Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Dr. Ilan Peppe and the Geneva Bubble that Refuses to Burst

This is the text of my reply to an article by Dr. Ilan Pappe, The Geneva Bubble, which appeared in the London Review of Books, Volume 26 Number 1, (January 8, 2004).

Dr. Ilan Pappe and the Geneva Bubble that Refuses to Burst

The historian, Ilan Pappe totally rejects that Geneva Accords and determines that they are an abortive initiative, or a ‘bubble.’ Pappe, it appears, is absolutely opposed to any negotiations for peace which are not based on sincere remorse by Israel for its responsibility for the conflict and its intensification. By insisting on this seemingly well-meaning, but rather naïve precondition, Pappe is actually rejecting outright any chance in the foreseeable future to reach a compromise based on the two-state solution. With the flick of his pen Ilan Pappe postpones the fight for peace to another era. Meanwhile, he is busy proving that not only is there no chance for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but that no such chance ever existed. The 1947 Partition Plan, the Oslo Framework, the Road Map and the Geneva Accords – were all merely diplomatic bait designed to lure the Palestinian people to forfeit their rights. As a historian, he has no difficult in weaving a narrative that fits his central thesis.

The Approach to Texts

It is not easy to argue with Pappe, who is completely at ease in ignoring the actual content of important documents and presenting his own interpretation of them without even relating to the text itself. He simply submits his own conclusion as if it were the text itself. Here is a typical example. In explaining his opposition to the Road Map, he states that it is just one of the three Israeli initiatives which appeared after three years of Intifada. The three we learn were all designed to please Israeli public opinion and included United States support in the form of an ‘honest broker.’ That, according to Pappe is the background of the Road Map. And the content? Pappe tells us:

"At the end of the Map: 10% of Palestine will be divided into two giant detention camps – in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank – without any solution to the Palestinian refugee problem and with complete Israeli control of Jerusalem.”

The reader is invited to compare Pappe’s statement with the relevant text of the Road Map. In the third stage: “Parties reach final and comprehensive permanent status agreement…through a settlement based on UNSCR 242, 338, 1397 that ends the occupation tht began in 1967, and includes an agreed, just, fair and realistic solution to the refugee issue and a negotiated resolution on the status of Jerusalem that takes into account the political and religious concerns of both sides..and fulfills the vision of two states, Israel and sovereign, independent, democratic and viable Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.”

I assume that Pappe is really ‘helping’ us understand that the Road Map is just another of Sharon’s schemes, but he fails to tell us that this is an interpretation, unsupported by the text.. Pappe doesn’t even bother telling us how he reached his conclusion regarding the text in question. Of course, Pappe has the right to interpret the Road Map as he sees fit, but why present his interpretation as if there was no difference between it and the text itself. Pappe’s interpretation of the Road Map is built on the charge that it is just another Israeli initiative. In fact there is no basis for the charge. Anyone who makes it will have to explain that not only the United States, but also the European Community, the United Nations and Russia are all involved in the Israeli plot. Israel which ‘accepted’ the Road Map with fourteen unilateral reservations has done everything possible to sabotage it. To this very day, Israel makes a clear distinction between the Road Map which was imposed on it and President Bush’s ‘vision’ from June 2002, which it considers an endorsement of Israel policy. According to Pappe, Israel can wrap the entire world around Sharon’s chubby finger. The Palestinian leaders, for their part, are mere candidates for the job of chief wardens in an Israeli prison, the Palestinian Authority we are given to understand are nothing but a gang of despicable collaborators.

Defining the Geneva Accords as a “Bubble” Means Evading any Real Debate

After categorizing the GA as just one more initiative by Israel and obscuring its oppositional role in Israeli politics, Pappe launches an attack on the content of the initiative, without quoting any part of its text. Another example of Pappe’s unique interpretations is his statement that the Accords provide “for a mini-state built on 15% percent of what used to be Palestine, with a capital near Jerusalem and no army.” But the Accords based on the June 1967 borders provide for a full pull out from all the occupied territories, i.e., 22% of Western Palestine. The Palestinians would receive full territorial (dunam for dunam) compensation for any area retained by Israel for some of the settlements.

Pappe’s statement about a ‘capital near Jerusalem’ is just another example of his cavalier treatment of the Accords which state clearly (Article 6 (2): The parties shall have mutually recognized capitals in the areas of Jerusalem under their respective sovereignty.” The Accords call for the division of Jerusalem with all the Arab neighborhoods under full Palestinian sovereignty, including Palestinian control of the Temple Mount. Can anyone familiar with Israeli politics fail to acknowledge the deep significance of the fact that 220,000 Palestinian residents of the city, will live in their own capital of the state of Palestine?

I assume, knowing Ilan Pappe’s wide knowledge of the Palestinian issue, that he must have some sort of evidence for his interpretations of the Accords up his sleeve. Meanwhile, he is satisfied with a description of the Accords which is clear contradiction to the provisions of the Accords. But, again, he doesn’t bother to adduce the missing evidence. He really doesn’t want to get bogged down in an argument about ‘details’, because his sole concern is ‘positioning’ himself on the side of justice, which is for him the Palestinian side of the conflict.

