Palestine and `radical solutions'

Published : Feb 27, 2004 00:00 IST

Interview with Michael Warschawski.

Michael Warschawski

Also, the WSF in his judgment, has been able to develop a new form of international involvement in crisis sites and situations, like the occupied territories of Palestine. Warschawski was in Mumbai in mid-January as a participant in the WSF session. In an interview he gave Sukumar Muralidharan, he spoke about the current mood in Israel, highlighting its many explosive features. Excerpts:

There was a recent opinion poll finding from Europe that 59 per cent of those surveyed think that Israel is the greatest threat to world peace. How has that played in Israel?

It had a negative impact. There was a whole campaign led by the Prime Minister, the government and the media, claiming that the opinion poll was a reflection of strong anti-Semitism in Europe. And this was the only kind of explanation. No one in the government or the political establishment was willing to challenge this view.

So Israel sees itself as the victim in the situation - there is no appreciation that the rights of another people are being trampled upon and there is no sense of conscience about that.

Exactly, to be the victim is our business, our identity, our philosophy. We are always the victim. We can kill 21 persons on the mosque esplanade in Jerusalem in 1990 and not a single political leader, indeed not a single Israeli, even wondered at the attack, because those who were shot intended to throw stones, which may have killed someone. So we were the victims and they deserved to die.

Is there a growing tendency in the public discourse to use a dehumanised metaphor for dealing with the Palestinian people? We had a former Cabinet Minister, Rehavam Ze'evi, who used to speak of Palestinians as insects that deserved to be exterminated. Now we have his successor, Benny Elon, talking without compunction about "carpet-bombing" Palestinian territories. What is the reaction of liberal political opinion to this kind of talk?

In the past, this kind of rhetoric was in the minority and when it was expressed by government leaders, you would have strong protests from Israeli public opinion and part of the leadership. Since July 2000, there has been a dramatic shift, which was a result of the big lie of (then Prime Minister) Ehud Barak, that he had made a very generous offer of settlement with the Palestinians which was rejected, showing that the Arabs never intended to have any kind of compromise and always believed in the annihilation of Israel. So the result was that Israelis now believe they are in a war of survival in which everything is allowed.

Ehud Barak is a former General. Was his July 2000 spectacle a case of the military setting the political agenda? Ever since the so-called peace process began, Israel has had several Prime Ministers but very few Chiefs of Staff of the defence forces. So there has been a great deal of continuity in the leadership of the military establishment, but little coherence in the political leadership.

Israeli Generals have always been in politics, but the Army still followed the instructions of the government. During the past 10 years, there has been a shift, not only because (Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon was a General and Barak was a former Chief of Staff. The Army has now made itself autonomous of politics and in many senses leads the political process, at least concerning the occupied territories. Today the Chief of Staff and the government are in disagreement about how to continue. But in fact, this is a struggle for power between the current Chief of Staff and his predecessor, who is now the Defence Minister.

The current Chief of Staff, Moshe Ya'alon, had mentioned in an interview some year and a half back that the Palestinian intifada (uprising) - which he likened to a cancer - had to be defeated and could be defeated by relatively mild doses of chemotherapy. He did mention though that he was keeping the option of using more "radical measures" open. What is the thinking about these "radical measures" in Israeli public opinion?

He has changed his position completely since. The Chief of Staff today is one of the figures asking the government to take political steps to solve the problem, whereas he was the one who was arguing even before the failure of the peace negotiations in 2000 that only a military solution would work and that the Palestinian Authority should be destroyed. Now he has turned completely because he is aware of the inability of his Army to gain anything. The Army can destroy but cannot achieve anything by itself. About more "radical measures", the code used in Israel today is "transfer", which is the expulsion of Palestinians or ethnic cleansing. In my opinion it is not on the agenda, but it is openly discussed and it is defended by a substantial number of the parties in the government. People don't revolt against that option, but they argue the cases both for and against.

There is an illustrative case of the historian Benny Morris who had in an early phase of his work demolished the Zionist myth that Israel was settled in peace by hard work and toil, that there had been no large-scale uprooting and expulsion of Palestinians in the entire process. He is now believed to hold the view that the job was an imperfect job - that Israel should have actually completed the job of ethnic cleansing and not left behind a residual Palestinian population that could create trouble for it in future years.

To be fair to Benny Morris, he never expressed an opinion about ethnic cleansing in 1948. He stated the facts. And that is what he is claiming today: "I never said that I was against it, but it happened. I was against the denial." Now this is part of the shift today, not of Benny Morris, but of public opinion. He feels free to express publicly that the big mistake of (Israel's first Prime Minister David) Ben Gurion was not to do ethnic cleansing, but not to finish the job. In a recent interview, he has said that in order to move forward, you have to do bad things. But then you do these to the end, and not halfway. Part of the shift is that the latent Israeli discourse of racism is now public. And while you could not talk openly about transfer or say like Benny Morris that you should put Palestinians in cages - because it was not politically correct - today everything is allowed.

There is talk of another kind of crisis facing Israel today - apart from the economic crisis which by all accounts is very profound - and this is the demographic crisis. There are alarmed prognoses that the land between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean will soon lose its Jewish majority. Obviously, Sharon's plan is to deal with this by bringing in one million Jewish immigrants from elsewhere. Is that working?

We always used to talk about a demographic crisis but now we do that even more. It is because as long as there was a prospect or an illusion of partition, we could say that we would soon have our Jewish state back. But now that the government has closed the option of a partition, the demographic issue is again in focus. It has been raised by the Left to attack Sharon, telling him that because of his policies, we will soon have one state for two people, with Jews soon to be reduced to a minority. Sharon's answer is: a Palestinian state! It is no accident that Sharon is the most stubborn in speaking about a Palestinian state. But it is a Palestinian state that will not be a state. It will be isolated pockets where Jewish colonisation cannot continue unless you expel the Palestinians. The first option is to expel them, but because Sharon is a rational person, he knows that it will require a very special conjuncture to be able to expel three million Palestinians or some part of them. So the answer is to say, here are the Palestinians and where they are will be the Palestinian state. All those who are outside these areas of concentration will be moved inside. We will build a wall and then we will have a Jewish state and Palestinian Bantustans.

So the so-called security wall you see as the first step towards partition and the fairly large-scale transfer of Palestinians into these Bantustans?

The wall has been integrated into this conception. Again, the wall was the idea of the Left and Sharon was against it. But now he has been pushed. The wall will cut off all the areas where colonisation cannot continue because of dense Palestinian populations. These will be the so-called Palestinian state and the rest would be Israel.

What about the process of immigration? Is that process still going on or has there been some slowing down because of the unsettled situation?

You know, I would be cautious about that issue because I was laughing about immigration and then we had one and a half million Russians coming between 1989 and today. Sharon is counting on two countries where he will not have a million immigrants or even half a million, but maybe a hundred thousand if there is a serious crisis: one is Argentina because of its economic problems and the other is France because of what Sharon calls its growing anti-Semitism.

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