New York – An Israeli journalist quipped this weekend that Noam Sheizaf’s article, “Endgame,” about right-wing Israelis who support a one-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli impasse, is “one of those articles that makes history.”
In the piece, which appeared in the Haaretz weekend magazine on Friday, Sheizaf illuminated a still small and nearly unacknowledged political trend in Israel, a trend with far-reaching implications.
The right-wing figures interviewed in the article lay out a position to which many on the one-state left will be sympathetic. These right-wingers argue that, despite having the avowed support of Israelis, Palestinians and the world community, the two state solution appears to be unsalvageable. The peace negotiations are at a standstill, and the Israeli and Palestinian peoples need a creative solution that addresses both peoples’ rights while resolving the territorial conflict.
Therefore, this group, which includes a few influential politicians, proposes granting Israeli citizenship to most if not all Palestinians. Of course, since this is the Israeli right, this camp does not want to give up the Jewish character of the Israeli state or recognize Palestinian national aspirations.
But what many will see in Sheizaf’s investigation is the seed of an idea, possibly a way to overcome the current political impasse.
Reached by phone at his Tel Aviv home, Sheizaf said, “people who read the article understood how revolutionary this step might be, even though it’s not complete and it ignores many of the basic problems of the conflict.”
“Then again,” he asks, “how detailed a plan would you get from an Israeli speaking on a two state solution, in 1972, or 1978? For the one state solution I think we’re still in the ‘70s. I hope we’re not for the sake of Palestinians. But you get my point: this is the first step in formulating an idea.”
Part of what is fascinating about this group of one-state right-wingers, Sheizaf told Palestine Note, is that it speaks “about a land in which the two populations are totally mixed, linked to each other, have a common history by now, even though it’s a pretty awful one, and reading it as one territorial unit.”
Jared Malsin: How did you get the idea for this story?
Noam Sheizaf: I have to tell you that the idea wasn’t mine. There were a lot of people who noticed that right wing figures—[Knesset Speaker Reuben] Rivlin gave a statement after meeting with the Greek Ambassador—and other right wing figures suddenly gave these statements. [Likud Knesset member] Moshe Arens published an article in Haaretz, which immediately everyone posted and linked to. There were a few incidents of right wing people bringing up these ideas, even if they weren’t saying them loudly. We came up the idea of trying to link these statements, seeing whether there was a coherent worldview behind them. That was my mission, to get people to repeat these statements and to put them in context, because nothing was in context until now.
JM: How did you go about writing this article? What was your process?
NS: I contacted the people I remembered giving these statements, and I was pretty surprised by the fact that they were willing to speak – after a few hesitated, nobody told me ‘I don’t want to comment on this issue.’ After the article was published nobody called me to tell me they were misquoted.
Some of the people I reached from one guy to another. Someone almost everyone told me to meet was Uri Elitzur, the former chief of staff of Netanyahu from his first term, who apparently was discussing these issues for some time within the settlers. But outside the settlements there was hardly no one, but within the settlers everyone was talking about “Uri’s ideas” and “Uri’s plan.”
So, I contacted him and unfortunately he was on his way to Chicago so I only got a few minutes with him, but he had a wonderful article out this in the settlers’ monthly paper Nekuda, which was very clear and very thoughtful, and not hiding behind slogans, but simply saying, “its either this, apartheid, or a two state solution. There is no middle road.” The others are still flirting with a middle road, but Uri Elitzur, he went as far as a right-wing person can go and stay within the right.
JM: I’m curious, how much do you think this new movement is coming from settlers and is really about holding onto the settlements?
NS: I think we have a common mistake when we deal with the issues here, that we judge people’s intentions all the time. It’s a mistake that a lot of supporters of Israel make because they say Israelis want peace but they don’t judge Israel’s actions. A poll that says ‘Israelis support the two state solution’ will get a bigger headline than the confiscation of land, which actually tells the story for me more than the poll.
