The Arab Digest Podcast Top Ten Countdown: number 5

When we launched the podcast in March 2020 we had no idea what sort of reception to expect. Now nearly 120 podcasts later we are delighted that they have been listened to more than 80,000 times in countries right around the world. That response is a measure of the outstanding quality of our contributors. We are fortunate to have them.

Through the month of August we have been featuring our top ten podcasts, all of which have had from 1100 to 1700 listens each. 

Podcast Number 5 – Beyond the two-state solution with Jonathan Kuttab

(1263 listens)

Summary: once a formidable supporter of the two-state solution Jonathan Kuttab has now abandoned it and calls for a new approach that addresses issues and fears on both sides.

At number five in the top ten, Beyond the two-state solution was aired 22 October 2021. Jonathan Kuttab is co-founder of Nonviolence International and of the Palestinian human rights group, Al Haq. A well known international human rights attorney, he has practiced in the US, Palestine and Israel. He serves on the board of Bethlehem Bible College and is President of the Board of Holy Land Trust. He is the Executive Director for Friends of Sabeel North America. William Law spoke with Jonathan just after he had published ‘Beyond the two-state solution’ with Nonviolence International. A shortened transcript of their conversation, edited for length and clarity, follows. You can find the podcast here.

You once argued for a two-state solution, but now you no longer believe that is a viable option. Why have you arrived at that conclusion?

It is correct that I’ve worked very hard for a two-state solution.  But the two-state solution at its roots was dividing Palestine, basically, into two areas, with Palestinians keeping about 22% of the country. And it was a hard pill for Palestinians to swallow. But they did. And the entire Arab world and Muslim world was behind that two-state solution. But then the Israeli governments, right and left, Likud and Labour, all of them, systematically undermined that solution. They introduced into that 22%, that was supposed to be a Palestinian state, about 700,000 Jewish settlers living in increasingly broadening areas, that were just for Jews.

The number of settlements, the location throughout the area, the infrastructure of roads that combined them, the administrative system that was created for them, the psychological integration of those settlements into Israel, itself. So they were not living there as West Bankers. They were living there as fully Israeli, with all the social, health, social security, subsidies, taxes, laws, police structures, that totally undermines even the possibility of a two-state solution.

I wrote a little book ‘Beyond the two-state solution’ where I outlined how effective that undermining has been, and how the few attempts, the three or four attempts that were made to remove settlers, whether successful or not, were so huge and traumatic as to ensure that you couldn’t really do it on any significant scale in the future. And then I said, if that’s the case, if all the experts and the pundits realise that a Palestinian state is not going to happen, then we need some new thinking out of the box, we need to go back to the drawing boards, this grand compromise of two states can no longer be effective.

And your book offers that new vision, really a confederation within one state. Can you sketch out your vision and how it could work? 

It’s beyond confederation. It’s an attempt to basically radically alter the concept of Palestinian nationalism and the concept of Zionism, to somehow incorporate and include the other rather than to exclude it, delegitimise it, demonise it, disenfranchise it, or even physically eliminate it. That can no longer happen. So can the two live together? Is it possible to think of a hybrid solution that is fully Jewish and Arab at the same time? That addresses the needs, the fears, and the history of both sides, and gives them basically everything they want except for exclusivity, except for the denial of the other.

Can we build in structures and laws and constitutions and institutions that can resist any demographic change, where the rights of each party are guaranteed, regardless of who has 51% of the population. Because in my view, a genuine democracy is not built just on elections with 51% denying and oppressing the minorities or the individual.

But let’s look at some of the core issues, things like the right of return or Jerusalem. How do you sort through that?

Easily. Right of return, I think is a basic requirement for Zionist Jews. But it’s also a requirement for Palestinian Arabs. And the only reason that you would deny the right of return is because of demographic fears. So if I solve the demographic problem, if I ensure your rights, regardless of who has more individuals, then I don’t have to worry about every Palestinian baby that’s born. And every Jew or Palestinian Arab who returns or emigrates into the country, because the rights are basically guaranteed, regardless of the numbers involved. It recognises that both communities have a substantial stake in the country, even if they fall below 50% or 40%, or whatever.

And Jerusalem?

Jerusalem, I think is one of the easiest problems to solve. There is no problem in Jerusalem, if you give up exclusivity. The problem with Jerusalem is where one side says ‘this is mine and mine alone. And I set the rules. And I allow or don’t allow access, or worship or building or structures in that country’. Once you accept the principle that Jerusalem is shared by both parties, then that becomes a very easy, manageable, pragmatic problem. Religious places are already fixed by a status quo agreement that’s been there for literally decades, if not centuries. And that takes care of the religious places. Who has a capital, who can raise the flag, what educational system goes on, what is planning, all these things can be pragmatically addressed once you give up the idea of exclusivity. The problem with Jerusalem is when one group or one religion claims that it is ours alone, and all the infidels should be kept out or suppressed or otherwise subjugated.

