A Debate between Ilan Pappé and Uri Avnery

from Gush-Shalom/Peacework

Ilan Pappé is an Israeli historian who taught at Haifa University. He is the author, most recently, of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Uri Avnery is an Israeli activist, journalist, and former Knesset member who founded Gush Shalom (Peace Bloc), one of Israel’s most significant anti-occupation organizations. On May 8, the two men held a public debate in Tel Aviv, sponsored by Gush Shalom, entitled “Two States or One State.” Excerpts from each of their opening statements are presented here, translated by Adam Keller and edited by Peacework, monthly magazine of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Cambridge, Mass. The full transcript of the debate is online at the Gush Shalom wesbite.

ILAN PAPPÉ: One State—We Must Give it a Chance

The tragedy of the indigenous Palestinian population was not only their being the victims of a colonial movement — but specifically being the victims of a colonial movement which sought to create a democratic movement. In the face of the clear Palestinian demographic majority, eleven leaders of Zionism did not hesitate in March 1948 to resolve upon ethnic cleansing as the best means to create a Jewish, ethnically pure democracy over most of Palestine’s territory. Within a year, the ethnic cleansing was carried out.

This crime was retroactively approved by the international community and remained a legitimized means in the hands of the Jewish state, then as well as now, to ensure the existence of a Jewish democracy on the country’s soil. The achievement and maintenance of a demographic majority became a sacred goal.

That is how such formulas were born as “Territory in exchange for Peace” and “Two States for Two Peoples.” These were not recipes for peace or justice to the two peoples, but attempts to limit an expansionist movement which sought to gain more territory without the Arab population living on it.

The insatiable Zionist hunger

There are those who believe that it is possible to satisfy this hunger to settle and create settlements, to dispossess and rule and stay democratic via the creation of a Palestinian state in twenty percent of the territory. The Zionist peace camp sought to increase the number of supporters of the idea of limitation, and assimilate the settlement facts created on the ground, and therefore it knowingly shrunk the territory of the state intended for the Palestinians. As the territory shrunk, the connection increasingly disappeared between the Two State formula and the idea of a fair, full, and viable solution to the conflict. Under the idea of the Two States as a diplomatic international formula, it was generally agreed that the Zionist hunger for as much as half of the West Bank might be satisfied. Later, the Two State formula led inevitably to international support for the imprisoning of the entire Gaza Strip in a modern concentration camp.

Look at it from whatever angle you choose. If justice be the basis for dividing the country, there can be no formula more cynical than the Two State formula: to the occupier and dispossessor, eighty percent; to the occupied, twenty percent in the best and probably utopian case, and more likely a ten percent…divided and scattered. Moreover: the return of the refugees—where will it be, where will it be implemented? In the name of justice, the refugees have a right to decide if they should return, and they have the right to participate in defining the future of the entire country, not just of twenty percent.

We can live together

As Jewish and Palestinian citizens in this state we have relations of blood, of common fate and common disaster which cannot be “partitioned.” Such a division is neither moral nor practical. Let us propose an alternative dialogue including the old and new settlers — even those who arrived yesterday — the expelled of all generations and the people who were left behind. Let us ask which political structure suits us — one which would involve and include the principles of justice, reconciliation, and coexistence. In Bil’in we have struggled shoulder to shoulder against the occupation — we can also live together.

The appeal of Palestinian civil society for imposing boycotts and sanctions should be heeded. The sincerity should be recognized of the moral pressure exerted by associations of journalists, academics, and physicians over the world who seek to sever contacts with official Israel and its representatives, as long as the crimes continue. Let us give this nonviolent way a chance to end the occupation. From here and from there, we will call together for the castigation of a government and a state which continues to perpetrate such crimes; Jews and non-Jews, we will be immune from the stain of anti-Semitism, unjustly cast at us. From every possible point of view — Socialist, Liberal, Jewish or Buddhist — a decent person cannot but call for the boycotting of a regime and a government which for forty years already has mistreated a civilian population only because it is Arab. And decent Jewish persons must let their voices resound more loudly than those of others calling for action and effort.

Whether or not the South African experience is the source and inspiration for the One State solution and for a justified and moral international boycott, it is unacceptable that this way and this vision remain without a thorough examination, only due to a continued adherence to a failing formula which has long since become a recipe for disaster.

