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Israel: A refuge or a colonial project? Pt.6 Israeli historian Tom Segev

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. We’re in Jerusalem with Tom Segev. He’s the author of 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year That Transformed the Middle East. Let’s just pick up again. How do you manage a fundamental—when the Palestinians and most of the world believe their fundamental rights are being denied, how do you manage that?

TOM SEGEV, HISTORIAN: The only way is to give them more rights at this time, because there is no basis for a final agreement. You give them more rights.

JAY: No basis, because public opinion in Israel won’t accept one.

SEGEV: No, because there is no majority, either among the Palestinians or among the Israelis, for anything that would be a workable compromise.

JAY: There’s a fair amount of polling amongst the Palestinians that there is –

SEGEV: There’s also a fair amount of polling among Israelis, if you ask Israeli’s

JAY: There’s a fair amount of pollings that show—for example, the Saudi proposal about 1967 borders, sharing Jerusalem, etc., there’s a fair amount of evidence that the Palestinians would accept that, even if it’s reluctant that they would accept.

SEGEV: Right. There is also a fair amount of polling in Israel that shows that a majority of Israelis support the two-state solution. Okay? But these are words. How do you translate it into a political reality?

JAY: But is that the problem, that maybe on both sides there are elites that don’t want to deal?

SEGEV: It’s not about elites. It’s a very, very deep thing in very wide circles. It’s much, much more difficult than elites. I know that in America you’re always supposed to end a conversation on an optimistic note, but I am not optimistic about that. I tell you where I’m optimistic, but that’s not your subject. I’m much more optimistic about the possibility of making peace between Israel and Syria, because there it’s about land, it’s about strategy, it’s about water. It’s, you know, very easy things to decide with Syria. But between us and the Palestinians, at this point in time I don’t see a possibility for peace, because it is basically irrational. It’s about religion. It’s becoming more and more religious all the time on both sides. But Gaza is ruled by people who don’t talk reason. They are Hamas-niks; they are religious fanatics. And our settlers are, many of them—not all, but many of them are religious fanatics. You don’t talk reason to them. You can give them every reasonable argument in the world that for the future of the state of Israel, for the future of the Jewish people, it is bad for them to live there. Every settler on the West Bank makes it more difficult. They talk about God. Hamas talks about God. It’s the same God, by the way.

JAY: It’s the same God. Though I have to say, in the interviews we did with Hamas, there’s a rationality there, in the sense that Hamas at least says that they would accept various kinds of deals that—especially if it led to a referendum where Palestinians approve the two-state solution, that they say they will accept it.

SEGEV: Who is “they”?

JAY: Well, this—I’m talking to Usamah Hamdan, who’s on the central committee of the party. They’ve said it. The leadership have said it to Jimmy Carter. I mean, Hamas has said it many times.

SEGEV: I think you are—as you know, I am very critical of the Israeli government and the Israeli positions and of the settlers and everything, but I think that it’s an easy way out to find one part in the conflict being willing to talk and the others refuse, because I could make it easy for myself and tell you all we say all these days is, to the Palestinians, come talk to us, and the Palestinians don’t want to talk to us. So that would be an easy way out. But that’s really an easy way out. It’s not about one side willing to make more concessions and the other one less concessions. It’s about—it’s just impossible. And this, I’m really trying to tell you as an observer, as an historian, it’s very sad. And I used to be very optimistic. I grew up to believe that there is no doubt that we will have peace. I belong to a generation that grew up to believe in peace. If you had asked me 40 years ago, will we have peace in 2010, of course we will have peace. We will give back the territories and have peace. I have learned that it is much, much more complicated.

JAY: Now, you said before that Israel is becoming a more racist society.


JAY: Why? And what’s the evidence of that?

SEGEV: There are many evidences. Part of the reason is because people don’t believe in peace anymore. We have—I think 20 percent of all Jewish voters have elected for a racist party, Yisrael Beiteinu, whose leader is now foreign minister. Racism is almost open. It’s almost accepted. If you walk along the streets of Jerusalem and look at the street signs, you will see that they are written in three languages, Hebrew, Arabic, and English, but the Arabic is crossed out in black. You have also very, very alarming polls among, especially, young Israelis, the ones who will be the future elites, and they tell you that—at least half of them tell you that Arabs shouldn’t be here, Arabs shouldn’t have the right to vote, Arabs shouldn’t have the right to be elected. So this is very unfortunate. It comes together with a general mistrust of politics. And, you know, if you are a young Israeli and you read the newspapers, you read about a former president who is on trial for alleged rape. You have a former prime minister who is on trial for alleged corruption. You have any number of cabinet ministers who are in jail. So you have reason to not trust politics anymore. This is a government that has been unable to reach peace. So even if you are on the left, you have reason to say, well, what have you done? And at the same time, the combination of not trusting the political system anymore, not trusting the democratic values anymore, with the disbelief in the possibility of peace, I think is very harmful for the Israeli society. And that’s what you have.

JAY: What would you say to young Palestinians watching this interview? What should they make of this? What should they do?

SEGEV: I think if I were a young Palestinian, I would probably ask my leaders, why is it so important that we have sovereignty over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem? Why not just leave it to the Jews? Why do we need it? Is it worth two, three, four lost generations of Palestinians?

JAY: But I’m sure they would say back to you, if it isn’t the Temple Mount, there will be something else.

SEGEV: No. They will tell me, and they are right to tell me, that I shouldn’t talk at all as long as occupation is going on. And they’re right. But it’s not as if they represent a very rational position and we are the irrational ones. Both sides are irrational, because, as I said, it’s all about sentiments, it’s about religion, it’s about identity. And so that would be their answer. They will tell you, we will die for the Temple Mount. Why will you die for the Temple Mount? Why? Why is it worth [it]?

JAY: What I heard them say was not that. What they said is it’s the occupation itself. That’s the issue, not just Temple Mount.

SEGEV: Of course, of course the occupation is the issue. But they regard the Temple Mount as being under occupation, okay? Yes, of course it’s the occupation. The occupation—there’s no doubt about it.

JAY: But if they don’t make the Temple Mount the issue, it’s not going to change—.

SEGEV: No, but they do. No, no, but they do.

JAY: I’m saying if they didn’t, if they followed your advice and they didn’t, what would it change?

SEGEV: This is where the conversations between Barak and Arafat broke up, right? Such a stupid thing, who will have sovereignty over the Temple Mount. There was one very, very good idea, but they didn’t take it seriously: let’s agree that the sovereign is God and everything else is temporary; so let’s see how we manage, now, life. But they didn’t go for that. So it’s important. It’s easy for me to say that it’s stupid, but it’s important. But this is precisely why I say that the occupation itself can be made easier, the restrictions can be made easier, the terrible situation at the checkpoints can be easier.

JAY: A better-managed occupation. Okay. Well, let’s talk about that. Please join us for the rest of our interview with Tom Segev on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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Tom Segev (Hebrew: תום שגב‎) is an Israeli historian, author and journalist. He is associated with Israel's New Historians, a group challenging many of the country's traditional narratives.

He worked during the 1970s as a correspondent for Maariv in Bonn. and he was has been a visiting professor at Rutgers University, the University of California at Berkeley, and Northeastern University,