5249Finkelstein Debates Shlomo
- Mar 1, 2006Norman Finkelstein & Former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami
Debate: Complete Transcript
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AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to one of the longest running and most bitter
conflicts in modern history: Israel and the Palestinians. Well over a
decade has passed since the historic Oslo Accords that brought hopes
for a lasting peace. Today, relations between the Israeli government
and Palestinian Authority are virtually nonexistent. Israel and the
P.A. have not held final status peace talks in over five years. With
the recent election of Hamas, Israel says it will cut off all ties to
any Palestinian government that includes the group. After the election
Israel withheld tax funds it collects on behalf of the Palestinian
Authority. It finally transferred the funds but says any Hamas-led
Palestinian government will get, quote, "not even one shekel." That's,
well, a dime in the United States.
The Palestinian Authority is on the brink of financial disaster. This
week, the P.A. announced it will be unable to issue paychecks to its
more than 130,000 employees. It's the largest employer in the Occupied
Territories. Hamas's victory is seen as, in part, as a reaction to
what many Palestinians see as the corruption of the old guard. An
internal Palestinian inquiry has found at least $700 million has been
stolen from Palestinian public funds due to corruption in the last few
years. The total figure could be billions more.
Meanwhile, the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank continue
to expand. The Israeli group Peace Now reported 12,000 new residents
moved into West Bank settlements in 2005, 3,000 more than the total
number removed as part of Israel's disengagement from the Gaza Strip,
and construction continues in settlements located both inside and
outside the route of Israel's separation barrier.
Today, we bring you a discussion with two of the world's leading
experts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both of them have new
books on the subject. We're joined by Shlomo Ben-Ami, both an insider
and a scholar. As Foreign Minister under Ehud Barak, he was a key
participant in years of Israel-Palestinian peace talks, including the
Camp David and Taba talks in 2000 and 2001. An Oxford-trained
historian, he is currently Vice President of the Toledo Peace Centre
in Madrid. His new book is called Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The
Israeli-Arab Tragedy. President Bill Clinton says, quote, "Shlomo
Ben-Ami worked tirelessly and courageously for peace. His account of
what he did and failed to do and where we go from here should be read
by everyone who wants a just and lasting resolution.
We're also joined by Norman Finkelstein. He's a professor of political
science at DePaul University. His books include A Nation on Trial,
which he coauthored with Ruth Bettina Birn, named as a New York Times
notable book for 1998. He's also the author of Image and Reality of
the Israel-Palestine Conflict and The Holocaust Industry. His latest
book is Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse
of History. His website is NormanFinkelstein.com. Avi Shlaim of Oxford
University calls Beyond Chutzpah "Brilliantly illuminating On display
are all the sterling qualities for which Finkelstein has become
famous: erudition, originality, spark, meticulous attention to detail,
intellectual integrity, courage, and formidable forensic skills."
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! It's very good to have you with
us. Well, I want to start going back to the establishment of the state
of Israel, and I'd like to begin with Israel's former Foreign
Minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami. Can you talk about how it began? I think you
have a very interesting discussion in this book that is rarely seen in
this country of how the state of Israel was established. Can you
describe the circumstances?
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Well, for all practical purposes, a state existed
before it was officially created in 1948. The uniqueness of the
Zionist experience, as it were, was in that the Zionists were able,
under the protection of the mandate, of the British mandate, to set up
the essentials of a state the institutions of a state, political
parties, a health system, running democracy for Jews, obviously
before the state was created, so the transition to statehood was a
declaration, basically, and it came about in the middle of two stages
of war, a civil war between the Israelis and the Jews and the Arabs in
Palestine and then an invasion by the Arab armies. The point that I
made with regard to the war is that the country, to the mythology that
existed and exists, continues to exist mainly among Israelis and Jews,
is that Israel was not in a military disadvantage when the war took
place. The Arab armies were disoriented and confused, and they did not
put in the battlefield the necessary forces.
So, in 1948, what was born was a state, but also original superpower
in many ways. We have prevailed over the invading Arab armies and the
local population, which was practically evicted from Palestine, from
the state of Israel, from what became the state of Israel, and this is
how the refugee problem was born. Interestingly, the Arabs in 1948
lost a war that was, as far as they were concerned, lost already in
1936-1939, because they have fought against the British mandate and
the Israeli or the Jewish Yishuv, the Jewish pre-state, and they were
defeated then, so they came to the hour of trial in 1948 already as a
defeated nation. That is, the War of 1948 was won already in 1936, and
they had no chance to win the war in 1948. They were already a
defeated nation when they faced the Israeli superpower that was
emerging in that year.
AMY GOODMAN: You have some very strong quotes in your book, of your
own and quoting others, like Berl Katznelson, who is the main
ideologue of the Labor movement, acknowledging that in the wake of the
1929 Arab riots, the Zionist enterprise as an enterprise of conquest.
You also say, "The reality on the ground was that of an Arab community
in a state of terror facing a ruthless Israeli army whose path to
victory was paved not only by its exploits against the regular Arab
armies, but also by the intimidation and at times atrocities and
massacres it perpetrated against the civilian Arab community. A
panic-stricken Arab community was uprooted under the impact of
massacres that would be carved into the Arabs' monument of grief and
hatred." Explain that further.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Well, you see, there is a whole range of new
historians that have gone into the sources of the origins of the
state of Israel, among them you mentioned Avi Shlaim, but there are
many, many others that have exposed this evidence of what really went
on on the ground. And I must from the very beginning say that the main
difference between what they say and my vision of things is not the
facts. The facts, they are absolutely correct in mentioning the facts
and putting the record straight.
My view is that, but for Jesus Christ, everybody was born in sin,
including nations. And the moral perspective of it is there, but at
the same time it does not undermine, in my view, in my very modest
view, the justification for the creation of a Jewish state, however
tough the conditions and however immoral the consequences were for the
Palestinians. You see, it is there that I tend to differ from the
interpretation of the new historians. They have made an incredible
contribution, a very, very important contribution to our understanding
of the origins of the state of Israel, but at the same time, my view
is that this is how unfortunately, tragically, sadly nations were
born throughout history.
And our role, the role of this generation this is why I came into
politics and why I try to make my very modest contribution to the
peace process is that we need to bring an end to this injustice that
has been done to the Palestinians. We need to draw a line between an
Israeli state, a sovereign Palestinian state, and solve the best way
we can the problem, by giving the necessary compensation to the
refugees, by bringing back the refugees to the Palestinian state, no
way to the state of Israel, not because it is immoral, but because it
is not feasible, it is not possible. We need to act in a realistic way
and see what are the conditions for a final peace deal. I believe that
we came very, very close to that final peace deal. Unfortunately, we
didn't make it. But we came very close in the year 2001.
