Mr. Antony Loewenstein and Mr. Ahmed Moor
Transcript No. 373 (13 September 2012)
13 September 2012
The Palestine Center
Mr. Antony Loewenstein:
The conversation started about three years ago, I was talking to the founders of Mondoweiss, Adam Horowitz and Phil Weiss, about the idea of doing a collection similar to the one that ended up being published with Ahmed; the idea of believing that the two-state solution, the concept that has been talked about ad nauseum, for two decades written about and analyzed, was never going to happen. Arguably, it was never going to happen from the beginning. But the conversation about what happened next wasn’t really happening as much. There have been a few books, Ali Abunimah had a book called, a few years ago, about the one-state solution, but apart from Ali’s book and a few other texts, there wasn’t a lot of stuff written about it. The Mondoweiss boys had their book on Goldstone; they were overdoing books at that time. And then the idea came really from me to sort of say, it made sense, I’m a liberal Jew from Australia to work with the Palestinians not in the kind of “kumbaya” way, but to say that it is important that in an age where communication has changed so radically, that to actually work together on an issue that we believe, two individuals that a one-state, with Jews and Palestinians living together, is the only democratic way to move forward.
Ahmed and I have worked on this book for, well in some ways we started talking about it two years ago. We only met for the first time two weeks ago, in London at the book launch. But that in some way seems didn’t seem to matter to what this conversation was about. We collected a range of writers; you can look at the list of names, Jews, Palestinians, from America, from the Middle East, and elsewhere. And the idea wasn’t that everyone had the same view, they don’t. We are not going to say that John Mearsheimer, co-writer of The Israel Lobby [and U.S. Foreign Policy], has the same view as say Joseph Dana who is a Jewish writer living in Palestine. They don’t. What they do have a common belief in is two things, one that the two-state solution is never going to happen, was never a solution and it wasn’t just. More importantly when you have someone like John Mearsheimer, who all of you know comes from a conservative background a co-writer of an influential book, The Israel Lobby, a belief that in some ways challenging the concept of what a two-state solution rhetorically actually means, it means that you maintain the illusion of a peace process forever.
That’s basically what’s been happening for the last two decades. The whole idea behind the two-state solution wasn’t to bring any kind of resolution, it was essentially to continue the ability for Israel to colonize, which they have been remarkably successful for two decades – arguably in fact, for many more than two decades. So Ahmed and I brought together a list of names, individuals who we wanted to contribute, people who we thought would argue a point that would put different positions towards a one-state. Jeremiah Haber, a well known Jewish blogger, based in Israel and America, and he is an orthodox Jew, talks about…, now for him, he argues in the last chapter of the book, for one example, to redefine what Zionism is. To argue that Zionism for most of us in 2012 has always really been about colonization, or that’s the way that both of us feel, and many people who are suffering under occupation do feel. He argues in some ways that Zionism could be different, it can be different, we can agree/disagree about that, I in some ways do, but the point is that he argues, I think in an interesting way, that Zionism can also be about believing in a kind of a Hebrew culture of sorts, which can live equally well with Palestinian or Arab culture in the same country, together.
There are other writers which Ahmed will talk about in a minute, so I wanted to close by saying that the idea behind the book was in some ways to say that the two-state solution argument is over, and if one reads the corporate media whether it is in your country, here, or in Australia, or most western countries, that is not recognized at all. Although the facts on the ground are very clear, incredibly clear. I was in Palestine two weeks ago doing events for the book, I hadn’t been there for a few years, and anyone who has been there, and I am guessing this room has a great degree of knowledge about what is happening over there, everyone I think, even in Washington, in my country, in the UK, knows two states is not going to happen. But there is a reluctance for a range of reasons, to actually take the next logical step. And the book in some ways is an attempt to try and change that conversation and say, “One state is going to happen, it is inevitable. Let’s talk about it, find ways to put meat on the bones and actually put some ideas behind how it actually can look in a reasonable and just way.”
