woensdag 22 augustus 2007

Benjamin Pogrund en Bassem Eid over Israel en een één-staten oplossing

Van de Zuidafrikaanse pro-Israël web log "It's almost Supernatural", hier een verslag van een recente discussie tussen voormalig anti-Apartheid activist Benjamin Pogrund en Palestijns mensenrechtenactivist Bassem Eid.


August 20, 2007

The Bosses of the Solution

I've just got back from a week in Israel and have lots to report on, but before I get to that here's my feedback from the Benjamin Pogrund/Bassem Eid talk at Limmud in Johannesburg 2 weeks ago.

It's not everyday you get to hear a real Palestinian and a South African-Israeli former anti-apartheid activist sharing the stage, discussing the fool's paradise that is the single state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Their co-existence style tour is the type of engagement sorely absent in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which can potentially lead to increased trust and confidence building amongst Jews and Muslims.

Benjamin Pogrund has strong anti-apartheid activist credentials (he was put on trial, arrested, had his passport revoked and investigated as a 'threat to the state' by security police) and is the former deputy editor of the now defunct Rand Daily Mail. Bassem Eid is a Palestinian human rights activist who has lived in refugee camps for over 33 years. He has exposed both Israeli and Palestinian human rights violations for over a decade. He is the Executive Director of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group. The Palestinian lobby led by the Freedom of Expression Institute has caricatured Eid as "pro-Israeli". Read his profile at this page and decide for yourself if it's a fair abstraction.

The topic of their dialogue was "Is South Africa's unitary solution a model for Israel?"

Benjamin Pogrund explained that it has today become fashionable to offer the South African miracle as an exemplar for Israel. The thinking is simple – blacks were oppressed, Palestinians are oppressed and therefore we should use the same solution.

In South Africa, Pogrund said, there is amongst the ruling ANC class an uncritical support for the Palestinians and an unbridled hostility towards Israel. However, despite this vehemence, there are never calls from the ANC for a single state solution – and this is telling. Even the arch nemesis of Israel in South Africa, Minister of Intelligence Ronnie Kasrils, publicly reminds us that the ANC fully supports a two state settlement.

Various groups (and many journalists) however, continue to call for a single state solution. The option is at the very least superficially attractive and easy – it fulfils the ideal of a united world living in amenity and peace. But the real world isn't a one-size-fits-all stylish piece of head-ware - we just need to look at the examples of India-Pakistan-Bangladesh, the states of the former Soviet Union, the former Yugoslavia, Sudan, Ethiopia and plenty more.

Pogrund believes that the single state solution is not possible - the mistrust and rejection amongst Palestinians and Israelis is far greater than what we had here in South Africa. Pogrund used arguments from Adams and Moodley's "Seeking Mandela" to justify his position. Read our review of this book here.

Bassem Eid was up next and it was an absolute pleasure to hear him. I had previously heard him on the Doha debates where he argued that Palestinians suffering in the refugee camps are being abused by wealthy Muslims in the Diaspora who make tough demands yet do not pay the price of these demands.

Eid thinks that South Africa should use their influence over the Palestinians to promote a kind of reconciliation between the people. Trust and confidence needs to be built before we can talk about a state. Eid says that South Africa may be a wonderful and beautiful country but it is unfortunately not a model for the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

Eid makes no bones about his disdain for Hamas – "they are people born to die, not to survive." He says that we should allow Hamas to speak for themselves and turned our attention towards a Hamas Sheik who recently threatened the Christians of Gaza that they will be considered enemies if they refuse to abide by the principles of Sharia.

His disdain for radical and religious Diaspora Muslim communities is equally strident. Many are trying to define a solution and impose it on the Palestinians. It's a "religious dictatorship" he quips. As if speaking directly to these radical communities Eid declares "Israelis and Palestinians are the owners of the conflict and they must remain the bosses of the solution."

It's an interesting notion and one I debated with many Israelis last week from the perspective of Diaspora Jewry's influence on the conflict. But more on this later.

Speaking of the internal Palestinian conflict Eid reminded us that we are today closer to a 3 state solution than to a 2 state solution. Zionists are often (sometimes correctly) accused of celebrating the disunity of the Palestinians. These views are short sighted. We need a united Palestinian leadership with which we can negotiate. Their division is our tragedy.

Eid spoke at length about the tragedy of the occupation. His opinion is significant because he apportions blame to both the Israelis and the Palestinians. The Israelis are at fault as occupiers. The Palestinians are at fault for failing to grab the opportunities that have presented themselves, most recently with the disengagement from Gaza. Instead of starting to build, Hamas (and he makes it clear that he blames Hamas) has instead fired rockets and destroyed. Eid wants the Palestinians to learn to accept opportunities.

Of course I did not agree with everything the speakers said (Eid thought that Arafat had the courage to take difficult decisions) but that's not important. The point is that we had a Palestinian and a Jew speaking side-by-side in favour of the only solution that can save both Israelis and Palestinians.

Wondering through the streets of Jerusalem last week I noticed how the majority of Israelis don't seem to even contemplate the possibility of a single state solution. The Jews will never relinquish what they have accomplished in Israel. They…we… are going nowhere. "Ain lanu Eretz Acheret" or "We have no other land" read the dashboard sticker of one of my taxi drivers whose parents and siblings had perished in the Holocaust.

Israel is a Jewish state. Its economy and institutions are totally dominated by Jews. Should the Palestinians relinquish their aspirations of nationhood to live in a state completely controlled by the people they have come to see as their enemy?

It simply can't happen. At least, that is what the majority of Israelis think.

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