FINKELSTEIN: Traitor or Pragmatist?
Palestinians at a crucial juncture
By: Gulamhusein Abba
"It is all very well for us, sitting in the comfort and security of our homes, to be purists. We do not live with drones flying over our heads 24/7,we do not experience any difficulty travelling from one place to another, we do not live in fear of bombs falling on our homes."
Dr. Norman Finkelstein
UPDATE: This article was sent to Dr. Norman Finkelstein with a request that if there be any statement, argument, belief attributed to him in the article to be untrue or incorrect, he should let me know. He has responded and made only the following clarifications:
He has stated:
"I am not aware of any authoritative statements by jurists or legal bodies that equate Israeli policies vis-a-vis its own Palestinian-Israeli citizens as constituting Apartheid. No sane person denies the discriminatory nature and policies of the Israeli state, but Apartheid under the Rome Statutes constitutes a 'crime against humanity', and so it requires crossing a very high threshold before one equates a State's discriminatory policies with Apartheid."
With regard to my suggesting that he urges the Palestinians to accept a two state solution and agree to swap about 1.9 per cent of existing West Bank for a land equal in size and value, he has stated categorically: "I do not believe that Palestinians should accept anything less than the full 100% of their territory."
The article refers to a map he showed at the lectures with the 1.9 percent of West Bank that was being asked for a land swap. The implication was that this was a map drawn up by Finkelstein. With regard to this he has clarified that the map was actually a map that had been presented by the Palestinians in 2008.
About Palestinians recognizing Israel, while not denying what he said at the lectures that Israel was not entitled to insist on the Palestinians recognizing its right to exist as a state, much less entitled to insist that they recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, he has stated, "If one wants to anchor a resolution of the conflict in international law, I do not agree that the decision is the Palestinians to make whether or not they recognize Israel. The law is the law; and according to the law Israel is a member state of the United Nations and has the same rights and duties as any other state." It must be emphasized that the purpose of this article is neither to endorse or reject any of the statements, claims, arguments, beliefs, suggestions presented by Dr. Finkelstein in his recent UK lectures but merely to present a true and correct picture of what was said.
March 27, 2012
After receiving several e-mails forwarding bitter attacks against Finkelstein for his pronouncements at several colleges and in private interviews during his recent lecture tour in UK, I read, in full, the posts sent to me. I then hunted out several reports and videos about Finkelstein's UK lecture tour and, though it took hours spread over several days, read all the reports and saw all the videos.
It became clear to me that the attacks on Finkelstein were based on the single 30 minute interview he gave to a private person in the confines of a small private room. I feel that if those on the attack had heard the long and detailed speeches Finkelstein gave to large audiences in University Halls and at other places, they would change their mind.
I find that Finkelstein has not changed a bit on fundamentals. In his lectures during his recent tour, he came out very hard on Israel and recounted and described in graphic language several horrible acts Israel has committed. And he affirmed very clearly and explicitly that according to the International Court of Justice, UN resolutions, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, to mention just a few entities, the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem are Palestinian territory, the transfer of Israelis to these parts is against international law, the Israeli settlements are illegal.
In his lectures he also mentioned atrocities committed by Israel elsewhere too.
He made no attempt to justify any of Israel's acts with reference to Palestine. To the contrary he has condemned them unequivocally.
Israel's right to exist
Regarding Israel's right to exist, he ridiculed Israel's demand that the Palestinians recognize its right to exist and said that Israel's demand to be recognized as a Jewish state had no legal basis. Indeed, he indirectly admitted that Palestinians are entitled to claim that Israel, whether Jewish or secular, has no inherent right to exist though it can claim that it has acquired the right to have its existence accepted. And indeed that is the current position of Hamas and Fatah also. Both deny Israel's right to exist but accept the fact of its existence.
Right of return
As for the refugee question, Finkelstein, in his London tour lectures, never denied the right of return. To the contrary, he has ridiculed the Israeli suggestion that an international fund be set up and the refugees be compensated from that. He said that Israel cannot disclaim any responsibility for the refugee problem and he insisted that Israel must accept the principle of the right of return. He pointed out that the figures projected by Israel are imaginary. The real number of refugees wanting to return to Palestine would be far less. The refugee problem is not insurmountable and can be worked out through negotiations.
Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions
Nor did he express any objection to the means the Palestinians are using to achieve their rights. In fact he said he fully supports the BDS campaign. His criticism was of those behind the BDS campaign claiming that they are agnostic about the existence of Israel. He pointed out that people are not fools. They see that the demands made by the Palestinians will mean the end of Israel's existence as it is constituted at present.
The question, he said, is of tactics, of politics. He maintains that if the Palestinians want to present themselves as ones who are reasonable, ones who are rights-based, ones who just want the UN resolutions enforced, then they cannot ask for a one state solution, simply because an Israeli state is part of the UN resolution. One cannot ask for selective enforcement.
One state or Two state solution
He has admitted that if the facts on the ground have been changed by Israel to such an extent that it is now no longer possible to have a contiguous and viable Palestinian state, then it would be quite legitimate for the Palestinians to ask for a one state solution. But, he claims, that position is not true. And he showed, by using maps, that by giving up just a little more than one percent of the West Bank, and insisting on retaining the entire West Bank other than the said one percent, Palestinians could have a viable and contiguous state. That, according to him, knocks out the one valid argument for a one state solution.
His argument is that though it might be right morally to insist on a one state solution, that demand cannot be based on the argument that a two state solution is no longer possible on account of the demographics having been changed so completely by Israel.
As I understand it, the demand for a one state solution is based on the fact that Israel has so carved up the West bank that, even if it withdraws completely from the West Bank, it will not be a contiguous state, especially if the proposed land swap is accepted.
There can be no question that Israel’s treatment of its Arab citizens amounts to apartheid. One can denounce that and demand suitable action against Israel for that. But one cannot, on that basis, demand that the occupied territories be combined with what is now Israel to form a single democratic and secular state.
Idealism versus pragmatism
Finkelstein has been criticized for advocating a pragmatic approach rather than one based on human rights, international law, justice, morality and ethics.
It cannot be denied that moral action, such as human rights campaigns, should never be guided by "mainstream public". Their very task is to change mainstream public opinion.
Nowhere do I find Finkelstein denying this. All that he says is that changing public opinion on the issue of one state versus two states is going to take a very, very long time. Palestinians will be able to get their legitimate demands met more quickly if they abandon the demand for a single state and stick to a demand for an end to the occupation, a sovereign, viable and contiguous Palestinian state in the borders contained in the UN partition resolution and the right of return for the legitimate Palestinian refugees.
Either the Palestinians say it loud and clear that the UN partition resolution itself is unjust and morally wrong and on that basis they aspire to end a Jewish state and create in its place a democratic and secular state with equal rights for all its citizens OR they demand the full implementation and enforcement of the UN resolution, which includes having Israel as a state (though not as a Jewish state).
What Finkelstein is saying is that If the Palestinians stick to the first position, they will be morally right, but it will take many, many years to achieve their goal. If they choose the second course, which does not in any way contradict their three layered demands, they stand a better chance of achieving their goal, a better chance of bringing to an end the misery and deaths being inflicted on the Palestinians by the Israelis, a better chance of allowing the Palestinians to get on with their lives.
He further argued that though it has taken years of hard work to do so, the world is at last ready to listen sympathetically to the demands of Palestinians, ready to admit that what Israel is doing is unjust and contrary to international law. It is ready to see the establishment of a two state solution. It is NOT yet ready to accept a one state solution.
He argued that rather than go on fighting for a demand which may be morally right but which will entail years and years of waiting and many, many more Palestinian lives lost, purely from the tactical point of view, it would be better for the Palestinians to grasp this opportunity and adhere to the demand of full implementation of the UN resolutions (which include the state of Israel).
On whose side is Finkelstein?
If one listens carefully to all the videos, one begins to see that what he is saying is not that the demand for a one state solution has no moral underpinning or that it is not based on the rights of Palestinians. He is merely stating that there is an alternative solution, a two state solution, and it would be easier and quicker to get that rather than ask for a one state solution.
The impression one gets after listening to all the lectures is that his main concern is not preserving the state of Israel, as those who are now criticizing him claim, but rather to suggest to Palestinians a tactic that would more quickly bring an end to the Israeli occupation and all that comes with it, and allow them to get on with their lives. Implicit was that the final choice, of course, rests with the Palestinian people (as opposed to ideologues or so called leaders who have their own personal agendas to pursue).