AMY GOODMAN: Before we get to that peace deal, another thing that you
have said. "Israel, as a society, also suppressed the memory of its
war against the local Palestinians, because it couldn't really come to
terms with the fact that it expelled Arabs, committed atrocities
against them, dispossessed them. This was like admitting that the
noble Jewish dream of statehood was stained forever by a major
injustice committed against the Palestinians and that the Jewish state
was born in sin." I think a lot of people would be surprised to hear
that the author of these words is the former Foreign Minister of Israel.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Yes, while, at the same time, a historian. I am trying
to be as fair as possible when I read the past, but it's a very
interesting point, the one that you make here, about us trying to
obliterate the memory of our war against the Palestinians, and the
whole Israeli 1948 mythology is based on our war against the invading
Arab armies, less so against the Palestinians, who were the weaker
side in that confrontation, because it didn't serve the myth of the
creation of the state and of the nation. So we need to correct that.
There is no way there is no way we can fully compensate the refugees
and the Palestinians, but we need to do our very, very best to find a
way to minimize the harm that was done to this nation.
AMY GOODMAN: And Shlomo Ben-Ami, your response to those who continue
to say that at that time, at the time of the establishment of the
state of Israel and before, that it really was empty, that Jews came
to a place that was not populated.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Of course, it is nonsense. I mean, it was populated.
Obviously, it was populated. I mean, the notion that existed, I think
it was Israel Zangwill, the first to say that we are we came a
nation without a land to a land without a people. Obviously, it was
not true, but again, part of the tragedy was that the Palestinians, as
such, did not have the Palestinian peasants did not have the full
control of their own destiny. Part of that land was bought by the
Zionist organizations from Affendis, landowners living in Turkey or
anywhere else throughout the Ottoman Empire, and these people were
inevitably evicted by these kind of transactions. But as a whole, I
think that not more than 6 or 7% of the entire surface of the state of
Israel was bought. The rest of it was either taken over or won during
AMY GOODMAN: Norman Finkelstein, you're author of the book Beyond
Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History. Do
you share the same narrative? Do you agree with what Shlomo Ben-Ami
has put forward, the former Israeli Foreign Minister?
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, I agree with the statement that there is
very little dispute nowadays amongst serious historians and rational
people about the facts. There is pretty much a consensus on what
happened during what you can call the foundational period, from the
first Zionist settlements at the end of the 19th century 'til 1948.
There, there is pretty much of a consensus. And I think Mr. Ben-Ami,
in his first 50 pages, accurately renders what that consensus is.
I would just add a couple of points he makes, but just to round out
the picture. He starts out by saying that the central Zionist dilemma
was they wanted to create a predominantly Jewish state in an area
which was overwhelmingly not Jewish, and he cites the figure, I think
1906 there were 700,000 Arabs, 55,000 Jews, and even of those 55,000
Jews, only a handful were Zionists. So that's the dilemma. How do you
create a Jewish state in area which is overwhelmingly not Jewish?
Now, the Israeli historian Benny Morris, at one point, he said there
are only two ways you can resolve this dilemma. One, you can create
what he called the South African way, that is, create a Jewish state
and disenfranchise the indigenous population. That's one way. The
second way is what he calls the way of transfer. That is, you kick the
indigenous population out, basically what we did in North America.
Now, as Mr. Ben-Ami correctly points out, by the 1930s the Zionist
movement had reached a consensus that the way to resolve the dilemma
is the way of transfer. You throw the Palestinians out. You can't do
that anytime, because there are moral problems and international
problems. You have to wait for the right moment. And the right moment
comes in 1948. Under the cover of war, you have the opportunity to
expel the indigenous population.
I was kind of surprised that Mr. Ben-Ami goes beyond what many Israeli
historians acknowledge. Someone like Benny Morris will say, "Yes,
Palestinians were ethnically cleansed in 1948." That's Benny Morris's
expression. But he says it was an accident of war. There are wars,
people get dispossessed. Mr. Ben-Ami, no, he will go further. He said
you can see pretty clearly that they intended to expel the
Palestinians. The opportunity came along, and they did so. Now, those
are the facts.
So where do we disagree? I think where we disagree is on
responsibility. It's not just a question of moral responsibility. It's
not simply a question of tragedy or sadness. It's a question of law,
international law. What are your obligations if you are a member state
of the United Nations, for example? Now, under international law,
refugees are entitled to return to their homes once the battlefield
conflict has died down. And Mr. Ben-Ami was absolutely correct. He
said the key moment comes in the Israel-Palestine conflict, not when
the Palestinians are expelled, but when, after the war, Israel refused
to allow the Palestinians back.
At that point, he says, here is a problem, or a problem arises, and
the way he puts the problem is we have two conflicting issues. On the
one hand, there is what he calls the Zionist ethos. They want a Jewish
state. On the other hand, you have the Palestinian refugees, who have
a right to return. And for Mr. Ben-Ami, this is an intractable
conflict: the Zionist ethos versus the refugees.
But there is a third factor. The factor is international law. And
under international law, the Palestinians have the right to return.
Now, I am not arguing now for a right of return. I acknowledge it's a
complicated problem. But we have to be honest about the rights and the
wrongs and the question of rights and wrongs. It was a wrong inflicted
on the Palestinians, and it was their right, their right. This is not
a tragedy, and this is not about morals. It's about legal rights.
Their right to return was denied. How do you resolve that problem? I
admit, it's difficult. But we have to be clear about rights and
wrongs, because that's going to become, in my opinion, the main
problem when we come to Camp David. Whose rights were being denied
during the Camp David/Taba negotiations?
AMY GOODMAN: Your response, Shlomo Ben-Ami.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Well, I think that the difference here might not be
that huge between what Dr. Finkelstein says and my argument. I mean,
either right or morality, the bottom line is that he assumes that the
practical solution to the problem is not there, and it's not really
feasible to recognize, on the one hand, the existence of the state of
Israel and to say that the right of five, six, or what-have-you
million Palestinians to return to the state of Israel is something
that can be reconciled with the existence of a Jewish state.
So, we need to find a way, and the way was, I believe, rightly found
in Bill Clinton's peace parameters, that say the following. It says
that the Palestinian refugees have the inherent right to return to
Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza being Palestine, being part of
Palestine. There is an element in the parameters, that I have to say
that was my personal contribution to the peace parameters, that says
the following. It says that in the context of land swaps that were
discussed between us and the Palestinians, the Palestinians were about
to get some percentages of what is now the state of Israel. And the
peace parameters of the President say that they can bring to those
parts of the state of Israel, that will be transferred to the
Palestinians, as many refugees as they wish. That is, that the return
will be to the Palestinian state, plus to those parcels of the state
of Israel that will be referred to Palestinian sovereignty, plus huge
sums of money for compensation and rehabilitation. It seems to me that
this is the most that can be done within the context, as it exists
today, and we came very close to the solution.
