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Ariel Sharon Plans to Annex Half of the West Bank: A Debate on the History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Zionism

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Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres Sunday confirmed a report that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wants to annex half of the West Bank under an unpublished plan for the Palestinian territories that he is drawing up with close advisers.

Following a report in the London Telegraph, Peres confirmed in an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press that Sharon is suggesting Israel annex half of the West Bank as an “interim agreement.” Peres says he doesn’t think that is a final solution.

Meanwhile, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports Sharon angrily declared Sunday at his weekly cabinet meeting that the Israeli government will not discuss the removal of any Israeli settlements on Palestinian land until the next elections in October 2003. Banging his hand on the table for emphasis, he said there would also be no such discussion after those elections, if he is reelected.

The subject was raised when a Labor Party minister asked why the government doesn’t adopt Israeli army officer recommendations to evacuate isolated settlements. According to an Israeli news program, senior officers are arguing that isolated settlements in the Gaza Strip have become tremendous security burdens, requiring a regiment of soldiers to protect each one.

Today on Democracy Now! we will have a discussion on the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, looking at the expanding Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands, but also going back earlier, to the 1948 war and the roots of the Zionist movement.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres on Monday confirmed a report that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wants to annex half the West Bank, under an unpublished plan for the Palestinian territories that he’s drawing up with close advisers. Following a report in the London Telegraph, Peres confirmed in an interview on Meet the Press that Sharon is suggesting Israel annex half the West Bank as an interim agreement. Peres says he doesn’t think that it’s a final solution.

Meanwhile, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports Sharon angrily declared Sunday at his weekly cabinet meeting that the Israeli government will not discuss the removal of any Israeli settlements on Palestinian land until the next elections in October 2003. Banging his hand on a table for emphasis, he said there would also be no such discussion after those elections, if he is reelected.

The subject was raised when a Labor Party minister asked why the government doesn’t adopt Israeli army officer recommendations to evacuate isolated settlements. According to an Israeli news program, senior officers are arguing that isolated settlements in the Gaza Strip have become a tremendous security burden, requiring a regiment of soldiers to protect each one.

Today on Democracy Now!, we’ll have a discussion on the history of the Israeli-Palestine conflict, looking at the expanding settlements on Palestinian lands, but also going back earlier to the 1967 and 1948 wars and the roots of the Zionist movement. We’re joined on the telephone by professor Ilan Pappé, who is a senior lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Haifa University and author of The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Professor Pappé.

ILAN PAPPÉ: Thank you very much. I’m very happy to be with you.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, it’s good to have you with us. Well, why don’t we start off with this plan that has been laid out now? It was first in the British papers, and Shimon Peres, foreign minister, has come to the United States, says it is true that Sharon is suggesting Israel annex half the West Bank.

ILAN PAPPÉ: Yes, well, I think this plan sounds very authentic. Anybody who knows Ariel Sharon and knows his public appearances and what he used to write in the newspapers should not be surprised that this is the final map which he has in his mind with regards to a settlement of the Palestine question. In that kind of map, he sees most of the West Bank as part of Greater Israel and a very small part of it as an autonomous Palestinian entity, but not a proper sovereign state, although he only recently said he’s willing to call that part a state. But I do think that he wants to transfer some of the people from the West Bank into the Gaza Strip, where he can cordon the people in a big, like, prison. As you know, the Gaza Strip is encircled by a fence all around. And I think this really tallies with his previous plans and opinions on how to, as he calls it, to solve the Palestine question.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back in time to the founding of Israel, if you can give us a brief history of how Israel was established. A lot of what is happening now has prevented a more historical analytic discussion of the roots of the crisis.

ILAN PAPPÉ: Right. Well, I think it’s very good to go back. And it’s important to go back to the 1948 War. We have to remember that that war was fought after 30 years of British rule in Palestine. And when the British had enough, they transferred the problem of Palestine to the United Nations. Now, the United Nations suggested the partitioning of Palestine into two states: a Jewish state and a Palestinian state. At the time, the Jews were 40% of the population, and the Arabs were 60% of the population. And yet the United Nations, in its petition plan, suggested that 60% of the land would go to the Jews, as I said, which were the minority, and that the majority of the country, 60%, would go to the — I’m sorry, the majority of the country would go to the minority, the Jews, and that the majority of the people, the Palestinians, will have only 40% of the country. And this may explain why, at the time, the Arab states and the Palestinian leadership rejected their partition plan.

