Jonathan Kuttab on Defending Palestinian human rights: what role for the U.K.?

Online talk given in October 2021

Jonathan Kuttab is a co-founder of the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq and co-founder of Nonviolence International. 

He is Executive Director of Friends of Sabeel North America.

Download his book for free.

Jonathan Kuttab:

Thanks to all of you who are on this call. Clearly you are concerned about this issue. And I want to say that, the events of the last week with Israelis declaring six organisations, including Al Haq to be terrorist organisations, really marks a not unexpected, but certainly a pivotal turn in the whole situation, and how Israel views itself. I think that Israel has now reached the point where the arrogance, the hubris, the feeling of power and invincibility, has reached the point where they really don’t care. They actually really don’t care.

25% of Israelis think and acknowledge that the situation in Israel is apartheid. And they say, So what? We can, in fact, get away with it.

Netanyahu once said, if international law is not in our favour, then we will change international  law. We’ll change international law.

Already a point was made through the Americans, that if the International Criminal Court were to investigate and prosecute Israel, we will punish the International Criminal Court. In fact, we will freeze their assets. We’re already prohibiting them from getting visas to the United States, and we may well prosecute them, the prosecutors and the judges, for daring to bring Israel to account for war crimes or crimes against humanity.

In fact, that’s the one thing that’s common among these six organisations that have just been declared to be terroristic, that they have all been active, especially Al-Haq, in documenting and presenting dossiers to the International Criminal Court in The Hague regarding Israel’s violations of human rights, particularly during the Gaza campaign and where Gantz himself, the Defence Minister, was the head of the Israeli Armed Forces, and so potentially is a defendant in any upcoming litigation before the International Criminal Court.

And so Gantz  said, who are these people to try me? I will declare them to be terroristic, and I will make them suffer and pay. I will criminalise them, just like there are efforts both in Britain and certainly the United States to criminalise BDS. Somehow the non-violent expression of support for Palestinians becomes, itself, a criminal offence.

There’s a new definition, the IHRA definition which defines anti-Semitism to include anti-Zionism. And actions against the State of Israel themselves, therefore become a criminal offence for which you can be prosecuted.

And this is, by the way, one of the features of the current actions by the Israeli government, is that by declaring these organisations to be terroristic, not only are they illegal, but any support for them, any donations to them, any public expression of agreement and support for them, is itself a criminal offence under Israeli law. And who knows, with enough pressure, maybe it’ll become an offence under  European and British law as well.

This is a rather bleak situation, I’m sure you will agree. And it really forces us to question, again, the whole situation.

I know that the Balfour Project and its mission statement seem to be solidly behind a two-state solution, asking for people to accept and to work for accepting a Palestinian State, side-by-side with Israel, the so-called two-state solution.

And make no mistake, I was one of those who worked very hard for a two-state solution, and struggled to make that a possibility or a reality. But I had to face the truth, that the two-state solution is no longer possible. And not because the Palestinians have rejected it, or the Arabs have rejected it. In fact, there has been a consensus. There has been unanimity by Arab and Muslim countries, that if Israel were to accept genuinely a two-state solution, return back to the ‘67 borders, accept a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, they will all accept, recognise, normalise relations with the state of Israel.

And Israel says, no we’re not. In fact, the current government has openly said, there will not be a Palestinian state. There will not even be negotiations with the Palestinians anymore says Naftali Bennett, the current Prime Minister. We will not allow it. It’s not going to happen. And the Arab world will normalise with us anyway, through all sorts of pressures, arms deals, etc. We will make sure we get everything we want.

So, the question arises, if the two-state solution is no longer realistically possible, if Israel has created so many facts on the ground to make it impossible, what then should we do? What is the solution? Is there a vision? Is there a view for moving forward, for people who care about Israeli Jews, but also care about Palestinian Arabs, and care about peace, and God forbid, also care about justice?

Is there a way forward? I believe there is. Because I believe with every possible advantage on their side, the Zionist movement, which 100 years ago when the Balfour Declaration was given had nothing, practically nothing in Palestine. Population, 5% were Jewish, but they were Palestinian. And they spoke Arabic, and ate hummus, and danced Dabke, and considered themselves Palestinians of the Jewish faith, just like I’m a Palestinian of the Christian faith. And most Palestinians are of the Muslim faith.

