Philip Weiss writes: Last month I wrote to Norman Finkelstein offering to debate the chapter dealing with the Israel lobby theory of Walt and Mearsheimer in his new book, Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel is Coming to an End. He wrote back to say that’s just one section, and the book has much larger aims, why not discuss them? I agreed, and our email dialogue of the last two weeks follows. Note that this dialogue preceded Finkelstein’s appearance on Democracy Now! Monday.
Norman Finkelstein: My new book is the fruit of three decades of scholarly reflection on the Israel-Palestine conflict and also of being an active participant in the solidarity movement. (I first got involved on June 6, 1982, when Israel invaded Lebanon.) It is also the result of perhaps five years of intensive research, and three comprehensive rewrites of the manuscript. An honest reader would, I think, conclude that my book is the substantive version of the “Beinart thesis,” which, as it happens, I articulated in multiple venues long before Beinart came along. You might recall the conversation we had on the bus in Gaza after the 2008-9 Israeli invasion where I laid out my thesis that liberal American Jews were distancing themselves from Israel, and you expressed deep skepticism.
We are now at a crossroads in the conflict. I truly believe it is possible — not certain, not even probable, but still possible — that we can achieve a reasonable settlement within the two-state framework. But achieving this goal will require a maximum of political clarity and a vastly reduced amount of sloganeering.
Weiss: Here is where we differ. A historic compromise has been vitiated. Even David Shulman in the New York Review of Books understands this. And the crossroads we face is explaining to Americans that one regime exists between the river and the sea, and the trick is to make it a democracy. Unlike you, I believe, I would have been a bourgeois in the 1850s, and a Lincoln Republican; I would have been for a two-state solution that allowed slavery to persist in the south and vanish in time. Those historic compromises were also vitiated in the space of a few years; and lo and behold some Americans grew impatient and quoted the words, All people are created equal. As Palestinians are impatient today, and who can blame them. There is no equality under the Israeli regime. There has been none since it was founded.
The error here, on the part of American leaders and maybe you too, is the belief that somehow the failure of the peace process between 1994 and 2012 represents some form of treading water before we really swim. But 18 years is a very long time historically; it blights more than a generation; Arabs took Obama at his word when he went to Cairo and said that the settlements must end.
When the historic compromises of 1830 and 1850 were flouted in the 1850s, there were real results. People became impatient and within six years there was war. And my belief that the intractable question in Israel/Palestine is also likely to be resolved by “verry much bloodshed”—as the revolutionary egalitarian John Brown put it, a person I am sure I would have opposed at the time—is why I support BDS. It is a peaceful process.
Finkelstein: Our disagreements are three-fold: historical, political, and material.
A. There never has been a peace process, but rather an annexation process that used the “peace process” as a facade. The record is quite clear that the Israelis never envisaged a full withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territory and the emergence of a truly independent Palestinian state. Rabin explicitly said this in the Knesset just before his death in 1995. (I run through the record on pp. 232-237 of Knowing Too Much.) Interestingly, even the International Crisis Group, which is generally strong on facts, but feeble (if not awful) on analysis, and which has championed the “peace process” since its inception, comes close to conceding these facts. (See its latest report, “The Emperor Has No Clothes.”) The Palestinian leadership under Arafat signed onto the “peace process” at Oslo because it was headed towards oblivion (bankruptcy) after backing the wrong horse in the First Gulf War. In return for being rescued by Washington and Tel Aviv, the Palestinian leadership agreed to act as Israel’s subcontractors in the occupied Palestinian territory. (Former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, in Scars of War, Wounds of Peace, is very frank on this point.) It is therefore analytically incorrect to draw any inferences for the prospects of a two-state settlement from a process that, from the outset, was never intended to achieve a two-state settlement. The only possibility for creating a real peace process, and not the sham of the past 20 years, is to mobilize the Palestinians’ most potent asset—i.e., the population itself—in a nonviolent grassroots struggle along the lines of the first intifada. The succession of practical victories won by the Palestinian hunger strikers (with relatively little concrete support from the Palestinian population) again demonstrated the efficacy of this strategy. [Continue reading…]