Inclusivity and Diversity: What Can We Learn from Israel and Palestine?
- This is a rush transcript and may not be in its final form. Anyone finding errors or confusing statements is invited to correct them here or raise them in the accompanying "Discuss" page or add updates in notes.
- Differences of opinion are welcomed on the associated "Discuss" page. Alternative perspectives written from a neutral point of view citing credible sources can be added in a "Discussion" or other section(s) at the end, as long as others are treated with respect. Notes linking to those or other comments can be added inline using the standard MediaWiki markup <ref>(this is a comment that would appear in a "Notes" section at the end)</ref>.
- This is a transcript of a presentation October 16, 2017, with Hanan Ashrawi at the Unity Temple on the Plaza, Kansas City, MO, organized by Park University, Parkville, Missouri. (The numbers in silver in square brackets give the time stamp in [hh:mm:ss] in an accompanying recording where that text can be found.)
- For a podcast of a portion of this presentation, see Jaws of Justice radio for October 30, 2017 on KKFI.org.
Hanan Ashrawi: This venue is indeed very appropriate and inspirational. I like the idea of Unity Temple, peace and harmony. These are very rare commodities actually and I'm very happy to be able to join you within this context and to celebrate diversity and inclusion. The topic I was given was, “Inclusivity and Diversity: What Can We Learn from Israel and Palestine?” There’s a lot to be learned.
First of all, I'm glad that it is a question mark at the end because it's open ended and it is an ongoing process and an ongoing issue. And today we meet at a very significant date. I'm sure you know — we’ve been repeating this — the numerology of 100, 70, 50, and at the end 0. One hundred years since the Balfour Declaration on November 2, 1917 in which Lord Balfour of Great Britain, of the Empire, issued a statement saying that Her Majesty's Government looks positively on the establishment of a national home for the Jews in Palestine provided that they do not negate or affect the civil and religious rights of the existing communities in Palestine. That was a colonial position par excellence, Number one. Quintessentially colonial because who was great Britain to give away our land to other people? And Number 2, how did they define the Palestinian question and the Palestinian people? Till now we are still suffering from that legacy, from that colonial legacy where we are communities, not people. We were actually in Palestine — the population in 1917 was about 6 or 7 percent Jewish, 27 percent Christian, the rest Muslim. And so they chose to give away this land in order to turn that into an exclusively Jewish state. It's not a question of religion, because we believe, in Palestine, which has always been diverse, pluralistic, tolerant, inclusive — it’s a question of deciding that the great majority, of the vast majority of the people in Palestine are communities. They are not a nation. They are not a people. They are communities. We don't have political and national rights. We have civil and religious rights. And thus began the framing and the negation of Palestine and the Palestinian people. And I will get later to the myths that have influenced decision making globally when it came to Palestine.
Seventy years ago also, the U.N. adopted Resolution 181 in which Palestine was partitioned. By that time and as a result of the Holocaust — which is of course a Western phenomenon, a European phenomenon, not a Palestinian one — the Jewish population in Palestine became 30 percent owning less than 7 percent of land. But the resolution gave them 56 percent of Palestine. And that resolution told Israel also that it can be accepted into the U.N. provided it agrees to the return of the Palestinian refugees. Until now Israel has not agreed to the return of the refugees. And again 50 years ago, we all know June 5th, 1967, Israel conquered the rest of Palestine, the remaining 22 percent. So now it was in control of all of Palestine.
And we have been living either in exile as refugees — dispossessed, uprooted, dispersed, and now we have over 6 million refugees — or were living in the rest of the 22 percent of the West Bank, including Jerusalem and Gaza. A nation in captivity. We call this the enslavement of the whole nation. With such significant numerology, you can understand how the pursuit of peace has been extremely difficult and I would certainly say it is not for the faint hearted. It's much more difficult than the pursuit of conflict or war or violence and it takes a lot of effort, dedication and courage, I might say. Take me, for example. I started when I was a young undergraduate in hot pants and now I'm a grandmother in pantsuits. And I think at this time that other people should take up the banner. I want to spend more time with my grandsons. But I had promised my two daughters that they will be able to live in peace. They will be able to live in freedom and dignity, their identity recognized and so on in Palestine because as my younger daughter Zainab said, she had lent me to the peace process so I can make peace and come home and spend more time with them. And I haven't done that yet. So I guess the message goes on. This is the legacy. I told my father once that his generation had failed and now it's our generation to succeed where they failed. And now I think my daughters should tell me that we failed and it's their turn to take over, except that the Israelis took away their IDs and so they cannot come and live with me in Palestine. They are now in exile.
Actually in 1990-1991, when we started the Madrid process we did embark on changing the course of history and we changed the whole discourse and logic from all or nothing, either or, to an inclusive approach and the principle of sharing and mutuality. Because from the beginning, we said all of Palestine is ours. Then we agreed to share. Then we agreed to accept 22 percent of. Palestine and to recognize Israel on 78 percent of historical Palestine, and nobody really talks about the enormity of the sacrifice. And nobody talks about the magnitude of the compromise to accept to give up 78 percent of historical Palestine and to build the state of Palestine on the remaining 22 percent, which is the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza.