So, when the Zionist movement was created, and the Balfour Declaration was issued 100 years or so ago, Zionism had nothing in Israel/Palestine. There was a religious connection, of course. “Next year in Jerusalem” was spoken once a year by Jews all over the world. But people forget. Five times every single day, Muslims turn to Mecca to pray. Does that give them any rights in Saudi Arabia, or its oil riches? So, the Jewish connection, the religious connection is not a powerful one.

Nor is the historic one, for that matter, because I could probably name 14 current states which at one time or another had sovereignty in Israel/Palestine. From Greece, to Italy, to Iraq, to Egypt, Syria, Turkey etc. Do they have rights to go over and take over this land?

As I said, with every possible advantage, the Zionist Movement has succeeded in creating a new reality, but has not been able to eliminate the Arab Palestinian reality. To create a Jewish state, as Jewish as France is French, is no longer possible, because half the people living under the rule of that state are not Jews.

By the same token, I have to say, to return to the idea of Falastin Arabia, an Arab Palestine, is also not possible, because half the people living in Palestine today are not Arab. And they’re going nowhere.

So, some kind of formula has to be reached to accommodate this new reality. For a long time, the idea of partition was offered. Let’s just cut it up. 22% of Palestine, the area that was captured in ’67, will be made an Arab state, and the rest can be a Jewish state. And for a while, that sounded like a very reasonable compromise. But that compromise was systematically undermined by the Zionist movement and the state of Israel.

And in this book, I explain how that was done, that the number of Jewish settlers, about 700,000 now, the location of the settlements dispersed throughout the West Bank, the physical infrastructure of roads and other administrative infrastructures connecting them together, the legal and administrative vehicles that were created, and the psychological integration of these settlements into the Israeli body politic, all that has reached such a point where it is irreversible.

In my book, I talk about three attempts to remove settlers from their homes in the West Bank. And whether successful, or otherwise, they’ve led to such a huge outcry that it is really impossible to consider any more massive movement of population, which would be required to create a Palestinian state.

So, then what do we do if we can’t have a Palestinian state? What do we do if the goals of Palestinian nationalism and Jewish Zionism, which have always been incompatible and mutually exclusive, if these cannot be reconciled, what do we do?

In this little book, I tried to visualise enough changes in Palestinian nationalism and in Zionism, to accommodate the other. For the promise of Zionism to Jews to be fulfilled, except for exclusivity. And for the promise of Palestinian nationhood and statehood for Palestinians to be also fulfilled, but not exclusivity.

In a new hybrid system that accommodates each group without negating the other, without eliminating physically, or de-legitimising, or disenfranchising, or oppressing the other. A system that is not built on apartheid, on giving a separate set of rights to Jews and to Arabs. A system that, at its root, is not really a compromise, because Palestinians can still claim all of Palestine, and Zionists can still claim all of Eretz Israel, but not exclusively.

And the way you do that is through a lot of understanding and empathy. Again, I want to make it clear, I am not claiming that there is any symmetry between the two sides, either moral, historical, ethical, legal, at all. I’m just saying, I’m just not going to address that at all, at this point. I could address it of course. And I do address it in other fora.

But I’m saying, regardless of that, can we still address those needs and fulfill what people want, except for exclusivity? Except for denial of the other? And I think it can be done. We can create legal mechanisms, a constitutional framework, structures that fully appreciate and understand the needs and the fears and phobias, as well as the aspirations of both sides, without negating the other.

Now, how do you get there, is an entirely different issue, which I only touch upon briefly towards the end of my book. But I want to invite people into a new conversation. Because the old paradigm, and the conversation and language of two states, has become destructive in itself. Has become part of the problem. Has become an alibi for the status quo. Has become an excuse for not dealing with the realities on the ground. Has become an excuse, basically, to do nothing other than wait for the right situation, for the proper leadership to develop on both sides, for enough international pressure to be created, meanwhile the oppression continues. And the situation is solidifying into an apartheid regime to all intents and purposes.