As a result, a war was waged between the sides. And at the end of the war — and I’m sorry to burden the listeners and the viewers with percentages, but I think it’s important. At the end of the war, the state of Israel was founded on 80 — almost 80% of Palestine, and only 20% of Palestine remained in Arab hands, part in the hands of the Jordanians and part in the hands of the Egyptians. Now, out of the 1 million Palestinians who were supposed to be inside the two states, three-quarter, 750,000, were more or less expelled in an ethnic cleansing operation. And this is how the Palestinian refugee problem came into being.

So, if we go back to the ’48 War, if I can sort of summarize what I was saying, is that we have to remember that the war ended, on the one hand, with the creation of the state of Israel on a very large chunk of historical Palestine. And in comparison, the Palestinians, as a result of the war, lost their homeland, their villages, their towns, and many, many of them became refugees as a result of a master plan to expel them during the war. So, the War of 1948 is very much alive in the collective memories of both Israelis and Palestinians, and one cannot solve the problem without relating to that war.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Pappé, the story that you are telling now is not one that is generally put forward by those, certainly, who talk about the founding of Israel in — who are Jewish around the country. It’s not the accepted history. Why do you think that is? You’re a Jewish professor yourself.

ILAN PAPPÉ: I am. I am. Indeed, this is not the version, the historical version or narrative which is taught in Israeli school or is accepted by the majority of the Israeli academics. I think that this kind of — the kind of history — or, the official historical Israeli version was needed in order to allow the Israelis to continue to believe that they are living within a democracy and that they are morally superior to the Palestinian side. It was very important, I think, for the Israeli cultural and political systems to deny what really had happened in 1948, to repress the unpleasant chapters, because if they had accepted it, this would have opened the way for legitimizing the Palestinian demands, such as the right of return of the refugees, such as reparation and compensation for the expulsion, and, in general, would put the Palestinians in a much better position in the world, in the eyes of the world public opinion. So I think there were good reasons, so to speak, for not admitting what the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces, and the Israeli government had been doing.

And surprisingly, there was not even a willingness to say what I say in my book, that this was the behavior of a conventional army. I don’t think the Israelis were worse than any other modern armies in the second half of the 20th century. But I’m saying they were no better. And indeed, as one can see, the agenda of the current peace process, it’s very clear that the Palestinian claims or the Palestinian version of what had happened in 1948, for instance, the claim that the Israelis have expelled — had expelled the Palestinians, of course, has a lot of relevance and is relevant to the nature of the solution for the problem, and is the basic reason for the continuous Palestinian demand on the right of return, which for most of the Israelis, is not acceptable. In fact, all the Israeli politicians in the Israeli parliament, in fact, passed a law about that. They claim that the right of return is like an act of suicide for the Israelis. So, these are very — these are raw nerves. This is a very delicate subject, a very touchy subject. And I think most Israeli historians, until myself and others came around, found it very difficult to deal with.

AMY GOODMAN: Ilan Pappé is a senior lecturer at the Department of Political Science at Haifa University. On the line with us also is Meir Pa’il, who is a former Knesset member and a former military officer. Do you share Professor Pappé’s view of what happened with the establishment of Israel?

MEIR PA’IL: I’ll start with the Palestinian refugees. OK?

AMY GOODMAN: Good.

MEIR PA’IL: The right of return. You know, basically, the Palestinian refugee problem gradually was created in 1948 during the Israeli War of Independence. This war was initiated by the Arab national movement, by the total overall Arab national movement and the specific Palestinian national movement. Their intention was to occupy the whole of Palestine and eliminate totally Zionism and turn Palestine into an Arab entity, either an independent Palestinian state or some kind of a Palestinian state on both sides of the Jordan, with King Abdullah the king of both sides. So this was their intention. Whatever a Jewish settlement the Arab army succeeded to occupy, the Jews there were driven out, either as refugees towards the Jewish holdings, or they were kept, they were taken prisoners. No Jewish settlements in the land of Israel, in the Holy Land, which happened to be occupied or conquered by any Arab entity was given the right to stay. They were driven out.