By the way, Arafat was never very interested in the refugees problem.
He was much more concentrated on Jerusalem. I saw him once saying to
the current president of the Palestinian Authority, "Leave me alone
with your refugees. What we need is Jerusalem." See, he was not very
keen on making much of a progress in the question of refugees. Arafat
was, and remained until his last day, a member of the Muslim
Brotherhood, a deeply religious man, a Koranic man that saw Jerusalem
as the core dispute between the Palestinians and the Israelis. He was
not very interested in the territorial question either. I saw him, for
example, in Camp David, saying to President Clinton, "I am ready to
give away 8% of the West Bank for the sake of the Israeli blocks of
settlement, so long as you give me a solution on Jerusalem." So he was
that kind of leader. The refugee problem was not so central in his mind.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to give you a chance to respond, Norman
Finkelstein, but I did want you to step back, Shlomo Ben-Ami, and give
us an overview of the whole peace process, of which you were a part, a
critical player in this, the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993. Can you talk
about what they entailed, why they failed?
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Well, the Oslo peace process was an agreement it
started as an agreement between two unequal partners. Arafat conceived
Oslo as a way, not necessarily to reach a settlement, but more
importantly to him at that particular moment, in order to come back to
the territories and control the politics of the Palestinian family.
Don't forget that the Intifada, to which Oslo brought an end, started
independently of the P.L.O. leadership, and he saw how he was losing
control of the destiny of the Palestinians. His only way to get back
to the territories was through an agreement with Israel. So in Oslo,
he made enormous concessions.
In fact, when he was negotiating in Oslo with us, an official
Palestinian delegation was negotiating with an official Israeli
delegation in Washington, and the official Palestinian delegation was
asking the right things from the viewpoint of the Palestinians
self-determination, right of return, end of occupation, all the
necessary arguments whereas Arafat in Oslo reached an agreement that
didn't even mention the right of self-determination for the
Palestinians, doesn't even mention the need of the Israelis to put an
end to settlements. If the Israelis, after Oslo, continued expansion
of settlements, they were violating the spirit of Oslo, not the letter
of Oslo. There is nothing in the Oslo agreement that says that
Israelis cannot build settlements. So this was the cheap agreement
that Arafat sold, precisely because he wanted to come back to the
territories and control the politics of Palestine.
Now, the thing is that a major problem with Oslo, on top of it, was
that it solved very minor issues, such as Gaza, and even people on the
far Israeli right were ready to give away Gaza, but it left open the
future. The future was unknown. The two sides, the two parties started
to embark on a process, when they had diametrically opposed views as
to the final objective. There was nothing as to what will happen about
Jerusalem. It was only said that we will negotiate Jerusalem. What
about refugees? Nothing clear was said, just that we will negotiate
the refugees. So the thing that the fact that the future was left so
wide open was a standing invitation for the parties to dictate to
try and dictate the nature of the final agreement through unilateral
acts: the Israelis, by expanding settlements, and the Palestinians, by
responding with terrorism. So this symmetry that was created in Oslo
persists to this very day, so Oslo could not usher in a final
agreement because of the different expectations that the parties had.
It was an exercise in make-believe.
The Palestinians didn't even mention self-determination so a leader
like Rabin could have thought that, okay, we will have an agreement
that will create something which is a state-minus. This was Rabin's
expression. He never thought this will end in a full-fledged
Palestinian state. There was a lot of ambiguity, constructive
ambiguity might Kissinger say, but I think it was destructive
ambiguity. It helped this destructive ambiguity helped in clinching
the Oslo Agreement, but it was a minefield for those who went to Camp
David and later on to Taba to try and solve all the pending issues.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Norman Finkelstein.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: I'm going to try to focus on the key points or
issues about the refugees in Jerusalem, which for now I can't get
into, but I will be happy to return to them later when we discuss what
was the impasse at Oslo excuse me, the impasse at Camp David and
Taba, but I want to set the context, and I don't think I agree in
part with the context that Dr. Ben-Ami set out, but not fully.
The main context, in my opinion, is as follows. Since the mid-1970s,
there's been an international consensus for resolving the
Israel-Palestine conflict. Most of your listeners will be familiar
with it. It's called a two-state settlement, and a two-state
settlement is pretty straightforward, uncomplicated. Israel has to
fully withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza and Jerusalem, in
accordance with the fundamental principle of international law, cited
three times by Mr. Ben-Ami in the book, his book, that it's
inadmissible to acquire territory by war. The West Bank, Gaza and
Jerusalem, having been acquired by war, it's inadmissible for Israel
to keep them. They have to be returned. On the Palestinian side and
also the side of the neighboring Arab states, they have to recognize
Israel's right to live in peace and security with its neighbors. That
was the quid pro quo: recognition of Israel, Palestinian right to
self-determination in the West Bank and Gaza with its capital in
Jerusalem. That's the international consensus.
It's not complicated. It's also not controversial. You see it voted on
every year in the United Nations. The votes typically something like
160 nations on one side, the United States, Israel and Naru, Palau,
Tuvalu, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands on the other side. That's
it. Now, the Israeli government was fully aware that this was the
international consensus, but they were opposed (a) to a full
withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza and Jerusalem, of course, and
(2) they were opposed to creating a Palestinian state in the Occupied
Come 1981, as pressure builds on Israel to reach a diplomatic
settlement in the Israel-Palestine conflict, they decide to invade
Lebanon in order to crush the P.L.O., because the P.L.O. was on record
supporting a two-state settlement. As Dr. Ben-Ami's colleague, Avner
Yaniv, put it in a very excellent book, Dilemmas of Security, he said,
"The main problem for Israel was," and now I'm quoting him, "the
P.L.O.'s peace offensive. They wanted a two-state settlement. Israel
did not." And so Israel decides to crush the P.L.O. in Lebanon. It
successfully did so. The P.L.O. goes into exile.
Come 1987, Palestinians in the Occupied Territories despair of any
possibility of international intervention, and they enter into a
revolt the Palestinian Intifada basically nonviolent civilian
revolt by the Palestinians. And the revolt proves to be remarkably
successful for maybe the first couple of years. Come 1990, Iraq
invades Kuwait. The P.L.O. supports, ambiguously, but I think we
fairly can say, and I agree with Dr. Ben-Ami on this, they lend
support to Iraq. The war ends, Iraq defeated, and all the Gulf states
cut off all of their money to the P.L.O. The P.L.O. Is going down the
Along comes Israel with a clever idea. Mr. Rabin says, 'Let's throw
Arafat a life preserver, but on condition.' And Dr. Ben-Ami puts it
excellently, that "the P.L.O. will be Israel's subcontractor and
collaborator in the Occupied Territories," and I'm quoting Dr.