But that wasn't the only problem. The problem is that we started with a negative. We started having to prove that we existed. We were and still are in many ways victims of a myth and the myth that ours was a land without a people for a people without a land. And they believed that. My husband says it's not really a myth. They knew that there were people in Palestine. It was wishful thinking. It was a plan to make our land people-less in many ways. And the myths and misconceptions continue to determine the way in which the issue is being treated. Those of you who remember the meetings in Washington and Madrid, it was always Israel and Palestinians. It wasn't even “The Palestinians.” It wasn't even “the Palestinian people.” The word “people” was always removed from the discussion. And of course we never dared say “Palestine” because you couldn't talk about Palestine. The only state, the only country, that had to be mentioned was Israel, and we were just a handful of Palestinians, so Israel making peace with Palestinians. I said we were tired of being adjectives all the time and we wanted to have a noun at one point. So when our very existence was denied and we were really slated for national obliteration as a people and we were told that we didn't exist and we were in many ways cast outside the course of history, we had to become invisible. As Ben Gurion said, the old will die off and the young will forget. But this hasn't happened at all and generation after generation we are defending our right to exist and to live in peace and dignity on our own land. [00:17:04]
Our plans were quite open actually. We didn't have any irredentism or hidden agenda. Our plan was the devolution of occupation and the evolution of statehood. You had to end this occupation on 22 percent of Palestine in order for us to build our own state and to live in freedom. There were two simultaneous interdependent processes — the process of peace making and the process of nation building, and the peace process was supposed to end in 1999, of course, with two states. The ’67 boundaries were supposed to define that two-state solution living side by side in peace and mutual recognition. Since 1991 till now, we have been witnessing the end of the two-state solution. And the Palestinians. are feeling a sense of tremendous collective let down. And at the same time. we feel that there is no political horizon for the future since Israel is busy destroying the two-state solution by building more settlements, taking more land and more resources. What we have seen is the devolution of statehood rather than the occupation, and the evolution of the occupation into an unaccountable system of control. And the occupation ended up reinventing itself to become a system of power politics, military control without any responsibility and without any accountability. So that kind of reality has gained acceptance by the rest of the world and we can talk about that later. [00:19]
But what went wrong since 1991 until now? These are the lessons to be learned from the peace process. And I must say we can tell you exactly what not to do in peacemaking. There were many built-in, structural, procedural, substantive and contextual flaws in the peace process. And I would like to give you just a quick summary, since many of you don't know the complexity of the talks, of what went wrong. First, the peace process incorporated the power asymmetry and there was a false assumption of parity between occupier and occupied, parity of strength or power. And therefore they said okay you can talk to each other, although we had no rights, we had no freedom, and Israel was in control over everything. We ended up being the only people on earth — I said that before, and and I'm committing the unforgivable sin of quoting myself. I will do this again — that we were the only people on earth told to get permission from our occupier to be free. That’s it.
And since since there was this power asymmetry and they controlled our lives and our land and everything, we said we needed a third party. We needed an even handed peace broker. We cannot have just occupied and occupier. And when we started talking with James Baker at one point I told him and I think it's in my book isn't it Bill? I said I think what you're doing is absolutely illegal. He said why? I said because the Fourth Geneva Convention says people under occupation cannot negotiate with their occupiers and any agreement they come to will not be recognized because it will be under duress. Of course he hit the ceiling. But he continued anyway. So when we asked for a peace broker, a third party engagement in order to level the playing field and to address this power asymmetry and imbalance ,we ended up with the U.S. and the U.S. had the monopoly over the political terrain in the sense that we said it has to be international, multilateral and so on. And we ended up with the U.S. saying it has the political process as its sole responsibility while Europe and the Arab world may sign a few checks in order to deal with development and nation building. So that was the division of labor or the division of responsibilities. But the U.S. brought to bear its strategic alliance with Israel. Instead of leveling the playing playing field, it actually emboldened the occupation and enhanced the asymmetry and contributed to Israeli excesses.
Of course we all know that Israel is a domestic issue. We know that AIPAC and the Israeli lobby in many ways and the pro-Israeli lobby in many ways have a direct influence on decision making, on the perceptions, on the public discourse, even on the collective approach on Palestine. So instead of leveling the playing field as we said, we ended up with more weight on the Israeli side getting more power, more influence, more immunity from any kind of accountability and therefore it enhanced Israeli impunity. So the two sides of the coin are always accountability for Israel as an occupying power and protection for the Palestinians as a people under occupation, as a vulnerable people. We ended up actually with Israel getting preferential treatment and evolving into a sense of exceptionalism, of privilege and entitlement, and Israeli impunity continues unabated. [00:23:32]
We also ended up with Israeli unilateralism creating facts on their own, using their control and power without intervention, without curbs and without arbitration. And the land theft and the settlements and the annexation of Jerusalem and the siege of Gaza and the fragmentation of the West Bank all persisted in ways that increased the conflict itself and increased people's sense of desperation that we were victims of war before, now we are victims of a peace process. And since there was no accountability, there was prolongation and stalling and buying time, particularly since there were no constraints on Israel to create more facts and these fact were, you know, basically the settlements and the transformation of the character of the land and super imposition of a grid on the West Bank in order to transform the settler presence as the primary presence and to marginalize the Palestinian reality and presence in the West Bank as the minor, secondary presence and to link Israel to the settlements in a system of extraterritoriality so that Israel is encroaching on Palestine.
And this prolongation and stalling was also a factor of the phased approach. When you're negotiating peace, don't adopt a phased approach because from our experience what is temporary becomes permanent, especially if you have one powerful party. We were supposed to end in 1999, to end the talks. Both phases. And here we are now caught in a state of transition. And a state of transition which is particularly painful because Israel, as I said, has a free hand to to do what it wanted and the outcome was never really achieved because there was no intervention in any way in order to make Israel comply, even with the signed agreements.
And, of course another major problem is the core issues, the real issues that formed the essence of the conflict, were postponed and they were postponed without any assurances, without any guarantees. So Israel many ways carried out acts that were prejudicial to the outcome of the talks and prejudged the outcome, particularly on what were called the permanent-status issues: boundaries, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security and even water. So Israel now has a free hand to do what it wants with the real issues, with the core issues, while the Palestinians were delegated to the the tasks of the functional approach, administrative approach, technical issues and so on. And we ended up with a process for its own sake without any relationship to reality and without any impact on the behavior and with of course repeated violations and noncompliance with the agreements. This is, I think I said this before: This is the invention of Dennis Ross. That all you need to do is have both parties talk and so long as they're talking everything is fine. God is in his heaven. All is well with the world. Let them talk. What about the relationship to reality on the ground? What about behavior? What about the fact that the unilateralism and actions on the ground are destroying the foundations and objectives of the talks? There was no intervention, no accountability. And since the process adopted the functional approach rather than the territorial approach, and ours is territorial basically.
In 1980 we were offered to run our own lives . The military occupier, the military occupation whose offices were across from my house [00:27:55], so it was easy for them to summon me. And I was summoned with several Palestinian leaders and we were told look you can run your lives. We'll give you all the functions :your schools, your hospitals and so on. We said no thank you. We don't want to be in the employ of the occupation. We want to end the occupation. Why don't you just leave and we will run our lives? And of course they didn’t like this. So many of us were arrested.