That was great. I am not sure I have a lot to say. First of all, thank you all for joining us this afternoon. It is a great pleasure to be here with all of you. Hopefully you gain something from the book, if you have time to read any of it. Two years ago when we started thinking about this book, when I came in on the project, we essentially rewrote the proposal and started thinking less about the identity and more about the empirical reality. The original proposal was mainly about what is it that is reconcilable about these people, what needs to happen within the Jewish American community to transform the value system that upholds and reinforces Zionism. We decided instead that, well, one of the frustrating features of the Israel Palestine landscape and the way that we talk about it is the persistence of this two-state idea. It is an article of faith. It has very little to do, as Antony said, with the reality on the ground, I’m sure many of you probably are aware of that at this point.
What we sought to do with this collection was gather a set of authoritative voices, really people I think who are unimpeachable on this question, and set them all basically on the same standing. Have them adopt the same baseline, which they have acknowledged in their own work. There is nothing revolutionary about John Mearsheimer standing up and saying, “two-states is over;” in fact, his essay is an adaptation of a talk that he delivered here. I hope that we have been able to do that. What this book is not is a blue-print for what one-state could look like, or what the post two-state period could look like. We adapted a one-state paradigm mainly because one state exists today. Israel/Palestine is an apartheid state. That’s the reality that the Palestinians contend with on a daily basis, and so we thought again, from the empirical point of view, why don’t we just discard the fictions they use politically for various actors here, in Israel, and in Palestine, and try to discuss things as they are and see where we end up. Where we ended up is with a whole lot of contention. I actually saw Jerry Haber in Jerusalem, we had lots of disagreements about the value of Judah Magnes and whether liberal Zionism can ever really exist, so we disagree. The point of this book isn’t to create consensus, or to create a shared vision – we’re not there yet. We just want to have a shared point from which we can depart along that path. So that’s why we invited people like Diana Buttu to sort of demonstrate, I think, beyond a shadow of a doubt that the two-state process is over. If it ever was viable, it hasn’t been for a long time. Again, these are the authoritative voices, I think, that we need to anchor the conversation moving forward.
Let me ask both of you, there’s certainly a growing discussion, if not towards a one-state outcome, towards a consensus that two-states is becoming impossible, or increasingly impossible, dead or almost dead; that we’re crossing the threshold, and we may have crossed it and so on. You talk about an empirical reality. Those who are hesitant to say that the two-state solution is dead, for whatever reason, may argue that the empirical reality, as it exists, can be reversed. Or elements of it can be reversed. I’d like you to first tell us what that empirical reality is that you feel has rendered the two-state solution impossible and why it cannot, if it cannot, be reversed?
I think that the way in which the question was asked is the way in which it is usually asked, I don’t think it’s the best way to ask it. We are not at a juncture. We are already at a one-state reality. It is not a one-state solution, it’s not the ideal outcome, but it is one-state today. The person who makes decisions about whether you can go home, if you can work at The New York Times, or if you can marry, etc., is an unelected Jewish Israeli, who has nothing to do with your daily reality. It’s one-state. We are not at a crossroads, there is no left or right here or there.
So how do we make it livable? The empirical reality, describe it? Anywhere between 600,000 and according to Benjamin Netanyahu up to 700,000, I believe, Jewish Israeli settlers in Jerusalem, in the West Bank, deeply traumatic. You can’t overstate how traumatic the removal of 8,000 settlers from the Gaza strip was in 2005 for the Jewish Israeli settler. Since then, settlers have learned the lessons of 2005 well. The army, I can’t remember the exact percentage but it’s something above 20 percent of the officer core in the Israeli army today, is made up of a religious component, many of whom were settlers also.
I think about 30 percent, roughly.
That change has largely happened after 2005. These people reacted dynamically and they learned lessons. The idea that anybody is going to remove up to 600,000 Jewish settlers, when 8,000 – we are talking magnitudes of difference here, it’s not going to happen. I invite somebody to do it. I would like to see it happen. But I don’t think I am wrong about this. Beyond that there is the water issue, the aquifers. Israel relies a great deal on Palestinian aquifers, fresh water reserves, big wells that sit under the West Bank mainly. If you look at where… You’ve heard of land swaps? The land swaps largely have to do with the Israelis seizing the land that sits above Palestinian aquifers. It’s where Ariel sits, it’s where a lot of other settlements sit. They are strategically built there. A Palestinian state that doesn’t have access to the river Jordan or the mountain aquifers that sits on the West Bank is not a viable state. It is a state-let maybe. It is a Bantustan, but it’s not a state.