Ben-Ami, "in order to suppress the genuinely democratic tendencies of
the Palestinians." Now, it's true, exactly as Dr. Ben-Ami said, that
Israel had two options after the Iraq war. It could have negotiated
with the real representatives of the Palestinians who wanted that full
two-state settlement in accordance with the international consensus,
or it can negotiate with Arafat in the hope that he's so desperate
that he's going to serve as their collaborator and subcontractor in
order to deny the Palestinians what they're entitled to under
international law. The Israelis chose Arafat, not only because Arafat
himself was desperate. They chose him because they thought he would
deny them what they were entitled to. He would suppress all resistance
to the occupation. And then, finally, the day of reckoning came with
the Camp David talks. It turned out Arafat was not willing to make
those concessions to deny Palestinians what their rights were under
international law, and I think that's where the impasse occurred at
Camp David and at Taba.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let's turn to the former Foreign Minister, Shlomo
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: If I may, with regard to international law and 242,
one needs to analyze the 242 Security Council Resolution in a
different way than one analyzes, say, Resolution 425, that says that
Israel needs to pull out from Lebanon, or the resolution I forgot
the number that says that Iraq needs to pull out from Kuwait. The
difference is that in the Lebanese case and in the Iraqi case, there
is no negotiation at all. The only thing that is asked by the
international community is that Israel pulls out unconditionally from
Lebanon and that Iraq pulls out unconditionally from Kuwait.
This is a different case with 242. 242 is an invitation to the parties
to negotiate the secure and recognized boundaries between the two
entities. It doesn't say anything, by the way, on a Palestinian state.
It doesn't say anything on refugees, anything of Jerusalem, which is,
by the way, the reason that the P.L.O. rejected 242, didn't accept the
resolution, because it addresses the Palestinian question only in
terms of a refugee problem. This is what 242 does. So I think that
242, as a framework for a peace agreement was inadmissible from the
viewpoint of the Palestinians, and the Israelis accepted it, because
it spoke about, according to one interpretation, not full withdrawal
from the territories, and it didn't mention a Palestinian state and
the rest of it.
As far as the second part of Dr. Finkelstein's presentation is
concerned, I agree. It is based on what I say, and the only thing I
would add to it is that international law was the last or the least
of Arafat's concern. He didn't give a damn about international law. It
was not whether or not the agreement was based on international law or
not that concerned Arafat. In my view, this is my interpretation of a
man I met many, many times. I might be wrong, obviously, but this is
my firsthand interpretation of this man. He was morally,
psychologically, physically incapable of accepting the moral
legitimacy of a Jewish state, regardless of its borders or whatever.
Arafat was incapable of closing or locking the door of his endless
conflict between us and the Palestinians. And this is the bottom line.
I mean, in Taba, it had nothing to do with international law. In Taba,
what happened was that Arafat really believed that Bush son is a
replica of Bush father, and Bush father was known in the Arab world as
more friendly, or at least partially deaf to Jewish concerns. This was
his image in the Arab world. I remember a visit I made to President
Mubarak. After we left office, I said "Everybody speaks about military
intelligence, Mr. President, but we all failed in our political
intelligence. You wanted the election of President Bush. We wanted the
election of Al Gore, and then we ended up with the most friendly
president to the state of Israel ever in the White House." So this was
the conviction of Arafat, that he can still get a better deal from
President Bush. His concerns were of a political nature more than
anything else, and this is where he failed again, because Arafat had
always a sense of somebody who knows everything. I mean, he thought of
himself as a great strategist, and this is where he failed time and
again, and he betrayed the cause of his own people, because at the end
of the day, today, the Palestinians are becoming the second Kurds of
the Middle East, a nation that is moving away from the chances of
having a state.
There is never going to be an ideal solution. A leader needs to take a
decision in moments of trial, because if you look for a consensus
among your people for a solution, you might never have that kind of
consensus. Peace is a divisive enterprise, and a peace that is
accepted by Hamas will not be accepted by the Israelis, just as a
peace that is accepted by the Israeli far right, Mutatis Mutandis, is
not going to be accepted by the Palestinians. You need to divide your
society, and the peace agreement will not be in full coincidence with
the requirements of international law. It will be in coincidence with
the feasibility, with a political possibility of reaching a precarious
line of equilibrium between the positions of the parties. This is how
peace is made throughout history, and I believe that we lost that
opportunity, sadly enough, and we need to go back to it. When it comes
to the new situation in the Palestinian Authority today, I am less
pessimistic than many others. I don't think that we need automatically
to rule out the new rulers in Ramallah and Gaza as peace partners.
There are things that need to be done.
AMY GOODMAN: Hamas, you mean.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Yes, Hamas. I think that in my view there is almost
sort of poetic justice with this victory of Hamas. After all, what is
the reason for this nostalgia for Arafat and for the P.L.O.? Did they
run the affairs of the Palestinians in a clean way? You mentioned the
corruption, the inefficiency. Of course, Israel has contributed a lot
to the disintegration of the Palestinian system, no doubt about it,
but their leaders failed them. Their leaders betrayed them, and the
victory of Hamas is justice being made in many ways. So we cannot
preach democracy and then say that those who won are not accepted by
us. Either there is democracy or there is no democracy.
And with these people, I think they are much more pragmatic than is
normally perceived. In the 1990s, they invented the concept of a
temporary settlement with Israel. 1990s was the first time that Hamas
spoke about a temporary settlement with Israel. In 2003, they declared
unilaterally a truce, and the reason they declared the truce is this,
that with Arafat, whose the system of government was one of divide and
rule, they were discarded from the political system. Mahmoud Abbas has
integrated them into the political system, and this is what brought
them to the truce. They are interested in politicizing themselves, in
becoming a politic entity. And we need to try and see ways where we
can work with them.
Now, everybody says they need first to recognize the state of Israel
and end terrorism. Believe me, I would like them to do so today, but
they are not going to do that. They are eventually going to do that in
the future, but only as part of a quid pro quo, just as the P.L.O. did
it. The P.L.O., when Rabin came to negotiate with them, also didn't
recognize the state of Israel, and they engaged in all kind of nasty
practices. And therefore, we need to be much more realistic and
abandon worn-out cliches and see whether we can reach something with
these people. I believe that a long-term interim agreement between
Israel and Hamas, even if it is not directly negotiated between the
parties, but through a third party, is feasible and possible.