But under the agreement, the agreement adopted this functional approach that we had rejected in 1980 and as a result the Palestinian leadership, particularly the PLO that had formulated its policy on the basis of a negotiated agreement and the two-state solution, gradually began to lose credibility and to lose support. Because its agenda did not work and this also contributed to the rise of opposition, particularly Hamas, because they had a different agenda and they said, talks failed and therefore you need to go back to armed struggle. And that created a new dynamic. And in a sense the occupation became a very profitable enterprise. And as you know Israel knew that there was no price to be paid for its continued violations. What itneeded was to outsource the administration to the Palestinians so that it can continue its system of control without any responsibility according to international humanitarian law. And power politics prevailed. And the Palestinians were put on probation, on good behavior. [00:29:47] We had to prove always that we were good little boys and girls, that we were not going to do anything negative or violent, or to upset the apple cart with good behavior and we had to prove that we deserved the right to be free, and to strive for, not to even get, self-determination.
And we ended up with this lethal equation — the equation where we get all the pressure, the threats and the blackmail and Israel gets all the rewards, all the positive inducements, advance payments in order to join the peace process as though it’s a favor for Israel to have peace while for the Palestinians, you know, we are threatened. Anyway should any Palestinian by any chance react to the violence of occupation and if you know it, many of you know what it means, it is a most pervasive and intrusive system of control and violence. They can demolish your home and get away with it. Settlers can attack you, and get away with it. Extra judicial executions, they get away with it. The assaults on Gaza, the obliteration of whole families —91 families were totally destroyed —they get away with it. But should, heaven forbid, a single Palestinian react, then automatically the terrorist label comes out. You’re all terrorists. But the violence of the occupation and the total devaluation and disregard for human lives and rights by the occupation of the Palestinian people, this is nothing. And that also led me to say something else, which I've been quoted on: We are the only people on earth held responsible for the safety and security of our occupiers, whether army or settlers. A young girl who had a pair of scissors and tried to attack an occupation soldier at a checkpoint in Hebron [00:31:52] was shot and killed because she threatened that soldier who was wearing a bulletproof vest and a helmet and carrying a machine gun in her town. But she's dead and he's in a state of self-defense. This is the illogic that we live in.
And of course Israel as usual set the agenda and kept shifting the goalposts. Every time we got closer to something, they had more demands, more preconditions and now they have more distractions and sidestepping of the real issues. For example, they say why should you care about what we do to the Palestinians? Look how many Syrians are being killed. Look how many Syrian refugees there are. Look at Yemen. Look at Libya. Yes, of course. But since when does one injustice justify another, or negate the other? And we do feel that the people who are paying the price in the region —we don't have time to discuss what's happening in the region. We'll do it with the proxy wars and the violence and so on. But this was used by Israel to .say that we cannot come to an agreement. We cannot withdraw from any land or territory because look at what's happening. This is a violent region and any land will automatically be a base for terrorism. So they gradually also succeeded in changing the language.
It was adopted by this latest American administration where they attempted to drop the term ‘occupation” from the lexicon. So it's disputed territory or “the territories now” but not “the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” No and not Occupied Palestine. That's why it was important and significant that we go to the UN and that we get recognition of Palestine as a state albeit a nonmember state but at least as a state and now we have the right to join organizations and accede to international conventions and agreements to protect our land and ourselves. Again we can talk about this later. But. this government in Israel and now in the U.S. is now not mentioning settlements as something illegal. The U.S. now has not addressed the issue of settlements as being illegal and detrimental to peace, which was a longstanding American policy. It has changed. It has not addressed the issue of a two-state solution on the ’67 boundaries. And it's so flippant, you know,. One state, two states. Whatever the parties wants.
[00:34:54] I wish we had known that before. You know, whatever the parties want. One state, two states. And the issue of settlements is not mentioned as something that is destroying the chances of peace. You have one state swallowing up the land of the other, and the rest of the world talks about two state solution. Now having negotiated for 26 years since 1991, not since 1994, and having invented many different modes of negotiations — I don’t know if you've seen how many different ways we negotiated. We started with proximity talks, then direct talks, then indirect talks and then bilateral talks and multilateral talks. We even got to the point where we had long-distance talks and then enjoyed exploratory talks after all these years. And then we had epistolary talks where we exchanged letters. That is ridiculous, frankly speaking.
Clearly the process is flawed. Clearly, with all the reasons I gave you this, this direct bilateral negotiations isn't going to work. And you cannot keep doing the same thing over and over again hoping for a different result. We've done this for so long that the talks themselves have become an instrument of power and oppression. Again buying time for the occupation to continue. And reality has superseded the talks, undermining and destroying the very foundations and objective of the peace process. [00:36:31]
This process that gained a life of its own in many ways and we are witnessing all of us the superimposition of greater Israel on all of Palestine, on historical Palestine with the language of the ideology while people repeat the mantra that they are in favor of the two state solution, of direct bilateral talks and so on. This has become a feel-good device, you know. They watch what Israel is doing and then they say no no no; this is wrong because this destroys the two state solution and we are in favor of a two state solution. And they do nothing about it. Well, if you.are in favor of a two state solution, you have to recognize the state of Palestine as well and you have to curb Israeli violations and you have to begin the process of dismantling the settlements and ensuring that we do have a truly viable Palestinian state. But. this has become a justification for inaction and for sins of omission because all you have to do is say, I'm still committed to the two state solution. In the numerology I added a zero, zero time left for the two states. If we think that a two state solution can be salvaged —and I don’t know that it can be —then we need a real paradigm shift. We need clear terms of reference grounded in international law and international humanitarian law to ensure that that is a global rule of law. We need a multilateral approach, not a bilateral approach. And when we talk about third party intervention, it's not a euphemism for the U.S. It is the need to have the international community involved. And we suggested why not P5 plus One Plus? P5 plus One was the body that negotiated the agreement on Iran which is now being attacked as a dirty word. [00:38:57]
But still the P5 plus One Plus is a signal that that there still is an international community engaged and involved and invested in peace. And we cannot accept the outside-in approach or a regional peace or economic peace. The outside-in approach is what Netanyahu is trying to convince Trump to do. Why don't we make peace with the Arab world? Why don't we have recognition, regional peace and delegate Palestine to domestic rule as though it is only an internal Israeli issue and this is the Arab Peace Initiative standing on its head so to speak. Because when the Arabs adopted the Arab Peace Initiative, they said Israel should withdraw from all the Arab territories it occupied, especially Palestine, and then we will negotiate to have recognition and normalization. But Israel now wants advance payments and rewards, wants recognition and normalization, and the Palestinian question can be dealt with in a functional approach. They may have their civil rights, but they will not have political rights. They will not have the right to self-determination or freedom. So again it's not a question of making, of having an economic peace, as Netanyahu said. All we need to do is make life easier for the Palestinians. They can have a few industrial zones; we can give them a bit more freedom to move people and goods and so on. And they will like the occupation. This was tried before. I mean you can make your own prison cell a bit less ugly but it doesn't mean it has ceased being a prison cell and nobody will accept the occupation no matter how. [00:40:58] economically well-off they are. Those things that make life valuable are precisely those values of which you are deprived: freedom human dignity.