And apartheid, I think, we must understand, is no longer a pejorative term of saying, you’re like South African apartheid. It is now a technical legal term, properly defined in international conventions. It is also part of the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

I sometimes tell my Israeli friends that the real problem that you have is that you’re an anachronism. If you were created two, three, four centuries ago, there’d be no problem. Ethnic cleansing? Fine. Conquest? Fine. Domination? Fine. Apartheid? Fine. Colonisation and colonial settlement? Fine.

But that is no longer the case. We live in a different world today, where equality is a basic value in international law that cannot be denied. And if we, at all, take a historical perspective, we know that the current situation is untenable and unsustainable. The only way it can be sustained is by pure force, and pure disregard for any norms or values.

Today, democracy and equality are basic values. Now I know there are many places where these values are violated. Sure. And if Israel wants to join the likes of Saudi Arabia, and North Korea, and do what it wants, and ignore international law, fine. But Israel cannot claim to be a democracy. Cannot claim to be part of the current democratic liberal western community of nations. Cannot claim and ask for support and sympathy as a progressive light unto the nations, just because they have more vegans there, doesn’t do it.

They need to live by these values of human rights, morality, respect for international law, and equality.

Now, they have opted for a different path. And the action that was taken this past week shows that they are determined to keep along that path. And that path says, we don’t care what ordinary people think, or even the intellectuals, or even the press, or public opinion. As long as we have the one percent on our side, we’re doing fine. The Europeans? We can get everything we want from Europe, without abiding by their human rights requirements. Did you know that? Israel today has all the advantages of being a member of the EU, practically all of them, but specifically they took out all the references to human rights, and abiding by human rights values, so they can have their cake and eat it too, they think. And so far, they have managed to do that.

For a long time, they could do that because they enjoyed a lot of public support and sympathy. Whether that sympathy came from guilt feelings over the really horrendous anti-Semitism that Western Europe, especially, has exercised against Jews for millennia. Whether it’s sympathy because of the Holocaust. Whether it’s genuinely lack of knowledge about the realities in Palestine. People actually thought that there is no such thing as a Palestinian people. There’s just these nomadic tribes that came to Palestine because of Zionism, through giving them jobs and opportunities. That somehow this was an empty land. A land without a people, for a people without a land. For many years, the very idea that there is such a thing as Palestinian people, was prohibited. They wouldn’t use the P word. They wouldn’t allow Palestinians the right to be themselves, and to represent themselves.

But that age is gone. Today, there is a new reality.

The world knows and acknowledges that there is such a thing as a Palestinian people. And the Jews think that they have a right to return after 2000 years. Are you telling Palestinians they can’t return after 60 years, 70 years? When they still can see physically their houses, and they still hold the keys to them?

You can’t say, Israel is a democratic country, when it’s, in fact, ruling over another population, 7 million people, and ruling over them in different ways. Separating and dividing them into a group that is citizens, but really with very little rights, they are Israeli citizens, about two million of them. People in East Jerusalem, 300,000, who are residents, but not citizens. And they’re like in no man’s land. And others in the West Bank, who are cut off into Areas A, B, and C with a weak, ineffective, corrupt, and sometimes collaborating authority that does what Israel wants or else. And Gaza, which is under constant siege, another two million people. And the diaspora Palestinian refugees who are totally denied any access or any rights in Palestine.

It seemed like a very successful enterprise of really conquering, subjugating, replacing, displacing, and ruling the land in favour of Jewish Zionism. And I am here to tell you that, that programme has really failed. And that some new reality must emerge.

Right now, Israel has all the power, no question. It has control over all the land, and all access to and from the land. It has military superiority that is over and beyond anything imaginable, including nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction, the latest in technology, the drone technology, the smart bombs, that can not only defeat the Palestinians, but any combination of Arab or Muslim countries around them. Economically, technologically, not to mention the support of the only superpower in the world, and that basically has the support of Europe as well. So, I think with all these advantages, I think it has failed. And it has failed on moral, ethical, and legal grounds.