So, the intention of the Arab national movement was to eliminate Zionism totally. They didn’t succeed. And one of the symptoms of their failure was that almost half of the Palestinian people found themselves refugees. Out of these people, about 60% just fled, and others were driven out. So, the Arab or the Palestinian refugees problem, or — how would we say? — disaster, was caused in those days by the Arab initiative and not by the Zionist initiative. So, one cannot come now and behave some kind of — how would we say? — in Yiddish, we say Tzadik, some kind of a pious people. You know, they drove us out. The initiation of this war was the initiative of the Arab national movement and the Palestinian national movement. They didn’t succeed. So, they must pay for their — how would we say? They should be, I would say, punished, or they should pay for their intention in 1948, like what the Soviets made with the Germans. They drove from Eastern Europe to Central Europe in between 9 million and 12 million Germans, and no one is even trying to criticize the Soviets, because everyone knows what was the intention of the German Nazi government in those days.

So, the issue of trying to push into Israel these 3-4 million refugees, just claiming — or, playing judicious, claiming, you know, they must go home, it’s nonsense. It’s total nonsense, for two reasons. First, they are to be blamed for the initiation of the '48 War. We call it the War of Independence. If the Arabs wouldn't have started the war, there was no war, and we would have accepted what the United Nations General Assembly resolution of November the 29th was, and the Holy Land would have been partitioned between a Palestinian state and a Jewish state. They didn’t accept it.

There is a second reason. We have now in Israel the population of about 5 million people, out of which 4 million — I think 6 million people. About 4 million are Jews, and 1 million are Palestinians. They’re Israeli citizens. If we would agree to accept into Israel another 3 million, it is the end of the Jewish state named Israel. It would be a binational state, which is, from the point of view of the Zionist standpoint, it can’t be accepted. And most Arabs know it. And as far as I know, the PLO attitude — I spoke with them — they speak about it, a right of return, just only to their own Palestinian state, which would be established — and I think we should support them — in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as an independent Palestinian state. I agree that their government should be in eastern Jerusalem. And whatever they will decide to do with the Palestinian refugees, it’s their right to do. They will have their parliament. They will have their government. They may accept the idea to give whoever Palestinian refugee a right of return to the Palestinian state, which is OK, from my point of view.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Pappé?

ILAN PAPPÉ: I was very intrigued when Dr. Pa’il mentioned that a binational state is against the nature and concept of Zionism. And in fact, this is the ultimate proof to the fact that the Zionist leadership in ’48 initiated the expulsion and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, because according to the United Nations partition plan, almost half of the population in the prospective Jewish state was supposed to be Palestinians. And indeed, although the Zionist leadership accepted the United Nations partition plan, it could not accept for long a state which had such a high percentage of Palestinians. And therefore, it initiated the expulsions, regardless of the question who started the war. And, in fact, many of the —

MEIR PA’IL: Why regardless? Why regardless?

ILAN PAPPÉ: No, no, please, I didn’t interrupt —

MEIR PA’IL: This is the point, who started the war.

ILAN PAPPÉ: No, no, no. I didn’t interrupt you. Please don’t interrupt me. Please let me finish.

MEIR PA’IL: Why [inaudible]?

ILAN PAPPÉ: No, no, please. I’m not going to answer you. I am not —

MEIR PA’IL: It was a war. The war was initiated by the Palestinians and the Arabs.

ILAN PAPPÉ: I am not going to answer you. I want to finish my point.

MEIR PA’IL: Because you have no answer.

ILAN PAPPÉ: And secondly — no, please, please, please let me finish my point. Many of the expulsions took place during a situation of no war, when the war ended. In fact, the Israelis continued expelling Palestinians until 1954. So, I think that I wouldn’t doubt — and I don’t really know who can doubt — that there were plans on the Arab side and on the Palestinian side to try and defeat the Jewish state. Nobody denies that. What would have happened had the Arab armies won? We don’t know. We can guess. But what we do know is what happened after the Jewish army won the war. And what happened after the Jewish army won the war was an ethnic cleansing operation to depopulate, to de-Arabize the Jewish state. And this continued, by the way, in a very slow, measured, slow transfer measures, ever since 1948. So, this is one point. This has very little relevance to the question who started the war and who didn’t start the war.

AMY GOODMAN: What evidence do you have of the ethnic cleansing, Professor Pappé?