Finally, the Israelis are never going to relinquish control over the Jordan River Valley. Israel’s security is paramount. The idea that the Arabs are going to invade at anytime from the East is one that somehow has captured the Israeli imagination and held it now for decades. There is no relinquishing that fantasy, I don’t think. The Jordan River Valley, even though Israel today has 200 nuclear weapons or more, is regarded as a strategic asset. Same with the Golan Heights. You are going to get at best a truncated bantustanized Palestinian entity, entities, but nothing close to a state. Nothing that really resembles a state. Again, I challenge somebody and invite somebody to reverse all of those facts on the ground, but I don’t really think it is going to happen.
The other point to add to that of course is the political situation here. In terms of so called “acceptable” mainstream discussion, there was a piece a few months ago in Foreign Policy by Aaron David Miller, who is seen as quite a liberal Jew, regarded as liberal. He was the one who coined the term “Israel’s lawyer,” essentially saying that America’s role during all negations was to be Israel’s lawyer. That was his term. He was arguing in this piece in Foreign Policy that any other possibility apart from a two-state is delusion; it is never going to happen. The aim is to still bring the parties together and somehow find a way to divide the land. The truth is, like Ahmed says, to do that equally is not possible. To do it unequally is very possible. It is very possible. The idea that one could not have a truncated Palestinian state is wrong. You could, I am not saying easily, but you could have leaders in the U.S. and other factors put major pressure on some kind of very weak, complicit [Palestinian Authority] PA, which it is now anyway, to accept some kind of state, some kind of entity. I am far from convinced that it is not possible. Not because I think that is just or right, I think it is conceivable. I am not saying it’s going to happen tomorrow, or it’s going to happen with [President Barack] Obama or [candidate Mitt] Romney, I don’t know. But I think it is conceivable.
Now, the question therefore would be, and this is something I have thought about a lot over the years, if that state is established, what does that then mean for those outside who believe in a just outcome? It’s hard to imagine what that would look like, to an extent, but the idea could be somehow a Palestinian state. It’s called a state; it has [European Union] EU support, American support, and probably Israeli support for self-evident reasons. The idea I guess, and as you rightly asked, is how to make that practically possible, I think in some ways is more easy to imagine then the one-state solution now. Practically, not because I think it is possible but because I think ultimately there is still in the U.S. political reality, and a hell of a lot invested, in maintaining that illusion, and somehow pushing for something that the Palestinian Authority will accept. Not the Palestinians themselves, the Palestinian Authority.
In Palestine itself, people often ask in this conversation, how many Palestinians support the one-state solution? How many Israelis do? There is about three Israelis, I know all of them, they are all great, but that is basically about it. They all came to my event two weeks ago in Tel Aviv. But in terms of Palestine, the numbers vary. Most polling in Palestine is not that reliable, but it generally in the last five years has massively increased. Thirty to fifty percent of Palestinians in a variety of surveys said that they would support that. The question therefore, just to finish on this, is if there is the possibility of something that the Palestinian Authority says to the Palestinians in Palestine, “We can actually achieve a state in a year,” would Palestinians in Palestine accept it? It’s not going to be just, it’s not going to be fair, it is going to be unequal, if everything Ahmed says is correct, and I don’t know the answer to that. No one knows the answer. Maybe you have a view about that. Most Palestinians in the Diaspora, I think, would not accept it. In Palestine itself, I don’t know.
So here is the key, I think, that Antony brought up. The plan that he describes is actually being actualized by the Israelis today. The Palestinians are being driven out of Area C, I don’t know if you know, it is about 60 percent of the West Bank, hemmed into Areas A and B. The idea is to seize as much of the land that you can, as Israeli leadership, to isolate the Palestinians in the Bantustans, and then call it a state. I think that’s the Israeli plan, the unpronounced but self-evident plan. Why is that not tenable for the long term? Well, the Israelis would like that sort of outcome to be the final outcome for the Palestinians for the issue. In my mind, and I think in many minds of the Palestinians, that is just one more stage in the conflict. It is a recipe for more conflict. Things don’t end there.