In relation to the idea we are discussing, I don’t think it’s that important if a settler is voicing an opinion for a one-state solution because he wants to stay in Hebron and the threat is around the corner or because he discovered that there are Palestinians around him and their rights need to be addressed, too.
So, I’m not interested in their motives. I think what’s new is that they are saying that there are Palestinians and the problem of their rights reflects on the entire Jewish public, on Israel, on the legitimacy of the Israeli project. And many of them spoke in human rights terms. You can be cynical and say that they are only saying this because they are scared for their homes, and it might be true. But it’s still something new, and it’s worth reporting.
I would say that I believe some of them were honest. I believe that Reuben Rivlin’s and Arens’ record in the parliament with regard to the rights of Arabs of ‘48—Palestinians of ‘48—are better than a lot of people on the Israeli left, on the so-called Zionist left. Rivlin abstained on the vote on [stripping rights from Palestinian Knesset member] Hanin Zuabi. But still Rivlen and Arens are not joining all these new ideas on the Palestinians of ‘48. I think they believe that the Palestinians have to have their rights.
JM: That’s one of the interesting things about this new idea, and you talk about this in the article, is that it’s not the left-wing binational solution, but it’s not [far-right Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman either.
NS: Those people reject Lieberman completely. We should credit them for that. Sometimes Lieberman will find allies in the Israeli center.
But having said that, these are right-wing people. They do not want to give up the Jewish state. They to not want to recognize the national rights of Palestinians. They do not want to recognize their collective rights. They will go as far as they can as individuals. This is the difference with the Israeli left, I mean the one state left, the radical left, that is talking about a state for the citizens or a binational state, which is something that recognizes the collective right of Palestinians to have their culture, their language, their heritage represented in the state apparatus and the state symbols.
None of the right-wing people I talked with would consider it, except for Rivlin, who in this regard went all over the place. He said Jewish state but he also said joint parliament. I didn’t get a clear plan out of him.
JM: One thing that’s still kind of ambiguous among the people you interviewed is how Gaza fits into this picture.
NS: Oh it’s not ambiguous at all. They don’t want Gaza. And this is where, some would say, the whole structure collapses. There’s no sane Palestinian that would agree to Israeli citizenship without Gaza, it would be like the citizenship that’s given in East Jerusalem. These partial solutions they do more harm than good.
They don’t want Gaza. They’re very clear about that. But still, some historical process, they don’t develop the way people foresee them. Like, [Mikhail] Gorbachev never imagined that he would shut down the Soviet Union.
They would come up with be some sort of solution for Gaza that takes into account Egyptian help that is totally, and they know it, unrealistic, given the current political and geopolitical trends in Egypt. They are clear that Gaza is not a part of the plan, but again, they don’t really present a plan in the sense of the two state solution, like the Geneva Accord. They are not at that stage yet. This is just the first step in a road.
I didn’t hear them address the issue of the right of return, not even Hok Hashvut [right of return] for Jews. This is something I expect they want to keep but it would be very strange in a binational reality.
Then again, how detailed a plan would you get from an Israeli speaking on a two state solution, in 1972, or 1978? For the one state solution I think we’re still in the ‘70s. I hope we’re not for the sake of Palestinians. But you get my point: this is the first step in formulating an idea.
What’s interesting is that people who read the article understood how revolutionary this step might be, even though it’s not complete and it ignores many of the basic problems of the conflict. I read the comments on the internet and on blogs and everything, and I think [the right-wing one state] ideas got a better response, and people were more open to hear them on the Palestinian side around the world than in the Israeli public, even though all the limits that they set out should make it easier for Israelis to consider.
So that’s another thing to consider, is how addicted the Israeli public became to the idea of separation, that it is not even willing to listen to settlers who think differently.
I think in a way we should listen to the way these people read the reality. You don’t have to subscribe to their solutions, [but they are] speaking about a land in which the two populations are totally mixed, linked to each other, have a common history by now, even though it’s a pretty awful one, and reading it as one territorial unit, and trying to rethink issues, and saying that in a sense the colonialist project after ‘67 was far easier on the Palestinians than the one around ’48. This is pretty revolutionary for Israelis to hear, and I think interesting for people anywhere to hear.
