dignity that they had lost in 1967 but nonetheless did not, were not able to regain control of either Sinai or the Golan Heights, [or] even separate from the West Bank and Gaza. So basically it then set the track for Egypt to go it alone with Israel and ultimately even Syria went into bilateral talks that failed. But nonetheless, they were bilateral talks for peace.
But Palestinian nationalism, there was an immediate reality. And I think you can see it where the PLO, which had been established in ‘64 but really under the control of Egypt, immediately seeks independence in ‘68 and revises a charter that refers to Palestinian nationalism and immediately rejects 242, because 242, the resolution that was passed by the UN after ‘67 calling for Israeli withdrawal, also called for rights of refugees and didn’t refer to Palestinian nationalism. And immediately the Palestinians wanted to make a point of it in ‘68. What also happened in ‘68, if you think about that aspiration, essentially the Palestinians [were] saying, “We’ve counted on pan-Arabism and here’s what we got. We’ve got to count on ourselves.” And every time, by the way, across the history you see that Palestinians take things into their own hands when the Arab states start going back. Remember the 1987 Intifada starts ultimately when the Arabs were preoccupied in the Iran-Iraq war for a full decade. Nineteen ninety three essentially is a Palestinian initiative to make peace with the Israelis separately when the U.S. wasn’t paying attention in the Arab world after the Iraq war, wasn’t paying attention to them. In 2000 after the collapse of the negotiations, [they] took things into their own hands. So we know Palestinians have done that over the years, but in ‘68 it was a critical moment, because this is the rise of the PLO as an independent organization and with it a lot of other Palestinian organizations, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. And, one of the things that happened if you think about the psychology, is just as people are depressed about the prospects of Arab action, you have a lot of stories about Palestinian guerillas carrying out successful attacks.
But one episode in particular happens almost immediately after the war in March 1968, and that is the Battle of Karameh. The Battle of Karameh in which Israeli forces went into Jordan to round up PLO forces that were near the town of Karameh, and there’s a whole dispute about the exact narrative about what exactly happened, how many Israelis were killed, how much did the Jordanians play a role, didn’t play a role, who among the Palestinians played the role, and there’s a dispute. We have some facts about how many Israelis were killed or [how much] equipment was destroyed. But it, that all doesn’t matter. Why doesn’t it matter? Because the narrative that emerged, the Arab narrative was that the Israelis were soundly defeated in the Battle of Karameh, that the few PLO fighters alone did what all of the Arab armies couldn’t do in 1967. And within a couple of days there were 5,000 Palestinians going into refugee camps to sign on to join the PLO. And so the if you want a kind of a galvanizing episode as always happens in the national movement, that was a galvanizing episode and with it you know, emerges the Palestinian national movement.
I want to talk about one more episode before I bring it to now and give you my reflections on where we are now. That episode is 1974 when the PLO is recognized as sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. I want to talk about that because you know of course ‘67 set a path. And that path included the ‘73 war because the ‘73 war became inevitable by the ‘67 war. I say that for a lot of reasons, but you know it’s not just “the dignity” that Arabs felt that was lost, that they had to gain back, the international respect, but also the fact for Egypt itself not just because Egypt hadn’t given up on pan-Arabism. Even though you know Nasser, for those of you who know that history, Jamal Abdul Nasser, who was still loved even after his defeat, people may have been depressed about him but they still saw him as a source of the hope. And [when] in 1970 the Jordanian forces go to war with Palestinian groups in Jordan and defeat them and force them out of Jordan, and Jamal Abdul Nasser, the hero of Palestine, didn’t raise a finger other than do diplomacy. He was trying to mediate, not to intervene. The Syrians tried to send some forces and they did send some forces and it wasn’t, you know, they were not effective. But Nasser did not act. Nasser was mediating between King Hussein and the Palestinians and almost metaphorically he died the next day after he ended, he did, he was in the middle of that mediation.