AMY GOODMAN: Shlomo Ben-Ami is the former Foreign Minister of Israel,
and Norman Finkelstein is a professor at DePaul University. They have
both written books on Israel. Shlomo Ben-Ami's is Scars of War, Wounds
of Peace, Norman Finkelstein's is Beyond Chutzpah: The Misuse of
Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History. Your response to the former
Foreign Minister of Israel.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, I want to put aside for a moment the
question of Hamas and just return to the previous point, namely, the
relevance or not of international law. It's not an abstract question,
and it's now a question fortunately only to be left to lawyers. It's a
question which bears on the last third of Dr. Ben-Ami's book, namely,
who is responsible for the collapse of or the impasse in the
negotiations at Camp David and Taba? Whereas, in my view, when Dr.
Ben-Ami wears his historian's hat, he gets everything right; when he
puts on the diplomat's hat, he starts getting things, in my opinion,
wrong, and it's that last third of the book where I think things go
Now, I can't look into Mr. Arafat's heart, and I don't know what he
did or didn't believe, and frankly I have no interest in it. My
concern is let's look at the diplomatic record, the factual record.
What were the offers being made on each side of the Camp David and in
the Taba talks? And the standard interpretation, which comes which
is you can call it the Dennis Ross interpretation, which, I think,
unfortunately Dr. Ben-Ami echoes, is that Israel made huge concessions
at Camp David and Taba; Palestinians refused to make any concessions,
because of what Dr. Ben-Ami repeatedly calls Arafat's unyielding
positions; and that Arafat missed a huge opportunity. Now, it is
correct to say that if you frame everything in terms of what Israel
wanted, it made huge concessions. However, if you frame things in
terms of what Israel was legally entitled to under international law,
then Israel made precisely and exactly zero concessions. All the
concessions were made by the Palestinians.
Briefly, because we don't have time, there were four key issues at
Camp David and at Taba. Number one, settlements. Number two, borders.
Number three, Jerusalem. Number four, refugees. Let's start with
settlements. Under international law, there is no dispute, no
controversy. Under Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, it's
illegal for any occupying country to transfer its population to
Occupied Territories. All of the settlements, all of the settlements
are illegal under international law. No dispute. The World Court in
July 2004 ruled that all the settlements are illegal. The Palestinians
were willing to concede 50% 50% of the Israeli settlements in the
West Bank. That was a monumental concession, going well beyond
anything that was demanded of them under international law.
Borders. The principle is clear. I don't want to get into it now,
because I was very glad to see that Dr. Ben-Ami quoted it three times
in his book. It is inadmissible to acquire territory by war. Under
international law, Israel had to withdraw from all of the West Bank
and all of Gaza. As the World Court put it in July 2004, those are,
quote, "occupied Palestinian territories." Now, however you want to
argue over percentages, there is no question, and I know Dr. Ben-Ami
won't dispute it, the Palestinians were willing to make concessions on
the borders. What percentage? There's differences. But there is no
question they were willing to make concessions.
Jerusalem. Jerusalem is an interesting case, because if you read Dr.
Ben-Ami or the standard mainstream accounts in the United States,
everyone talks about the huge concessions that Barak was willing to
make on Jerusalem. But under international law Israel has not one atom
of sovereignty over any of Jerusalem. Read the World Court decision.
The World Court decision said Jerusalem is occupied Palestinian
territory. Now, the Palestinians were willing, the exact lines I'm not
going to get into now they are complicated, but I'm sure Dr. Ben-Ami
will not dispute they were willing to divide Jerusalem roughly in
half, the Jewish side to Israel, the Arab side to the Palestinians.
And number four, refugees. On the question of refugees, it's not a
dispute under international law. Remarkably, even fairly conservative
human rights organizations like Amnesty International, Human Rights
Watch, in 2000, during the Camp David talks, they issued statements on
the question of the right of return. And they stated categorically,
under international law every Palestinian, roughly five to six
million, has the right to return, not to some little parcels, 1% of
Israel, which Israel is about which Israel would swap, return to
their homes or the environs of their homes in Israel. That's the law.
Now, Dr. Ben-Ami will surely agree that the Palestinians were not
demanding and never demanded the full return of six million refugees.
He gives a figure of 4-800,000. In fact I'm not going to get into
the numbers, because it's very hard to pin it down other authors
have given figures of the tens of thousands to 200,000 refugees
returning. That's well short of six million.
On every single issue, all the concessions came from the Palestinians.
The problem is, everyone, including Dr. Ben-Ami in his book he
begins with what Israel wants and how much of its wants it's willing
to give up. But that's not the relevant framework. The only relevant
framework is under international law what you are entitled to, and
when you use that framework it's a very, very different picture.
AMY GOODMAN: If you can bear to make this response brief, Dr. Shlomo
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Yes, yes. Okay, the last third part of the book, as
Dr. Finkelstein says, there is the diplomat, and this same diplomat
still behaves in a way as a historian when he says in this book that
Camp David was not the missed opportunity for the Palestinians, and if
I were a Palestinian I would have rejected Camp David, as well. This
is something I put in the book. But Taba is the problem. The Clinton
parameters are the problem, because the Clinton parameters, in my view
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Maybe you could explain to them what that is. I
don't think most people will know the Clinton parameters.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Well, the Clinton parameters say the following. They
say that on the territorial issue, the Palestinians will get 100% of
Gaza, 97% of the West Bank, plus safe passage from Gaza to the West
Bank to make the state viable. There will be a land swap. The 97%,
which I mentioned, takes into account the land swap, where they will
get 3% on this side, within the state of Israel, so we will have the
blocks of settlements and they will be able to settle refugees on this
side of the border.
About Jerusalem, it says what is Jewish is Israeli, and what is
Palestinian is sorry, and what is Arab is Palestinian. It includes
full-fledged sovereignty for the Palestinians on Temple Mount, on the
Haram al-Sharif, no sovereignty, no Jewish sovereignty on the Haram
al-Sharif, which was at the time and continues to be a major, major
problem for Israelis and Jews, that these things mean to them a lot.
And then, with the question of refugees, it says that the refugees
will return to historic Palestine, to historical Palestine, and that
Israel will maintain its sovereign right of admission. That is, it
will have to absorb a number of refugees but with restrictions that
need to be negotiated between the parties. But the bulk of the
refugees will be allowed to return to the state of Palestine. This is
the essence of the Clinton parameters.