So again no more phases or transitions. We won’t accept provisional borders. You see how the world becomes creative when it comes to Palestine. They were attempting to redefine sovereignty when it came to Jerusalem and there were negotiations at Camp David. They said sovereignty is for God. I said why is it when it comes to Palestinian land, you give sovereignty to God, when God is sovereign over all the world? But we want sovereignty as a legal and political issue the way other people have sovereignty. Or they invented the term “sovereignty above ground, sovereignty underground.” You can have sovereignty above ground since you exist above ground but under ground the sovereignty is for Israel because they believe there are layers and layers of history underground and they want to dig underground and reach the layer that they like.
Anyway, the issue of provisional borders. Have you ever heard of a state with provisional borders? I’ve heard of a state with no borders. And that’sIsrael. It has refused to define its borders because it designs them as it goes along. Even Trump didn't know that. So they said okay, we can talk about a state —this was in the Road Map —we can talk about a transitional state with provisional borders,. What is provisional borders? This has never happened before. It's temporary? You change them? You create them at will? What? So we said no we have agreed as a compromise on the ’67 boundaries and that's it. And [00:43] if they are provisional, then let's make the ’ 67 boundaries provisional. Maybe we want more.
Again you need a clear and binding timeline and you need concrete steps of implementation with a clearly defined objective. If you want a two-state solution, say so —’67 borders, two state solution. And you have to have a timeline and you have to be begin the steps of dismantlement of settlements, not allowing settlements to continue. You need a system of monitoring and verification because Israel has reneged on all its commitments and violated all of its obligations and of course what you need most is the political will to end the legacy of colonialism, a settler colonial system that has continued and created what Ilan Pappe calls a “displacement-replacement” paradigm.
Those of you who haven’t read Ilan Pappé, I really recommend his books. He wrote The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. I don't know how many of you read it. You have? It’s a good book, isn't it? Avi Shlaim also writes well. But this displacement replacement paradigm really encapsulates what's happening. You are attempting to remove and negate a whole nation, a whole history, a whole culture and replace it with another. And as you're doing this, you create your own myths and you expropriate and appropriate their own places, their own names, their own history or culture. That's why we are extremely possessive about falafel and hummus and tabouli. These are our foods. The same way as we are possessive about our embroidered clothes and so on because these are our clothing, not Israeli fashion. [00:45:00]
And if you've seen, if you've heard the names of Israeli settlements and places, you will see how they take them from the old Palestinian cities. And they build a settlement near the city or near their town, and they create a Hebrew equivalent of the Arabic name in order to compete with us over names and places and they have also changed the names of streets and so on. And. Jerusalem is part of the whole process of the distortion of the culture and reality of Jerusalem. What we would call the Judaization so it will not have Arabic names and Arabic places. [00:45:49]
Seventy two years almost to the day, I think it was October 24 that the UN was established. It was an American vision. I think it was FDR right who had the idea of establishing the U.N. and a vision of collective partnership, global cooperation, and peacemaking and conflict prevention. And we are seeing a concerted American attack on the UN.. Instead of launching a political and financial assault on the UN, what you need to do is to bring Israel to compliance with the UN. Nikki Haley, I call that a one woman crusade, who has said that this Israeli bashing has to stop. I think Israeli violations have to stop. The UN is not biased against Israel. The UN is trying to implement or trying to maintain its own integrity as a global body that is in charge of peacekeeping, peacemaking and so on. So you attack the UN because it criticizes Israel for its violations of international law and international humanitarian law, and you threaten to withdraw from any organization that accepts Palestine as a member. Look at what they did to the Human Rights Council. They tried to remove Article 7 that discusses Palestine. They said they will withdraw; they will withhold funding. And UNESCO, they actually withdrew from UNESCO because of the resolutions that UNESCO took and Congress is threatening us that they will — should we join any organization —not only will they defund the organization, they will also punish us for going and joining the international community which means they gave us tremendous power. Because we can easily isolate the U.S. now. [00:48:03]
All we need to do is join all these organizations and the U.S. will walk out and it will lose standing and influence; it will isolate itself. You see how much this overzealousness to prove that you really are defending Israel (when) what you have done is undermine your own country and your own standing. It's is not the first time they've done that in favor of Israel. And again instead of conflating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism and therefore silencing the voices of peace and justice, I think they should support the global rule of law and justice. Instead of criminalizing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions as an effective form of nonviolent resistance, they should actually see it as a positive way of enforcing accountability in ways that would not. [00:49:03] backfire. This is another example in which the U.S. and some countries in Europe are [00:49:13] violating their own people's lives for the sake of Israel. They are violating freedom of speech, which is Constitutional, after all. They are violating your right to act on the basis of your conscience. They are violating your right to be ethical consumers and ethical investors. And they're telling you you cannot criticize Israel. You cannot divest from it. And Israel is not to be sanctioned in any way.