It has failed the test of equality, fairness, and justice. And in the end, these ideas, I think, will prevail. Freedom will prevail. I’m just seeking ways that that can be done in a meaningful proper way, that is not at the expense of, but to the benefit of Jewish Israelis, as well as Palestinian Arabs. I also dare to think that my solution in this book, Beyond The Two-State Solution, is actually not a compromise by either party. Because we are no longer in a zero sum situation. But it’s a new vision that will make Palestinian nationalism better. Will enrich it. Will enhance it. And hopefully, it will make the Zionist Movement, and the idea of a Jewish state for Israeli Jews, better. It will enhance it, and it will make it thrive, rather than be a fascist, militant power that survives just through military might, which one day will end.

I think these are my comments for today. And I know that they are provocative. I know that they depart from conventional wisdom in many basic ways, because people have been committed to this idea of two states for so long, that it really takes a lot of effort to move beyond that paradigm, and to start thinking in new terms, hopefully in good terms, that are good for both peoples. And I will end my comments here. And I look forward to your questions.

Diana Safieh:

Thank you so much for that. We’ve got a question from Professor Raphael Cohen Almagor, who’s from the Department of Politics at the University of Hull. And he asks what was the basis for the case against these specific six organisations? And then we’ve got a question, as well, from Susan Moffat, why has Israel chosen this time to make this declaration?


The basis, according to what we heard, is that somehow these organisations are connected to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and they serve as a front for the PFLP, and they use the money that comes to them to fund the PFLP. And most of the evidence that Israel has about that, is secret evidence, which they cannot share, but which they will share with, maybe the Americans, and maybe some other European powers.

The problem with secret evidence, I don’t need to go into. All I can say is that, at its root, Israel defines what is legal, what is illegal. And then, we have to deal with the power dynamics of they’re telling you, this is what we want.

And this is one of the dangers of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. Once that definition is accepted, then they can go against me, you, or anybody and say, look this is what the law says. You are being anti-Semitic. It’s been defined this way. Has been accepted this way, and what you’re doing is anti-Semitic, even though we’re not anti-Semitic.

Why now? I thought I hinted at, basically, the two reasons. One, that maybe Israelis are getting a little nervous about the ICC, the International Criminal Court, and they want to shut down this effort to go there, and maybe they just feel they’ve reached success, they can do whatever they want, they’ve proven that they can act with impunity, and they’re just being arrogant. I mean Israelis have always had a strong strain of arrogance. But the level of hubris, and the arrogance, I think, is totally unmatched.


We’ve got one more question on this, from Samir Yusuf. What will be the implications of Israel declaring the six organisations as terrorist ones? What’s the implication for the organisations, and perhaps also the supporters?


Well, this has very specific implications. This is not just a smear, it’s not just making us look bad. If the organisation is illegal, they could seize its assets, they could arrest its individuals. And any public support for these organisations is, itself, a criminal offence. I think they will probably pressure the Arab banks not to open accounts for them. They will not be able to conduct their day-to-day activity. Anybody who supports it. They’re already doing that with BDS, trying to prevent people, and turn them back at the airport if they are for supporting BDS. Even though they haven’t declared BDS itself to be an illegal terrorist organisation. But we can see what they can do. They can make life very difficult and very miserable for all of us.


From Ramsey Tewfic. How realistic is it to expect that these six organisations will be categorised by the EU as terrorist organisations?


I think not, not realistic. Although they will try to use it. In the past, Israel has tried to urge the EU not to donate to these organisations. And has shared with them some evidence of the connection between these organisations and PFLP, or other Palestinian factions. And the Europeans studied what evidence was given to them, and said, this is bogus. There is no evidence. And they have refused, they have resisted in the past the attempts to force them to sideline these organisations. And the EU has, in fact, publicly, met with these six organisations, and publicly stated that they have seen no credible evidence that they are connected with the PFLP.


Well, that answers my next question, someone has asked, John Mitchell, what is your relationship with the PFLP.


