Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Norman Finkelstein, Edinburgh University, 25 January 2008

Well, I went along to see the great man, and duly got to shake his hand and get my copy of The Holocaust Industry signed. He arrived late because of a delayed flight, and then spoke for around 100 minutes ("not quite Hugo Chavez or Fidel Castro but long enough") without notes and with no hesitation, repetition or deviation. An impressive piece of oratory, though memorable more for what he said than how he said it. His talk Palestine's Occupation: Roots of Conflict, Prospects for Peace was extremely interesting and well-constructed. Prof. Finkelstein's basic premise was that the Israel-Palestine conflict is not, as one so often hears, hugely complex and involved, but fairly simple and straightforward, so that there is essentially no disagreement on the facts of the matter whether one considers the history of the conflict, the preset human rights situation or the possible outcomes of the "peace process". On the matter of Palestine he kept returning to the generally agreed facts of the matter, though he did indulge himself a little when he came to discuss Alan Dershowitz's book The Case For Israel. It is because of Prof. Finkelstein's debunking of this book that Dershowitz launched a vendetta against him with a view to denying him academic tenure at St Paul University. (He was successful, but one suspects it was a Pyrrhic victory. ) Tonight he mentioned that "critics of the book are divided into those who believe the falsehoods in the book begin with the first page of the text and continue to the last one....(pause for sip of water)....and those like myself who believe they begin with the first name of the author on the cover." One of his main criticisms, you see, is that Dershowitz's book was plagiarised.

A few points that will stay with me. Discussing the degree of international unanimity concerning the Israel-Palestine conflict, he points out that every year since 1968 the General Assembly of the UN has passed a resolution calling for a peaceful solution to the conflict. The way this is to be accomplished is not rocket science, but (1) withdrawal of Israel to its legal borders (2) dismantling of the illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (3) the establishment of an autonomous Palestinian state comprising the West Bank and Gaza, with its capital in East Jerusalem (4) a just and equitable settlement of the refugee question in line with UN resolution 194. These resolutions have been passed with opposition from between 2 to 7 nations, always including Israel and the USA and otherwise comprising only tiny islands. There is, as he pointed out, pretty unanimous international agreement as to how the conflict can and one day will be ended.

Then again, the International Court of Justice, the world's highest legal authority, was recently asked to rule on the legality of the "Separation Wall" built by Israel on Palestinian land. By 14 votes to 1, it declared the wall illegal and required its removal and the payment of compensation to those Palestinians affected by it. But in order to reach this judgement, the ICJ had to consider the preliminary legal questions (1) what are the legal borders of Israel? (2) what is the legal status of East Jerusalem and (3) what is the legal status of the Israeli settlements in the OPT? the answers were (1) the recognised 1967 borders (2) Israel has no title to East Jerusalem and must withdraw from it (3) the settlements are illegal and Israel must remove them. Interestingly, one of the 14 majority judges was a British Jew. Even more interesting, the dissenting judge (the US one) wrote a "declaration" (less strong than a "dissent") to accompany the judgement. (Incidentally, judgements often run to thousands of pages: this one was just over a hundred, because the legal case was so uncontroversial.) In his declaration, the American judge stated that the settlements were definitely illegal (so the vote was efectively 15-0 on that count) and that insofar as the Separation Wall had been built to protect the settlements, then it too was illegal.

Prof Finkelstein asked for a show of hands of audience members who had heard of the Balfour Declaration; then of those who had heard of the UN Resolution calling for the partition of Palestine and the establishment of Israel. The he asked who had heard of the ICJ ruling. Far fewer people had Yet, as he said, to the Palestinians this is a Balfour Declaration and a Partition Resolution rolled into one; except that nobody knows about it.

One of the most interesting points came in answer to a questioner who wanted to know why Prof Finkelstein assumed throughout his lecture that a two-state solution was the desired outcome, rather than the dismantling of Israel or its remodelling as a non-Jewish state. (Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, co-sponsors of the lecture, are much more enamoured of the one-state model than their English counterparts.) Finkelstein said, look: thirty years ago nobody would have imagined that the two-state solution would have been generally accepted by mainstream opinion. In those days, human rights organisations didn't dare to mention Israeli torture or hostage-taking (which they now admit were happening then). We have come so far, to the point where the Palestinian cause is now in the ascendant and Israel on the back foot. We should make the most of that, use it to obtain some kind of justice for the oppressed Palestinian people. One may argue that Israel has no legitimacy, but in international law, it has: the UN accepts it, and so do all the UN members, however grudgingly. To seek a one-state solution is to throw out all those gains: to say to the Palestinians "Sorry, but you'll be stuck with the occupation for another hundred years or so while we turn world public opinion round again." Prof Finkelstein quoted Mao Zedong, that the way to achieve change is to mobilize the many against the few. His whole lecture had been pointing out that "the many" now believe that Israel should withdraw, abandon the settlements, give up East Jerusalem and agree some arrangement concerning the refugee problem. His questioner on the other hand wished to mobilize the few (one-staters) against the many (two-staters). It's not wrong, or impossible, but it condemns the Palestinians to decades more of occupation. We should use the groundswell of public opinion worldwide, not squander it.

Which expressed much more eloquently than I could my own reservations about a one-state solution. As a lifelong supporter of the UN and international law, how could I believe otherwise? The bottom line is, practically the whole world accepts Israel's right to peaceful unmolested existence within its own borders (though Prof F did say that Hamas's views on the matter were somewhat ambiguous). Wouldn't it be great if Israel felt that it could give the idea a try: by withdrawing into, you know, its own borders instead of illegally occupying its neighbours' territory? The main opposition to a peaceful settlement - whose components are universally agreed - comes from Israel, supported by the USA.