And yet when South Africa did that and as you know South Africa is very close to Palestine — not geographically, of course, as you know — it was a very effective tool that was nonviolent, that was civilized, that was liberalized and that sent a clear message that if you want to join the community of nations, then you have to abide by those norms and principles that govern the behavior of nations. And that's how they ended apartheid. De Klerk understood the lesson very well. But now there are governments that are attempting to prevent BDS and to criminalize those who use it in order to enhance Israeli impunity and enhance its sense of entitlement and exceptionalism and the occupation itself. Now if you close off all nonviolent options to the Palestinians ,what do you do want the Palestinians to do? To be violent? Is this the only way it works? Because we're punished if you go to the UN; you’re punished if you go to the ICC; you are punished if, heaven forbid, you dare resist in any way shape or shape or form. You are a terrorist. And if you of course go to the international community then you are deliberately de-legitimizing and isolating Israel. [00:51:18]
If we have that power, then we would have had our state a long time ago. I think it's Israel that is de-legitimizing and isolating itself because of its occupation, because of its refusal to abide by international law and the norms of civil and civilized behavior. Of course, all states must be equal before international law and international humanitarian law in particular. The Fourth Geneva conventions were set up to protect and defend vulnerable populations. And I don't see why we have to be deprived of that protection. But we are witnessing again the rise of absolutist ideology and religious texts as the basis for. 21st century geopolitical policy. This is extremely dangerous and we keep stating that there is no divine dispensation. God does not take sides. It is not a religious conflict. It certainly is a manmade conflict, not woman made. Definitely it was man-made. [00:52:33] Maybe we should solve it as women.
As a result of this ideological absolutism in politics, we are seeing the rise of hyper and ethno. and sectarian nationalisms evolving into systems of exclusion and exclusivity. And this is what Israel has become. That's why when people talk about the Jewish state as a precondition, we said what state defines itself by its religion? And if we are struggling to have a tolerant, inclusive, diverse, pluralistic Palestinian state, —which it always has been, by the way, —then we shouldn't work towards accepting a Jewish state. And one reason we can do that is because we are not ??? So they keep shifting the goal posts. I don't have time to tell you how many times they changed and they introduced new preconditions and new side issues and digressions. We’re seeing the rise of non-state actors, militias, terrorism, absolutist dogma in the region and beyond, which led to a total destabilization of our region, proxy wars, and we're seeing the deconstruction of Sykes-Picot and the colonial legacy coming home to roost.
So with this negative engagement, contextually also we are witnessing the visions of dystopia in our part of the world and throughout the world globally the rise of populism, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, misogyny, the politics of power and domination, unilateralism and militarism. All of these are antithetical to the pursuit of peace. And you know what I mean when I say that these attitudes and ideas are prevailing now not just in our part of the world. They are prevailing in the West as well. They are antithetical to peace and to the values and principles basically of empathy, of inclusion, of tolerance and of parity. [00:54:49]
We are on a quest. We are on a quest to build a democratic, sovereign, pluralistic state, a tolerant state to live in peace and harmony with its neighbors and globally and to embody the Palestinian people's quest for freedom and dignity and to counter all the destructive forces and conditions that have victimized us for decades —oppression, injustice and violence. We are in search of historic, and historical, redemption and rectification, and I invite you to join us in this quest and I thank you for giving me this opportunity to talk to you. Thank you. [00:55:55]
Questions and answers
Park University: We have time for a question or answers. There are microphones and we welcome you to stand and actually formulate a question rather than a statement if at all possible. [00:56:10]
Q: Thank you very much, and welcome to Kansas City. And as someone who's been following the peace process for a long time and committed to a two state solution, I've heard many Palestinians and Israelis working toward peace say that there won't be true peace until the Palestinians recognize the narrative that Jewish people have a right to part of that land, that there is a historic connection for the Jewish people in that land, and Israelis own the narrative of the Nakba. I'd be curious to hear your feelings about that. [00:56:52]
A. You want me to answer one by one, or wait? This is a very interesting question by the way because it finds an equivalence. You see the Nakba is something that happened to Palestinians in contemporary history. The Nakba is what happened to us as a result of the international community trying to create a state for the Jewish people on our land. Remember they tried to create it in Uganda first and then there were the secular Jews who had no problems with that. But then the religious Jews, or elements, wanted to go to Palestine thinking that it will add weight to the claim. Look, the historical connections to the land of course exist because Palestine has seen many tribes before the Hebrews came to Palestine. Before that there were Canaanites and when the Caananites were finished, you have the Moabites and Edomites. You have so many tribes. Why stop at one place?. I mean Palestine is not an onion that you peel and you stop where you want
What happens is that you have in Palestine a people that have been existing with continuity for centuries and to deny their rights and to tell them we want to recreate that world the way it was two or three thousand years ago? I think the whole world would be a mess if you do that to everybody. Of course every religion has a connection to Palestine. Christianity? This is the home of Christianity. Judaism? Yes, it has a connection. Islam? Of course, it has a connection. So are we going to fight over the land on the basis of its religious significance? Then I believe all Christians should come and claim Palestine or claim the Vatican or claim whatever. Or all Muslims should go and claim Mecca. This is the wrong logic to use, and a wrong equivalence, I think. What I deal with is contemporary realities. Okay? So the world decided to create a state of Israel. We cannot erase it. We cannot remove it. We cannot eradicate it. So we deal with facts and we recognized it. In 1993 Israel got its recognition. This added precondition of you have to love us and you have to become … We don't have to love our enemies, even though the Bible says so. I mean I don’t see how you can make a whole people love their oppressors. It's very difficult. And it's very difficult to demand that all Palestinians become Zionists. I don’t believe any state should be exclusive. [00:59:44] I don't. No matter how much you have connections to the land. And I don't believe that the religious significance of a place gives you the right to occupy it or to to annex it or to have sovereignty on it. So by recognizing the Jewish connection to the land, okay; we know that. But when they want you to accept the Jewishness of the state itself, then this is something else. Then you are adopting a narrative that is not your own and an ideology…You’re saying that historically this was Jewish land. It wasn’t. It was at a certain point in history at the same time as there were other tribes in Palestine. And we are here now. All of us.
