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Israel: A refuge or a colonial project? Pt.7 Israeli historian Tom Segev

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PAUL JAY: Welcome back to Real News Network. We’re in Jerusalem. We’re talking with Tom Segev. He’s the author of 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East. So to young Palestinians you’re saying their only best realistic choice is a better occupation. And you know they’re not going to accept that.

TOM SEGEV, HISTORIAN: I’m mostly talking to Israelis, not to Palestinians. But I will tell to Israelis on two levels, if you want. On a polemic, idealistic, futuristic level, I would say let’s end the occupation, let’s end it today. It’s no good. Let’s dismantle the settlements. It’s no good. Bring all settlers home. Let’s go for the 1967 border. Let’s go for power-sharing in Jerusalem. Let’s go for a two-state solution. Okay? I’ve said all that. Doesn’t mean much, because it won’t be in the near future. I don’t believe that it’s possible. I want it very much, but I don’t believe that it’s possible. I’m saying, so what do we do in the meantime? And I’m saying that in the meantime, there are many ways to diminish the systematic violations of the human rights of the Palestinians. We can make it easier for them. Now, if you are living in a small village, let’s say, called Bidou, which is outside Jerusalem, and you can’t go to the doctor, which is 10 minutes away in the hospital in Jerusalem, and you have to go to Ramallah, passing a few checkpoints. Then you could laugh at me and say, okay, you only want an easier occupation. But if I am telling you that many of these checkpoints are unnecessary, they are unnecessary hardship, let’s take them away, so from a Palestinian point of view, from a nationalistic point of view, you might say, well, this is very nice for you, we will have–you will have an easier occupation, everything will be nice, but you will still be occupiers; yes, I will still be occupiers, but life will be more livable for the Palestinians, and life for the Palestinians is so difficult today that even if you start by making it easier you have achieved something. So this is very little. This is not big idealism. It’s a very apolitical thing I am saying. But I think we have reached a point, unfortunately, the situation is so bad that the best you can do is to make life more livable.

JAY: General Petraeus at a Senate hearing said that a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in a direct American national interest, that American soldiers are being killed in Iraq and Afghanistan because this issue doesn’t get settled. And a lot of analysts said that was very important rhetoric coming from Petraeus, and it wasn’t just he sent some of his other generals out to say the same thing to other congressmen and senators. And the idea being–is–I guess the question is: is there a point where US interest really is for a two-state solution in order to manage American relations in the Arab world, and there’s a real divergence of interests with Israel, which you say is not ready for this? Or do you think that’s all theater?

SEGEV: No, I think it is in the American interest to have a two-state solution, and I think it’s also in the Israeli interest to have a two-state solution. But the problem is that in your question you say “Israeli interest” and you really mean the policy of the government of Israel. Alright? That’s not the same thing. I think that the Israeli government at the moment is not representing the true interest of the state of Israel. But that’s our tragedy for many years. But I belong to a very small minority [inaudible] government does represent the majority of Israelis, just as the Palestinians make a lot of mistakes and they represent a majority of the Palestinians–at least on the West Bank, not in Gaza. I can understand why–by the way, he retracted that statement, I think, Petraeus, in a conversation with Barak, the Israeli defense minister, a few days ago. But, yes, it makes sense for the Americans to say, we really need to get rid of that problem between the Israelis and the Palestinians, also in view of the Iranian threat and in view of the other problems we have in Iraq and in Afghanistan or wherever. Yes, let’s settle that. I just think that in a way it’s very naive. And many American presidents start out by believing that they will solve the conflict, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They have been able to bring us to peace with Egypt; they have been able to bring Hussein to peace with Israel, and so we have peace with Jordan. As I said, I think that American pressure might lead to peace between Israel and Syria. But the problem with the Palestinians, I think, is beyond the ability of the United States government to achieve, even if they put very heavy pressure on Israel.

JAY: Even if there’s a threat to subsidies?

SEGEV: So I would love there to be very heavy pressure on Israel to ease the situation, to lift some of the restrictions, to diminish some of the violation of the human rights of the Palestinians. That is, I think, something the Americans can do and also the Europeans can do. But to think that within two years [inaudible] this is a repetition of the road map of President Bush.

JAY: The general feeling has been that if the–I mean, if the United States were actually willing to (and there’s a lot of question of whether they want to) threaten the $3-$4 billion of years of subsidy, dollars a year that go to Israel, is that kind of pressure going to make the difference?

SEGEV: I don’t know that that’s a realistic question. These billions of dollars are in fact going back to–many of them are going back to America in terms of weapon productions and all that. So there are so many people in America who are interested in that. So I don’t think that it’s realistic. Also, many, many Americans support the basic views of the government of Israel, and their number is increasing, especially among fundamental Christians in America. And so these are people who support the basic views of this government of Israel, and they cannot be ignored. So it’s not merely about the Israel lobby or the Jewish vote or something; it’s a very, very widespread support among the American public. And so I think that an American president is limited also from that point of view. But as I said–you have already understood this by now, but I’m very pessimistic. And so I think that rather than aiming at a final peace agreement, we should aim at making life more livable.

JAY: Thanks for joining us.

SEGEV: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us 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,