ILAN PAPPÉ: The ethnic cleansing, oh, I think that there are two kinds of evidence which are very important for the work of historians.

MEIR PA’IL: No, I’m sorry, I must run now.

ILAN PAPPÉ: One is the IDF archives. But, of course, the IDF archives are blurred and are not very clear on it, and you need a very sharp eye to find out how a command, which was quite obscure and not very clear cut, produced an atmosphere which encouraged Israeli commanders and soldiers, wherever they were, to clean the country and expel its Indigenous population. But if you add to that obscure archival material the oral histories — that is, you go to the — you interview people who participated, on both sides, you fill the gaps which exist in the archival material, and you could quite easily reconstruct a picture which reminds us of acts of ethnic cleansing in other places in the world. If I may, I just want to make another point, just —

AMY GOODMAN: I just want to bring —

ILAN PAPPÉ: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: I just want to bring Dr. Meir Pa’il in for a minute, because I’m afraid we’re going to lose him.

ILAN PAPPÉ: OK. All right.

AMY GOODMAN: I know that he has to go, professor of military history. You have said — you spoke on Israeli radio in March, saying that the IDF should reoccupy the territories, clear out the resistance infrastructure over the course of a number of days, and then declare its interest in the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. How do you justify the IDF moving into the territories and reoccupying them? Professor Pa’il? Well, he has left. We’ll go to a break, and when we come back, we will continue with Professor Pappé, and hopefully we could get Professor Pa’il back. You’re listening to Democracy Now!

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: The great Matt Jones, one of the founders of The Freedom Singers, joining us in our firehouse studio here at Downtown Community Television, broadcasting just blocks from where the towers the World Trade Center once stood. I’m Amy Goodman. We are joined by professor Ilan Pappé, who teaches political science at Haifa University and author of The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Unfortunately, professor Meir Pa’il had to go, a professor of military history. But your response to what he said, Professor Pappé, about this issue of reinvading the West Bank and then declaring that there should be a Palestinian state?

ILAN PAPPÉ: Yes, I’m afraid that this is not very far from the program of Sharon, with which we have started our conversation. The idea that Israel, by military force, can impose its will on the future map is not new and is quite horrendous, actually. It means that Israel would go in, kill whoever it doesn’t like, leave only political leaders which are collaborators, and restructure a map which would include a very small Palestinian entity without sovereignty and without proper statehood. This is actually planting the roots or the seeds of the next three or four violent cycles of the conflict in the many, many years to come. This is not only a bad solution, it’s a recipe for even more bloodshed and violence in the coming decades. So, I really think that one should stop even suggesting such plans. And the only alternative, and the only way to peace, is now to negotiate over all the comprehensive issues, which we had mentioned, and many of them emanate from the history, both of the 1948 and the 1967 wars. And without such a comprehensive approach, I’m afraid on both sides there will be many, many more victims in the years to come.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Norman Finkelstein also joins us. He’s a lecturer at DePaul University in Chicago and has written a number of books on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict. We talk about history, and we also talk about — want to talk about the settlements and what role they play in all of this, Professor Finkelstein.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, basically, I think — first of all, let me say hello to Ilan Pappé.

ILAN PAPPÉ: Hello, Norman.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: We correspond occasionally, but rarely see each other or speak.

Basically, I think the picture is this. The settlements play the same role after June 1967 as they played in the original Zionist settlement of Palestine at turn of the century. I’m going to just very briefly try to summarize the picture and then explain the settlements as I see it. When the Zionist movement first came to Palestine at turn of the century, its main problem was that Palestine was already occupied. There was an Indigenous population. And the question was: How do you create a Jewish state in an area which is predominantly non-Jewish? And from probably around the early 1930s, the Zionist movement, the consensus within the mainstream was that the only way you can do it was through what was called at the time transfer, a kind of euphemism. Sometimes they used the word “forced” — expression “forced transfer,” but basically a euphemism for what we would now call ethnic cleansing. And the question then was: Well, how do you bring it about? How do you achieve it?

