The following is Ilan Pappe’s response to Uri Avnery’s essay “Bed of Sodom,” published by Hagada Hasmalit on 22 April 2007:
Uri Avnery accuses the supporters of the one-state solution of forcefully imposing the facts onto the “Bed of Sodom”. He seems to regard these people at best as daydreamers who do not understand the political reality around them and are stuck in a perpetual state of wishful thinking. We are all veteran comrades in the Israeli Left and therefore it is quite possible that in our moments of despair we fall into the trap of hallucinating and even fantasizing while ignoring the unpleasant reality around us.
And therefore the metaphor of the Bed of Sodom may even be fitting for lashing out at those who are inspired by the South African model in their search for a solution in Palestine. But in this case it is a small cot of Sodom compared to the king-size bed onto which Gush Shalom and other similar members of the Zionist Left insist on squeezing their two-state solution. The South African model is young — in fact hardly a year has passed since it was seriously considered — while the formula of two states is sixty years old: an abortive and dangerous illusion that enabled Israel to continue its occupation without facing any significant criticism from the international community.
The South African model is good subject matter for a comparative study — not as an object for a hollow emulation. Certain chapters in the history of the colonization in South Africa and the Zionization of Palestine are indeed nearly identical. The ruling methodology of the white settlers in South Africa resembles very closely that applied by the Zionist movement and later Israel against the indigenous population of Palestine since the end of the 19th century. Ever since 1948, the official Israeli policy against some of the Palestinians is more lenient than that of the Apartheid regime; against other Palestinians it is much worse.
But above all the South African model inspires those concerned with the Palestine cause in two crucial directions: by introducing the one democratic state, it offers a new orientation for a future solution instead of the two-state formula that failed, and it invigorates new thinking of how the Israeli occupation can be defeated — through boycott, divestment, and sanctions (the BDS option).
The facts on the ground are crystal clear: the two-state solution has dismally failed and we have no spare time to waste in futile anticipation of another illusory round of diplomatic efforts that would lead to nowhere. As Avnery admits, the Israeli peace camp has so far failed to persuade the Israeli Jewish society to try the road of peace. A sober and critical assessment of this camp’s size and force leads to the inevitable conclusion that it has no chance whatsoever against the prevailing trends in the Israeli Jewish society. It is doubtful whether it will even keep its very minimal presence on the ground, and there is a great concern that it will disappear all together.
Avnery ignores these facts and alleges that the one-state solution is a dangerous panacea to offer to the critically ill patient. All right, so let us prescribe it gradually. But for God’s sake let us take the patient off of the very dangerous medicine we have been forcing down his throat the last sixty years and which is about to kill him.
For the sake of peace, it is important to expand our research on the South African model and other historical case studies. Because of our failure we should study carefully any other successful struggle against oppression. All these historical case studies show that the struggles from within and from without reinforced each other and were not mutually exclusive. Even when the sanctions were imposed on South Africa, the ANC continued its struggle and white South Africans did not cease from their attempt to convince their compatriots to give up the Apartheid regime. But there was not one single voice that echoes the article of Avnery, which claimed that a strategy of pressure from the outside is wrong because it weakens the chances of change from within. Especially when the failure of the inside struggle is so conspicuous and obvious. Even when the De Klerk government negotiated with the ANC the sanctions regime still continued.
It is also very difficult to understand why Avnery underrates the importance of world public opinion. Without the support this world public opinion gave to the Zionist movement, the Nakba (catastrophe) would not have occurred. Had the international community rejected the idea of partition, a unitary state would have replaced Mandatory Palestine, as indeed was the wish of many members of the UN. However, these members succumbed to a violent pressure by the US and the Zionist lobby and retracted their earlier support for such a solution. And today, if the international community alters its position once more and revises its attitude towards Israel, the chances for ending the occupation would increase enormously and by that maybe also help to avert the colossal bloodshed that would engulf not only the Palestinians but also the Jews themselves.
The call for a one-state solution, and the demand for boycott, divestment and sanctions, has to be read as a reaction against the failure of the previous strategy — a strategy upheld by the political classes but never fully endorsed by the people themselves. And anyone who rejects the new thinking out of hand and in such a categorical manner, may be less bothered by what is wrong with this new option and far more troubled by his own place in history. It is indeed difficult to admit personal as well as collective failure; but for the sake of peace it is sometimes necessary to put aside one’s ego. I am inclined to think that way when I read the false narrative Avnery concocted about the Israeli peace movement’s ‘achievements’ so far. He announces that ‘the recognition of the existence of the Palestinian people has become general, and so has the readiness of most Israelis to accept the idea of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as the capital of both states’. This is a clear case of amputating both the leg and the hand of the patient to fit him to the Bed of Sodom. And even more far-fetched is the declaration that ‘We have compelled our government to recognize the PLO, and we shall compel them to recognize Hamas’ — now that the rest of patient’s limbs have been dispensed with (sorry for the gruesome metaphor but I am forced into it by Avnery’s choice). These assertions have very little in common with the position of the Jewish public in Israel towards peace from 1948 until today. But facts can sometime confuse the issue.
