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On Contact: Israeli-Palestinian conflict

On the show, Chris Hedges discusses the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Professor Ilan Pappe from the University of Exeter.

The Biden administration has turned its back on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, always more political theater than an honest effort by the United States to broker an equitable agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis. This means the brutal military occupation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem will continue, the 15-year siege in Gaza, which includes frequent Israeli bombardments that have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian noncombatants, will continue, the Palestinian diaspora will not be permitted to return, the Israeli seizure of Palestinian land and bulldozing of Palestinian homes will expand, the US Embassy, moved by Donald Trump to Jerusalem in violation of international law, will remain in the city, the United States will continue to provide a staggering $4 billion in military aid a year to Israel, part of the some $85 billion in US military aid provided to Israeli since its founding, the Jewish settlements on Palestinian land will expand and the apartheid Israeli state, now led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who has called on Israelis to be willing to sacrifice their lives to annex the occupied West Bank into Israel, will treat the Israeli Arabs living inside its borders as second- and third-class citizens. Israel, in short, will methodically roll forward with what the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem calls “a regime of Jewish supremacy,” a project, the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe writes, that has been the cornerstone of Israeli policy since the state was founded in 1948.

Professor Ilan Pappe teaches at the College of Social Sciences and International Studies at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, and is the director of the university’s European Center for Palestine Studies. He is the author of a dozen books, including ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine’, ‘The Modern Middle East’, ‘A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples’, ‘Britain and the Arab-Israeli Conflict’ and his latest, ‘The Biggest Prison on Earth: A History of the Occupied territories’.

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Chris Hedges: Welcome to On Contact.  Today, we discuss the Israel-Palestine Conflict with Professor Ilan Pappe.

Ilan Pappe: I think that while there are some hopes for a different kind of approach within the Democratic Party itself, I don’t think Joe Biden represent these new ideas.  I think he represents the old--the old idea.  And to be--Chris, to be honest, I must tell you, I mean, looking as an historian back on the American involvement in the story of Palestine since 1948 until today, it’s not a very impressive record.  It’s not a very positive record.  It’s quite negative in many ways.  So downsizing the American involvement in the future, maybe even getting rid of most of it in the future, I don’t see it as bad news for Palestine or the Middle East as a whole, I think we need to change the international dimension of that conflict or that story and I’m not sure that a continued dominant hegemonic American role in the so-called peace process is something that would end the suffering of the Palestinians and will bring justice and freedom.

CH: The Biden administration has turned its back on the Israel-Palestinian peace process, always more political theater than an honest effort by the United States to broker an equitable agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis.  This means the brutal military occupation in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem will continue, that the 15-year siege in Gaza will not be lifted, a siege which includes frequent Israeli bombardments that have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian non-combatants.  It means the Palestinian diaspora will not be permitted to return, the Israeli seizure of Palestinian land and bulldozing of Palestinian homes will expand, it means the US Embassy move by Donald Trump to Jerusalem in violation of inner law--international law will remain in the city.  The United States will continue to provide a staggering $4 billion in military aid a year to Israel, part of this some $85 billion in US military aid provided to Israel since its founding.  It means the Jerusalem settlements on Palestinian land will expand in the apartheid Israeli state, now led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who has called on Israelis to be willing to sacrifice their lives to annex the occupied West Bank into Israel, will treat the Israeli-Arabs living inside its borders as second and third class citizens.  Israel, in short, will methodically roll forward with what the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem calls a regime of Jewish supremacy, a project the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe writes that has been the cornerstone of Israeli policy since the state was founded in 1948.  Joining me to discuss the bankruptcy of the peace process and its consequences is Professor Ilan Pappe who teaches at the College of Social Sciences and International Studies at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom and is the director of the university’s European Center for Palestine Studies.  He is the author of a dozen books including, “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”, “The Modern Middle East”, “A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two People’s”, “Britain and the Arab-Israeli Conflict”, and his latest, “The Biggest Prison on Earth: A History of the Occupied Territories.”  So in this book, you make the argument based on the documents that you uncovered that both wings of the Israeli political system from the inception including labor and Shimon Peres and all these figures signed on for the project of this colonial settler control of the Palestinians and never had any serious intent on creating an equitable peace.  Can you talk a little bit about the inceptions or the origins of this project and its logical consequences?

