Ilan Pappé: Israel’s Goal Is to Have Palestinian Land Without Palestinians


Ilan Pappé (Photo: Meraj Chhaya)Ilan Pappé (Photo: Meraj Chhaya)Securing recognition and safety for the people of Palestine should be an urgent global priority. But what strategies and tactics should the international movement for Palestinian solidarity use to end Israel’s human rights abuses? The acclaimed Noam Chomsky and Israeli historian and socialist activist Ilan Pappé explore these questions in On Palestine, edited by Frank Barat. Order this essential book today by making a contribution to Truthout!

Truthout recently interviewed Ilan Pappé, co-author with Noam Chomsky of On Palestine, edited by Frank Barat.

Mark Karlin: You speak in the first chapter of On Palestine about the old and new conversations about Palestine and Israel. Can you briefly describe your characterization of the difference between the two?

Ilan Pappé: The main difference is in the way that the reality in Palestine is framed. The old approach looks at the conflict as one raging between two national movements with an equal claim for the country and equal blame for the lack of progress. The new one frames the conflict as one raging between a settler and a native community.

The old one regards 1967 and the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as both the beginning of the conflict and its major concern. The new one focuses on the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 as both a departure point and an issue that has to be addressed for the sake of peace and reconciliation. In a similar way, the old approach shrinks the Palestinians into the community that lives in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and Palestine into those areas. The new approach is more comprehensive and deals with the whole of Palestine and all the Palestinians.

Finally, the old approach seeks a two-state solution as the lesser of all evils given the balance of power. The new seeks a one-state solution and prefers to focus on decolonization, change of regime and the return of the refugees as a means for reconciliation. The former approach seeks to achieve peace through negotiations; the new approach prefers at this moment in time to pressure Israel into respecting Palestinian rights, as was the apartheid regime in South Africa pressured at the time.

The first chapter concludes with speculation on possible developments in relation to Palestine and Israel through 2020. Can you summarize some key outcomes we could potentially see at the end of this decade?

By the end of this decade we will see two conflicting processes clash. The first is unilateral Israeli expansion into Area C [zones under full Israeli military and civil control] in the West Bank, more racist legislation against the Palestinians inside Israel and more assaults on the Gaza Strip. There is a lower likelihood for a third Palestinian uprising – should that happen the harsh Israeli policies would be probably harsher.

The other process is the transformation of Israel into a pariah state – with more boycott actions from below and the beginning of sanctions policies from above (with the younger Jewish generation around the world joining in greater numbers in this kind of activism). The balance of power between the two processes, namely the ability of international pressure to impact events on the ground, would be highly influenced by the developments in Syria and Iraq (the lack of a solution there will weaken the pressure), and the ability of the Palestinians to unite within a more authentic representative body.

Towards the end of this decade it is quite possible that both the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian representation in the Knesset will lose it functionality and validity in the eyes of many Palestinians all over historical Palestine, which will contribute to the formulation of a new Palestinian strategy. Such a development will strengthen the anti-Zionist camp inside Israel.

What is the situation in Gaza that we aren’t seeing in news coverage, in part, because of the mass media’s sensationalistic focus on ISIS?

The main thing we fail to see is that there is no reconstruction and thousands of houses, public buildings and infrastructures have not been rebuilt. This leads to continued poverty, malnutrition and the absence of elementary health infrastructure. We also miss the quite explicit Israeli readiness to assault Gaza again, while still maintaining a siege that does not allow human movement inside and outside this huge – probably the biggest ever in history – jail that incarcerates people whose only crime is that they are Palestinians. While the daily suffering in Gaza may pale in comparison to the fate of many present-day Iraqis and Syrians, we have to remember that this suffering is now almost 10 years old in this form and nearly 70 years in other forms of oppression and plight.

What are the implications of Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election, particularly after an overt appeal to racism and a campaign disavowal of even a two-state solution?

I doubt whether he needed these racist ploys. The re-election is the natural outcome of the Zionist project: a settler-colonialist project that aimed, from its very beginning, to take over as much of historical Palestine as possible with as few Palestinians in it as possible. While the Labor movement did the job until 1977 (by taking over the whole of the country, expelling in 1948 half of the population and enclaving the rest after 1967 in local Bantustans both inside Israel and in the occupied territories), now the task of the Likud [Party] is to solidify this regime as a fait accompli for generations to come. The Israeli electorate has always supported these policies – nothing so far in the international community’s attitude has forced it to change its support for either camps. Given the total disempowerment of the Palestinians, the disarray in the Arab world and the so far international exceptionalism and American support from a Zionist perspective, the Netanyahu brand is a far more attractive Zionist version than that of the pale, wishy-washy, liberal Zionists.

In what ways is Israel’s control of the West Bank representative of an apartheid system?

First of all, by the fact that millions of people cannot vote for or be elected to the body that decides their fate since 1967. So this basic civil right is denied to them. This population is also denied access to the natural resources of the West Bank: Land and water are almost exclusively in the hands of Jewish colonization. The communities, as small as a village or a town, are separated from each other by walls, checkpoints, military bases and Jewish colonies. The West Bank as a whole is disconnected from its heart, Jerusalem, and from the rest of Palestine.

But in other respects it is worse than apartheid: The population is constantly subject to collective and inhuman punishments. The inhabitants, including children, are imprisoned without trial. Houses are demolished as collective punishment and heavy fines are constantly imposed on them.

Is it your sense that President Obama has basically given up on trying to influence Israel and has come to accept an immoral status quo?

