Doha, Qatar – Prominent Israeli historian Ilan Pappe says US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has shown the Palestinians that Washington has no interest in helping them achieve statehood.
In an interview with Al Jazeera in Qatar’s capital, Doha, Pappe also said Trump’s positions should make Palestinians realise that American intervention is not required to achieve peace.
Pappe, who is Jewish and born in Israel, said his support for the Palestinians to regain their homeland is driven by moral principles and his care about the future of Jews in historic Palestine.
He noted that even before Trump, past US administrations – including the one led by Barack Obama – were engaged in “double talk” to deceive the Palestinians into thinking they could rely on Washington to help mediate the creation of their own state.
In reality, US governments only advanced and preserved the Zionist project in Palestine, including the expansion of settlements, he said.
Pappe, who has published 15 books on the Middle East, including The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, spoke on the sidelines of last weekend’s 12th Al Jazeera Forum.
|Ilan Pappe, director of the European Center of Palestine Studies, University of Exeter|
Al Jazeera: The Palestinian National Council has convened for the first time in years. How you see the Palestinian situation today, with their divisions, and a US administration that undermined the basic understanding of previous peace negotiations?
Pappe: I think the whole peace process until now was built on initiatives that had nothing to do with the Palestinians. Palestinians did not have any initiative. They need to take initiatives and to be the ones who bring forward a programme. They did it in 1968 but that was the last time. It is time for a new Palestinian initiative that would not only represent the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but the wider Palestinian community around the world. I hope they support one democratic state in all of Palestine.
Al Jazeera: As far as the US position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, what has changed since Trump came to power?
Pappe: The Trump administration has created a new transparency. Before Trump, there was double talk by other American administrations. The Americans usually say something and then do the opposite, which includes presidents [Bill] Clinton, [George W.] Bush and Obama. His decision on Jerusalem – by moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – is a clear violation of international law. The question is how to deal with it given that we have a kind of childish American president with a lot of power.
Al Jazeera: What fuels the Trump administration’s strong push towards adopting all of the Israeli positions and narratives?
Pappe: The support for Israel in the United States comes more from the Christian Zionist community who are Trump’s base than from the Jewish community. The young Jewish American generation often disassociate themselves from Israel and question its behaviour.
Most of the Christian Zionists support Israel because of their Christianity, not because they love Israel. It is a unique version of Christianity.
People often misunderstand the motivations behind supporting Israel in the Republican and Democratic parties. In the Democratic Party, they are pro-Israeli because of the success of the Israeli lobby. In the Republican Party, it has a lot to do with Christian Zionism.
Al Jazeera: How then should both Palestinians and their supporters deal with the Jerusalem decision and the policies of this administration?
Pappe: This position at least releases the Palestinians from the belief that peace must only come through the American system, or a Pax-Americana. It allows you to develop different thinking about a possible solution. A solution that does not need necessarily an American intervention or one based on an Israeli-American interpretation of what is a solution. In addition, a different solution that listens to the Palestinian demands and aspirations is needed.
Al Jazeera: Arab regimes have long held the belief that 99 percent of the solution to the Middle East conflict must come through American intervention, which they depend on for their own protection and survival. Is this still a valid assumption?
Pappe: I think this is very difficult to see with Trump. On one hand, he talks about isolationist policies where he wants America not to interfere, but when he wants to interfere he does that with force. I think we should not be obsessed or wait for the American initiative. We should take the initiative on the ground itself.
In addition, I think there is a difference between governments and societies. Governments are afraid to say we can move on without an American green light. Societies, however, should send a message to their elites: “Yes you can”. In addition, you don’t need an American red light or green light. What you need is to think about principles to the solution that are adopted to the 21st century, which put a focus on human rights and civil rights.
Al Jazeera: What should people think about when it comes to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and what should be the parameters for both Jews and Palestinians?
Pappe: A new-old thinking about Palestine is needed. We should aim to create one democratic state and a decolonisation process of the Zionist ideology in Palestine, though this is not going to happen tomorrow. It would be deluding people by telling them it would happen tomorrow or that it is an easy road. No, it is a very difficult road giving the American support for Israel and the American ideology, coupled with the Arab world’s disunity and the disunity in the Palestinian camp.
This means it will be a very long period before we can achieve it. However, it is much better to go on the long road knowing that this is the end game than going on the short road – as we did in Oslo that looked very clear like the two-state solution but ended up with more occupation, more oppression and more suffering of the Palestinian people.
Al Jazeera: You talk about the decolonisation process in Palestine, meaning as you put it ending the project of Zionism in Palestine, which was a nationalist European conception. What then would happen to Israeli Jews, many of whom are ardent Zionists?
Pappe: The Jews in Palestine are six million people and they are a third generation of settlers. In other parts of the world, third generation settlers like in South Africa are entitled to have their ethnic and political political rights, only if they are not at the expense of the indigenous population.
In addition, I think that many Jews in Israel do not understand that they live a precarious life even if they feel very secure. But in reality, they are not. I normally use this metaphor to describe the Jewish situation in Palestine, which is that even if you are staying at the best cabin on the Titanic, you are still on the Titanic. If the ship goes, you go. And they don’t realise it.
Look, I am an Israeli Jew who was born in Israel. I care about the people. My family is there. I am doing it because I mainly believe it is morally just, but I also think it is for their future.
Al Jazeera: The Oslo agreement in 1993 envisioned an independent Palestinian state in five years. Today there are about 800,000 settlers in the West Bank. Is the two-state solution still viable?
Pappe: I think until now we had the double talk of Americans, and whether America was willing to use its power to impose a more flexible position on Israel is questionable.
I think the moment they gave their total support through moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem shows that the American government cannot play a constructive role, even though some people in the West Bank think the two-state solution would end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
I think they are wrong. I think they would wake up one day and understand that we need a different solution – not a two-state solution.
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