We were here in 1917, in 1948, Jews, Muslims Christians.And this is all discussed in tradition and we all have connections to the land. So that's not the issue. The issue is, do I adopt your narrative or not? Do I justify discrimination against the Palestinians, the indigenous Palestinians in Israel who are systematically being discriminated against, by saying you are living as non-Jews? And this is how Balfour defined us, as the non-Jewish communities. Defined us by what we are not. Because they are non-Jews, they have no rights in the Jewish state. Discrimination is okay. Or the refugees cannot come back because they do not have the requirement of Jewishness to be able to come to come back to Palestine. So it's not just a formalistic thing. It's a question of adopting a narrative that negates your very own. Do you see that? It's not a simple innocent thing. Why don't you recognize the Jewish (connection to the land)? We do recognize Jewish, Christian and Muslim connections to the land, and atheist connections to the land. There are people who are nonbelievers, though legally they cannot be. Legally, you have to have a religion. But I mean I don't know if we have Hindus Buddhists or whatever, but the three monotheistic religion certainly have always been there and have had connections in different times in different ways. Do I want to makePalestine a Byzantine country? I think Palestine should live in the 21st century, the 20th and 21st century, as a contemporary state that is tolerant and inclusive. That's all I know. And to force me to accept something else is not fair.
Q: I have known about you for more than 30 years. And I was eager to come here from Lawrence, Kansas, 30 miles west of here where the university is located. I was surprised by my friends who had never heard of you and I went to apologize to you. I'm sorry. I expected this place to be full.
A: That’s OK. There must be another event. That’s what somebody told me. I believe in quality, not quantity.
Q: I recently saw a clip when you spoke at the National Press Club and you mentioned that now there are settlers in the White House. Let me ask the audience how many people here are Palestinians? Let me see your hands.
A: Wow. Wonderful. I didn’t know. I think Kansas City is beautiful. It attracts all these Palestinians.
Q: I was going to ask about Israelis. I don't know if you want to raise your hands or not.
A: One member of the audience: My mother was born in Jaifa..
A: So your mother was Palestinian. You see we were all Palestinians. We didn’t define ourselves by our religion. [01:04:15]
Q: I've been to Palestine and Israel twice. Once about 30 years ago and again about seven years ago. I have many stories about those visits. One of them is that I found that after 9/11 that the Palestinians who before that were referred to as Arabs were now referred to as terrorists because of the change. What I want to ask you is, what is your call to action for us tonight? What can we do for you? A: Good question. I need a long alternative lecture. Now, look, I think the most important thing is for the truth to come out to counter the false negatives, to counter the distortions and prejudicial statements and stereotypes and accusations against the Palestinians because for a long time historically the Israeli version had dominated the public space, and the Palestinians were either non-existent or dismissed or a narrative was totally discounted. So first of all the facts and the truth have to come out.
Two, people must not be intimidated by all these charges and accusations that if you support justice and peace and so on, if you talk about Palestine, you're either anti-Semitic or you are supporting terrorism or if you're Jewish you're a self-hating Jew. These labels have been used to silence people. And again, BDS is not a dirty word. It's three letters, but they stand a lot for people who are who are responsible and who act in ways to hold Israel to account. When governments fail ,the people can act. This is very important and you're telling the Palestinian people that nonviolent forms of resistance like going to the U.N., like going to the International Criminal Court, like acting on your conscience, that these are ways in which we can all work to curb Israeli violations and to begin the process of doing justice to Palestinians.
But also we need witnesses. You've been there. We need voices. And I appreciate we were talking about social media and the fact that they made the facts come out and people are able to gain access to the truth. But at the same time the mainstream media has to be challenged. They have to be challenged because all these years they have led to greater ignorance of the facts and to greater bias. And I think whenever … They have five or six Israelis and sometimes they may have one Palestinian. Sometimes. I remember when I started debating, when I started speaking in public, the Israelis would say, you cannot have a Palestinian. You have to have an Israeli. Where’s the Israeli? And I said for all these years the Israelis had the monopoly over public discourse and the media in the states, nobody asked where is the Palestinian? Where is the absent Palestinian? Now that we have some access, some access, not so much anymore, we are told you have to have an Israeli with me. Every time CNN or any of the other organizations would invite me to speak, they always had to have an Israeli. Then the Israelis began to send directives not to debate me. And the funny thing is that I used to get all these notices that they sent to people. What questions to ask and so on. And at first they said show up and debate her. And then they said no don't debate her. And I ended up with CNN and others saying sorry we can't have you because the Israelis won’t have a counterpart. I say, that's not my problem. That's your problem. I showed up and I'm willing to speak. If the Israelis don't want to show up, that’s their problem. That’s how they try to censor you and silence you. And that's why we need voices. Witnesses. People like you, people who are again part of the system, who can speak out, who can challenge ,who can stand up and who won’t intimidated. And of course we need networks of solidarity because one person, no matter how important, cannot change the prevailing version and prejudices and bias.
And I think most importantly you need to hold this Congress accountable. I've never seen such bias. Netanyahu came to the White House. He insulted the president. I don't care if you're a Republican or Democrat or Independent, he is your president. He symbolizes your country. And Netanyahu insulted him publicly, lectured him and then not only that but he came to Congress at the invitation of one party and he meddled in American politics. And they gave him 30 standing ovations, Congress. Either they are masochistic or they have no sense of national pride or dignity or they are what we call the yoyo Congress. Stand up and sit down stand up and sit down and clap. We said they must have some kind of spring in their seats. W whenever Netanyahu says anything, So you need to challenge Congress. I don't mean to insult people, but I'm just describing it. So you need to challenge Congress and you need to challenge the special interest group and the work of AIPAC and the work of the pro-Israel lobby. And I believe that any funds that go to Israel should not be tax free. And that any lobby that lobbies for Israel should have to register as a foreign agent. And there are many other steps that you can take here using American law and the American system because right now American rights are being violated in favor of Israel. And you have to reclaim your rights as Americans.
Q: The question is both long and unclear because mike fades in and out. [01:13:21]
A: Well actually we are still living in the post-colonial-era legacy. The legacy of colonialism throughout the region. The Sykes-Picot agreement is coming home to roost. I mean they created these states, Great Britain and France. I don’t want to enter into a history lesson but they're the ones who divided and who created countries and who divided control and colonial rules over different countries. And the history of Lawrence of Arabia was a promise made by the Brits and the French that if you fight the Ottomans with us that we will give you independence as Arabs and of course they betrayed the Arabs. They reneged on that and gave us a system of colonialism and gave us Israel. When the Arabs rebelled against the Ottoman rule. By the way, the women's movement in Palestine began in the 19th century and the first women's rebellion against the Ottoman Empire. People forget that. We were very active.That's right. And that's why all these boundaries and states and so on now are in trouble. There are all sorts of external factors. Also I don't want to single out the Saudis. There is a special Saudi -American relationship. The U.S. does have a neocolonial relationship with the region, with certain regimes ,not with people. Situations shift depending on their interests. For example, under Obama, the Saudis were not that close to the Americans as you know and the pivot towards the east as they said and the holding of regimes accountable for the violations of human rights and so on did not go down well with certain Arab regimes.