Is Finkelstein trying to "ease his guilty conscience"?
All this talk about Finkelstein being concerned about“How the world, and specially the Israelis, remember him after he dies” and his lectures being an attempt to ease his “guilty” conscience and his not wanting to be remembered as an anti-Semite who advocated Israel shouldn’t exist – all this is pure conjecture, quite baseless and wholly undeserved. I found no evidence of any such concerns and desires. I saw no trace of a guilty conscience trying to redeem itself.
An exception to Finkelstein's "swap" suggestion
I must confess that even I, who am so outraged by the atrocities of Israel and by the UN carving up Palestine and giving more than 50% of it to a foreign entity to establish a state of their own thereon -- even I have often urged what Finkelstein is now suggesting. With one exception. Though it is going to be an uphill task, the demand, I feel, should, at the very least, be for theentire West Bank to be restored to the Palestinians, including the one percent that Finkelstein believes the giving up of which would lead more quickly to the Palestinians achieving an independent state of their own. Presenting the Israelis with this one percent would amount to rewarding an invader with a part of his spoils to make him disgorge the rest. Apart from it being unjust, it would set a bad and dangerous precedent for future invaders. Truth to tell, I personally feel that the Palestinians should demand the full implementation of the UN partition plan and all the relevant UN resolutions thereafter, as Finkelstein now suggests. But, the demand should be for Israel withdrawing fully and completely, to the borders delineated by the UN in its original partition plan, not the 1967 borders.
Of course, it can be argued that even if Israel withdraws completely from the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, it would be impossible for these areas to live in peace because of the Israeli settlements and connecting roads that Israel has dotted these areas with and on that basis, a two state solution is no longer viable and the only solution is a unified, single, democratic and secular state.
Finkelstein not free from criticism
Is Finkelstein completely free from criticism? Certainly not. His downplaying the achievements of the BDS campaign is most unfortunate, disturbing and contrary to facts. Many trade unions have participated in it. Several artistes have cancelled their appearances in Israel. Divestment has taken place. Products and companies have been boycotted. More important, as pointed out by Finkelstein himself, in solidarity marches and protests all over the world, those taking part are no longer just Palestinians. The majority of them are non-Palestinians. And, again as pointed out by Finkelstein himself, the perception of the world about Israel has changed. It is being increasingly isolated. While it is true that Finkelstein himself has played not a small part in making this change occur, the BDS campaign can rightfully take full credit for this phenomenon.
Similarly, his constantly repeating that Palestinians should adopt a tactic based on what the mainstream public worldwide is ready to accept was, initially very disturbing and jarring. But I listened, over and over again, to what Finkelstein was trying to convey and I realized that he was not saying that what he is proposing is the right stand, in terms of what morality and ethical norms demand. He was merely presenting this as an alternative choice. What are the advantages and disadvantages of adopting this stance. And what are the costs of adopting a strictly morality based stand. One has to choose. Clearly Finkelstein feels that sticking to a two state solution and, while insisting that the right of return be accepted by Israel in principle, being flexible on the way it is implemented -- this is, in the present circumstances, the better choice for the Palestinians.
He was also dead wrong in suggesting that Palestinians should stop criticizing Israel for the way it treats its minorities, particularly the Arab citizens of Israel. Not only Palestinians but anybody and everybody in the world has a right and a duty to condemn this apartheid. On this question, I fully agree there can be no question that Israel’s treatment of its Arab citizens amounts to apartheid. One can and should denounce that and demand suitable action against Israel for that. But, I submit, one cannot, on that basis, demand that the occupied territories be combined with what is now Israel to form a single democratic and secular state.
On the whole
On the whole, my sense of the situation is that if it is put to the vote, whether Palestinians should continue to fight for a single state solution or accept the realities and agree to a two state solution within the parameters of UN resolutions, -- if this is put to the vote, the majority of the Palestinians would say that they have had enough of fighting, enough of the hardships inflicted on them, enough of deaths, and want to move on with their lives. I feel they would say they are now willing to accept a two state solution, provided it includes a fully independent, sovereign, viable and contiguous state of Palestine within the borders of the UN partition resolution and the right of return for the Palestinian refugees.