I am proudly independent. I do not belong to any of the Palestinian factions. Not Fatah, not Hamas, not PFLP, not the Communist Party, not any of the others. However, most Palestinians have some connection, one way or another, with one Palestinian faction or another. You have to understand that all Palestinian factions are illegal under Israeli law. Including Fatah. And they have been declared to be terrorist organisations. The PLO itself was illegal for many years. And I don’t know if it has been officially removed from the list of illegal organisations. But personally, I’m proud to say that I was and continue to be independent of any Palestinian faction.


And so, from Peter Larson. Jonathan, is it possible that this is a play by Gantz to show how hard line he is, and that the rest of the Israeli establishment is not happy about this? What is the support in the Israeli government for this declaration?


It may be. I read some talk with Gantz after this happened, and he seemed to be totally unconcerned with international public opinion at all. He seemed to be more concerned with how this plays within Israel, within the different factions. Unfortunately, Israel has a system whereby, whoever is in government is allowed to do all sorts of things, and the rest of the population goes along. This is their definition of what a democracy is. If the different factions, more or less, agree with a particular policy, it becomes the policy of the government. And they play games all the time. Unfortunately, when it comes to Palestinians, and when it comes to issues of security, the entire population, more or less, goes along with it, even if they are reluctant.


I have just posted a link in the chat box because we are joined today by William Bell, who is from Christian Aid. And I posted a statement from the Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights, because they have made a statement themselves, with signatories, including Save the Children, Oxfam, Amnesty UK, and Christian Aid. So, do check out that statement in the chat box. And I will carry on with the questions. We’ve got one from Iain Scobbie, in Manchester. How can we support the organisations listed? He says he’s worked in the past with Al-Haq.


Yes. I think this is very important. I think we are in a situation similar to the situation that we were in, where the PLO was declared illegal by Israel. And they wouldn’t talk to them. I think enough organisations and individuals, sometimes at the cost to themselves and to their careers, insisted on dealing with the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. I remember Andrew Young, the US representative at the United Nations, lost his job because he spoke with Zuhdi Tarazi, the PLO representative at the UN. And many churches defied the law by going and meeting with Yasser Arafat and the PLO. And eventually, that led to Israel itself really backing down from its position, and even entering into negotiations with the PLO.

I was thinking that maybe the international community would do something like that with Hamas. But now, if these Palestinian human rights organisations, civil society, are being also labeled terroristic, I think every action of public support, and willingness to meet with, deal with, donate to, and have relationships with these organisations, even if it is illegal under Israeli law, helps bring about a new reality.


Now some questions about the one state/two state debate. From John Hall: are we to accept one state with Jewish Israelis in possession of so much of the stolen land, and resources, and Palestinians without? I believe you touched on this. I’ve got a follow-up question from Nadia Said. What would you call the proposed inclusive state? Something I’ve always wondered.


 I’ll start with the first one. And the answer is, yes. We have to accept the reality of what exists, however we have to acknowledge the need to give some form of restitution. While you would not physically remove any person from their home, whether the settler is living in your home, in Tel Aviv, or in Jerusalem, or a West Bank settlement, you will not physically remove him from his home,  but you will provide housing substitute, land compensation, and other forms of restitution for the returning Palestinians, whose land has been basically taken and lived on. You cannot reverse the clock. You cannot destroy what has happened. You can only think of ways to move forward.

And it is possible. It is possible. There are some villages like Ikrit and Biram, where people were kicked out of their villages. And they are Israeli citizens by the way. They are not West Bankers. And for many times, and they’ve said: Okay, just please allow us back to our village. Whatever you took, you took. Just give us back some of the remaining land. A lot of the land that was taken from the Palestinians was placed in the hands of the Jewish National Fund, or the Israeli Lands Authority, or some other corporate or collective body that holds it on behalf of all Jews.

Now, if that land is held on behalf of all the residents of the country, rather than all Jews, then it is possible to reach, shall we say, relative justice. Not absolute justice, but relative justice. I think it can be done.


Thank you for that. Did you touch on the name?