Well, let me ask you, then, Jonathan, what do you do about the settlements, the illegal settlements in the West Bank? Do you just accept them?

You do with them what you do with Israel itself. Almost every Jew in Palestine today is living either in an Arab house or on Arab land. My solution is you don’t move them out. You allow them to stay where they are. Instead you provide alternative housing or compensation for the original owners. You don’t uproot anybody. But you do provide legitimate genuine alternatives and compensation to house and to address those whose property you are living on, or those whose houses you are sitting in.

Under the occupation, and within Israel itself, the Palestinian people have paid a very heavy price. For their part, organisations like Hamas and Islamic Jihad have met violence with violence. What sort of accountability does there need to be? Do you see a kind of peace and reconciliation mechanism here?

Yes, I do. But before we go too far down that path, I would like to point out that most Israelis and Palestinians I think, unlike myself, still believe in violence, and in armies and in armed resistance and in the power of weapons. So you can’t just preach non-violence to the Palestinians, which I do, by the way, because I think it is effective and a much better way forward. But you can’t just ask Palestinians, why are you being violent and resisting this oppression without telling Israelis at the same time why are you so violent? So disproportionately violence? Why would you think that violence itself, mere weapons, are going to achieve your purposes? Hasn’t it been proven that with overwhelming military force on your side, you still have failed to achieve your objective? You’re still left with about 7 million non-Jews within your borders. How can you be a Jewish state with half the people living under your rule being non-Jewish, whether they are citizens or not?

Just like I have to tell myself, how can Palestine be fully Arab, when 7 million of the people living in Palestine, more or less, are not Arab. I must come to terms with that reality. That Palestine today, historic Palestine, is both Jewish and Arab. And these two people regardless  – and I’m not pretending that there is any equivalency or symmetry between them – regardless, they need to find a way to live together in respect, in dignity, in equality, in security, and live and thrive together. And they can only do that once they drop this crazy idea of exclusivity and excluding the other.

But just to come back to my point about truth and reconciliation, people have suffered enormous harm, enormous damage. Do they not get any accountability? Or do they simply put that aside and move forward?

Well, you’re putting the cart before the horse because truth and reconciliation comes at the end. We are still living under the oppression. The knee is still on our neck. So before you say about accountability, just get the knee off my neck, please. And then we’ll talk about truth and reconciliation and moving forward together. Yes, of course, we do need that. But right now we need to just end the occupation. We need to get that knee off our neck, that boot off our back.

Jonathan, you are a person, hugely optimistic I think. Is that optimism shared when you talk to fellow Palestinians,  do they say to you, ‘yes, I can see your vision, I can share it, we can see it happening?’ Because, as you know, the obstacles are enormous. The power structure alone, the IDF, all of the walls, the security wall itself speaks so much against what you would like to see happen and what many people on both sides would like to see happen.

I don’t know that it’s so much optimism as it is hope. It is an understanding of history. And if you’re at all a believer, a faith in God, the ultimate sovereign, that this kind of oppression cannot persist forever, that sooner or later fate, history, God, the very realistic movement forward requires an end to this kind of oppression. You know, I talk to people who tell me it’s hopeless. And I say, look at apartheid South Africa, that looked hopeless. Look at  slavery in the United States. Do I need to remind you that 100 years ago, women didn’t even have to vote? It’s just 100 years ago. And you have to look at LGBT a decade or two decades ago, that was totally unthinkable. Today it’s understood and accepted that equality is a basic value, even though there are those who do not accept it. Now that is certainly the direction and the movement of history, that people can and will be free.

And that knee on the neck, that boot in the back. How do you get the Israelis to lift that?

That is a tall order, particularly if the Israelis are afraid that the minute they move that knee, bad things will happen. So we have to deal with that reality and with that psychological obstacle, as well as with the tremendous power imbalance. In the book, I mentioned that any peace in the Middle East, two-state, one state, no state requires that you deal with these two factors: the tremendous power imbalance, and what I call the Holocaust syndrome that has convinced many Israelis that overwhelming military power is the only path to security. We need to deal with that. That’s a malady that needs to be cured and healed. Recognised for what it is, recognise that many politicians are using it as an excuse. I know for most Palestinians, most Arabs, it’s laughable every time they hear Israel talk about security. You have nuclear weapons, you have total and full control, you have F-16s, you have the support of the only superpower in the world. What are you talking about security? We’re the ones who need security! And yet I recognise that at some deep level there is that fear and there is that Holocaust syndrome that needs to be addressed.

On Friday 19 August we feature Francis Ghilès’  Algeria and Morocco: neighbours with issues, number 4 in our all-time top ten podcast countdown.

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