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Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution now possible, says Finkelstein

Arab uprisings along with changes in regional and international arenas spell a resolution to conflict argues American academic Norman Finkelstein at a recent university lecture

Dina Samir, Monday 2 Apr 2012
West Bank
An Israeli soldier separates Palestinian farmers from Israeli settlers in the West Bank village of Burin. (File Photo: AFP)
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The renowned American political scientist Norman Finkelstein said he is hopeful that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be resolved soon at a recent lecture at the University of Texas at Austin. He argued that significant changes at the regional and international levels, as well as domestically in the US, will contribute to the resolution of the conflict.

The major change on the regional front is the ousting of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Finkelstein explained. “Although the dust has not settled in Egypt, it is quite clear that the kind of support Israel has historically counted on in Egypt is no longer there.” It is virtually inconceivable, he suggested, that Israel can get away with bombing Gaza as it did in 2008-09 during Operation Cast Lead, with Egypt sealing the borders as it did.

“There were higher hopes placed on the new Egyptian government and the new political situation in Egypt after the January 25th revolution.” According to Finkelstein, it is clear that the Muslim Brotherhood is not going to repeal the treaty but there will be new pressures on Israel. Also, new pressures will be put on Hamas to negotiate a settlement that corresponds with the international consensus on solving the conflict.

On the regional level as well, Israel can no longer depend on the automatic support of Turkey with the ascension of power of Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan. Although it is hard to capture Erdogan’s policy change concretely, Finkelstein argued that there is a qualitative shift in Turkish policy with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel’s stock has fallen internationally in the past decades, Finkelstein said citing an annual BBC poll. The poll surveys people in 35 countries asking about the states that have an overall positive and negative impact on the world, and Israel has been viewed since 2002 as one of the four most negative countries along with Iran, North Korea, Pakistan. Despite the overwhelming positive coverage of Israel in many Western countries, it is interesting that the public is still capable to see through the media misinformation and disinformation, he argued. Furthermore, every country that was polled regarding the Palestinian statehood bid in September 2011 supported the Palestinian right to statehood with no exception, including the US.

The other factor Finkelstein highlighted is the significant change among the attitudes of a younger generation of American Jews. American Jews who are under 40 years old, and especially college students, have distanced themselves from supporting Israel. He argued that American Jews tend to be liberals. Liberal American Jews cannot reconcile what they know about Israel with their beliefs, he said. “If you are a liberal, you would tend to believe in equality, the rule of law, and the peaceful resolution of conflict. It is hard for liberal Jews to support the way Israel carries on.”

Because of those factors, Finkelstein believes that there is now a broad public that is ready to listen. “Our job is to present a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that the public can embrace.” In light of discussing that solution, Finkelstein referred to Gandhi’s explanation of “politics” which is not about changing public opinion, it is about getting people to act on what they already know is wrong. The problem with the Palestinian movement, Finkelstein said, is that it focuses on one question, Are you for a one-state or two-state solution? “Yet, politics is not about what you believe. Politics is about what the public is ready to accept. Politics is not about what you think is moral, it is what the public accepts as moral,” he noted.

This argument that Finkelstein has made before has drawn criticism from the Palestine solidarity movement, as it take public opinion as the key criteria rather than justice and international law. Recent criticisms Finkelstein has made with regard to the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement has also attracted criticism from the solidarity movement.

Finkelstein argued that there is consensus among respected legal bodies and major human rights organisations around a two-state settlement on the June 1967 borders. “That is the maximum one can reach and still hope to keep the public, if you go beyond it, you lose the public; if you go short of it, you are asking for less justice than the public is ready to give.”

The UN General Assembly has yearly presented a resolution on the Palestine question which has rested upon: the two-state solution, the illegality of settlements, East Jerusalem as Palestinian land, and answering the question of refugees' right of return. The votes on that resolution are pretty similar every year, he said, “The whole world is on one side supporting the resolution, while Israel, the US and a few other countries are on the other side.”

Finkelstein's final argument was that Israel is a state with the same rights and duties as any other state. “You may not like it, but that is the law, you cannot pick and choose with the law.”

Finkelstein ended his lecture by expressing his hope for the future, quoting the Caribbean poet Aimé Césaire, “There is room for everyone at the rendezvous of victory,” saying, “I intend to get to that rendezvous of victory, maybe on a cane, or on a wheelchair, but I intend to get there.”

Finkelstein has authored six books that have been translated into more than 40 languages. He new book is called “Knowing Too Much – Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End.”

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