No, I didn’t. You have to have somebody who is much more creative. Muammar Qadhafi, at one time, talked about Isratine and some other things. We have to be more creative, maybe, in talking about the name, the flag, the anthem, the symbols. And actually, one person wrote back an answer to my book. A 30 page paper that was just absolutely brilliant. And she included also different flags and different shapes, that somehow combined the motifs of the Palestinian flag and the Israeli flag. It can be done. The problem is not finding the right name, or the right symbol. The problem is giving up the idea of exclusivity. The problem is creating a situation where you can really believe this is your state, but not exclusively. And where ultimate features of the state are not determined only by demography. 51% will determine what it is, and everybody else can be crushed, or pushed aside, or ignored.

Now, I think for many Israelis, what’s wrong with the one state solution is, they’re afraid that once the Arabs are the majority, they will do to us what we did to them, by the magic of democracy. But that’s not democracy. Democracy is not the dictatorship of 51%. It is a system where everybody can participate. In a country, in a government, where there are genuine stakeholders, where their interests as individuals as well as substantial minorities are safeguarded, regardless of the whims of 51% of the population.


The next question is from Ahlam Akram: There’s an attempt from a prominent Palestinian person to take the British government to court, to get an acknowledgement for the harm that they did to Palestinians in Palestine. What do you think of this initiative?


 I think Ahlam is referring to Munib Al-Masri. Actually I worked with him for a while on that possibility. It’s interesting. Yes We lawyers somehow, sometimes think that law is the arbiter of things, and that we can find legal principles and take our case to court. Court is very attractive, because in court you have to prove your case. You can’t just go by propaganda and hearsay evidence. And law is based on principles, which apply to anybody and everybody. So, there may be a lot of possibilities for such a case. The problem is that most sovereign states are reluctant to allow individuals to sue them. They’re reluctant even to allow other states to sue them.

There have been good precedents, by the way. Some African nation, I think it’s Uganda, that at one time, sued the British for some of their atrocities, and then got a financial settlement out of court, after they brought an action in court.

So, maybe we will move towards a more civilised world, where these issues are settled in courtrooms. And where you can sue for your rights, instead of having to fight for them .


The next question is from Linda Rose: How can the American bias be changed? Surely without the US policy changing, and becoming more realistic and honest about Israel’s apartheid, there is little anyone else can do. I feel so disappointed in Biden, describing the bloodshed in May as proportionate. They continue to fund and support Israeli rhetoric and block sanctions.


That’s a very tough question. Because it is true, that the United States has used its tremendous power and influence, both directly and indirectly, not only to bolster the state of Israel and its policies, but even to protect it, and to provide it an umbrella, to insulate it from international law and international public opinion.

All I can say is that, in the United States, things are changing also. We note these changes in the Democratic Party. We note these changes among American Jews, especially the younger ones. Where support for Israel dropped  almost by half, or two thirds recently, because of the recent events. We notice this change even among evangelical Christians. Where among young evangelicals support for Israel dropped from 62% to 33% over the last three years. That’s evangelicals under the age of 29. So, change is coming. It may not appear that way, because Israel continues to hold on to its power over the top 1%.

On college campuses, for example, you will have students and even faculty voting for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions. BDS. And then, you find the head of the board of trustees, or the president, reversing that and refusing to go along with it. So, even in the United States, support for Israel is changing. Support, specifically, for its most right wing policies, including settlements. The world is changing. The world is changing. When will it reach a tipping point? I don’t know. But it is changing, definitely.


Speaking of changing opinions, I’ve got a couple of questions on the one state solution. One from Andy Daer. Is it true that younger Palestinians are moving towards accepting the idea of the single state? And then, Ian Connan, asks whether a single state is gaining traction within Hamas and/or Fatah?


The answer is, yes. There is more support among younger Palestinians for one state. Both Hamas and Fatah are refusing to accept the one state paradigm, because, at least, at the level of leadership, they are benefiting from the current situation. And they are just caught up in the task of expanding their own personal individual privileges under the existing system. And their claim to legitimacy is based on their pursuing the Palestinian state paradigm, even though they’re convinced it’s not going to happen.

The problem is not that the Palestinians would be convinced, because I think for the Palestinians, the two-state solution itself was a bitter pill to swallow, was a huge compromise, and denigration to cut down their rights to only 22% of Palestine. And they were willing to do it. But it was not accepted by the other side. So, to get the Palestinians to move to the one-state solution, is a difficulty, but it’s not anywhere near as difficult as to get the Israelis to move to a one-state solution that has genuine equality for everybody.


