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Michel Warschawski Interview (Part 7)

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Jerusalem. Now joining us again is Michel Warschawski. He is the author of the book On the Border. He’s also the founder of the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem. Thanks for joining us again.


JAY: So we left off talking about how the hard right in Israel, which—now well represented in the government, is not satisfied with circling Jerusalem with settlements. They want a much more provocative thing, which is actually try to push Palestinians out of the center of the city, which has put them into conflict with the United States, who wants to see some kind of negotiations going on—at least they say they do. So to what extent do you think there’s a real divergence of interest here between the United States or US policy and this Israeli government?

WARSCHAWSKI: Unlike some of my colleagues in the Alternative Information Center, I do think there is a crisis. I don’t think anyone wants, neither in Washington nor in Tel Aviv, intends to challenge the strategic alliance between the US and Israel, something which is here to stay for many years more. But there is a double conflict. First conflict, I would call it almost personal. Obama is the enemy of the American neoconservatives, he was an alternative to the failure of the neoconservative foreign policy, while Benjamin Netanyahu is one of the founding fathers of neoconservatism, as an American and an Israeli together. He already in the ’80s was formulating the neoconservative strategy with the collapse of Soviet Union and the role of the United States as a unique power, seemingly, in the world. So Benjamin Netanyahu and his team are really acting with the worst enemies of, opponents of Obama in the United States to destabilize it and at least to make it a bad memory in few years from now, some parentheses, miserable parentheses, in an era of neoconservatism. This is the conception of Netanyahu.

JAY: Speaking of the Obama administration, it should be considered a footnote of what the real relationship is, which is with the—.

WARSCHAWSKI: [inaudible] and what is real America, or real America should be the America, the United States government [sic]. This is one level. And the connections between Netanyahu and his team with the neoconservatives and with the evangelists, who are also enemies of Obama, and they are a strong power in the United States is part of the tension. But the tension is not only on that level. It is on the strategy in the Middle East. When Obama gave his speech in Cairo a year ago, the Israeli leaders really—it’s not an image; it’s real—were sweating. The television was very good on that. You saw all the leaders doing that kind of movement. They felt something new is happening. The way Obama’s administration is saying American interests in the Middle East is absolutely very different from the way Netanyahu and his neoconservative friends look at it. I believe there is here a real divergence. While George W. Bush used to say the key of stability in the Middle East is Iraq, Obama is coming back to the old Clinton conception: the key is to resolve the Palestinian issue, to neutralize the Palestinian issue; as long as there is a Palestinian issue, we’ll have troubles in the Middle East.

JAY: And he had support recently. General Petraeus said something more or less the same in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and some of his other generals have been saying—actually went so far as to say American soldiers are dying because of lack of resolution of this conflict.

WARSCHAWSKI: Of the Palestinian conflict, of the conflict in Palestine, definitely. So we are back to an old American policy. And the only question is how far that administration is ready and able to go in pressuring Israel. We need pressures, whatever will be the government. But certainly with that government we need American pressures. Without pressures it will not work. And there have been precedents of pressures. It’s not something new. It’s not Obama. Eisenhower was putting pressures on Israel because of the framework of the Cold War and his rapprochement with, attempt of rapprochement with Soviet Union. Later on, Bush father put a lot of pressure, $13 billion dollars loan guarantees, in order to obtain freeze of settlement, because he promised it to the Arab regimes that were in alliance against—with the United States [inaudible]

JAY: So is this the essence of the divergence of interests is that there’s been a lot of promises made to the Arab regimes, starting with the Sauds, who are in their own right very powerful in Washington and very powerful in the region. The conflict with Iran, and the role that the US plays, it makes it very easy for Iran to demonize the United States in the region. But is it something that stays at the rhetorical level, a spat with Obama and Netanyahu in Washington? Or do the Americans actually put something behind this?