Let me push you on this point because, I think, this is a question that I did want to ask both of you. Again, in recent years we have heard increased talk about the situation being unstable, unsustainable. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that in the end of 2010, President Obama said that as well. That the situation, as it is, is unsustainable, creating this sense of urgency or at least a need to move towards something different, because at some point we’re going to have to. The reality is though, that the process we have seen over the last 20 years has sustained itself very well. The process of colonization has sustained itself very well. The process of financing these processes has also sustained itself very well. The popular support within the United States for financing these processes has continued and has sustained. So my question is, if this is in fact unsustainable, and to move towards a different outcome as you’d argue is the direction that should be moved, something has to change. What’s going to change it? What’s going to make this unsustainable to a point where change has to start happening. There are a lot of reasons to say, and I personally think the Israelis believe, and their actions seem to indicate that this is their intention, that they can continue with this system for a very, very, long time.
Yeah I think there is no doubt that it is sustainable for a while. Now of course, what does that mean? I don’t know, no one knows. To say that some how things are going to change next week, next month, next year, no, it is sustainable for potentially quite a while. There are some factors which mitigate that though. Briefly, the Arab world is changing, it is a cliché to say this but there are shifts going on. The role and the ability for certain Arab states to continually support what Israel is doing is changing. Egypt is a key player in this, clearly. What has happened in the last few days shows that the relationship between Egypt, Israel and America is shifting. I’m not for a second about to say that Egypt is about to move into a different kind of orbit. They won’t, because they realize the Egyptian military knows, as we all know, they want to get $1.3 billion a year in U.S. military aid, and that is not going to change tomorrow. The siege on Gaza from the Egyptian side continues, lessened, but still continues. So the Arab reality post and during the Arab spring, I think, potentially alters the ability for Israel to maintain certain policies.
I also would say that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions [Movement] (BDS) does have an effect. It’s relatively small thus far. We are talking about some elements in the book. The fact that, for example, Elvis Costello doesn’t play in Israel is not about to bring down the occupation, no, but the effect of where it’s relevant is having stayed in South Africa some years ago, and I talk about, not in the book but elsewhere, that there’s a film that came out recently called Under African Skies about Paul Simon going to South Africa in the eighties to record the Graceland album. And in short when he essentially goes there, he says, “I went there, and yes I broke the boycott but I thought art and culture was more important than anything else.” The people who supported the boycott were pretty pissed off with him, etc. I mention that because the people interviewed in that film have said, “BDS didn’t on its own bring down apartheid.” It doesn’t and it won’t. The effect of it even in Israel even today, having been there and knowing a lot of people involved in this campaign, the effect is up here, it’s physiological. Now again, it’s not about to radically change something tomorrow but it has an effect.
The isolationist effect within Israel does mean in the short term, yes, that a rightist view is in the ascendency because people sort of say, “Everyone hates Jews, they always hate Jews, therefore we have to do what we want to do and America will support us.” That’s true, to an extent. And finally just to finish on this, I think there is also a sense that the support that existed for 60 odd years in America from the Jewish community I think is shifting, it hasn’t shifted, it is shifting. Now, the support in years to come is going to come from Orthodox Jews and the Evangelicals. So if you have, and this again we talk about in the book and I have written about this elsewhere, a growing sense of younger Jews who I hope, I pray, I am thinking, are going to become more politically active and believe that Israel needs to change. Those three factors, Arab spring, BDS, Jewish community here and others, as Ahmed, I am sure, will say, are a way to say this can’t continue forever.
I do agree with that, but I also want to challenge the premise of the question. Near-term memory, the past six to seven years, I mean when Jimmy Carter published his book, was it 2006? [Palestine:] Peace not Apartheid, The London Review of books, Mearsheimer’s The Israel Lobby the following year, 2007, the book was published. We have seen in the past five or six years Israel’s precarious position; I think it was precarious all along. He wrote, “The moral authority that Israel once enjoyed in this country is not as stable as it used to be,” and I think it’s actually been eroded also. So to say that things are static and
there hasn’t been any change, it’s true in the sense that the occupation machinery, the ethnic cleansing machinery, if anything, is only accelerated, ethnically cleansing Palestine. But the moral force that used to drive that process I think no longer exists in the way that it used to, and that’s I think where we have to focus our efforts. I have said before, and I think some people disagree with me, but the work that needs to be done about Palestine today won’t be done in Palestine. The Israelis have been very effective at, again, isolating the Palestinians from one and other, and encouraging them to in-fight, although we accept, deserve, a whole lot of responsibility for that, I think. The viable work that needs to be done on Palestine has to be done abroad. That’s where the machinery is.The main work, if we are going to defeat apartheid, I think needs to be done in America. I think we are already on our way.