URI AVNERY: Two States—There is No Time for Despair

A person can despair and say: There’s nothing to be done. Everything is lost. We have passed the “point of no return.”

I say: There is no reason at all for despair. Nothing is lost. Nothing in life is “irreversible,” except life itself. There is no such thing as a “point of no return.”

There are three questions concerning the One State idea: Is it at all possible? If it is possible, is it good? Will it bring a just peace?

Is a One State solution possible?

Absolutely not. We want to change many things in this state, its historical narrative, its accepted definition as a “Jewish and democratic” state. We want to put an end to the occupation outside and the discrimination inside. We want to create a new basis for the relationship between the state and its Arab-Palestinian citizens. But it is impossible to ignore the basic ethos of the huge majority of the Jewish public who do not want to dismantle the state.

The majority of the Palestinian people, too, want a state of their own. Anyone who thinks otherwise is laboring under an illusion. There are Palestinians who talk about One State, but for most of those, it is just a code-word for the dismantling of the State of Israel. They, too, know that it is utopian.

Would a One State solution be a good thing?

My answer is an unequivocal no. Let’s examine this state, not as an imaginary creature, the epitome of perfection, but as it would be in reality.

In this state, the Israelis will be dominant. They have a complete superiority in practically all spheres — quality of life, military power, technological capabilities. The Israelis will see to it that the Palestinians will be the hewers of wood and the drawers of water for a long, long time.

It will be an occupation by other means. A disguised occupation. It will not end the conflict, but open another phase.

Could a One State solution bring a just peace?

Hardly. This state will be a battlefield. Each side will try to take over as much land as possible and bring in as many persons as possible. The Jews will fight by all means to prevent the Arabs from becoming the majority and coming to power. In practice, this will be an apartheid state. If the Arabs become the majority and try to assume power, there will be a struggle that may become a civil war. A new edition of 1948.

The Two State solution is the only practical solution in the realm of reality. In the most important sphere, the collective consciousness, it is winning all out. There are those who despair because the peace forces have not succeeded in putting an end to the occupation. We have remained a small minority. The government and the media ignore us. True. But we, too, bear a part of the responsibility for that. We have not been thinking enough, we have not identified the reasons for the failures. When was the last time a thorough discussion of the strategies and tactics of the fight for peace took place?

However, it is not enough to point out that the One State solution cannot be realized. This “solution” is also very dangerous.

It diverts the efforts into a mistaken direction. We see this already happening. It both results from despair and produces despair. It causes people to desert the battlefield in Israel and creates the illusion that the real battlefield is abroad. That is escapism.

It divides the peace camp and deepens the gap between it and the public. It strengthens the Right, because it frightens the sane public and causes it to lose sight of a sensible solution.

It pulls the rug from under the feet of those who fight against the occupation. If the whole country between the sea and the Jordan is to become one state anyhow, then the settlers can put their settlements anywhere they like.

Resisting distraction and despair

The situation is terrible (as always), but we are progressing nevertheless.

True, on the surface the situation is depressing and shocking: the settlements are getting bigger, the wall is getting longer, the occupation is causing untold injustices every day.

Perhaps it is the advantage of age: today, at the age of 83, I am able to look at things in the perspective of a much longer time span.

Because under the surface, things are moving in the opposite direction. All the polls prove that the decisive majority of the Israeli public is resigned to the existence of the Palestinian people and is resigned to the necessity of a Palestinian state. The government recognized the PLO yesterday and will recognize Hamas tomorrow. The majority has more or less accepted that Jerusalem must become the capital of the two states. In ever widening circles, there is the beginning of a recognition of the narrative of the other nation.

True, 120 years of conflict have created in our people a huge accumulation of hate, prejudice, suppressed guilt feelings, stereotypes, fear (most importantly, fear) and absolute mistrust of the Arabs. These we must fight, to convince the public that peace is worthwhile and good for the future of Israel. Together with a change in the international situation and a partnership with the Palestinian people, our chances of achieving peace are good.

I, anyhow, have decided to stay alive until this happens.


These statements first appeared in the June issue of Peacework, Cambridge, MA:

Ilan Pappé


The complete transcript is on-line at the Gush Shalom website:

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Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, July 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution