Here’s the background of this debate: Sari Nusseibeh gave a press conference on 22 July in West Jerusalem, to an audience composed almost entirely of journalists who could most accurately be described as pro-Israeli. Some are more extreme, others are more objective. Some are out-and-out raving ideologues, who want to hear only what will reinforce their own opinions. Most of them have rarely if ever set foot in any Palestinian area — either in the West Bank or East Jerusalem, or even in Arab-majority areas within Israel proper.
Nusseibeh — a former Palestinian Authority representative in Jerusalem, and now president of Al-Quds University which used to be in Jerusalem but which is now mainly on the other side of The Wall in Abu Dis — tailored his remarks to that audience. And, a lot of the subtlety was missed.
What I found most interesting was something he mentioned almost as an aside, in passing. He said he urged British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in a meeting with a few Jerusalem Palestinians to “think very seriously about stopping aid to the Palestinians … My suggestion is to stop this (the European aid)”, Nusseibeh said. “The money being donated is just being wasted”, he said: “It is just sustaining the occupation”.
Nusseibeh went on to explain that in his view “The Israelis are happy because they do not have to pay the cost of the occupation. The Europeans are happy because they feel they are doing their part by providing economic assistance … and the Palestinians are happy because we have jobs and we feel free.”
But, Nusseibeh argued, “Israel cannot have its cake and eat it, too … Israel cannot continue occupying us and having European Union funds and American dollars”.
At the very least, Nusseibeh said, the EU should now make continuation of its aid conditional on Israeli seriousness about negotiating peace terms to end the occupation.
In peace negotiations, the Palestinians can be counted on to be reasonable if they believe that Israel is serious, Nusseibeh said. Otherwise, Nusseibeh said, the possibility of a two-state solution is rapidly disappearing, and there will soon be no other option but to work for some kind of accommodation and reconciliation within one political space.
He added that the Palestinian enthusiasm for a national project in the present circumstances is simply no longer what it was ten, fifteen, or twenty years ago. Palestinians are now looking more at the South African model by which the Apartheid system was overthrown in the early 1990s, and are no longer so inspired by the model of the Algerian revolution in the early 1960s to win independence from France
One of those in the audience may have been a senior Haaretz writer — who was, some years back, the newspaper’s first correspondent in the United States. In mid-August, Haaretz published a full-length profile of Sari Nusseibeh by Eldar, after an in-depth interview. The title of the published profile, in the English-language edition of Haaretz, was ‘We are running out of time for a two-state solution‘.
It had the ususal touches of puffery and flattery, aimed at both pleasing the subject and at impressing the reader of his importance: Nusseibeh, Eldar wrote, was “highly respected”. That might be true in Israel, or in the wider Western world, but not necessarily so among Palestinians, many of whom disagree violently with his political positions (which are not always clearly expressed), particularly Nusseibeh’s apparent willingness to forego the “Right of Return”, in exchange apparently for East Jerusalem.
The interview was conducted in the American Colony Hotel — now classified as five-star, and under Swiss management — which used to be a meeting place between Palestinians and Israelis as well as internationals and journalists, but which is now too expensive for most Palestinians. It is also where Quartet Envoy Tony Blair maintains office space for some $1.3 million dollars a year, paid by the United Nations Development Program.
Then, Eldar quotes Nusseibeh as saying: ” ‘You cannot negotiate anything about final status if you don’t talk about Jerusalem. Final status consists primarily, I believe, of Jerusalem and refugees. If you want to postpone Jerusalem, you postpone refugees. Really, you are not dealing with the problem. You have to discuss these issues, and that is exactly where the trade-off has to be made’. Is Sari Nusseibeh, the secular Palestinian, the symbol of moderation, Ayalon’s guy [here Eldar is referring to Israel's former intelligence chief, with whom Nusseibeh signed an outline peace proposal, then asked for signatures from Israelis and Palestinians to endorse the initiative. It was a sort of competitor to the Geneva Initiative, though all involved said the two proposals were really complementary], burying the two-state solution? ‘I still favor a two-state solution and will continue to do so, but to the extent that you discover it’s not practical anymore or that it’s not going to happen, you start to think about what the alternatives are. I think that the feeling is there are two courses taking place that are opposed to one another. On one hand, there is what people are saying and thinking, on both sides. There is the sense that we are running out of time, that if we want a two-state solution, we need to implement it quickly’.”