IP: Yes.  First of all, thank you, Chris for having me in your show.  I think that what I’m trying to do in the book is really to challenge the narrative that sort of looks at the War of ‘67 as a turning point in Israel’s history and Israel becomes--has to become more extreme, more intransigent because the Palestinians and the Arab world are refusing to enter peace talks and they seem to miss one opportunity after the other to shake back Israel’s hand of peace.  I think what I’m trying to show in the book and other books is that, first of all, to understand Israeli policy before the War of ‘67 and in particular, the Israeli policy since the War of 1967 until today, but you have to understand that Zionism as a movement was a settler colonial movement.  And as such, it was motivated by a certain logic which is common to many settler colonial movements including those who arrived in North America or Australia, which so the indigenous native population is the main obstacle for building a new home or a new homeland in the case of Zionism.  And in fact, so much of the Israeli and before that designed this policy towards indigenous people of Palestine, the Palestinians, were motivated by this wish to remove this, if you want, demographic obstacle and, of course, by another desire to take as much of the land as possible.  Now, in 1948, Israel was able to take over 78% of historical Palestine and drive out by force almost 1 million Palestinians.  But the Zionist movement and the core strategic group that was leading the Zionist movement, and later the State of Israel, those people who take the decisions on strategic efforts, military affairs, diplomatic affairs, these people in 1948 felt that they have missed an opportunity, which by the way, objectively is true to take over by force the whole of historical Palestine and actually not just ethnically cleanse the people of what is today Israel, but also the people of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  But they didn’t do it for various reasons I go into them in my book, but I won’t go into them now.  So June ‘67, the war was first and foremost, an attempt to complete the incompletion if you want of ‘48 to take over the heart of what the Zionist movement, so is the heart of the Jewish nation.  It also saw it as a strategic asset.  So there was no way that the people at the heart of the establishment and most of them were, as you say, rightly were labor movement could see any future without the West Bank, at least the West Bank, some had doubts about the Gaza Strip, but without the West Bank as being part of Israel.  The problem was that the United Nation and even the United States, we’re talking the discourse of land for peace and later on the two-state solution, but this had no relevance to the strategy that was devised in ‘67 that had two elements.  One element was geographical element, the need to get over what the late Abba Eban used to call the Auschwitz borders of Israel.  I mean, he was very bombastic in hi--but that’s what they felt and the need to decide what to do with the people.  I mean, the land is easy, but what do you do with--at that time, it was a million and a half, now it’s almost 4 million Palestinians.  What do they do with them?  Well, everybody has been to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip knows exactly how Israel solved the problem of having the space and having in it people--undesirable people as far as the Jewish State is concerned.

CH: You had a very interesting point, which I didn’t--although I spent seven years in the Middle East and lived in Israel was not aware of you said that the planning for the occupation of the West Bank began, I think it was four years before the 1967 War.  That was fascinating.  But the other thing that I found fascinating was that the model for it was the military--the British military regime that had its own colonial settler project for what 30 years when it occupied Palestine, just talk about those two elements.

IP: Yes, definitely.  The one person who prevented the generals of 1948, who became politicians, and ministers, and leaders of the political system of Israel after 1948, the one person who prevented them to occupy by force, the West Bank, which they wanted very much to do before 1963 was David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel.  Although he was the architect of the ethnic cleansing of 1948, exactly because of that, he said, “You know, I got rid of 1 million Palestinians.  Why on earth should I incorporate another 1 million after such a great success in ‘48?”  So he really objected to any idea that Israel needs to occupy the West Bank and he rather advocated having good relationship with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.  But--what I call the “Great Israel Lobby” was pushing all the time for systematic preparation for the occupation of the West Bank.  Ben-Gurion was ousted from any meaningful place in Israeli politics in 1963.  And that paved the way for these ex-generals if you want, who became now ministers and leading politicians to begin to plan seriously the takeover.  And they understood and they were right at that that the volatile situation between Israel and Syria, the very strong connection between the progressive regimes in Syria and the progressive regimes in Egypt, and the very complicated situation of the young King Hussein, he was still a teenager almost, in Jordan, would create in the future constellation, would justify for Israel a forceful takeover of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  So that’s one element and I show in the book how this was planned.  The second element that you mentioned was indeed the question of, “How do we rule these people?”  And Israel already had a model actually, it imposed the mandatory colonialist regulation, emergency regulation, it already had been imposed on the Palestinian minority inside Israel until 1966.  In fact, in order to be able to impose these same regulations on the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, you had, even for logistic reasons, to decide that you already trust enough the Palestinian minority inside Israel and you absorb them for living under these rules.  What was so fascinating these rules for the Israelis is--was that you really have what some scholars today would call infra-humanity, you really have people with no basic human rights and civil rights at the mercy of the most junior military officer in their midst, which allows you a very strong control all over the population and it creates the carrot and stick kind of policy because you need to go to the officer that rules your village or rules your town and if you want to open a business, if you want to have a free access to your field, if you want to go and study, and if you want to be able to come back if you go and visit your family in Jordan, you need--you don’t need to convince anyone, but the military ruler and not the Governor General of the West Bank, but the military ruler in your little king--in their little kingdoms and they had absolute powers.  It was very clear for the Israeli strategists that such a system, they hoped, we can talk a bit later whether they totally succeeded in this, but they felt that if the--Britain, as a small island was able with these regulation to rule continents, why should they not be able to rule such a small part of the world with the same, if you want, the same brutality and I would call--would say were the same inhumanity.