This conscious act of ‘positioning’ has produced a historiographical methodology concocted by Ilan Pappe from elements of post-modernist relativism and vulgar Marxism. A sense of wrath (completely understandable in and of itself) over the injustices against the Palestinians, which he is protesting, has lead him to create his own narrative, wherein interpretations of facts are judged by their conformance with the need to censure the terrible crimes Israel is committing against the Palestinian people (and its own hope for a normal existence in the region).

Pappe even faults the Geneva Accords for not reshaping the internal relations between Israel and its Palestinian Arab citizens. This noble demand from the Accord is at variance with the thinking of almost every organized political group of Israeli Arabs. The clear position of all the major parties and the Israeli Arab population as a whole is that achieving a reasonable version of a peaceful solution, more or less like the Geneva Accords, based on the minimum demands of the Palestinian leadership and public opinion, would be a major contribution in advancing their fight for equality and democracy. This is a mature and reasonable way to look at their problem. The chances to improve their own standing as Israeli citizens will improve to the degree that current Israeli reality, bedeviled by acute chauvinism and insecurity, can be transformed by a serious reduction in the tensions that come with daily armed confrontations.

Of course, the Geneva Accords could have done more for the Palestinian refugees. However, everyone knows that this is the issue where passions and suspicions dominate the discourse. For most Israelis, massive and unrestricted realization of the right of return by millions of refugees spells the end of Israel as a Jewish state. Unfortunately, the basically humanitarian demand for the refugees right of repatriation, is also the program of a multitude of Arab nationalists who support it mainly because it is the only path to the demise of Israel as a Jewish state.

However, it is simply untrue that the Geneva Accords “leave the refugees in the camps,” as Pappe claims. The refugees would have a number of options, including the return of tens of thousands to Israel, proper, repatriation to the newly established Palestinian state, remaining in the host countries, relocation to other states – all based on a serious compensation package from the international community.

Peace then, for Pappe, depends on the de-Zionization of Israel and its agreement for the unlimited repatriation of the Palestinian refugees to their homes in Israel. This perspective is tantamount to an orientation on some sort of cataclysmic upheaval in Israel and the area. Without going into the moral and practical complexities of this perspective (Would it really be a good thing? What are the chances of it happening during the present century) one thing is sure. This perspective advances a ‘program’ which is today, here and now, grist for the propaganda mill of the Israeli government and assists it in falsely claiming that the peace process means that Israel is being asked to make concessions that would change the very nature of the state. The orientation on a hoped-for cataclysm will do absolutely nothing to alleviate the suffering of three and a half million Palestinians under occupation and the millions of refugees scattered in the region.

Insulting the Palestinian Leadership

I do not want to get into a historical debate with Ilan Pappe, but I cannot desist from commenting on the insulting language employs against the Arab leadership since 1948. The Geneva Accords were only launched, according to Pappe, after the Israeli side succeeded in ’scaring the Palestinians’. All through the years, the Arab leadership was either faint-hearted or just plain scared out of its wits. According to Pappe, the Palestinians behaved in such a fashion at every pivotal crossroad, such as 1947-1948, Oslo and Camp David. Pappe is in a sharp ideological dispute with the dominant currents in the Palestinian national movement which have opted for a two-state solution. Sadly, instead of discussing the differences of opinion openly with a minimum of respect for his adversaries, he accuses the leadership of the largest, mass-based Palestinian groups and organizations of being psychologically defective.

As against Pappe’s opposition to any concession regarding all Palestinian rights, the Palestinian leadership realized, after serious deliberation, that it must strive for a painful compromise and that unrealistic rejectionism was actually helping Israel and the enemies of the Palestinian people. For this, the present Palestinian leadership is humiliated by Pappe and branded as traitors and cowards . Pappe believes that he knows the Arab world much than better than the overwhelming majority of secular Palestinian leaders; he ‘knows’ that the Arab world will never accept an unrepentant Israel that doesn’t acknowledge its responsibility for the conflict’. Isn’t it in the realm of possibility that the Palestinian leaders may know a few things about the Arab world that Ilan Pappe does not.

The Bubble that Didn’t Burst

Sharon’s top advisers, explaining his recent unilateral withdrawal ploy, leaked the information that it was intended to head off alternative proposals such as the Geneva Accords. Recently, the entire Bundestag and Spanish Socialist Party endorsed the Accords. These are just some of the events that prove that the Accords have become an influential factor wherever and whenever serious thinking is directed to realistic chances to improve the situation in the Middle East.

Likewise important is the possibility that the Accords can play a role in weakening the prestige of both Bush and Sharon, who are both, along with Blair, under serious public pressure for their culpability for the daily outrages against the Palestinian people. Sharon and Bush can be isolated politically for turning their back on a genuine opportunity for peace and an end to the occupation.

I have no doubts about Ilan Pappe’s sincerity and devotion to justice for both Jews and Palestinians, and I am more than willing to recognize his extreme courage and selflessness in defending his ideas. Even so, I fear that a sense of despair has led him to exaggerate the strength of Sharon and the weakness of the Palestinian side. It is this sense that has led him to turn his back on genuine, practical political efforts that can make a big difference. Such efforts are necessary to convert the growing awareness that something terrible is happening in Palestine into an effective force for change.