WARSCHAWSKI: I think there are strategic objectives. If—and this is what the Gulf states are saying to Washington. If your enemy is Iran, if your objective is to neutralize Iran for being a local big power, you have to strengthen us. We are threatened by Iran. But in order to strengthen us, you cannot let Israel do whatever they want, because otherwise we will be looked as completely accomplices of Israeli occupation and Israeli colonization and repression of the Palestinian people. So it’s an overall regional game, where Iran has a very important role, and the Gulf countries also. And the conflict between Shiite Iran and Sunni Gulf countries is real, and they are threatened, and they have a big Shiite minority which is frightening them. And in that sense the problem of Obama is a very, very narrow—if you are speaking about such challenges, global, regional challenges, one additional settlement near Hebron or in the heart of the Old City looks really ridiculous, and this shouldn’t be an obstacle in order to put into motion a reshaping of the Middle East, a needed reshaping for the US administration. Now, this is the political root of the tension, while from the point of view of Obama—of Benjamin Netanyahu, precisely the conception of trying to re-stabilize the area is not his agenda, because it’s not the agenda of the neoconservatives, who have an agenda of the permanent war, that with these Arabs and these Muslims we have nothing to negotiate; they are a danger, they are an enemy; we have to control them as much as possible and to attack them if they don’t accept our hegemony.

JAY: And in his government, at the political level—and my question is how much at the level of the economic elite is there a basic belief in greater Israel, so a two-state solution just cannot work if your vision is greater Israel and you don’t really care what the American strategic problems are? How strong is that position?

WARSCHAWSKI: [inaudible]

JAY: The belief that the real agenda needs to be greater Israel. You can stall, you can make motions, you can pretend to talk, but the real agenda is not just not a Palestinian second—a Palestinian state, but even more than that, the actual real expansion of the Israeli border.

WARSCHAWSKI: The question is not whether or not the Palestinian state. I think there is a consensus in Israel that there should be a Palestinian state, because we have to get rid of Palestinians, to get rid from our state. We have to get out of the permanent dilemma whether we have a democratic Jewish-Arab state, which is out of question for any kind of Zionist conception where a Jewish state is important, or we’ll have—what we have, in fact, that we will have to admit that we are in an apartheid state, a Jewish state with a strong minority, or even maybe a majority, without rights or without civic rights. Now, both options are bad from the point of view of the Israeli leadership altogether. So, yes, a Palestinian state, even Netanyahu. But the state being not—the partition between Israel and let’s say most of the West Bank [inaudible] Gaza as a Palestinian state, Israel being a state from the sea to the Jordan River with the exception of the lands we don’t want because they are heavily populated by Palestinians. This is the old Sharon plan, the cantonization.

JAY: But even that, there seems to be—every time there’s about to be some kind of progress and talking, even if it’s to get to this cantonization, or bantustans people have called, even to get there, there seems to be—this government seems to block any attempt to even get to that point.

WARSCHAWSKI: This government right now is not ready to negotiate everything, nothing, it’s not ready to negotiate nothing. And I would have been doing the same at their place, because there is no urgency. For that, there is no urgency, no pressure, no American pressure and no European pressure, no economical pressure, no military threat, no terrorist threat. Everything is fine. And a very Israeli way to deal with politics—which is not Israeli but colonial—is you deal with the matters of today. Don’t think about tomorrow, because if you think too much about tomorrow, you know that there is no tomorrow.

JAY: So is there enough divergence of interest here for the Americans to give this a sense of urgency? Or is this some rhetoric to please—?

WARSCHAWSKI: No, it’s more than rhetoric, in my opinion. Some of my colleagues will disagree with me.

JAY: So they’re going to assert some real pressure.

WARSCHAWSKI: There will be pressures, there will be pressures. And I think if we listen, for example—not in AIPAC, because these are more pro-Israelis than Israel, more fanatic than the average Israeli public opinion—but if you take J Street, this is what they are saying to Israel: we are lovers, we are friends of Israel; stop it; it is bad; because the president of the United States, and even United States House of Representatives and Senate, are first of all defending the interests of the United States. There is nothing like love in politics, because they love Jews or Israel, and many of them don’t love Jews whatsoever. And now the way the Israeli government is handling the situation is getting—this is what—

JAY: [inaudible]

WARSCHAWSKI: —Petraeus was saying: the interests of the United States are threatened by this continuous Israeli policy.