These are great questions coming in. I’ve got one from Angus Rhodes: I can see that constitutionally, it is possible to set up a situation where there’s a one state without the current apartheid. But can you consider that remotely approaching justice? What would the one state look like?


Yes. It approaches relative justice, not absolute justice. Relative justice is a recognition that we live in a broken world, that things cannot be totally and completely just, but you can move towards justice. You can move towards a more fair situation. You can move towards a situation that is livable, if not ultimately what you desired. So, yes. My answer is, we can move towards such a solution.

I did not say, by the way, when I was giving my presentation, that in my book, there are some creative ways of dealing with some of the objections, or some of the dangers, or some of the fears.

For example, one of the biggest fears among Israeli Jews is what I called the Holocaust Syndrome. “We are so afraid. We cannot leave our security in the hands of anybody else. We cannot trust anybody else. The whole world is against us. We need to continue to be in charge of security”. So, in my vision, I provide two elements for Jewish Israelis who are worried about security. One of them, I said, we will make as a matter of constitutional law. The Defence Minister, the head of the Air Force, Navy, and Army, and nuclear weapons, to always be Jewish. With an Arab deputy. And every other position in the Army, to be on the basis of merit. But the head of the Police will always be a Palestinian Arab, with a Jewish deputy. So that the fear of Israel about being attacked from the outside world can be addressed, while at the same time, the fear of the Palestinians of being oppressed by the police, and by the power of the Israeli forces, whether they are military or otherwise, can also be addressed.

I also said that the real danger to Israeli Jews today doesn’t come from Iran, or Turkey, or Jordan, or Egypt, or any outside force. And therefore, more weapons don’t help you. What helps you is, to work on people’s feeling of embittered injustice. This 12 year old girl with a pair of scissors in her pocket who wants to stab somebody, and who doesn’t care. Well, how do you remove that? You remove that by, in my book, providing that 10% of the defence budget will always go to a ministry whose job it is to improve relations, understanding of the history, the language, and the culture of the other side, and to work on joint projects, and to remove the causes of bitterness, and ignorance, and hatred, so that you wouldn’t have to be worried about your security.


We’ve got a question from Johnny Rizq. Do you think that a first step towards creating a new paradigm, based on equality and non-exclusivity, would be for the Palestinian Authority to step down, and in fact, force negotiations to restart on a different basis? You told me not to avoid difficult questions.


No, it’s not difficult. I think it would be wonderful if the Palestinian Authority were to step down. But I don’t think that that will work, because Israelis will simply delegate the functions of the Palestinian Authority to another lackey who’s willing to do its will. But, yes. You are right. At its root, I think, Johnny Rizq is saying that the Palestinian Authority, unfortunately, has become part of the problem of perpetuating the status quo. And that the Palestinian Authority, today, no longer speaks for Palestinian nationalism, and for the desires of its people. Maybe, because it’s caught up with this yoke of Oslo, that it cannot remove. It’s caught up with a situation where it is absolutely required to act in support of Israel, and Israel’s interests, and Israel’s security. So, whether they like it or not, they now have to act more on behalf of Israel than on behalf of their own people. Which is a very, very difficult thing to say, but that’s the truth of the reality on the ground.


A question from Luke Hammill. How did your message get noticed, when Western media offers a seemingly bulletproof cover for apartheid or an ongoing ethnic cleansing?


Since I published this book in English, and it will be published in Arabic and Hebrew soon, by the way. It’s been translated. It has been spread around to many people, many influential people, about 70 members of Congress have received a copy already. Their offices and their staff. And everywhere I’ve met with, basically, two kinds of reactions. Number one, hmm, this sounds interesting. We’ll consider it. We’ll think about it. The other is, how can you convince the Israelis to accept something like that? And the difficulty of actually implementing it, rather than problems with the idea itself.

I was expecting a lot of pushback, frankly. I was expecting a lot of people to say, no, no, no. That’s nonsense. Only a two state solution works, that’s the only thing that works.