So Nasser was the one who started the planning for the ‘73 war. He had this rule of thumb afterward that he announced, “What is taken by force can only be returned by force.” This was his point and he had this plan to fight a war as soon as possible and he wanted to restore it. One thing that people don’t quite get is that for Egypt, of course it was a dignity issue about the location of Egypt because one of the things, the claim that they were making about Arab leadership rested on their military ability. What else were you going to deliver if you’re not going to deliver that? But there’s something else that people don’t really quite understand about the path for Egypt. This had been a military regime. It still is. It has never left since 1952. Yes it was popular but it was a military regime. The legitimacy rested with the effectiveness of its military because that is what is the anchor of the regime. And in ‘67 the military was humiliated, it wasn’t just defeated, it was humiliated. The Egyptians are wonderful people. I love Egypt and when you look at the Egyptian sense of humor most of you know the Egyptian sense of humor is just infectious. I love to hear jokes about and usually it’s about self-depreciation, about the self and they made so many jokes about the Egyptian army at that time that it was really tragic in a way. It was biting and so the Egyptian military, the regime, needed to restore its dignity even for regime stability, beyond its ability.
So this was set in force and in ‘73 Arabs did a lot better than anyone could have imagined, and in some ways they did restore the dignity, and there was a moment. In fact, the first few days of the war when Israel contemplated ideas that it had never thought it would come to that and ultimately it didn’t succeed in returning all the territories, but it succeeded in restoring Arab leverage and it succeeded in getting international intervention, American and Soviet. It succeeded in putting the Arab-Israeli conflict back on the front burner. But here’s the thing. So you’re in the middle of this moment where the Arabs are celebrating what was a political victory—and and it was a political victory especially under the circumstances when nobody expected it—and they were also celebrating the emergence of their economic might. Remember there was an Arab oil embargo that was connected to that moment. And so here is the ascendant moment of Arab influence for the first time perhaps in the 20th century, because when you look at it you know where is the other moment where you had this sense of Arab success, of Arab pride, of Arab influence projecting itself. You could see it in the UN, you could see it in Europe, you could see it in meetings, you could see it in speeches, you could see it in how people felt across the board. Despite the limited effectiveness in the military, the fact is they were far more effective than anyone could have imagined. And so here is the moment which you think would be a moment of Arab revival. In fact by the way, there has never been a more effective Arab coordination in war than in that war because, yes, the two parties that fought it out were Syria and Egypt and by the way they coordinated in ways that were remarkable particularly in secret since it wasn’t really out there. But there was a lot of coordination for countries that didn’t fight directly that helped bank it. That is the Saudis, particularly Saudi Arabia with King Faisal and Algeria with Houari Boumédiène and they were partners to that war. They funded it. They were part of the victory party that was there.
So I say this, at some level you would think to yourself, well this is the moment of Arab ascendance, if Nasser had been there, this is the moment that he would have wanted to capture. But on the other side, this was exactly the opposite of that moment, because it was the moment when the Arabs chose to say to the Palestinians, yes, we embrace you but you’re on your own. And the way I read the 1974 Rabat conference that accepted the Palestinians, the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians, is that it’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they tell the Palestinians, “We support you and we support your nationalism and we support your right to self-determination,” and on the other hand [they] say, “but that gives us our right, the right to go it alone.” It gave the right for Egypt to go it alone. So it became a national issue and therefore in some ways it reduced by default the nature of, that Palestine was still supported by Arabs but not as a corner stone of Arabism, but as an Arab country, one of one of many.