Now. Trump is sort of reviving alliances based on self-interest and funds and so on because the families that took over in certain countries, whether in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia or others were families that were chosen by colonial people, by the colonial powers. They were not elected let's say by their own people. Still it's much more complex than that and I don't want to oversimplify things. The dynamic in the region now is a dynamic of flux, of change, of instability, of transition. The people wanted democracy. They rebelled against the regimes that were very close to the West. Unfortunately the Arab spring did not succeed. It collapsed, not because the Arabs are genetically undemocratic, as some people say, but because the young men and women who carried out the Revolution were able to bring down the regime because they mobilized in cyberspace. But they weren't able to take over because they did not organize on the ground. And therefore when the elections took place, they lost, in Egypt and other places. Tunis is the one exception.
The Nakba is of course ethnic cleansing, as you said, and Meron Benvenisti, among others. It's funny. Among the first historians who talked about ethnic cleansing was Benny Morris and the new historians in Israel, including Avi Shlaim and Ilan Pappe and others. Benny Morris withdrew his statements. He still talks about ethnic cleansing and how they kicked out the Palestinians in a series of massacres and the over 500 villages that were totally eradicated, totally demolished in Palestine, and a series massacres that created a sense of fear and panic among Palestinians ,which contributed to the refugee problem. But Benny Morris decided after all that the problem is that they didn't complete the ethnic cleansing. He got the facts from the intelligence archives of Israel ,and he exposed what happened in 1948. But, and this was in the early 1980s, later he decided that had the ethnic cleansing of Palestine been completed then they wouldn't have had the Palestinian question.
I said they could never have gotten rid of all the Palestinians, no matter how many massacres they had, or how much they expel Palestinians. Now you have all these Palestinians everywhere in the world who are Palestinians. So you can never eradicate an identity. Some say look at what happened in Australia and the U.S. — the indigenous peoples were either massacred, or killed, or subjugated or became what Netanyahu wants us to become: population centers, communities and groups and so on. Maybe even we can have casinos.
The wall we call it the apartheid wall. You know that. Look, it's a failed policy. All countries in the world who have resorted to walls have not succeeded, starting with the Great Wall of China to Hadrian's Wall to the Berlin Wall. Any wall. And the Israelis have not learned. They are building a wall.And of course this must have been contagious because Trump wants a wall as well. I think walls shut your horizon. Walls close you in. They separate you from the rest of the world. The wall that Israel built doesn't only imprison the Palestinians and steal their land and steal our horizon. They also imprison the Israelis behind that wall. So they don't see what the occupation is doing. And not only that but they end up, the Israelis, with their own sense of self.without interacting and without understanding the nature of their victimization and their relationship with the Palestinians. Before when we had dialogue and so on, it was quite different. Now there is a total separation and it's as if ,you know, you have to do is shut your eyes ,live behind the wall and you don't have to deal with reality. This is very dangerous because it's going to backfire.
Q: First of all, thank you for coming here and thank you for your dedication toward the Palestinian cause and the peace process.
A: Peace, not the process.
Q:You talked about a paradigm shift, and I thought we had an opportunity in the year 2000 and I had the privilege to ask President Bill Clinton the same question I will ask you: What went wrong? He told me that it was a pre-agreed condition before the meeting with Ehud Barak, Yasser Arafat and those conditions were changed during the meeting. So I’d like to take your take on what went wrong because I really thought that was an opportunity for us to have an independent country.
A:You’re talking about the year 20000. You’re talking about Camp David. Not the Egyptian Camp David but the Palestinian-Israeli Camp David with Barak and Yasser Arafat. Yeah I was there for a while and then I went to Washington and debated a few Israelis and then I went home. At that time Clinton was suffering from the tainting of his legacy with the Lewinsky affair. Ehud Barak was losing his constituency and his party was fragmenting. Both of them thought it was time to do something else in order to divert attention and change their legacies. Barak wanted to save his government. He had lost support and it was distinctly a very small minority government. And Clinton wanted to be the peacemaker.
And I was there when Madeline Albright also came and talked to Yasser Arafat. And Clinton did, and they said, we need to convene a summit now. And Arafat told them very openly, and I'm saying this because I'm a witness and I know, we cannot convene a summit because when you have a summit it means that you are about to succeed and you want to announce the success. But the talks have not reached the point where we are on the verge of an agreement that you bring the leaders to announce and they said never mind. You try your best, and they promised, you try your best. And if it doesn't work, we won't blame you. And he told them that it is very difficult to reach an agreement because there were real issues, problematics, with Jerusalem primarily, and with the refugee issue. And he said at least if we agree on the boundaries, we might be able to start dealing with other issues. They said, just keep trying. We won’t blame you. So he went.
And he took his delegations and instead of negotiating with the Israelis, the Americans were go-betweens and they fragmented the issues. One group to discuss refugees, one group to discuss borders, one group to discuss water. And without an integrated approach, you cannot really come to any agreement. And it was the Americans would go between groups and would take messages back and forth. And the problem with Camp David — you should read a book I think Clayton Swisher wrote a book about the truth about Camp David. It's a very interesting book because he got everybody who was there and added all the minutes after I left. There was no generous offer. There's a myth about the generous offer that Ehud Barak made and Yasser Arafat turned it down.
Every day there was a different position and their generous offer was that Jerusalem is ours and everything around it is ours, and now let's talk about the remaining land and Yasser Arafat said no. Jerusalem is part of the occupied territory and it is within the ’67 borders, and we cannot talk about percentages without Jerusalem. That's why they say we offered them 92 percent of the West Bank and they refused. The 92 percent excluded Jerusalem entirely. It was the land minus the 12 percent that they took with Jerusalem and its environment.