JM: The title of the piece, “Endgame,” hints at this, that the reason this idea is interesting is that, going forward, it suggests a way of breaking the political impasse we are in.
NS: And it might also be a beginning. And it’s also endgame in the sense that there are very few Israelis who would speak about ‘48 right now.
JM: You mean ’48 historically.
NS: Yes. The Nakba. Very few Israelis would recognize anything having to do with the Nakba. You know Israel is passing laws that will prohibit even Palestinians from mentioning it. So now how strange is it that while the Israeli center, the political center, is passing these laws against mentioning the Nakba, and settlers are discussing it openly, even if they do it for their own purposes. It raises a lot of questions for the Israeli left, about the issues it’s been trying to avoid.
And I think the claim, for Israelis, that the settlers will be sacrificed, to cut a deal with the Palestinian leadership and avoid the issues of 48, is an interesting thought.
JM: You mean, that there’s something not right about that?
NS: Yes, of course. They’re asking, “what’s the difference between a settlement and a settlement west of the Green Line that was established just 20 years earlier?”
JM: And you’re saying that in a way these right wing people are bringing these questions into the political mainstream?
NS: I’m not sure the mainstream is ready to receive them right now, but they are raising them. Their reading of the moral map is interesting, but we don’t have to subscribe to their solution.
JM: As I recall there wasn’t much discussion of the Palestinian right of return or 1948 in the article.
NS: No the right of return wasn’t mentioned, but on the other hand they did mention ’48. A lot of them. Rivlin specifically [mentioned it.]
This is something I didn’t put in the article because of the problem of length. I sat with him [Rivlin] in the Knesset. He told me: “We are sitting on an Arab village right now, you and I, and around the Knesset, you would see the Arab gardens, so this place is morally right and the settlements are morally wrong?”
He believes that both national projects, Jewish and Palestinian, have a moral justification, and he doesn’t draw the line at the Green Line, he says that’s completely arbitrary. I think many Palestinians would agree. Maybe I’m wrong about that, but I think that many Palestinians would say “what makes the occupation of Nablus immoral and the occupation of Jaffa moral?”
JM: That’s interesting that he would say that.
NS: But [Rivlin is coming] from the other side completely. He wants to legitimize [the occupation of] both Nablus and Jaffa. But he also recognized that you need to find solutions for the Palestinians living here—not for the Palestinian Diaspora which is another problem—that’s what he said.
What I like about this kind of discourse is that is makes you think. It makes you respond. And I got angry responses from both the left and the right, and one of the settlers I interviewed got threats on her life following the article.
JM: Talk more about the response to the article.
NS: The setters who do not support this idea are furious, from what I hear. They think this is dangerous, that in the long run it will lead to a binational state which they don’t support, and in the short run it delegitimizes the settlements in the eyes of the Israeli public, because you understand, maybe a lot of Jews who are not supporters of the settlements got panicked by reading “this is the end game,” so in an absurd way it increased the probability of the two state solution.
The settlers’ interest and the Israeli interest right now is neither, is the status quo. So this kind of talk made a lot of people angry, both on the right and some on the left. I mean on the center left, not on the far left.
The far left is very suspicious of the settlers. The settlers, for people on the Israeli left, are the evil side of the Jewish society. They are to blame for everything. This is something I simply reject, but that is how they are perceived.
JM: Why do you reject that? Unpack that statement.
NS: Oh, because the settlements weren’t a project of the settlers. The occupation and the settlements are a national Israeli project. It took our legal system, our military system, our police, our tax money, everything was invested in this. And throwing it on 50,000 or 100,000 or 200,000 people and saying that they are to blame—and many of them are just poor Israelis who were looking for cheap housing—and saying that they are to blame for the current geopolitical mess and that everyone in Tel Aviv can forget about it once they are sacrificed, I simply don’t think that’s true. I think the entire Israeli society is responsible for the occupation.
And that is something a right-wing person would say as well, which is another absurdity.