You talked in the beginning a little bit about the book, saying that the book does not provide a blue-print for a one-state outcome. When we talk about a two-state outcome there have been plenty of blue-prints. We have had endless discussions, volumes and shelves that can be filled with policy papers between which settlements and villages the line is going to be drawn, and what percentage of what is going to be swapped to each side, and how we are going to work out arrangements for water and functional sharing of this city and holy sites and what not, so the blue-print there is very much developed. So what is it going to take? Now obviously these blue-prints are developed close to the centers of power. We can talk about the interests of the centers of powers and why those interests are around a two-state outcome. But what is it going to take to start having a serious discussion about a blue-print for a different outcome, the one you argue for: a one-state outcome. And what are the important components of that blue-print that you feel need to be hashed out in discussion, to start putting some meat on the bones of the idea that you have put forward?
Yes, there have been massive numbers of documents, books written on what a two-state solution looks like on the shelves, and yes, they have been written about and discussed for 20 odd years and in fact more than 20 years. Even before Oslo this was discussed of course. But there wasn’t a lot of meat on the bones, in my view, ever. There was discussion on, yes, where this road might go and where the border might lie but no one who had seriously actually written about this in an objective way would say that in fact, that is ever going to happen. So yes it has been talked about and more years of allowing this conversation to happen.
How has that changed to make a one-state more discussed? Well books like this will make people more interested, discussions like this. I think there also needs to be a realization, and it’s hard to know if there is going to be, we’re sort of obsessed in the west with turning points. I don’t know if there is ever going to be a turning point, per se, but Ahmed is right, the moral legitimacy of Israel is radically different in the last decade. That is for a range of reasons. The examples he gave, Lebanon 2006, Gaza 2008-2009, the [Gaza] Flotilla, now all those situations on their own don’t necessarily change from a two-state to a one-state paradigm at all, but you know that these issues are having a profound effect because the Israeli oppressed almost daily kvetching of this issue and secondly there has been massive amount of money spent by Israel and its supporters to counter what they see and realize is a shift, particularly in your country (here the U.S.) of how this debate is changing. Now it might sound kind of amorphous, there’s nothing tangible, which may be true, but to actually put where these discussions may be important, is to sort of have “if we are going to indulge a conversation about one state or two states,” most of the discussions are either one or two. We are saying, “Two, and how can we get there?”
When it comes to the two-state solution, I think you are right to say that despite all that has been written, it’s fairly imaginary in terms of being practically implemented. Nonetheless, how it would work exists in the imagination, but how the one-state would work, does not yet exist even in the imagination. And so, my question is, how would it work? I mean towards moving to this outcome people need to be able to imagine how it would work. Now they imagine how a two-state would work, even though you and I think all the authors in this book identify that it is not going to work that way, and it is not going to work that way.
I spent a lot of time thinking about this, but before I give you my sense of what a blue-print could look like, I want to say that one of the focuses of the book is really to get these conversations started. There are much smarter more talented people who have more experience and who have a whole lot to contribute who just haven’t begun to think about the issue, the problem, in this way. And once they do, we as a group, as well intentioned people of good faith, will come up with something workable.
For me, what is paramount is the preservation, both of culture and individual rights. Palestinians do not want to lose sense of what it is to be Palestinian, I am confident that Jewish Israelis do want to preserve something about their culture. As individuals, however, we need to focus on civil liberties for everyone in the country. Federalism, in my mind, provides a good framework as to how to do that. I have written before about one idea, one state for federal units and a pendant status for Jerusalem. Gaza, the West Bank, [would be] majority Palestinian. The northwest corner and south [would be] majority Hebrew. There are ways in which this could be workable. There are elements to make it work, that we can take from history. Even American history has a whole lot to offer that is instructive about reconciling communities, that only until recently have been warring. I mean thinking about 1866 United States of America. The point is that this book, and hopefully conversations around it, and other books that hopefully other people will write, spark the conversations among the people who have the expertise to furnish the answers to your question.