JAY: Now, some of the Palestinians I’m talking to say the kind of two-state solution they’re talking about leaves the Palestinians with such a weakened entity that it’s actually—it’s not worth it. It’s better to be in the current situation than to go to such a sham.

WARSCHAWSKI: This is a debate, or the—I call it the false debate about two states or one state today, as if we are speaking—we are in a supermarket. [inaudible] often in public debates here and in Europe, but more in Europe than here, “Mr. Warshawsky, what do you—you don’t prefer one state? I prefer one state to two states,” as if we are in a supermarket. I’d like a big beer or a pack of six small beers. It’s not a question of what I like and what seems more nice and more beautiful. The option was—and this is the root of the Palestinian so-called historical compromise of Yasser Arafat—our rights say that Yasser Arafat is on Palestine. This is our homeland. It’s the homeland of our father and forefathers. But in order to reach it, it will take generations, because you can reach it only in two ways. Either by military ways—and these will take time until we’ll have regional and international situation where we can hope to reach it. It will take many, many, many years and generation. Or by convincing the Israelis that this is the best way to do it, like Mandela has done it. This will take even more generations, because [inaudible] huge majority of the Israelis want a Jewish state. So we can have—so in that sense, having a Palestinian state, one state in Palestine, is a long long-term struggle. In the meantime we’ll eat a lot of shit, a lot of dispossession, of maybe expulsions, colonization, repression. I can guarantee this was the offer of Arafat in late ’80s and throughout all the ’90s, a solution which is a big compromise, a painful compromise. We will have to renounce 70 percent of our homeland. But something for this generation. Now, the Palestinian made the choice with a lot of difficulties to say, okay, let’s accept the compromise. And who knows? In the future, after two states will coexist for one, two, three generation, we can reunite something more natural, more normal, more—. The problem was, when the offer was made, we were living in one kind of world, and just after the [inaudible]

JAY: Turned upside down.

WARSCHAWSKI: Upside down.

JAY: Meaning the fall of the—.

WARSCHAWSKI: It’s 2000. Fall of Soviet Union, the neoconservative recolonization of the world, and the re-colonization of Palestine. At the very moment the compromise was on the table, the Israelis say, we don’t want any more compromise; we are re-occupying.

JAY: Which is essentially the neoconservative vision: we are now one superpower world; we have enough military to do what we want.

WARSCHAWSKI: What we want, and we don’t negotiate anything. And Palestine is—Sharon was the first to understand. He said, compromise now, we will take more. So what seemed to be a realistic short- or medium-term solution is not anymore on the agenda. We may be back to the solution, but we have to understand to the solution of one state. But what is relevant is not one state or two state or three states or—who knows?—maybe a confederation with Jordan, that there is no short-term solution, that the time factor has changed. The ’80s, maybe part of the ’90s, were still—or ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, were a time of decolonization. Palestine was one of the last not to be decolonized. When the negotiation of decolonization started, it was already the beginning of the turn to recolonization, the neoconservative recolonization of the world and of Palestine, as Benjamin Netanyahu was the chief architect of both, of the global one and the local one. Now the question is, the main question for the Palestinian leadership, for the Palestinian national movement, is to reshape a strategy, a long-term strategy, the timeframe which gave logic to the compromise of Yasser Arafat, to the two-state solution, changed. I don’t claim to have an answer. I have only one suggestion to all of us [inaudible] the new reality and the new timeframe.

JAY: And perhaps the new reality is just starting, because if as many economists think we’re heading into a decade of far, far more economic dislocation, more depression, and high unemployment, and a continued strengthening of China, then this new reality is not very clear to a lot of people what this next decade’s going to bring.

WARSCHAWSKI: We don’t know anything about the next decade on two levels.

JAY: So in the next and, for now, final segment of our series of interviews, let’s talk about the coming decade. Please join us on The Real News Network with Michel Warschawski.


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Michel Warschawski is a journalist and writer and a founder of the Alternative Information Center (AIC) in Israel. His books include On the Border and Towards an Open Tomb: The Crisis of Israeli Society.