CH: Great.  When we come back, we will continue our conversation about the bankruptcy of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process with Professor Ilan Pappe.  Welcome back to On Contact.  We continue our conversation about the bankruptcy of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process with Professor Ilan Pappe.  So two things, first, in the book, you write that the myth, or you implode the myth, I would argue, of Israel being attacked and you actually write that Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser did not want a war.  And that it was a kind of posturing that the Israelis took advantage of, and that just completely flies in the face of, I think, the popular understanding of the 1967 War.  Can you speak about that?

IP: Yes, definitely.  I would start by mentioning a famous interview that the Chief of Staff of Israeli army at the time, Yitzhak Rabin, gave to--I think it was Le Monde in February 1968 in which he said the following, he said, “I told the government that the number of troops Gamal Abdel Nasser have allowed to enter the Sinai Peninsula, the kind of military might that he amassed on the frontier with Israel is an indication that he only wants to do is a deterrent, that he is not preparing for a war.”  From a purely military point of view he said, “The, kind of, maneuvers and the kind of forces that the Egyptians have prepared was meant to pressure the world, especially the United States to get involved in a new effort to solve the Palestine question in a more justifiable and equitable purpose.”  So I have it from the horse’s mouth, if you want so to speak, but I had also access like many Israeli historians now can have access to the Israeli cabinet meetings before the war and it’s very clear that the Israeli intelligence and the military is quite convinced that there is a way out of it which is not military.  But who wants to miss such an opportunity if your dream is to create the greater Israel?  And I think that comes out quite clearly, there’s one anecdote which probably, kind of, eliminates this process, the one person, almost to the last minute who objected to this kind of if you want adventurism, was Abba Eban, who was at the time the Foreign Minister.  And at one point he asked all these general--ex-generals who are in the government, he said, “Your action is telling me that we will go war for the sake of prestige historical opportunities.”  And who would--you know, he was thinking about the Israeli soldiers and he said, “Who would tell the mothers of these soldiers that this is why their sons have died?”  And he will shut up, you can see even from the standard grounds that he was shut up by the other ministers and he slowly caved in and he voted eventually to go to war.  And of course they lied to the Americans to that part because they kept promising the United States that they would give United States two weeks to break the blockade and so on.  But they needed to deceive the Americans as well in order to keep the surprise open.  But definitely this was--I’m not totally absolving Nasser.  I think his brinkmanship helped the Israelis, there’s no doubt about it.  But he did several things in 1960 and David Ben-Gurion just didn’t want a war, was able to look at the in brinkmanship and said, “You know, we can get out of it.”  And they got out of it.  It’s very similar situation in ‘96.  Nobody wanted to get out in 1967 on the Israeli side.  And if it hadn’t happened in ‘67, it would have happened later on.  I mean, the Zionist movement, when it--after 67 was led by people who genuinely believe that this--the West Bank was the heart of the nation and that the nation would not exist without the heart of the nation.  So question was under what circumstances you can achieve it?  And Nasser helped them to create the circumstances which allowed them to implement their old dream about it.

CH: Well, this is the second point I wanted to ask you about from the book, Israel from the start has a very disingenuous relationship with the United States, its prime benefactor.  It of course attacks the liberty ship and you argue in the book that they were fully aware that this was an American ship, but of course it was monitoring the communications which--and I think you write in the book that they thought everybody on the ship would be killed but also the whole peace process from the start at the end, kind of, parallel or the 400 treaties that the United States government signed with Native Americans violating every single one.  But there was a very cynical understanding that this charade was necessary in order to keep the US bonded to Israeli interest.  Can you talk about that?