But in order to stifle any debate on the one-state solution or the BDS option, Avnery draws from his magic hat the winning card: ‘but beneath the surface, in the depths of national consciousness, we are succeeding’. Let us thus provide the Palestinians with metal detectors and X-ray equipment — they may discover not only the tunnel, but also the light at its end. The truth is that what lies in the deepest layers of the Israeli national consciousness is far worse from what appears on the surface. And let us hope that this remains there forever and does not bubble to the surface. These are deposits of dark and primitive racism that if allowed to flow over will drown us all in a sea of hatred and bigotry.
Avnery is right when he asserts that ‘there is no doubt that 99.99 percent of Jewish Israelis want the State of Israel to exist as a state with a robust Jewish majority, whatever its borders’. A successful boycott campaign will not change this position in a day, but will send a clear message to this public that these positions are racist and unacceptable in the 21st century. Without the cultural and economical oxygen lines the West provides to Israel, it would be difficult for the silent majority there to continue and believe that it is possible both to be a racist and a legitimate state in the eyes of the world. They would have to choose, and hopefully like De Klerk they will make the right decision.
Avnery is also convinced that Adam Keller debunked most successfully the argument for a boycott by pointing out that the Palestinians in the occupied territories did not give in to boycott. This is indeed a fine comparison: a political prisoner lies nailed to the ground and dares to resist; as a punishment he is denied even the meager food he received hitherto. His situation is compared to a person who occupied illegally this prisoner’s house and who for the first time is facing the possibility of being brought to justice for his crimes. Who has more to lose? When is the threat mere cruelty and when is it a justified means to rectify a past evil?
The boycott will not happen, states Avnery. He should talk with the veterans of the anti-Apartheid movement in Europe. Twenty years passed before they convinced the international community to take action. And they were told, when they began their long journey, that it will not work — that too many strategic and economic interests are involved and invested in South Africa.
Moreover, adds Avnery, in places such as Germany the idea of boycotting the victims of the Nazis would be rejected out of hand. Quite to the contrary. The action that already has been taken in this direction in Europe has ended the long period of Zionist manipulation of the Holocaust memory. Israel can no longer justify its crimes against the Palestinians in the name of the Holocaust. More and more people in Europe realize that that the criminal policies of Israel abuse the Holocaust memory and this is why so many Jews are members in the movement for boycott. This is also why the Israeli attempt to cast the accusation of anti-Semitism against the supporters of the boycott has met with contempt and resilience. The members of the new movement know that their motives are humanist and their impulses are democratic. For many of them their actions are triggered not only by universal values but also by their respect for the Judeo-Christian heritage of history. It would have been best for Avnery to use his immense popularity in Germany to demand from the society there to recognize their share not only in the Holocaust but also in the Palestinian catastrophe and that in the name of that recognition to ask them to end their shameful silence in the face of the Israeli atrocities in the occupied territories.
Towards the end of his article, Avnery sketches the features of the one-state solution out of the present reality. And thus because he does not include the return of the refugees or a change in the regime as components of the solution he describes today’s dismal reality as tomorrow vision. This is indeed an unworthy reality to fight for and nobody I know is struggling for it. But the vision of a one-state solution has to be the exact opposite of the present Apartheid state of Israel as was the post-Apartheid state in South Africa; and this is why this historical case study is so illuminating for us.
We need to wake up. The day Ariel Sharon and George W. Bush declared their loyal support for the two-state solution, this formula became a cynical means by which Israel can maintain its discriminatory regime inside the 1967 borders, its occupation in the West Bank and the ghettoization of the Gaza Strip. Anyone who blocks a debate over alternative political models allows the discourse of two states to shield the criminal Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories.
Moreover, not only are there no stones left in the occupied territories with which to build a state after Israel ruined the infrastructure there in the last six years, a reasonable partition is not offering the Palestinian a mere 20 percent of their homeland. The basis should be at least half of the homeland, on the basis of the 181 partition route, or a similar idea. Here is another useful avenue to explore, instead of embroiling forever inside the Sodom and Gomorrah stew that the two-state solution has produced so far on the ground.
And finally, there will be no solution to this conflict with a settlement of the Palestinian refugee problem. These refugees cannot return to their homeland for the same reason that their brothers and sisters are being expelled from greater Jerusalem and alongside the wall and their relatives are discriminated against in Israel. They cannot return for the same reason that every Palestinian is under the potential danger of occupation and expulsion as long as the Zionist project has not been completed in the eyes of its captains.
They are entitled to opt for return because it is their full human and political right. They can return because the international community had already promised them that they could. We as the Jews should want them to return because otherwise we will continue to live in a state where the value of ethnic superiority and supremacy overrides any other human and civil value. And we cannot promise ourselves, as well as the refugees, such a fair and just solution within the framework of the two-state formula.
Ilan Pappe is senior lecturer in the University of Haifa Department of political Science and Chair of the Emil Touma Institute for Palestinian Studies in Haifa. His books include, among others, The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (London and New York 1992), The Israel/Palestine Question (London and New York 1999), A History of Modern Palestine (Cambridge 2003), The Modern Middle East (London and New York 2005) and his latest, Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006).