Yes, I think he knew it from day one. It was a charade. I do not believe for one moment that he had any illusions about this issue. Not that he lacked the power to change things, but rather that he preferred not to challenge the system so as to be able to implement, what for him, were more important policies. He probably did not expect Netanyahu to be so obnoxious and dangerous, and hence before the curtain goes down on his presidency he will leave us with harsh words on the prime minister and Israel, but he will only talk the talk and not walk the walk.

Can you discuss a bit about your chapter on the futility and immorality of partition in Palestine?

Since I frame the conflict from its very beginning as an act of colonization and anti-colonialism, I view partition, very much as Palestinian leaders and activists, viewed it in 1947: as an act that assists the colonialist project at the expense of the native people. At the same time that the native population in Palestine was offered by the UN to give half of their homeland to a group of settlers, most of whom arrived only a few years earlier, the world would have never suggested to the FLN in Algeria to partition the homeland with the white settlers.

Even partition was sanctified as the golden mean between the two conflicting parties and as a rational solution. However, it is still only aimed at benefitting the settler-colonialist project of Zionism. The hope behind the modern-day partition is that the Zionist movement would be satisfied with a state [occupying] over 80 percent of Palestine and would allow Palestinian independence in the remaining parts. The world’s leaders and diplomats are at a loss as to why this does not satisfy the hunger for land and power in Israel. The reason is that partition is not meant, in the consensual Zionist perception, to bring peace or allow a genuine Palestinian state to grow alongside Israel, but rather they see it as a brilliant means of having the land without having to include millions of Palestinians in the demographic balance of power.

The apartheid state of Israel will have to find another means, one that is not foolishly supported by the international community, of having the land without the people. The real nature of the impossibility of doing that without a fully blown apartheid state will be fully revealed.

Have you seen any increased signs that the international community is pressuring Israel to end its human rights abuses?

Oh yes. Putting aside the problems of corruption in FIFA, it reflected the willingness among publics around the world to impose a sport’s boycott, and the willingness of Orange to reconsider its Israeli investment are the two latest indications that the BDS movement is gathering momentum and is unstoppable. The academic and student communities around the world have already had their clear say about the need to maintain and increase this pressure. The EU is likely to follow suit with new policies about products from the occupied West Bank.

Also, the recognition by the Pope and the government of Sweden of a Palestinian nation (be it within a two-state solution that to my mind is not workable) is a move that, for the first time since 1967, motivates important international actors to ignore the Israeli insistence that no international position will be taken on Palestine without Israeli approval for it.

We have a long way to go for fully effective sanctions to be enacted and become effective. But we have already covered quite substantial mileage.

In a 2014 interview with Truthout, you were asked about the hideous public racism of the Jewish Home Party, which has been an important member of the Netanyahu coalition. You responded that racism was always in Israel, but those who subscribe to it now feel more comfortable in voicing their reprehensible views in the media. According to +972 Magazine, the newly appointed head of the “Civil Administration” in the occupied territories, Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, believes that Palestinians are “beasts … not humans.” Why do you think that the world press generally gives supporters of Netanyahu like Ben-Dahan a pass on viewpoints that would have been popular among slave owners in the US?

This is part of the exceptionalism I was talking about. It has different roots, and thus different explanations, in Europe, the US and the rest of the world. In Europe, the legitimacy for a racist state at the expense of the Palestinians still seems – especially in Germany, Italy and France – to be a low price to be paid for not dealing properly with the genocide of the Jews, and other peoples, in the Second World War. Europe should have resisted the Zionist conclusion after the Holocaust that the Nazis were right and Jews can only be safe in a colonized Palestine. There should have been a genuine effort to build a society that will never allow anti-Semitism or racism to have a political or ideological hold. The failure to do so was partly because Zionism offered Jewish legitimization for a non-multicultural Europe – the bitter harvest of this today is European Islamophobia.

In the US, the exceptionalism is the result of the activity of two powerful lobbies that are supported by the new conservatism. The two are the Jewish lobby at work since the early 1950s, hijacking US policy for the sake of Israel’s interests, and the Christian Zionist lobby that perceives the return of the Jews to Palestine as a divine decree that should not be tampered with and be protected (until, of course, the final phase of that program will be enacted: namely the conversion of the Jews to Christianity or their barbecuing in hell – both options quite tasty for your average Christian Zionist).

And above all in our neoliberal world, Zionist racism so far is not undermining the interests of the military-industrial complex.

Do you think that there is a possibility of an international resistance movement that can assist the Palestinians, given the uprisings in the US and in other parts of the world? Can a mutually supportive global movement for justice be on the horizon?

I think that it can be done. Social justice will be connected even more clearly in the minds of people to the plight of the Palestinians. There is a connection between the success of the capitalist system to resurrect itself after the 2008 crisis without a scratch and the continued exceptionalism of Israel. If the focus on financial profit can be redirected to direct attention to human and civil rights issues in the West, it can have resonance for the people in the Arab world, where their revolution was usurped by external powers and fanatic movements on the ground. The fairer distribution of resources and the adoption of different global priorities about nature are connected to the horrid absence of basic human and civil rights in the Middle East. But the key factor is removing the exceptionalism of Israel and including it in both the global and regional conversation about human and civil rights.

We are entering a new age of bizarre post-nationalism all over the world. The nation-state is challenged by ethnic particularism (at times posing as the old nationalism) and an aspiration for supranational and loose political formations. The only way of assuring that this desired transformation is not violent and chaotic is to base it on human and civil rights.

Palestine is manageable enough, and the Middle East, fluid enough, to hope that maybe there the new age will prove to be a better one than ours.