What Dr. Finkelstein said here about international law, I want to make
it clear, it is important, it is vital for a civilized community of
nations to have an axis of principles based on international law,
around which to run the affairs of our chaotic world. It is very
important. It is vital, etc. But at the same time, when you go into
political issues, and you need to settle differences, historical
differences, differences that have to do with political rights,
security concerns, historical memories, etc., it is almost impossible
to do things on the basis of international law, but rather, on
something that is as close as possible to the requirements of
international law. The very fact that, as Dr. Finkelstein rightly
says, the Palestinians were ready to make this or that concession is
the reflection of them understanding that there is no viability, there
is no possibility really to reach an agreement that says let us apply
automatically and rigidly the requirements of international law.
So we need to find a way. I believe, I really believe, that at Camp
David, we failed to find that way. I say it very clearly in the book.
It is my conviction that through the Clinton parameters, that were not
the sudden whim of a lame-duck president they were the point of
equilibrium between the negotiating positions of the parties at that
particular moment, and the President sort of looked for a way between
the two positions and presented these parameters. They could be
fine-tuned, obviously. We tried to fine tune them in Taba. We made
some progress. But eventually, because of a number of reasons, among
them the political qualitative time that was missing, both for the
Americans and for the Israelis, and because of the consideration of
Arafat that he really believed that he can get a better deal. I think
that he will not get a better deal. The conditions are not there. I
don't see that happening in the foreseeable future. So he lost the
opportunity of having a deal that is imperfect, inevitably imperfect,
will always be imperfect, because this is the way peace processes are
done all over, and he sent his nation into the wilderness of war and
back in the time machine to the core of the conflict. This is what we
AMY GOODMAN: Norman Finkelstein, a quick response, and then I want to
ask you about your one of the main theses in your book, and that has
to do with the issue of anti-Semitism.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yeah, just for the sake of your audience
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: If I may, just brief
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yeah.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: because I do mention, obviously, the inadmissibility
of acquiring or the acquisition of land by force, but this is not my
invention. This is what 242 says.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Exactly.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: This is what 242 says, but, again, let us look at the
nuance. When the Israelis accept 242, they accept it because this
expression of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of land by force
is tempered by the concept through the concept of borders that are
defensible and recognized, and the security borders. That's the
equilibrium, which is not international law, but it is give and take
in a negotiation.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Finkelstein.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: I don't want to get now into the interminable
question of what 242 meant. I will simply state the International
Court of Justice in July 2004 ruled on that question. It stated Israel
has to fully withdraw from the West Bank, Gaza, including Jerusalem.
To my mind, it's no longer a matter of dispute, however you want to
Let's now turn to, just quickly, the last issue. It's going to be hard
for a lot of your listeners, because even though I have read two dozen
books on the topic, I keep getting things confused. Camp David accord
talks are in July 2000. Clinton parameters are roughly December 23rd,
2000. Taba, in January 2001. Now, Dr. Ben-Ami says Camp David, I can
understand why the Palestinians turned down. Unfortunately, in his
book he keeps referring to Arafat's unyielding positions, even though
now he acknowledges Palestinians made concessions at Camp David. In
fact, as I said, all the concessions, within the framework of
international law, came from the Palestinians.
Let's now turn to those Clinton parameters. Dr. Ben-Ami accurately
renders their content. I don't think he accurately renders in the book
what happened. He states in the book that at Taba, Israelis accept
excuse me, at the time of the Clinton parameters, the Israelis
accepted the Clinton parameters. Arafat didn't really accept the
Clinton parameters. He said he did, but he didn't. What actually
happened? What actually happened was exactly as what was announced by
the White House spokesman on January 3rd, 2001, the official statement
was both the Israelis and the Palestinians have accepted the Clinton
parameters with some reservations. Both sides entered reservations on
the Clinton parameters. Dr. Ben-Ami leaves out in the book both sides.
He only mentions the reservations by the Palestinians.
Number two, I was surprised to notice one of the books Dr. Ben-Ami
recommends is the book by Clayton Swisher called The Truth at Camp
David. I looked in the book. On page 402 of Clayton Swisher's book,
when he's discussing the issue of entering reservations to Clinton's
parameters, he quotes none other than Shlomo Ben-Ami. You acknowledged
you call them relatively minor, but you acknowledged that Barak
entered you called it several pages of reservations. In fact, Barak
sent a ten-page letter of reservations to the Clinton parameters. It
was exactly symmetrical. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians agreed
to the Clinton parameters with some reservations.
Wait, one last point. One last point. Dr. Ben-Ami left out another
crucial point in his account. He doesn't tell us why Taba ended. It
ended officially when Barak withdrew his negotiators. It wasn't the
Palestinians who walked out of Taba. It ended with the Israelis
walking out of Taba, a matter of historical record, not even
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Ben-Ami.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Okay, well. You see, as somebody who was a part of
those who prepared the Israeli document that was submitted to
President Clinton, I can say that the bulk of the document was an
expression of our the comparison that we made between our initial
positions and what was reflected in the Clinton parameters. It was not
a series of reservations. It was basically a mention of the
difference, the way that we have gone. This was an attempt to impress
the President, more than an attempt to say that these are
reservations, sine qua nons. There were no real reservations in our
document, whereas in the Palestinian document, there were plenty of
them, with the refugees, with the Haram al-Sharif, with what have you.
I mean, it was full of reservations from beginning to end. Ours was
not a document about reservations, it was a statement, basically, that
said these were our positions, this is where we stand today. we have
gone a very long way, we cannot go beyond that. This was essentially
what we sent.
Now, with regard to Taba, you see, we were a government committing
suicide, practically. Two weeks before general elections, the chief of
staff, General Mofaz, who is now the Minister of Defense, comes and in
a I say that in the book in something that is tantamount to a coup
d'etat, comes and says publicly that we are putting at risk the future
of the state of Israel by assuming the Clinton parameters, and we
accept them, we assume them. And then I go to Cairo and I meet
President Mubarak, and President Mubarak invites Arafat to see me in
Cairo, and I say to Arafat, "We are going to fine tune this in a
meeting in Taba, if you wish." And then we go to Taba, and we
negotiate in Taba. And in Taba, Prime Minister Barak instructs me to
conduct secret negotiations with Abu Alla. Within the negotiations, we
had the second track trying to reach an agreement, and he even agrees
to all kind of things that he was not very open to before that.
Now, this was the end. We saw that we are not reaching an agreement,
and we need to go back, even if for the electoral campaign. I mean, we
were a week before the elections. I mean, we were practically
nonexistent. Our legitimacy as a government to negotiate such central
issues as Jerusalem, as Temple Mount, the temple, etc., was being
questioned, not only by the right that was making political capital
out of it, but by the left, people from our own government. "Shlomo
Ben-Ami is ready to sell out the country for the sake of a Nobel
Prize." This is what Haim Ramon said, one of the labor ministers, so
it was unsustainable. We could not go any longer. So, to say that we
now the whole thing collapsed because we put a helicopter at the
disposal of the Palestinians to go and see if we can rubricate some
basic peace parameters on the basis of our negotiations, that they
didn't want it, Arafat didn't want it.