IP: Yes, definitely.  We should start actually with the CIA, and the National Security Councilor and the advisors around the President Johnson in 1967.  They had all the time access, you know, to raw information and they saw what was going on and they warned the president that Israel is very much eager to go to war and they want also, you know, from very egotistic, if you want, American point of view that this will complicate America’s relationship with its allies in the Arab world.  So it was not so much for the love of Palestine or even anti-Israeli, kind of, emotion, it was just really worried about what at the time--at the time was seen as American national security interests.  Now, after the war, you had a very active embassy in Tel Aviv that--and a lot of American journalists on the ground.  And they--so the facts on the ground that Israel establishes, which were totally denied in a correspondence between Israel and the United States, including the direct correspondence between Prime Minister Eshkol and President Johnson and, at one point, the President and his advisors--and I suppose that’s the time where you can start talking about APAC as well, the pro-Israeli lobby, this is the moment I think when we Americans sort of go for the policy of you don’t see that you don’t tell, you know, you don’t--you don’t talk about it, and then it doesn’t exist.  And you can see how gradually it happens.  It doesn’t happen in a day.  And it creates this charade, as you say, this charade, where everybody talks about a reality that does not exist, while it--the reality itself, you know, unfolds in front of their eyes.  And I think similar things happened later to Britain and France.  And one should say the British position in ‘67 was far more honest.  I don’t know if you remember, this is the time of George Brown, and also about Harold Wilson, because Harold Wilson was a Zionist to the core.  But George Brown was an honest diplomat and, you know, he really believed that Israel should withdraw from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights and the Sinai.  But he was ousted eventually.  And then came the Conservative Party in Britain with Douglas-Home as a Foreign Minister, another one who made the famous Harrogate speech in 1970 to I think--you had diplomats, again, not particularly pro-Palestinian or anti-Israelis, but just, sort of, with a modicum of honesty in them and they said, in the Western world, who said, “But you know, what the Israelis are doing, really defeats any chance for a two-state solution.”  Which everybody at the time thought was the just solution and they are actually incorporating the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in Israel, and imposing a very inhuman regime on the millions of Palestinians who live there.  But this was not the official line adopted either by Washington, later by London or Paris.

CH: I want to talk about where we are now because the Biden administration hasn’t even made any pretense really of jumpstarting the peace process.  The Trump administration engaged in this buffoonish effort to use Jared Kushner as a, kind of, proxy for BB Netanyahu.  I mean, as if that had, you know, was a viable alternative and--but speak about--and also the fact that Biden has not rolled back the movement of the embassy to Jerusalem.  It seems that the--in a way that, kind of, political theater and between the United States anyway in Israel has kind of ended.

IP: Yeah, I agree.  I think this one could say that there’s always the sense--I feel a bit of a de javu in a sense have the same disappointment.  People who care about Palestine and the Palestinian themselves felt after Barack Obama became the president.  There was a kind of a potential promise there for a different American policy.  And in the end of the day, if you look back at the Obama days, nothing fundamental has changed in American policy and dishonest brokery in the case of Palestine.  Now, Trump, of course, brought something new in style, in kind of dramatic actions on the ground.  But basically, he did not divert from the traditional American policy, which gives carte blanche to Israel to do everything.  He just dropped the condemnation of these policies.  I don’t think it matters that much.  I think Biden goes back to the old style where Israel unilateral actions are being accepted as such, but are not applauded, that are not condoned and sometimes they are even rebuked and criticized but without any meaningful, kind of, action behind these criticisms.  So I think that while there are some hopes for a different kind of approach within the Democratic Party itself, I don’t think Joe Biden represent these new ideas, I think he represents the old--the old idea.  And to be--Chris, to be honest, I must tell you, I mean, looking as an historian back on the American involvement in the story of Palestine, since 1948 until today, it’s not a very impressive record.  It’s not a very positive record.  It’s quite negative in many ways.  So downsizing the American involvement in the future, maybe even getting rid of most of it in the future, I don’t see it is bad news for Palestine or the Middle East as a whole.  I think we need to change the international dimension of that conflict or that story.  And I am not sure that a continued dominant hegemonic American role in the so-called peace process is something that would end the suffering of the Palestinians and will bring the justice and freedom.

CH: Right. That was Professor Ilan Pappe, author of, “The Biggest Prison on Earth: A History of the Occupied Territories.”

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