Because that seems to be the prevailing conventional wisdom. Not only that that’s the best solution, but that that’s the only solution possible. So, my call, beyond the two-state solution, is to move beyond that. And I am surprised how little pushback I have received. I think that, one person who totally told me I was wrong, I think was Sabri Jiryes who is connected somehow with the Palestinian Authority, and who said: You’re just too utopian, too idealistic. Not that the ideas are wrong, but that they are too idealistic, too utopian.


I’ve got a question, a difficult question, but probably more for us, as the Balfour Project. From Jean Fitzpatrick. What advice does Jonathan give the Balfour Project, in terms of giving up on the two-state solution?


This is what I meant when I said that this is a little bit controversial for you. And let me explain. Almost everybody who’s worked on this subject, for the last I don’t know how many years, has accepted the two-state solution. Myself included. I worked very hard on two states. In fact, it was so difficult to get Netanyahu to even utter the words “two states”. So, we thought that, what we really need to do is get people to move towards a two-state solution, to recognise the Palestinians’ need for a state. So, I understand why people would be reluctant to change. It’s painful. It’s much more comfortable to stay within the existing paradigm.

And in fact, I have a whole chapter, where I say: Why is it that the language of the two states persists, even though the vast majority of experts and pundits will tell you that it is not going  to happen? It is not realistic. It’s not going to happen. And yet, they consistently continue to speak in terms of two states.

My advice to you is, that you have to start thinking out of the box. You have to start acknowledging that what you have been preaching all these years has been foreclosed. It’s no longer possible. Not because you didn’t want it, not because it didn’t make sense at the time, not because the Palestinians have rejected it, but because the Israelis have systematically undermined it, to the point where you need to go back to the drawing board and think in new terms. Radical terms.


My final question is from our chair, Sir Vincent Fean, which is also on this topic. He says: The aim of the Balfour Project is equal rights for both peoples. It is not for British people to prescribe that it must be in two states. So, the Balfour Project does not pronounce on that. Though we do believe that Britain must treat both peoples with equal esteem. That is our point on British recognition of the Palestinian state, which is how Palestine got to the ICC, by being a state. You address how to get to equal rights in your book. Can you say a few words about that now?


Yes. Part of the methodology of the book  was to try and seek and ask each group, what is it that you want, really? What is it that Zionism gives you? What is it that the Palestinian state gives you? And to see if we can give them all these things, without a state, and without a Jewish state, and without the Palestinian state. And for Palestinians, very high up on their requirements was the idea of equality. We want equality. We want fairness. We want our language, our identity, our culture, to be respected.

Just like for Jews, it’s funny you talk about, if I can give one more anecdote. There was one rabbi. And I asked him, why do you want the Jewish state? You’re a Zionist, you want the Jewish state. I understand that. Why do you want a Jewish state? What does a Jewish state do for you? And then he thought about it, and he says, “I want a state where any Jew, anytime, no questions asked, can go and live, and as of right, and be able to defend himself”. And I sai,: “Maybe I can give you something better. supposing I give you a state where any Jew, anytime, no questions asked, can go and live where he doesn’t need to defend himself, because nobody is out to get him?”

If we can provide you that, will you accept it? Does it have to be exclusively Jewish? It’ll still respect your language, and religion, and culture. And it can be a Jewish state, but it will also be an Arab state. And for the Arabs, we want it to be an Arab state. Of course, Falastin Arabia, but we also accept that there’s about seven million non-Arabs living here. And we’re not asking for their elimination, or for their repatriation. Talk about requirements of absolute justice. We’re saying: Live here, live with us, but live as equals. Not as Lords and masters. But as equals. So, equality for us is absolutely essential for Palestinians. And it will be a feature of the new state. And there will be a constitutional court that will insist on equality. You may not be able to change what’s in people’s hearts, but you can make it, as a matter of law, that in the public sphere, in jobs, in resources, water, land, planning, equality is central. And that no government can work outside the parameters of equality.


That’s a really strong point to finish on. Thank you so much for raising points that we haven’t properly discussed yet on these webinars.  I echo the thoughts of our audience: Thank you so much, Jonathan.

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