Aijaz Ahmad: I think the question of the security of Israel needs to be addressed first, and the concern for that is quite great. My sense is that, as things are laid out, the possible solution would involve the creation of two states, one for the
Israelis and one for the Palestinians in the occupied territories. And any final settlement must include extensive security guarantees for both countries. But let me say that Israel is by far the most powerful country militarily in the region, possibly stronger than all the other countries. It is the only nuclear power. And it’s not a minor nuclear power like Pakistan or India; it is a major nuclear power like Britain and France. So the security is not of a military nature; it is of a political nature, and it is the political question that needs to be resolved.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Thank you for joining us again for our series of interviews with Aijaz Ahmad on what would a rational American foreign policy look like. In this segment we talk to Aijaz Ahmad about perhaps the most difficult issue facing the Middle East. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the core of much of the issues facing the Middle East, including issues of international terrorism. Al-Qaeda always talks about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s discussed by all sides as the sort of trigger-point-critical issue. So if the phone rings for you at three in the morning and the president, whoever he may be, says to you, “What should we do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” what do you answer?
AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR NEWS ANALYST: I think there are three issues involved here. One is the issue of the security of the state of Israel. The other is the question of a final settlement of the Palestine question, which has been lingering since 1948. And then, generally, the restoration of peace in the entire region, and I think you’re quite right that, of course, al-Qaeda just makes use of it. But people of all those countries are deeply agitated by the issue of Palestine, and you cannot have peace in that region without resolving that question. Now, first of all, I think the question of the security of Israel needs to be addressed first, and the concern for that is quite great. My sense is that, as things are laid out, the possible solution would involve the creation of two states, one for the Israelis and one for the Palestinians in the occupied territories. And any final settlement must include extensive security guarantees for both countries. But let me say that Israel is by far the most powerful country militarily in the region, possibly stronger than all the other countries. It is the only nuclear power. And it’s not a minor nuclear power like Pakistan or India; it is a major nuclear power like Britain and France. So the security is not of a military nature; it is of a political nature, and it is the political question that needs to be resolved. The favorable thing for Israel at the moment is and has been for awhile that the Arab states are out of any equation of security [inaudible] for Israel. So in that sense also it is very secure. Israel’s political insecurity does not include any longer the possibility of a military confrontation with any of the Arab states. So in that sense also the military balance for Israel is in fact very favorable. But it’s the political problem, and political problem obviously has to do with the Palestine question. And there, I think, basically, there are three overlapping questions to start with in terms of population clusters. One is the Palestinians who are citizens of Israel and who do not have rights or equal citizenship, and they constitute almost 20 percent of the Israeli population.
JAY: And very quickly growing population.
AHMAD: And a quickly growing population, faster than the Jewish population. So, well, you know, some solution has to be found for that.
JAY: Well, that’s a difficult one, some solution, because if the Israeli state is going to maintain its self-descrpition as a Jewish state, then the demographics are going to change the majority of the population of Israel over time.
AHMAD: Well, my concern is somewhat different, Paul, which is that, you know, I come from India, and I’m unwilling to call India a Hindu state, even though 90 percent of the Indian population is Hindu. I deeply resent the idea of an Islamic republic in Pakistan or Iran or something. I would be horrified if the United States or Canada were to be declared Christian states. I stand for a democratic, secular state, and I think Israeli citizenry, as a modern citizenry, owes itself to become a modern secular state in which all citizens have equal rights, so that Israel would continue to be an overwhelmingly Jewish majority state. But just to become a modern, secular, democratic state, it must grant equal citizenship to its Palestinian citizens.
JAY: That may not happen in the short term, given the insistence on, certainly, probably the majority of the Israeli Jewish population and maintaining what they call the Jewish character of the state. But given that, how is there going to be security for Israel and rights for a Palestinian state? Like, what’s in the way of that now? It seems that you get that language already, even from the Bush administration, that they’re for two viable states, but nothing really happens.
AHMAD: We were first talking about the Palestinian segment of the population inside Israel. Second is the whole question of the Palestinian population in the occupied territories, West Bank and Gaza, both of them. Now, all parties of any significance, including Hamas, has agreed that if Israel were to withdraw from the territories occupied in 1967, any kind of solution that the Palestine Authority proposes and is accepted by the Palestinian population would be acceptable to Hamas. So the precondition is that withdrawal. Now, that withdrawal, the Israelis have certain security concerns. They believe that they should keep some territories for security reasons. Other territories they want to keep because they have settlements there. Now, these I think are questions that should be separated. Settlements need to be dismantled. But there can be a territorial swap, in which some of the West Bank territory comes to Israel and Israel gives the Palestinian state a bit of territory. For example, to make the West Bank and Gaza contiguous [inaudible] corridor [inaudible] corridor connecting the two, in lieu of which, the Palestinians would give Israel some of the territory that they want. Issues of that kind. And the third segment of the population is the Palestinian diaspora all over the world, primarily Syria and Jordan and Lebanon, but all over the world, who are refugees from 1948, for whom the issue has been right of return.
JAY: In the next segment, let’s go further into these issues, the right of return, and the other questions you’ve raised, because each one of these segments deserves more attention. So please join us for the next part of our discussions, where we’ll drill into the whole question of what would a settlement look like with the Israelis and Palestinians and two states.