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An Interview With Prof. Norman Finkelstein

by heathlander Tue Apr 3rd, 2007 at 02:19:34 PM EST

Prof. Norman Finkelstein is a prominent and well-respected scholar of the Israel/Palestine conflict. He has written several books on the topic, most notably The Rise and Fall of Palestine and Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict. His most recent work, Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, is a devastating rebuttal of both Alan Dershowitz' The Case For Israel and defenders of Israel's human rights record more generally.


For some reason, Prof. Finkelstein's views are often referred to as "controversial" or even "radical". Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket In fact, the position he articulates is supported by international law and such "radical" organisations as the World Court and Amnesty International. Several of Prof. Finkelstein's talks, and much else besides, can be viewed on his website.

I asked him a few questions about the current state of the conflict (embedded links added by me, obviously).

Israeli PM Ehud Olmert recently declared that "I'll never accept a solution that is based on their [the Palestinian refugees] return to Israel, any number", and "I will not agree to accept any kind of Israeli responsibility for the refugees. Full stop.", on the grounds that the refugee problem was created when Arab countries attacked the newly-formed State of Israel (hence, one presumes, he places the responsibility on the aggressor Arab states). What do you think of this view?

The refugee question is a red herring. It serves the same purpose now as the Palestinian Covenant did in the 1970s-1980s; to divert attention from Israel's refusal to fully withdraw. Israel knows that the international community will be sympathetic to its stand regarding the refugees but not sympathetic on borders/settlements, so it's trying to divert attention from the latter, and towards the former.



Israel and its apologists consistently justify such policies as the annexation wall and, indeed, the occupation in general on security grounds. To what extent do you feel they are actually about security, and to what extent do you feel they would be justified even if they were?

There isn't a scratch of evidence that the occupation has anything to do with security. It's already widely admitted (Shlomo Ben-Ami, Zeev Maoz, even Dennis Ross) that keeping the Jordan Valley for security reasons is a myth. And the wall could be built on Israel's border and provide the same security (even more) to Israeli citizens. It's a land-grab disguised in the language of security. If patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels (Johnson), then security is the last refuge of scoundrel states.

It seems to me that if the Israeli leadership's underlying objective is to maintain (and possibly expand) the occupation permanently, it would make sense for Israel to welcome a Hamas government, since such a government gives Israel an excuse to avoid negotiating. Instead, it appears that Israel has worked consistently to engineer the toppling of Hamas ever since it was elected. How do you explain this apparent contradiction?

Israel thinks it has a bantustan leadership in place with which it can negotiate a final settlement (Abbas-Dahlan). In fact, that was the purpose of Oslo, and contrary to popular opinion, Oslo was almost a complete success. They got the Palestinian "leadership" they were grooming, but Hamas spoiled it for them.

Do you feel the Geneva Accord offers a good basis for a final settlement?

It's something, but the fundamental basis of any settlement must be UN Resolution 242 and subsequent UN resolutions calling for full Israeli withdrawal, the dismantling of the settlements and a resolution of the refugee question based on 194.

What do you make of the Israeli government's apparent sudden engagement with the Saudi peace plan? It seems odd, seeing as they've virtually ignored it for years.

It's another diversion; they can't very well say they reject it (they do want peace, you know, and it's the Arabs who are the problem), so they focus on the elements (like the refugees) bound to elicit a rejection.

Prof. Ilan Pappe advocates a boycott of and perhaps sanctions on Israel to pressure it to change its behaviour. Do you agree that this is the best way to force it to respect the law?

I have no opinion on this subject.

Cross-posted at The Heathlander

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security is the last refuge of scoundrel states.

This is so very true.

by balbuz on Wed Apr 4th, 2007 at 11:51:19 AM EST
The refugee question is a red herring. It serves the same purpose now as the Palestinian Covenant did in the 1970s-1980s; to divert attention from Israel's refusal to fully withdraw. Israel knows that the international community will be sympathetic to its stand regarding the refugees but not sympathetic on borders/settlements, so it's trying to divert attention from the latter, and towards the former.

but the fundamental basis of any settlement must be UN Resolution 242 and subsequent UN resolutions calling for full Israeli withdrawal, the dismantling of the settlements and a resolution of the refugee question based on 194.

He should make up his mind. Talking about a resolution of the refugee question on the basis of 194, which calls for a total right of return, while simultaneously saying that it is a red herring makes no sense.

by MarekNYC on Wed Apr 4th, 2007 at 02:47:23 PM EST
I thought his reasoning was clear and persuasive: the international community will accommodate Israel's objections to 192 and Israel knows that and so does everyone else. I read his statement to mean that the two UN resolutions are the core of international law in this situation and must be addressed.  What is wrong with my reading?
by cambridgemac on Wed Apr 4th, 2007 at 10:26:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
He's not saying that the whole issue of refugees is a red herring. He's saying that Israel's focus on it is a red herring, designed to distract attention from the fact that it is unwilling to end the occupation.

The Heathlander
by heathlander on Thu Apr 5th, 2007 at 05:46:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
of ProgressiveHistorians, a community site dedicated to the intersection of history and politics, I would be honored if you would cross-post this excellent diary there.

The Crolian Progressive: as great an adventure as ever I heard of...
by Nonpartisan on Wed Apr 4th, 2007 at 04:56:42 PM EST
Thanks - I will do.

The Heathlander
by heathlander on Thu Apr 5th, 2007 at 05:45:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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