And Ben-Gurion, who was the leader of the Zionist movement within Palestine at the time, he said it was a question of timing, that you needed what he called revolutionary times, which allow for radical changes to occur, unlike in normal times. And basically, in 1948, those revolutionary times — to use Ben-Gurion’s expression, those revolutionary times occurred in the course of the June — excuse me, in the course of the First Arab-Israeli War. And the goal of transfer, or, as I say, we’d now call ethnic cleansing, was accomplished. And that’s where matters basically stood between 1948 and ’67. A Jewish state was created, the Indigenous population was expelled, and the Zionist aim was achieved. And come 1967, the aim was completed. In ’48, a Jewish state was established in about 77% of Palestine. And come 1967, the goal is now completed with the conquest of all of Palestine by the Zionist movement, now Israel.

But the problem again arose. Just as in the turn of the century they wanted to create a Jewish state in an area which was predominantly non-Jewish, come 1967, they wanted to extend the borders of the Jewish state, but again in an area which is predominantly non-Jewish, which is Christian and Muslim Arab. And now the same dilemma arises: How do you achieve this goal? Well, one crucial change has occurred in the interim. That is, after the Nazi experiments with demographic engineering during World War II, the international community, in the Geneva Conventions, prohibited population transfers. And so, the Zionist aim in the 1930s — namely, to transfer the population, which was — to be perfectly honest, was actually considered pretty legitimate in the international community — by the late 1960s, it was no longer considered legitimate, as I said, in the aftermath of World War II and the Geneva Conventions. So now the question is: Well, if you can’t expel the population, what can you do in order to annex the land?

And the goal basically was — a very good Israeli historian, Benny Morris, he once said that the Zionist movement basically had two choices to achieve its aim. One was transfer, he said, and the other he called the way of South Africa — namely, to create what he called a settler minority lording it over the Indigenous minority — a settler minority lording it over the Indigenous majority. And after the June 1967 War, with the transfer option no longer available, it wasn’t surprising, exactly as Morris suggested, that they would switch now to the South African Bantustan model. And the South African Bantustan model is basically to fragment the territory of the Indigenous population, have it surrounded by, crisscrossed with Jewish settlements, and effectively prevent any kind of meaningful sovereignty by the Indigenous population, on the one hand, and allow for the effective annexation of the territory worth keeping by the settler minority, in this case, the state of Israel. And basically what the settlements do is they allow for two things: the effective annexation of the territory worth keeping by Israel, on the one hand, and the prevention of any kind of meaningful sovereignty by the Indigenous population, on the other hand. It’s no accident, for example, that the settlements are built precisely in those areas of the West Bank which allow for the Israeli confiscation of Palestinian water resources. If you want a map —

AMY GOODMAN: We have just a minute.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yeah. If you want a map of the settlements, all you need is a hydraulic map of the West Bank, because the settlements are built in order to allow for the annexation. So I think that’s basically the picture. The picture is the settlements allow for the annexation of the territory, which is the maximum option the Israelis can hope for in the absence of the transfer option.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Pappé, I want to ask, your views in Israel — and then ask Norm Finkelstein, in this last minute that we have — how are they received — you’re a professor at Haifa University — as you talk about the issue of ethnic cleansing of 1967, the war not being about the Arab countries wanting to destroy Israel?

ILAN PAPPÉ: Well, I think that, basically, in the last 12 months or so, there is less tolerance than they used to be, let’s say, in the middle of the 1990s. And I’m quite isolated, and I have problems with promotion and publication and so on. This is the negative side of the story. And if I may make public appearances on TV or radio, then, of course, I get also hate calls and hate speech and hate letters.

The positive side of the story is that I’m still very popular among the students, who are more open-minded than my colleagues. And this leaves me optimistic about the future. I think, among the younger generation, there’s a willingness to hear a different narrative, a different version of history from the one they used to, because what they see on the ground, and the realities they see around them, validates, legitimizes, in their eyes, claims of a different story from the one they knew about 1948. But I don’t want to paint a picture which shows a massive movement behind me. But I’m just saying that if there is a chance to convince Israelis that they have to face boldly the past and the unpleasant chapters in the past in which they played the role of the victimizer, and, in a way, also the criminal or the villain, it is with the younger generation, and not with my colleagues or the academic milieu.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Professor Pappé and Professor Norman Finkelstein, I want to thank you very much for joining us, from Haifa and from Chicago. That does it for the show. You can get contact information at mail@democracynow.org. Democracynow.org is our website. Democracy Now! is produced by Kris Abrams, Miranda Kennedy and Lizzy Ratner. Anthony Sloan is our engineer and music maestro. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for listening.

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