Let me say one final point. Neither of us is saying, and no one in the book is saying, that it is easy to move from a discussion about two states to realizing of one. Of course it is not, it is self-evident to say that. One short example, when I was in Israel a few weeks ago with one of the contributors Jeff Halper, who I am sure many of you will be aware of, we had a bit of a chat on some of these issues. One of the things that came up, his group ICAD [The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions] is releasing a one-state statement, along with a variety of other groups, to sort of see how it could happen. I think it is out this week, next week, it’s coming up.
It’s a big deal.
Yeah, which is a big step for a group to do. One of the challenges that he faces, he said and the group that he formed, is that there are many Palestinian groups in Palestine who won’t even engage with his organization despite the position that he has taken and they take. Now he was saying that not as a “screw you,” he was more saying this is the political reality that exists. Being against normalization, in his view and my view, is an important point. The idea of having a normal conversation with two unequal groups is not okay. But, he was saying, and I think there is simplicity to this, he was saying, “I believe there is something called an Israeli Jewish identify. It exists. It can mean a thousand different things, for some it’s obviously Zionism, for some of course it’s not. Where does that fit in a one state solution?” And he was asking this, not in an offensive way, but in a question. Where does that identity fit, in a state that would probably be majority Arab? Is there room for it? He says, “To me, there needs to be room for that.” And his question, and I guess to some extent frustration was that he felt in the last years anti-normalization in his view, and it is hard for me to judge whether what he is saying is entirely justified, but I think it is. At what point does anti-normalization get to the point where there is virtually no conversations between any Palestinian groups and Israeli groups, regardless of what Israelis actually say. And this to me is a problem. And I just wanted to put that out there. I have got no simple solutions, and I don’t know if Ahmed has a view on that but to me this is an issue and I think it is something that we should be aware of and discuss.
Yeah, I don’t think we are beyond necessity for the anti-normalization campaigns right now. I fully support those.
As do I.
Yeah, the reality on the ground kind of makes them necessary. Oslo was a big joke played on the Palestinians that allowed the Israelis to go on with their lives and behave as though they were normal people and apartheid is no big deal. So the anti-normalization we both agree is important right now. I just wanted to go back briefly to the two-state, the way it was framed and one of the reasons it didn’t work, and why that same problem doesn’t really apply to a one state. One of the reasons two states failed, the big reason, Diana Buttu, who was a direct party to the negotiations period, offers some insight. The two-state
paradigms, the structure that exists around the two-state discussions, around Oslo, pretended that there were two co-equal parties. In fact that was not the reality, the Israelis dictated [and] the Palestinians squirmed. They would appeal to the Americans, nothing would happen. The Israelis dictated.
The power relationship could not have resulted in anything other than Israeli dominance in that kind of framework. The one-state solution upends the power relationship because now there is a focus on civil rights as opposed to humanitarian rights or statist rights. We have seen in this country that the civil rights movements, the world’s most powerful country, cannot stand up to the moral force of a group of people demanding their equal rights in a shared space. That is one of the reasons the one-state solution, however we get there and whatever it looks like, which we should begin thinking about now, I think that is why it is actionable and why two states never could have been.
Antony Loewenstein is an independent Australian journalist, activist and blogger. He is the author of two bestselling books, “My Israel Question” and “The Blogging Revolution,” co-editor of “Left Turn” and has written for The Guardian, The Nation, The Huffington Post, Haaretz and other prominent publications. He is currently working on a book and documentary about disaster capitalism. He lives in Sydney, Australia.
Ahmed Moor is a Palestinian-American journalist, blogger and activist and a Soros Fellow. He has written for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post, The Guardian and Al Jazeera English and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Public Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
This transcript may be used without permission but with proper attribution to The Palestine Center. The speaker’s views do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jerusalem Fund.