Anyway, the thing is that we need to understand that with all
frankly, with all due respect for the requirements of international
law, at the end of the day, at the end of the day, a peace process is
a political enterprise. And there are things that governments can do
and things that they cannot do, because if you do things that leave
you without political support, then you can do nothing. You can write
poetry, not make peace. And we have been writing poetry ever since,
because we are not in office. We have been advancing all kind of peace
dreams. It is only when you are in office and you have a political
support that you can move ahead. This is the only way that peace is
done. We have done our very best. We went to the outer limits of our
capacity for compromise without disintegrating entirely our home
front, and this is an exercise that Sharon decided not to make,
precisely because he learned from our experience. He said, "Listen, we
are not going to do that. I am going to be unilateral. I don't believe
in negotiations." It's very bad, but this is the lesson that he
learned from the sad experience of the collapse of the peace process
in the last year of Clinton's presidency.
AMY GOODMAN: We don't have very much time, and I wanted to ask you,
Professor Finkelstein, about your thesis, the "not-so-new new
anti-Semitism." What does that mean?
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, actually, I think it's useful to connect it
with the conversation we've just had. Namely, I think when honest and
reasonable people enter into a discussion about this topic, you will
have large areas of agreement, some area of disagreement, and frankly
and I'm not saying it to flatter; I say it because I believe it; I
don't flatter by nature I'm quite certain that if Palestinians if
representatives of the Palestinians were to sit down with Shlomo
Ben-Ami in a room, weren't subjected to the sorts of political
pressures that Dr. Ben-Ami describes from Israel, I think a reasonable
settlement could be reached, and I think he's reasonable, in my
opinion. We can disagree on some issues, but he's reasonable.
The problem is when you get to the United States. In the United States
among those people who call themselves supporters of Israel, we enter
the area of unreason. We enter a twilight zone. American Jewish
organizations, they're not only not up to speed yet with Steven
Spielberg, they're still in the Leon Uris exodus version of history:
the "this land is mine, God gave this land to me," and anybody who
dissents from this, you can call it, lunatic version of history is
then immediately branded an anti-Semite, and whenever Israel comes
under international pressure to settle the conflict diplomatically, or
when it is subjected to a public relations debacle, such as it was
with the Second Intifada, a campaign is launched claiming there is a
new anti-Semitism afoot in the world.
There is no evidence of a new anti-Semitism. If you go through all the
literature, as I have, the evidence is actually in Europe, which is
Dr. Ben-Ami's half-home ground, Spain, but throughout Europe, the
evidence is, if you look at like the Pew Charitable Trust surveys,
anti-Semitism has actually declined since the last time they did the
surveys. They did it in 1991 and 2002. They said the evidence is that
it's declined. And the same thing in the United States. What's called
the "new anti-Semitism" is anyone who criticizes any official Israeli
policies. In fact, my guess is had people not known who wrote Scars of
War, Wounds of Peace, that book would immediately be put on the
A.D.L.'s list of verboten books, an example of anti-Semitism, because
he says things like the Zionists wanted to transfer the Arabs out.
That's anti-Semitism. It has nothing to do with the real world. It's a
public relations extravaganza production to deflect attention from the
facts, from the realities, and I think this afternoon in our exchange,
there were some areas of disagreement for sure, but I think a lot of
what Dr. Ben-Ami said would not go down well with most of American
Jewry, and that's when they'll soon be charging him with being an
AMY GOODMAN: Your response, Dr. Ben-Ami? And do you see a difference
in the dialogue in Israel than you do right here?
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: On questions of anti-Semitism? Well, Israel is the
result of the Jewish catastrophe. There is no doubt about it. If there
were no Jewish catastrophe, there would not be a state of Israel. And
I think that during the first years of or before the creation of the
state, especially for the figure of Ben-Gurion, the Jewish catastrophe
needed to be enlisted for the cause of the creation of the state. You
see, Ben-Gurion was a Leninist in some way. He was a Lenin-type. By
this, I mean that he had only one central idea in his mind, and that
is the creation of the state of Israel. All the other considerations
were subservient to that goal, which is the reason why he rushed to
reconcile the Jewish people or the state of Israel with Germany,
because this was vital for the state of Israel. He was a revolutionary
in that sense with all the other issues were instrumental to that. I
think that the Shoah has become not only a defining event for the
AMY GOODMAN: Shoah, you mean Holocaust.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: The Holocaust has become not only a defining issue
event for the Jewish people, but something that Israel has not
Israel, but perhaps some politicians in Israel have abused. Begin used
to compare Arafat to Hitler. He must have been probably a very nasty
guy, but certainly not Hitler, just as I don't think that Saddam
Hussein was Hitler. I think that President Bush father likened him to
Hitler. We are we go very lightly with these things. I mean, we do
these kind of comparisons unnecessarily. The capture of Eichmann, for
example, was very important to David Ben-Gurion, because he wanted a
sort of pedagogical exercise for the young generation.
I explain this in the book, why he needed to reconcile himself with
the Shoah, which didn't interest him very much at the beginning. He
was much more concerned with other issues. He suddenly discovered that
through the ethos of the new Israel, of the Sabra, you cannot build a
cohesive nation, because people were coming from different parts of
the world, so you needed to resort to Jewish memory, to Jewish values,
to Jewish catastrophe, as a way to unite the newborn nation.
Today, it seems to me that the problem of anti-Semitism, when it
happens, for example, in France, and synagogues are being attacked,
etc., if this happens through the hands of Muslim youngsters in the
suburbs of Paris, for me it is very difficult to define this as
anti-Semitism. I can define it as hooliganism and manipulation of the
conflict in the Middle East in order to perpetrate all kind of nasty
acts against Jewish holy places, but this is not what we understand as
anti-Semitism, which is a European malady, as it were. I think it was
there always. It will continue to be there, but I am not in the
business of counting how many incidents happen, because there is an
institute in Tel Aviv University that will tell you how many incidents
happen every year. I don't believe also that the number of incidents,
as such, is the reflection of whether or not anti-Semitism is growing.
I believe that it is there, I believe it will stay there as a
sub-cultural current in many European societies, but I'm not
scandalized by anti-Semitism today.