We all know that Israel accepted only that part of the UN resolution which authorized the Jewish entity setting up a state of its own in Palestine. It never accepted the BORDERS. Israel has never defined its borders. And there is a reason for this. Zionists, from the beginning, were bent on extending Israel's borders to all of Palestine west of the Jordan River. Indeed, their ultimate goal was, and remains, extending the borders to include Jordan. But it "accepted" the state that was given to it, to use it as a step to achieve its final goal.
Ultimately it is for the Palestinians to decide
Perhaps the Palestinians should learn from this. Perhaps the wise thing to do would be to accept the two state solution, get it set up and recognized, build it economically, politically and in all other ways, and then, when they are in a position to do so, campaign for one single, democratic, secular state, on the ground and with the argument that it would benefit both, the Israelis and the Palestinians.
On the other hand, one can be an idealist, a purist and go on insisting that the UN had no right to carve up Palestine, no right to impose a foreign government on the Palestinians, and go on insisting on a one state solution on that basis alone.
Ultimately, I feel that it is for the Palestinians to decide what they want to do. It is all very well for us, sitting in the comfort and security of our homes, to be purists. We do not live with drones flying over our heads 24/7, we do not experience any difficulty travelling from one place to another, we do not live in fear of bombs falling on our homes. Palestinians do.
A personal note
First, about Finkelstein. He is clearly no traitor of the Palestinian cause. He has been at the forefront advocating for Palestinian rights. For more than three decades he has been telling the world about Israel’s oppressive policies. He did this again and again in his lectures in UK recently. His commitment to ending Israel's oppressive policies remains as strong as ever and he continues to be an important and forceful critic of Israel and supporter of the Palestinian cause.
This has not been easy for him nor is it easy for him now. He has paid a very heavy price for his public denunciation of Israeli actions. There is no need to repeat what he has borne. The record is known to all.
Quartering him and throwing him to the dogs is height of ingratitude and is folly exemplified.
What Finkelstein deserves from the Palestinians and the supporters of their cause is not vilification but praise, continued support and yes, gratitude.
I have written this with a very heavy heart. Here are my innermost thoughts, beliefs and feelings:
*The Jews did not really need a state of their own.
*The European powers decided to set up a separate state for the Jews in Palestine not out of compassion for the Jews or to fill a perceived need for them to have a state of their own but for their personal ulterior motives, namely to provide a salve to their guilty conscience (for not doing what they could have done to prevent the holocaust), keep the thousands upon thousands of refugee Jews from their own shores, and, to have a paw in the Middle East.
*The UN had no right to practice charity at the expense of the Palestinians. The *UN erred grievously in agreeing to partition Palestine and imposing a foreign government on the Palestinians against their expressed wishes.
*The UN added insult to injury by giving more than 50 per cent of Palestine to this foreign entity.
*Israel being the creation of the UN, the UN has a duty and an obligation to see that Israel respects international law. It is the duty of the UN to take necessary action, such as imposing sanctions and taking any and all other necessary actions, to compel Israel to end its illegal and brutal occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights instead of leaving the defenseless Palestinians at the mercy of the Israelis and forcing the Palestinians to negotiate a peace deal with them.
*What is needed is not negotiations between the powerful aggressor and the helpless victim but implementation and enforcement by the international community of UN resolutions on record.
I personally am for the eventual establishment of a single democratic and secular state on all of the land west of the Jordan river which comprised Palestine prior to the establishment of Israel.
For the present, I feel, the best strategy would be to focus on getting the UN to enforce the UN partition resolution and all the subsequent UN resolutions on the subject.
Simultaneously, the BDS organizers should strengthen the campaign, proposing neither a two state or a one state solution but concentrating on calling for BDS against Israel solely on the grounds of it violating international laws and human rights and practicing discrimination against its Arab citizens and other groups.
The BDS campaign is an inclusive one, embracing all human rights advocates including Palestinians, Israelis, American Jews, and American Palestinian Christians and Muslims who together hold Israel accountable for its horrendous policies and actions and call for an end to its illegal and brutal occupation.
These are just my personal thoughts. What strategies should the Palestinians adopt? I firmly believe that neither I nor the talking heads nor the pundits and pen pushers and keyboard warriors operating from the comfort and security of their homes, nor the Finkelsteins of this world, nor anyone else can tell the Palestinians what they should do or not do. It is for them to decide how to shape their destiny.