Two, there were different ideas all the time. There was never a real final offer or a solution. The issue of sovereignty on Jerusalem came up, and they didn't want the Palestinians to have sovereignty. They attempted to redefine Jerusalem so you can have Abu Dis or Bethany or you can have the Old City. or maybe we can have a different regime for the Old City.. There were all sorts of ideas, but there was never really a plan. And the end, Ehud Barak was quite upset. I don't know what happened. He ended up going to his cabin and never coming out. There were no discussions And that’s it. And immediately after the end of Camp David, after the end of those meetings, the Israelis came out and blamed the Palestinians and then Clinton came out and blamed the Palestinians again. Obama (Arafat?) told them, you also need to have the Arabs on board. We cannot discuss issues like borders because alone or water rights alone or even Jerusalem alone because these are regional issues. And when you talk about borders, you have to have Jordan, for example.
Q: No one cares. That’s one. The other is the Reagan legacy: Take what we offer and negotiate the rest.
A: That’s it. If there is parity. Because Israel has a way of negotiating, which says I will pocket whatever you agree to, and I will proceed. There were no agreements at all. They introduced the idea of swaps. We didn't agree to the idea of swaps. But they pocketed the idea of swaps saying it’s agreed; we have swaps now.Or the settlement blocks are ours now. Now let's see what else we can take. The thing is, you cannot sign an agreement and then say we will proceed. The moment you sign an agreement you are bound by it. Right? There is no irredentism. The problem is there was no agreement to be signed. Never. Not at any point in the history of all these negotiations was there. an agreement. The closest we came to an agreement was ironically with Olmert, but then he was indicted and he was imprisoned for corruption. So that stopped .but he was the closest to accepting the ’67 borders and a symbolic return of refugees and things like that. But thenAbu Mazen asked him for a map. He asked him to sign. I'm giving you inside stories. Are there any oppressed people here? He asked him to sign, and Abu Mazen said I need to see a map. How can I sign on borders without a map and I want to go back to my leadership and tell them this is the offer. It was the closest to a concrete offer, but he never gave him the map. But Abu Mazen told us we are very close to an agreement because he was negotiating directly with Olmert and then Olmert was indicted and went to jail and the talks stopped and we never got…
So we may have been close at one point but still the issue of take what you're offered and then proceed from there is entirely counterproductive with Israel.. Because even the agreements we signed, the DOP, was never honored by Israel because you have power politics. You have the power imbalance and they proceed to do what they want without any kind of intervention. And that's it. So when you sign you needed to be multilateral. You need assurances and guarantees. You need monitoring and verification and you need to curb violations and you need to hold them to account if they violate. Otherwise they're the ones who hold the power and they can get away with it.
Q: Part of America's problem is that they too are occupied and systematically exterminated the natives of America. How can you expect help from this nation as a broker of peace? Because right now it doesn't look like we’re even with the knowledge to understand what to do basically because our. schools, our universities, they don't hear this side of the story. And I only heard the side as I lived overseas where I heard the story of what really happened not in the schools that I attended here so can you expect help from this nation as a broker of peace? A: Okay. First of all I think the American people and I said this last night are motivated by a sense of fair play. The American people are not bad people. The system may be flawed. Yes. And I believe that. The way Western white culture has treated the indigenous people of the U.S., the Native Americans, is disgraceful. The Australians did the same to the Aborigines. The Canadians did the same to the Native Canadians; Americans as well. And it took how many centuries for the Australians to apologize to their indigenous people? And at one point some Israeli leaders said to the Americans why are you criticizing the settlements? What we are doing to the Palestinians is exactly what you did to what they call Indians, to the Native Americans. So they have learned the lesson except this is the 20th, the 21st century. You cannot carry out ethnic cleansing in the dark. The truth will come out and that is that. And there is solidarity and there are international organizations and that is international law and so on. This is not the law of the jungle, hopefully. Now, as I said before and, again for the third time I'm quoting myself, by no stretch of the imagination can you ever accuse Americans of being even handed. Unfortunately we're not the ones who determine the balance of power in the world. We try to go to the Europeans and the European governments are of course obsessed with the Trans-Atlantic Alliance and so on. Even though their people are very supportive of Palestine, the majority of Europeans are extremely supportive. The governments didn't even listen to their own parliaments when they told them to. They voted overwhelmingly to recognize Palestine and the government said no you can't do that. So there is a rift between people and governments. And I think the American people are gradually beginning to know what's happening and they're gradually beginning to question the prevailing narrative and they have to come to terms with their own history not just with the Native Americans but also with the African Americans and with other minorities. And now they're creating another problem with the Latinos and other American and other minorities within the U.S.
Discrimination and oppression are not exclusive to one country, but the thing is the West has a long history of colonialism and of oppression and they have to come to grips with that. But now given the balance of power, given the fact that the US is a major force, it has the responsibility of power. But as I said, we do not expect the U.S. to be the sole arbiter or the sole peace broker. And we tried. We went to the Europeans and the Europeans said they were delegated to signing checks. As I said ,the nation building. The U.S. had the political process because the US wanted to safeguard Israel.
So now we're going to international organizations. We've decided to go multilateral. We're going to the U.N. We will go to the ICC. We’re joining organizations. We’re acceding to conventions and agreements and we are committed to nonviolent resistance in every possible way. This is one way in which we are trying to dislodge this power monopoly and the bias for Israel. We are being threatened. It's no secret. We are being told if you go to the ICC, if you refer a case to the ICC, we will close down the PLO offices. We will re-brand you as terrorists and so on. But if.you are not willing to hold Israel to account — and there are these organizations, we should be able to have recourse to the law to protect outsiders and to hold Israel to account. We don't expect the U.S. to come to our rescue but I think at a certain point they have to understand that they do have a responsibility, and particularly since Israel is their special ally and gets more funding from the U.S. than any other country does. Collectively even. And it gets knowledge and weapons and so on. That what Israel does in their name is undermining American standing andAmerican credibility and.American influence in the world.
And ironically the people who said so in the U.S. w were the generals. They were the generals ,who told the politicians that you are putting our boys and girls in jeopardy, those who are fighting in the Middle East, because of what you're doing, because of your policy with Israel, because of the funding ,because many of the weapons that are used against the Palestinians are American-made, because of the unlimited support, because of the legal cover that they have and so on. So at one point I think it's the American people who will question their own government and who will put their own interests above the interests of Israel.
Thank you. Thank you for showing up.
Park University: Thank you all very much. Have a safe evening, and thank you for the support of this program. Have a good evening. [01:36]