The Haaretz profile went on the report that Nusseibeh said: “But on the other hand, if we are looking at what is happening on the ground, in Israel and the occupied territories, you see things happening in the opposite direction, as if they are not connected to reality. Thought is running in one direction, reality in the other …What is the driving force behind a two-state solution? The fact that it seems more acceptable to a majority of people on both sides and therefore more applicable. The primary motivation is to minimize human suffering. This is what we should all be looking at. If there will be a one-state solution, it will not come today or tomorrow. It’s a long, protracted thing, not the ideal solution. Unless, in an ideal world, people really want to be together, then it is the ideal solution. The best solution, the one that causes the least pain and that can actually be instrumental to a one-state solution, is to have peace now, and acceptance of one another on the basis of two states’. Is this an ultimatum? ‘That’s an ultimatum. Unless a major breakthrough happens by the end of this year, in my opinion we should start trying to strive for equality. Back in the 1980s, before the first intifada, I was saying there was schizophrenia in the body politic of the Palestinian people. It was like the head was going in one direction, which was the direction of seeking independence, national identity – but the body was slowly immersed in the Israeli system, and I said it can’t last because it looks like it will snap. Either the body will join the head so that there will be a civil disobedience campaign, or the head will have to join the body, so that there will be a civil rights campaign, to become part of the Israeli system. Fifty, 100, 200 years down the road there will be some kind of conclusion. Sometime in the future – however far away this future is – I believe we’ll be living at peace with one another, in some way or another. I am not sure how, whether in one state or two states, or in a confederation of states, but people finally will come to live at peace. In the meantime, we will simply cause pain to one another. It’s tragic. It is very tragic, because we know we can do it now. That today it is possible with some guts, leadership, vision, we can make it happen today, we can reach a peaceful solution today’.”
This profile of Sari Nusseibeh by Akiva Eldar can be read in full on Haaretz’s website here .
Now, Uri Avnery has weighed in on this debate — or, more specifically, on this discussion between Nusseibeh and various Israeli journalists. In his weekly column, sent around by email and published today, Avnery argues that even a discussion of a possible eventual future One-State solution just gives an excuse — as if one were needed — to continue the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.
Avnery writes, of Akiva Eldar’s interview of Sari Nusseibeh: “Nusseibeh knows the Israelis well. He knows that the demographic obsession drives them mad. The demographic demon pursues them in their dreams. The frantic discussion of this subject dominates the Israeli discourse. He believes, therefore, that this threat will compel the Israelis to hurry and agree to the Two-State Solution. That is the main objective of the interview.
“WITH ALL due respect and friendship for Nusseibeh, I believe that this tactic of his is unwise. Very unwise.
“In his eyes, and in the eyes of some intellectuals on both sides, there are only two possibilities: the ‘Two-State Solution’ or the ‘One-State Solution’. A Palestinian state alongside Israel or a bi-national State, where equality between all the citizens, Jews and Arabs, is assured.
“That is a dangerous misconception.
“The ‘One-State Solution’ is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. The One-State idea is not a solution, but an anti-solution. It is a recipe for an ongoing bloody conflict. Not a dream, but a nightmare.
“There is no chance at all that the Jewish public will agree, in this generation or the next, to live as a minority in a state dominated by an Arab majority. 99.99% of the Jewish population will fight against this tooth and nail. The demography will not stop haunting them, but on the contrary, it will push them to do things which are unthinkable today. Ethnic cleansing will become a practical agenda. Even moderate Israelis will be driven into the arms of the fascist right-wing. All means of oppression will become acceptable when the Jewish majority adopts the aim of causing the Arabs to leave the country before they have a chance of becoming the majority.
“True believers in the bi-national state idea will say: OK, let it be. We shall have one or two generations of bloodshed, of a state of civil war, but in the end we shall persuade or compel the Jews to accord the Palestinians citizenship and equality. But what normal people would take such a risk?