I wrote about this by the way because I did a lot of research on how this came about because there was a debate in the Arab world and within among Arab leaders about whether to embrace the PLO. Certainly Egypt up until then had claimed to speak for the Palestinians. I mean Nasser certainly did because it was, he speaks for Palestine. Arab nationalists didn’t want to separate them from the broader cause and it was a question of who leads the cause. Also the Jordanians always claimed to be speaking for the Palestinians. Obviously Jordan had annexed the West Bank in 1950, claimed it as its own, and by the way the Jordanians continued to pay salaries to Palestinians after the occupation all the way until 1988. King Hussein lobbied Henry Kissinger, lobbied Anwar Sadat to not declare the PLO as the sole legitimate representative. He said, “If you want to do that either say call them a representative, of one of many or say at least the representative of Palestinians outside of Jordan but not in Jordan,” and meaning also not of the West Bank. Sadat was going back and forth even though the Foreign Ministry was advising him he should recognize the PLO as the sole legitimate representative but when they went to Rabat it was clear that King Faisal and Houari Boumédiène, the president of Algeria who gave the first speeches were fully on the side of the PLO and Sadat went along with them. That became ultimately the deal of the day but not without, the King of Jordan not fully accepting it. As I said, he never gave up a connection to the West Bank until 1988 and not without the Israelis going to Henry Kissinger in the following disengagement agreements by Kissinger making a deal with the Israelis not to recognize the PLO, or deal directly with the PLO which remained all the way until the late 1980s. So that’s the point of emergence of obviously the PLO as a solo legitimate representative that led to more focus on Palestinian self-determination and ultimately led to the idea of the two-state solution being accepted I just want to say that.
So looking at that history, where does that leave us now? Let me let me give you just some thoughts that I have, you know, more reflective thoughts on some of the issues that come up and what I’m thinking about them. First, let’s start again with the occupation. You know the term “occupation”, which is now again in dispute from the Israeli right, not from the Palestinians, has been a double-edged sword for the Palestinians. Why is that? Well, on the one hand it clearly means that Israel, that the territories that are “occupied” are not Israeli territories, that they must be given back to their rightful owners, that what Israel can and cannot do in the occupied territories has limits under international law, because we have a body of law that governs occupied territories and in that sense that’s good for the Palestinians. But on the other hand, it has done something different, because normally we think of occupation or the international law certainly conceived of occupation as a temporary state of affairs, meaning one that is supposed to end quickly. And so in a way, you could look at it like emergency measures, that you’re accepting certain emergency measures for a brief period of time until you have a political solution. Well I mean, I needn’t tell you this has not been a temporary state of affairs. I needn’t tell you that because it’s lasted 50 years so far, so far. And I say it’s lasted 50 years, again thinking about it from the point of view of the humiliation of the injustice on the ground, the daily pain that people have to go through every single day of their lives. And to think that the overwhelming majorities of Palestinians in the West Bank have known nothing but occupation, they were born under occupation, many were born and died under occupation. This is a lifetime for them.
And then when you ask me personally as an analyst, we know we have, is it one state, two states? Should we support this diplomacy, that diplomacy? We all want to see diplomacy succeed at bringing about a just, equitable solution but if you ask me as an analyst who has been at it for years, “So tell me, what is your best prediction ten years from now? Look ahead and say what is your best bet ten years from now?” Well I have to tell you obviously none of us know that what’s going to happen ten years from now, so don’t get me wrong, but if I had to put my money [on it], where would I put my money? I would say status quo plus or minus, with many more people dead and much more suffering along the way. That is the safest analyst bet, [which] is to say nothing much is going to change except maybe a little more suffering and more death, maybe give or take, maybe a little here, a little there, more annexation, more this or more that. And I think to myself we’ve got to deal with the human lives in these territories not based on the prospect of peace because that hasn’t come and it doesn’t look good now, and you’ve got to look at it as if this is what you get and fight for human rights every single day because that’s all you’ve got. And I think for me any possibility of a diplomacy, which should not be opposed, should not take away from the real focus that should be our own 50 years from now, 50 years after ’67, which is that there are people who don’t have basic rights living in those territories and you’ve got to address that regardless.