The guy is, simply, a treasure, and if universities in the USA are too scared of dissent to employ him, send him to Europe where we take a more robust and basic view of academic freedom. If Tony Blair spent more time talking to Norman Finkelstein and less talking to Condoleeza Rice (who compared the Israeli murder of over a thousand Lebanese civilians with the pain of childbirth??? WTF???) he might have more chance of ceasing to be a total waste of DNA than he has shown to date.

Prof Finkelstein's current UK tour has now ended, but foreign readers may be able to catch him somewhere. It's worth it. Failing which, read his books, or visit his blog.


At 26 January, 2008 05:20, Blogger JoeinVegas said...

Sounds like a compelling argument. All the more reason for the US and Israel to ignore another one.
No way to really force them to abide by it though, unless the UN starts with a boycott or something instead of just talking.

At 26 January, 2008 19:49, Blogger asdf said...

you can listen to the lecture here


At 27 January, 2008 00:10, Blogger Rob said...

Thanks for the link.

At 29 January, 2008 04:08, Anonymous fisher said...

Two state solution is a red herring, see the debate: One State or Two States - Pappe vs Avnery debate


Two state solution is a red herring, see the debate: One State or Two States - Pappe vs Avnery debate

At 29 January, 2008 21:14, Blogger Rob said...

Leaving aside John Whitbeck';s framing comments which as well as being an insult to the intelligence are a distraction from what is actually a very interesting and worthewhile debate, I still don't find Ilan Pappe's argument (for a one-state solution) convincing. As Norman Finkelstein pointed out, the two-state solution has the full weight of international law and the UN behind it, quite apart for the groundswell of public opinion it's begun to get. If like Pappe you consider the UN and international law irrelevant because you have morality on your side, then why should Israel not continue to ingore them because it has superior weaponry on its side? It is precisely the fact that the present occupation is illegal that is the cause of any pressure ever applied to Israel to withdraw or to negotiate at all. Rightly or wrongly, most of the world is no more concerned with the 1948 displacement of the indigenous Palestinians than it is with Israel's claim that the land has belonged to Israel for thousands of years. The world, though, is very much concerned with the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem and the 40-year occupation of the Territories, and deflecting attention from that to matters of more distant history plays into Israel's hands.

Yuri Avnery makes the point that whatever the rights and wrongs of the foundation of Israel, the situation for Palestinians became completely intolerable after 1967 when they were subjected to military occupation. His comment that the first requirement when faced with a casualty is to stop the bleeding before worrying about historical causes reminds me of Buddha's parable of the man shot by an arrow, and the various people who wiahed to discuss the arrow's manufacture, trajectory and so on rather than pulling it out of the poor guy's leg.

I am unimpressed by Pappe's insistence on judging the two-state solution to be a failure on the basis of the present situation. Not only do we not currently have a two-state solution, we have never had such a thing. Even if one considers the present set-up, where Palestinians can elect a government only of the elect one acceptable to Israel and the US, to be a kind of patholical warping of a two-state solution rather than a substitute for it, if one uses that to judge the whole two-state philosophy then one might was well judge a one-state solution by the worst that could arise from it, namely the Zionist dream of one wholly Israeli state. It has always seemed likely to me that if you grant any kind of legitimacy, even as an interim measure, to Israeli rule over the whole of Palestine then the door is open for "security crises" and "states of emergency" that result in the persecution of the Arabs, except that now it would be domestic politics rather than an illegal land seizure. Not too clever.

Two-state supporters are not all pessimistic about the possibility of creating a single state, merely about the timeframe in which it can be accomplished. Given the choice between several more decades of having their crops stolen and their children murdered in pursuit of a unitary Palestinan state, and an independent and unmolested Palestinian state in that part of Palestine to which they have a valid legal claim, I don't believe for one moment that most Palestinians would choose to have the occupation continue. The slogan under which the world has come together in support of the Palestinian cause is "End The Occupation Now", not "End The Occupation At Such Time As We've Persuaded the Rest Of The World That Israel Has No Right To Exist, But Not Before".

So I'm sorry, "Fisher", but in my view it;'s the one-state solution that is the red herring. Thanks for the link though, and I recommend my readers to go and read the debate.

At 16 February, 2008 17:28, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a huge fan of Finkelsteion and while I'm no expert on the Israel-Palestine conflict, so much of what I DO know is thanks to his superb books and lectures. I still have found "Image and Reality" to be the best introductory text concerning all the fundamental issues. He's also remarkably courageous and just generally, a great guy.

So I'm sad to have to finally part company with him over the two-state settlement. Having read and thought about both sides, I now feel that the one-state solution is overwhelmingly persuasive and that the two state solution is essentially null and void.

What I find disturbing in Avnery's argument is his lending of legitimacy to what he (no doubt accurately) insists is the central doctrine of the overwhelming majority of Israelis--the importance of Israel's ethnic purity, which is to be cultivated and maintained by all effective means. This is Nazism, period. It deserves exactly as much consideration and indulgence as a German fixation with a pure aryan society, namely zero.

Pappe's case is irresistably stronger than Avnery's (or Finkelstein's), for a great number of reasons. I also agree with Pappe that the bulk of useful pressure on israel will have to come from outside, as Israeli society (much like American society) is now completely and hopelessly Nazified beyond redemption.


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