“The real choice is, therefore: the ‘Two-State Solution’ or the ‘Ethnic Cleansing Solution’.
“In the best case, the bi-national state is impractical. I assume that Nusseibeh, too, knows this. In his eyes, the threat is a tactical move. He goes even further and suggests carrying out the threat at once in Jerusalem.
“The Arab residents of East Jerusalem are not Israeli citizens and cannot take part in Knesset elections. However, they have the right to vote in municipal elections. Until now they have boycotted these elections, because participating would imply recognition of Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem.
“Nusseibeh raises the possibility of the Arab residents ending the boycott and putting up an election list of their own. They amount to roughly a third of the city’s population, and the Jewish majority is divided between the orthodox and the secular, so the Arabs would be able to decide who would be the next mayor. Nusseibeh does not reject the idea of running for the job himself. He believes that this would frighten the Jews out of their wits.
“THE REAL danger inherent in this tactic is not that it would convert people into accepting the bi-national state idea. The danger is far greater and much more immediate.
“The main danger is this: If the whole country is about to become a bi-national state anyway, there is no further reason to restrict Jewish settlement anywhere at all.
“Nusseibeh argues that time for the Two-State Solution is running out because of Jewish settlement activity in the West Bank, and especially in East Jerusalem. But it is precisely the One-State idea that opens the floodgates to unrestricted Jewish settlement. In theory, it also allows the Palestinians to adopt this option – but even mentioning this possibility reveals its absurdity.
“The real struggle today is about the settlements. It is being waged all over the country, for every settlement, every ‘outpost’, every by-pass road, every housing project. It is a titanic struggle that is being fought out everywhere, from the ‘Har Homa’ settlement in Jerusalem to the ‘Separation Wall’ (which is nothing but a means for enlarging the settlements, as even the Israeli Supreme Court now admits.)
“The Nusseibeh tactic pulls the rug out from under all those of us who fight against the land grab and settlements – from the courageous activists who are daily demonstrating and being injured in the struggle against the Wall, to our friends abroad, who address public opinion in their own countries.
“The ‘vision’ of the bi-national state belongs to the far future, but the immediate result of campaigning for it is to remove all obstacles to the settlement effort.
“THIS IS also the objective which Ehud Olmert, with his devious maneuvering, has in mind. He proclaims loudly that he is in favor of the Two-State Solution, but only a fool would take him seriously, considering what he is doing on the ground.
“Two weeks ago, his people leaked the peace plan which he is submitting to the Palestinian Authority. An innocent, even positive plan.
“Its main ingredients: Israel will return all the occupied territories to the Palestinian state, except 7% of the area, where the settlement blocs are located. In return, Israel will turn over to the Palestinians areas of Israel proper, equal to 5.5% of the West Bank. In addition, Israel will allow the Palestinians the use of a passage to be opened between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. That will make up for the difference between the areas of the land swap.
“So where is the sting? The devil, as the saying goes, is hiding in the small details. The accord would be a ‘shelf agreement’. It will be implemented in the future. When? Ah, well…
“The occupied territories in the West Bank will be returned to the Palestinians when the Palestinian Authority proves that it is able to control them. Who will decide? We, of course.
“The Israeli areas that are to be turned over to the Palestinians, in return for the areas which will be annexed to Israel, are located alongside the Gaza Strip. When will they be turned over? After the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip has been overthrown and the Palestinian Authority asserts itself there. The same applies to the Gaza-West Bank passage. When will that happen? As the ancient Romans said: “ad calendas graecas”, on the Greek Calends. (In the Roman calendar, the Calends were the first days of the month – the Greek calendar had no Calends.)
“The real sting became apparent when Olmert’s ‘confidants’ explained that immediately after the acceptance of the ‘shelf agreement’ by the Palestinians, Israel will start to accelerate the settlement activities, since – according to the agreement – the settlement blocs will in any case become part of Israel. Even the Americans could not object to that, after the Palestinians themselves have agreed to the annexation of these areas to Israel.
“Simply put: all these agreements are empty words, and only one thing is practical and immediate: the settlements will be ceaselessly expanded”…