Decouple diplomacy because diplomacy, what happens is that when we have diplomacy people are saying “Well, this is temporary. Be patient. We’re working on it, we’re working on it, we’re working on it.” And there is some truth to it sometimes, but most of the time it hasn’t worked out that way and we can’t use diplomacy as a way to divert our attention from the human reality on the ground that is totally unacceptable. So that’s number one. Number two, I already talked about how the Arabs are more divided than ever. Their leverage has been diminished remarkably given a whole set of issues that have taken place over the past several years and we see that they’re more divided than they’re united not only on Palestine but even on issues that have to do with them. And look at this war in the gulf between members of the Gulf Cooperation Council wealthy Arab States that has taken place right now just as an example of that. Look at the leverage. So among Arab governments right now there’s certainly no unanimity on what to do on Palestine and more depressingly Arab publics are distracted. In the old days it used to be true that the Arabs as a people focused on Palestine even as the governments did not. I’ve done many public opinion polls over the years to show that [the] issue remains important among Arab people as a symbol of their collective identity. Even an Egyptian sees Palestine as part of his identity. Certainly Arabs see Palestine is part of their identity. And that used to be more the case, but now as you know Arabs are preoccupied, and legitimately so. If you’re living in Syria the hell that you’re experiencing obviously you are focused on your tragedy. If you’re living in Yemen, if you’re living in Libya, if you’re living in Iraq, and all the challenges or the struggles internally that we’re facing in much of the Arab world it certainly distracts even the people from that issue. But one thing that is clear to me [is] that issue has not gone away from Arab minds even in this arena.
How do I know that? Let me give you just three examples. One is, look at the two countries that have made a peace with Israel. There are only two states that have signed peace treaties, that is Jordan and Egypt. And you look at their public opinion and the public opinion is the most opposed to relations with Israel. In the public opinion polls that was the most pro-Palestinian of the countries and people are talking about cold peace between Egypt and Israel, well there is cold peace because the public is not there and the public is focused on something else. It hasn’t gone away even in this environment. It hasn’t gone away. Second, when you subconsciously, even as you are preoccupied with something else, when you ask people “Do you like Trump and don’t you like Trump? Do you like Merkel or you don’t like Merkel?” There are many reasons why people like it or dislike it, but still the shortest cut is to ask the question what’s their position on Israel-Palestine. It’s still a subconscious test that people do, behind their mind. And you can see it in the discourse even the government-sponsored discourse where they go through that to say here’s the example of it’s not good for us, so subconsciously it’s still there. And third is that when you are looking at our rulers who obviously are not focused on Palestine, I mean let’s not kid ourselves, none of them are focused on Palestine. Everyone has their own struggle, in some cases survival struggle that they’re focused on, not that they don’t care about Palestine, I don’t go that far because the publics will make sure that they do up to a point. But that’s not a central issue for them, obviously not a central issue for them and yet look at this war that we’re now seeing between whether it’s between the Islamists of the secularists, between you know the different states coalitions in the Gulf, and look at how one ruler tries to delegitimize another ruler. What do they do to delegitimize the other ruler? The first thing to do is to claim they’re working for Israel or that there’s some Israeli connection that delegitimizes them, as is the case now stories about Qatar, stories about, you know, the ambassador of the UAE in the U.S. All these stories in different presses tell you the fact that they’re using it even as they’re doing business with Israel, that they think the public is still focused on this issue. It’s not going away and this is a difficult time, a painful time not just for the Palestinians. It is particularly difficult for the Palestinians to remember the 50th occasion, not to forget the refugees, by the way, outside and particularly the ones in places like Lebanese camps who are in a horrific, [living] under horrific conditions. But now we’ve had millions of refugees come out of Syria and Iraq, and so the tragedy is pervasive and Palestinians have to also think about the rest of the Arab world, have empathy with others as they want empathy for themselves.
This is a painful period for the Arab world all the way around. This is not just for the Palestinians and the Palestinians obviously pay more of a price because they’re inevitably linked to other Arabs and their prospects are inevitably linked to the leverage that Arabs bring to bear. But this of course as we have seen in the history of the past century is not going to last and Palestinians are not going away. Palestinian nationalism is reality in effect. I don’t think anything can change that fact and what is going on for the Palestinians beside this political consciousness and the fact that they have broader sympathy beyond the Arab world within the human rights and international law dimension is that Israel frankly does not have the unilateral ability to impose a lasting solution without them. And ultimately clearly there will be a day when Palestinians will find certainly more dignity than they are finding today. Thank you very much.