I can see more xenophobia against North Africans, against foreigners
throughout Europe. And in a way, in a way, I can even see a
reconciliation of Europe with its Jewish past. There is hardly a
European country where you will not find today a museum of Jewish
history. Not in only Germany, you will find it in Poland, in France,
all over the place. So, Judaism is being endorsed more and more, or
the Jewish history, as part of the whole European legacy. The problem
today is, in my view, much more that of the Arab, the Muslim
immigrants from North Africa, from the Middle East and other parts.
AMY GOODMAN: Being discriminated against.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Yeah, absolutely.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Totally agree. No disagreement at all.
AMY GOODMAN: On the issue of language, terrorism Arafat called
terrorist, Hamas called terrorist how will you describe the Israeli
state when it attacks civilians in the Occupied Territories? Or how
would you describe Ariel Sharon?
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Well, let me tell you what is my description of
terrorism. Terrorism, in my view, is an indiscriminate attack against
civilian population. If I, personally, or my son, God forbid, is being
attacked, being in uniform in Palestinian territories, by a Hamas
call, I would not define this as terrorism. I will define as terrorism
if they go into a kindergarten or a mall, explode themselves and cause
injuries and death among civilian population. This to me is
Now, the problem of the response of a state is much more difficult to
define, because a state needs to go not against the civilian
population. It needs to go against military targets, ticking bombs.
This is what states can do and should do. The problem is that when you
have a fight, not against armies, which is the case of Syria, Egypt,
we never spoke about terrorism, state Israeli state terrorism
against the Egyptians. We spoke about wars between two military sides.
This is very difficult in the conditions prevailing in places like
Gaza or the West Bank, where you have militias, you have arsenals of
weapons, etc., and the army attacks them and there is collateral
damage to civilian population. To me, this is very difficult to define
as state terrorism. It is attacking military objectives or sort of
military objectives, an army which is not a real army but can cause
damage and you need to fight back and defend your population, and it
is very, very unfortunate that civilians are hit. But if Israel
targets intentionally civilians, this is a different matter. This can
be defined as terrorism. I don't believe that we have done it.
Normally, the practice is that things happened collaterally.
AMY GOODMAN: I would like to get your response, Professor Finkelstein,
and also if you could include in that, you have a chapter in Beyond
Chutzpah called "Israel's Abu Ghraib."
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, on the issue of terrorism, I agree with Dr.
Ben-Ami's definition. It's the indiscriminate targeting of civilians
to achieve political ends. That's a capsule definition, but I think
for our purposes it suffices. What does the record show? Let's limit
ourselves to just the Second Intifada, from September 28 to the
present. The period for that period, the record shows approximately
3,000 Palestinians have been killed, approximately 900 Israelis have
been killed. On the Palestinian side and the Israeli side I'm now
using the figures of B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for
Human Rights in the Occupied Territories on the Palestinian and the
Israeli side roughly one-half to two-thirds of the total number were
civilians or bystanders. And if you look at the findings of the human
rights supports B'Tselem, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch,
Physicians for Human Rights in Israel, and so forth they all say
that Israel uses reckless indiscriminate fire against Palestinians,
and B'Tselem says when you have so many civilian casualties, you have,
you know, 600 Palestinian children who have been killed, which is the
total number of Israeli civilians killed. 600 Palestinian children
They said when you have so much, so many civilians killed I don't
particularly like the phrase "collateral damage" when you have so
many civilians killed, B'Tselem says it hardly makes a difference
whether you are purposely targeting them or not, the state has
responsibility. So, you could say Israel using numbers, now is
responsible for three times as much terrorism in the Occupied
Territories as Palestinians against Israel. That's the question of
Let's turn to an ancillary issue: the issue of torture. Now, the
estimates are, up to 1994-1995, that Israel tortured and I'm using
the language of Human Rights Watch and B'Tselem Israel has tortured
tens of thousands of Palestinian detainees. Israel was the only
country in the world, the only one, which had legalized torture from
1987 to 1999. The record on torture, on house demolitions and on
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: 1999 is when we came to office.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, I wish that were I wish that were the
saving grace, but the fact of the matter is, being faithful to
historical record, the record of Labour has been much worse on human
rights violations than the record of Likud. It's a fact that the only
Israeli government during the period from 1967 to the present which
temporarily suspended torture was Begin from 1979 to 1981. On the
record of house demolitions, Mr. Rabin used to boast that he had
demolished many more homes than any Likud government. Even on the
record of settlements, as Dr. Ben-Ami well knows, the record of Rabin
was worse in terms of settlement expansion than the record of Yitzhak
Shamir, and a fact he leaves out in the book, the record of Barak on
housing startups in the Occupied Territories
AMY GOODMAN: Building more houses?
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Yeah was worse than the record of Netanyahu.
It's a paradox for, I'm sure, American listeners, but the record on
human rights, an abysmal record in general, an abysmal record in
general, and in particular, the worst record is the record of Labour,
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Ben-Ami?
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Well, he's Dr. Finkelstein already said what needs
to be said about the end of the practices or the legal status of
tortures in 1999. When it comes to the difference between Labour and
Likud, I make this point in a different way in the book, and that is
that Labour was always much more keen to advance the defining ethos of
Labour, which is settling the land. This was never the ethos of the
right. The right dreamt about greater Eretz Yisrael, but did nothing
to implement it. You know, in the Camp David first Camp David
agreement, that is with Sadat, the right that was in office dismantled
the settlements of Yamit in northern Sinai. The left, that was in
opposition, couldn't swallow that collapse of the ethos of settling
the land. The right was more biblical, was more sort of religious,
less practical in its attitude to the territories, so it was always
the case, and this is the point that I make in the book, that the
settlements were, in fact, started by Shimon Peres when he was the
Defense Minister of Yitzhak Rabin. But you see
AMY GOODMAN: Of Labour.
SHLOMO BEN-AMI: Of Labour, obviously. Now, but one circumstance that
needs to be emphasized, however, is this, that at least as from 1988,
I make the point in the book that, surprisingly, until 1988 there was
hardly any difference in the political attitude of Labour and Likud.
You couldn't really discern any difference in the attitude.
Things start to change in 1988, and I do give credit to Arafat here,
contrary to what I do, according to Dr. Finkelstein in the last
chapter. Arafat was the pioneer in many senses. He invented the peace
process, what we call the peace process, by his declaration of 1988,
and it is from that moment that those in Labour who continue to settle
are the very people that think that, okay, at the end of the day we
will have to find some sort of agreement with the Palestinians, where
we might even have to dismantle these settlements, which is in itself
an interesting march of folly, that is, that you create settlements
knowing that at some point you might have to compromise.
The difference between the settlements created by Sharon and those
created by Rabin is this, that Sharon created settlements in order to
torpedo a fut<br/><br/>(Message over 64 KB, truncated)