Saree Makdisi, professor of English and Comparative Literature at UCLA and the author of several books. His latest is called Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation.
Israel is coming under widespread international criticism for its plan to engage in a new round of illegal settlement expansion on occupied Palestinian land. Israel says it will build 900 new housing units in the East Jerusalem settlement of Gilo. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority leaders began a renewed effort last week to win international support for formal Security Council endorsement of a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders. We speak with UCLA professor Saree Makdisi, author of Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
Israel is coming under widespread international criticism for its plan to engage in a new round of illegal settlement expansion on occupied Palestinian land. Israel says it will build 900 new housing units in East Jerusalem settlement of Gilo. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Israel’s decision, quote, "provides 900 more reasons why hopes for salvaging the two-state solution and restarting genuine negotiations are rapidly fading, and why Israel is not a partner for peace." The US-backed Palestinian Authority has also called on the public to boycott several large supermarket chains in the West Bank that sell products made in Israeli settlements.
In an interview on Fox News earlier this week, President Obama said, quote, "Additional settlement building makes it hard to relaunch any kind of serious talks."
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: There’s no doubt that I haven’t been able to stop the settlements, and there’s also no doubt, from my perspective, that it’s in not only US interest, but actually Israeli interest to not build settlements.
Look, the situation in the Middle East is very difficult, and I’ve said repeatedly, and I’ll say again, Israel’s security is a vital national interest to the United States, and we will make sure that they are secure. I think that additional settlement building does not contribute to Israel’s security. I think it makes it harder for them to make peace with their neighbors. I think it embitters the Palestinians in a way that could end up being very dangerous, and it makes it hard to relaunch any kind of serious talks about how you achieve a two-state solution.
Meanwhile, New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind led a group of fifty American Jews to buy property in the nearby settlement of Nof Zion, also in East Jerusalem. During a tour of settlement real estate projects, the Democratic Assemblyman said, quote, "Rather than buying second homes in Florida, we want people to buy in Israel."
DOV HIKIND: To own something in the land of Israel is something very special. I have been dreaming about that all my life, and finally here’s a place that I am in love with. I don’t want to interfere with anyone. I don’t want to displace anyone. I don’t want to kick anyone out of their home. I have no hate, no malice in my heart. I want to live here, and I’m trying to work that out.
Well, with negotiations frozen, last week Palestinian Authority leaders began a renewed effort to win international support for formal Security Council endorsement of a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders.
To analyze the latest developments, I’m joined here in Los Angeles by Saree Makdisi. He is a professor of English and comparative literature at UCLA and the author of several books. His latest is called Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
Your assessment right now of this latest call for the UN to recognize a Palestinian state?
I think it would be a mistake for the Palestinians to declare statehood, because, first of all, they’ve already done that, and you can’t declare statehood twice. They did it in 1988. And the second thing is that a declaration of statehood in the Occupied Territories would do nothing to help the majority of Palestinians. Most Palestinians actually live in enforced exile, because they were expelled from their homes in 1948. And also, there’s a considerable Palestinian minority inside Israel itself, so the creation of a Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories would benefit, to a certain extent — actually, it’s quite limited how much it would benefit them — those living under occupation, but it would actually sell out the majority of the Palestinian people. That’s one of the major problems with the two-state solution. It always has been a problem with the two-state solution. It focuses on the minority of the Palestinian people and on actually a very small piece of historic Palestine.
What do you think needs to happen? What do you think should be the solution?
I think that the only practical way out and the only just way out at this point is to create a single state, a democratic and secular state, in which Israeli Jews and Palestinians live as equal citizens, the ones under occupation, the ones who have been in exile for sixty-plus years, and the ones who are now living as second-class citizens inside Israel itself. I think that the only way — that the idea of trying to break up a very small piece of land into ethnic islands, first of all, it can’t work. I mean, just practically speaking, it can’t work. Second of all, it’s inherently unjust to try and divide people that way and to exclude people from their ancestral homeland because they don’t fit into the criteria of the state, which is essentially what the situation is now. And there’s no reason why people can’t live together as just — you know, in justice and as equal citizens.
Do you see this gaining steam, this idea of a one-state solution?
Oh, it absolutely is. And it is partly because of the breakdown of the two-state solution. I mean, the Israeli increase in settlements is a major issue, clearly, but that’s been going on for forty years now. There’s the continued dispossession of the Palestinians who live inside Israel, the second-class citizens of the state. And then, as I said, there’s this sixty-year forced exile of people, of Palestinians, who were removed from their homes in 1948 and their descendants.
And the only way to address all of those people and all of their rights is to allow them back home and to live as equal citizens, and also to recognize the rights of Israeli Jews, as well, and to protect their rights, as well. I mean, it’s the only way to protect everybody’s rights and to give everybody their basic rights. There is no other way to do it, I think, frankly. It seems kind of obvious.
Your assessment of Mahmoud Abbas?
The idea that there can be a Palestinian government when Palestine is under Israeli occupation seems — it always was kind of nonsensical to me. And in particular, the fact that the Palestinian Authority essentially is working to assist the Israelis in managing the occupation, I mean, that’s why the PA was created during the Oslo process. It was created as a kind of handmaiden of the occupation. The Israelis’ idea was that they can get a kind of local collaborationist organization, the PA basically, to manage the day-to-day affairs of the population under occupation and to remove from discussion the Palestinians who are living, as I said, as second-class citizens inside Israel and to remove, once and for all, any discussion of those who have been in exile for six decades. So the PA has gone along with that program, you know, more and more efficiently, and it’s — I think it’s a mistake. It’s a mistake for Palestinians to fall into that kind of trap and to lead themselves into that kind of trap, which is what Abbas is doing.
Very quickly, your assessment of the Obama administration’s approach?
We need to stop looking to established governments to find solutions to this. South Africa is the clearest precedent. The solution to the question of Palestine and the struggle between Palestinians and Israelis is going to come from the intervention of well-intentioned citizens around the world. And I think the movement for a boycott, divestment and sanctions is — again, the South African precedent is clear — is the obvious way out. We can’t keep looking to governments, especially governments that aren’t doing anything. And the Goldstone — Obama’s reaction to the Goldstone report is clear on this and as he is on everything else. The whole question of settlements, you know, there’s no hope in looking to the US government to make a change. I just don’t see that happening.
Saree Makdisi, I want to thank you for being with us, professor of English and comparative literature at UCLA, author of a number of books, his latest, Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation.
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